I get out my pot and my papers, a pot of ink, and the paper is the kind you write on rather than roll in. Next, I choose a pen, and prepare to get high. This is hardly the sort of paraphernalia usually associated with tripping out, yet I’ve found that trippy art of calligraphy, which means beautiful writing, has the capacity to unwind my mind down pathways as intriguingly convoluted as the curlicues on a copperplate. I begin to roll a beautiful joint for my journey.
Art of Calligraphy
One must distinguish, of course, between the process and the product. The art of calligraphy is undoubtedly a most useful medium. A few people even manage to make a living from it. It enables the scribe to turn the most mundane shopping list into a marvel: to create cards, posters, signs, books—to pen letters that leave the recipient struck with admiration. What I'm talking about here, though, is the activity itself—writing as a state of calligraphic consciousness. Trippy is as trippy does. I take a long deep drag on a symmetric joint I rolled.
It is a gradual thing. I do not put pen to paper and get an immediate buzz. Indeed, the essence of learning a particular “hand,” or style of writing, is time slowed down, spun out, reshaped. The letters, like a mantra, grow in potency with each repetition, each new incantation. The smoke escapes my lips in rings of Saturn.
Initially, the emphasis is on individual letter-shapes. And this, perhaps, is not so different from the kind of loving concentration one is apt to lavish on the smallest details when in a state of weed-altered consciousness. A stoned journalist at a keyboard may find himself getting hung up on the ineffable fascination of the letter he or she just typed, unable to progress much beyond the point of pressing the key and contemplating the thrilling results. For a writer with a deadline, this can be a serious problem. But for the scribe, it is not only legitimate but vital to narrow the perspective to a single letter, to visualize how it ought to look, to spend hours in pursuit of the perfect single letter.
I reach toward a geometry of the mind, its nature varying with the “hand” I’m doing. The fundamental shape of the Italic letter, for example, is slanted, elliptical; the Roman, in contrast, is vertical, round, much more akin to modern printed typefaces. Or take the Uncial font, one of the most venerable of alphabets, which is rounder still, and less confined; or the squarish conformation of the Gothic script often seen on illuminated manuscripts and still found on diplomas and other documents. I take another hit of my perfectly rolled joint and discover that a rounder consciousness produces a rounder letter: I think my way into the form I am seeking.
Calligraphy for Beginners
Don't be intimidated: Artistic genius is not a prerequisite for calligraphy, nor is getting stoned. The basic tools you need are simple, costing far less than an ounce. Although there are calligraphy kits on the market, usually it's less expensive to put together your own. You'll need paper—to start, just a good-quality bond. Later you can try the finer varieties, even beautiful handmade sheets. As for pens, while opinions are as varied as strains of weed, it is easier to begin with a fountain pen than with one you must repeatedly dip into the ink. And start with a broad point. Left-handed people may need to get a special nib, since it's simpler to see the shapes of the letters—and distinguish faults— with a thicker stroke. Osmiroid, Platignum, and Pelikan are some reliable brands; there are even felt-tipped pens available now that have ‘‘chisel” points suitable for calligraphy—they dry out rapidly and do not give as fine a line but are handy for practice. In the matter of ink, if you use a fountain pen be sure to avoid regular India ink as it will clog your pen. Look for special free-flowing varieties like Pelikan's Fount India or Artone's Fountain Pen India.
A Handwriting Manual by Alfred Fairbank
A well-equipped art-supply store ought to have all these items. Best to take a class if you can, but if you decide to get started by yourself, buy a basic book or two for instruction and inspiration: Some good titles include Italic Calligraphy & Handwriting by Lloyd J. Reynolds, A Handwriting Manual by Alfred Fairbank, and Calligraphic Lettering With Wide Pen & Brush by Ralph Douglass. Also recommended is a brand-new book for beginners, Margaret Shepherd's Learning Calligraphy. Since many of the same tools and principles are involved in learning any variety of calligraphy, it makes sense to concentrate on a single “hand” to begin with. Once you've mastered that, sample other alphabets, develop your own style... and above all, stay high.