What is Calligraphy?

Danielle Raine writer designer creativity coach


Writer, Designer & Creativity Coach

Hi! I’m Danielle.

In my mission to share the many twists and turns of a creative life, I’d like to share my Graphic Design Degree Dissertation that I wrote in 1995. 

I didn’t know then that this would be the first of a number of self-published books. 🙂 

My dissertation was entitled, The Role of Western Calligraphy in the 20th Century, and I’m sharing it exactly as I wrote it almost 30 years ago, even though there’s so much I would do differently now.

(Confession: I couldn’t resist editing the worst typos. #writerlife) 

I hope it may be of interest to those drawn to all things calligraphy, or helpful simply as flashback to the early days of a career in design and writing.

This extract is a sample from the Introduction that lays the foundation for my dissertation topic.

Definitions of Calligraphy

A study on calligraphy must begin with a precise definition of the term and an accurate explanation of the subject.

However, calligraphy is a difficult subject to define, perhaps this adds something of its richness and appeal, but as a result,
many definitions of calligraphy exist.

These range from the technical…

‘‘calligraphy’ is derived from the Greek word meaning beautiful writing’

(Hoare 1986)

…to the emotional:

“Letters are symbols which turn matter into spirit.”

(de Lamartine 1865, Transcription)

…to the subliminal:


“Calligraphy frees the emotions and abilities which are hidden in the depths of the personality. It activates the power of the soul.”

(Harris 1991)

Calligraphy vs Lettering: What’s the difference?

Interpretations of exactly what comes under the heading ‘calligraphy’ are just as varied and there’s a much disputed ‘grey area’ as to where calligraphy stops and lettering begins.

It is generally accepted, though, that calligraphy is the more spontaneous expression.

Indeed the spontaneity is vital in discerning calligraphy from other letter forms, as it is this that reveals the mood and emotions of the calligrapher at that precise moment in time.

The form of the word is a reflection of feelings, combined with imagination and discipline.

Lettering, on the other hand is a more restrained and planned exercise, and meets its purpose through precise execution, (which leaves no room for any accidental traits which a liberated calligrapher may welcome!).

the scribe poem by lotus engel trasncribed by claude mediaville harris 1991

Calligraphy Tools

Calligraphy can also be defined by the tools involved.

Calligraphic works are mostly executed with a broad-edged pen or brush.

Although a lettering artist may also use these tools, he or she will use many more besides, to cut, incise or prepare work for a variety of purposes.

In much calligraphic work, the calligrapher’s aim is to produce a unique and individual piece, perhaps working with posterity in mind, or presenting the piece purely as a work of expression.

This added factor means that the quality and durability of materials need to be considered, in addition to the excellence of design, technique and presentation.

For example, the transcription above was written with a turkey quill on parchment, the red colour is cinnabar (red mercury sulphide) and the gold applied is gold leaf and shèll gold.

When working for reproduction however, the piece is often prepared purely for the printer to make his printing plates from and this enables the design to be touched up and corrected.

This difference has an important effect on initial design and concept.

On a different level, calligraphy requires not only a brain to plan and a hand to guide the brush, it requires heart and soul – a factor which has long been applied to Oriental lettering, which is still based on concentration, meditation
and, in the end, by full harmony – with the artist at its centre.

The virtue and grace of calligraphy lie in the simple and immediate stroke, made with skill in a
fraction of a second.

Followed by other such strokes it forms a unity expressing
not only the beauty of letters and their arrangement, but also something of personality and individuality.

It is all these elements which enhance calligraphy
with a quality that separates it from any other work involving letterforms.

More extracts coming soon! 

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Danielle Raine writer designer creativity coach


Obsessed with creativity

In addition to my design and marketing work, I also write books, create online courses for my fellow creatives, and offer creativity coaching services via email, as well as teaching other creatives how to offer email coaching. 

And as a lifelong creative who loves to write, I share lots of tips about the creative process over on my creativity blog.

I’m currently very excited about bringing to life my new suite of online creativity courses which explore the mindset, lifestyle practices and energetics of creative success.

You can find more details about me and my work for creatives over at

And you can see my latest collection of creativity courses over on my new online coaching portal, Creative Well.


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