Brush writing & class end

In the final meetings of Calligraphy class, students tried a different tool and a different language: using brushes dipped in sumi ink, they recreated Chinese characters. (This book by Edoardo Fazzioli provided our source material.)

Students said brush writing was among their favorite class projects. I suspect this is due to the freedom this tool gives: the brush responds to pressure variations, so it is much easier to create flowing, organic-looking lines as compared to a broad-edged pen. The unlined, large-format paper and our unfamiliarity with the characters allowed us all to loosen up and have fun.

Among our other final class projects, students created original stencils and painted them onto t-shirts:


This was fun, but a real production: for the amount of time, effort and expense involved (and with only one adult in the room), t-shirt printing proved very ambitious for the 7-11 year-old age group, but I think it could be a perfect project to do with parents at home.

Students used their lettering skills on advertisements and the brochure for the end-of-session show:


At the last class, I asked students to imagine themselves many years from now as 8th graders: what did they think they would remember about calligraphy? One response stood out: “to slow down and take your time to enjoy writing.” Well put!


Patterns of writing

By now (March), most of the kindergarteners I teach in Fun With Letterforms have their rhythmic drawn patterns down. Their artworks often demonstrate a good sense of spacing and a good eye for overall composition:

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The next step? Beginning every class on ruled notebook paper to make patterns (and increasingly both small & capital letters) within the four-line system of ceiling, fence, grass, and basement:

(Thank you to 1st grade teacher Ms. Palmer’s system for the inspiration!)

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I hope that this practice will inspire students to use recognizable letter shapes in their pattern drawings on large unlined paper.

Evolution in action

Unlike Athena, our 26-letter alphabet didn’t just spring into existence one day, beautiful, fierce and fully-formed: it is the result of thousands of years of human ingenuity and experimentation. The letters evolved.

IMG_8427.jpgPages from Christopher Jarman’s “Fun With Pens” (A&C Black Ltd., 1970).

Good-looking calligraphic letters don’t just spring onto the page right after you sit down to write them, either: they are the end result of steady practice. When you want to make something beautiful to give to a friend or to keep for yourself, you will need to form an idea of the thing before you touch your pen to the final nice paper. This requires getting warmed up, maybe experimenting with different hands, and several attempts on practice paper to get the words/names right before you make the final attempt.

Students performed this very evolution last week in calligraphy class. The result was many handsome-looking bookmarks:

Maria, Martin and Flora chose to write in Round hand (and note Martin’s drafts at upper left); Alice and the teacher chose the Blackletter hand.

Calligraphy for kids: first meeting

The first hour-long meeting of my 12-session Introduction to Calligraphy class for 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders met last week. As is usual in my work with children, the students exceeded my expectations both in what they already knew—someone defined calligraphy as “a different kind of writing, a more careful way to write”—and in how quickly they grasped the workings of the broad-edged pen, the calligrapher’s basic tool and the key to making the beautiful thick & thin strokes that define various calligraphic hands (styles). Italic, blackletter, uncial, and round hands can be seen here:

IMG_8203.jpgWe used double-pencils (two pencils tied together with rubber bands) held an a constant angle to make lines like the one illustrated here:
The double-pencils reinforced both the need to apply equal pressure to both sides of the edged tool, and the need to work at a sufficient (larger) size. IMG_8207.jpg
Students progressed from making basic warm-up marks, to elegant lines of patterns, then to the round alphabet.IMG_8191.jpg

IMG_8211.jpgAs a preview, I passed out two felt-tip calligraphy pens for students to test out.
This student has a good eye for layout on the page (something we didn’t discuss yet):
This student already analyzes her work (!):
At this age, students aren’t shy about saying what interests them. I will introduce several hands and applications early on into our meetings to let each student choose her own path of experimentation. Check back in a month or two to see the progress.

Recommended reading

What can parents do to encourage their children to keep making comics? I think it’s important for grown-ups to make comics together with the children in their lives, and fill their bookshelves with good comics.

Collaborative comic-making can be very simple: a few years ago the author and dad Bruce Brooks explained to me how he and his son drew a collaborative epic comic story on a roll of white butcher paper, taking turns panel-by-panel. For a more structured approach to drawing comics together, a few books may be useful: Mark Kistler, who I have written about before, distilled his engaging way of teaching drawing skills to children in his book, “Mark Kistlerʼs Draw Squad” (cheaply and easily found for sale online).  This fall a parent recommended “Adventures in Cartooning” and the “Adventures in Cartooning Activity Book” by Alexis Frederick-Frost, Andrew Arnold, and James Sturm—both books introduce the basic mechanics of comics to young readers and give them the chance to test them out.  All three books are rich with material and well thought out.

Below is a list of books that have been popular with this year’s Comic Book Storytelling students. An asterisk (*) denotes a widespread favorite. Please note: while I think all of the books below have some value, not all will appeal to everyone. Parents should also note that some of these stories directly deal with intense issues like friendship, or death. For this reason I highly recommend visiting a seeking out comics at a local library, where books can be browsed and specialists are present to answer specific questions.

* “Calvin and Hobbes” series, Bill Watterson
“The Far Side” collections, Gary Larson
“Tintin” series, Hergé
“Moomin” series, Tove Jansson
* “Bone” series, Jeff Smith
“Astro Boy” series, Osamu Tezuka

New Favorites
“Little Vampire,” Joann Sfar
“Ghosts,” Raina Telgemeier
“Lumberjanes” series, Shannon Watters et al.
“Nimona,” Noelle Stevenson
“Hilo” series, Judd Winick
“Chi’s Sweet Home” series, Kanata Konami
* “Amulet” series, Kazu Kibuishi
“Zita the Spacegirl” series, Ben Hatke
* “Hilda” series, Luke Pearson
“Bird & Squirrel” series, James Burks
“My Little Pony” series, Katie Cook et al.

True Stories
“Sisters,” Raina Telgemeier
“Drama,” Raina Telgemeier
* “Smile,” Raina Telgemeier
* “El Deafo,” Cece Bell
* “Roller Girl,” Victoria Jamieson
* “Real Friends,” Shannon Hale & LeUyen Pham

IMG_7663.jpgNewer selections.
IMG_8216.jpgAn old classic that still gets many smiles and exclamations of recognition.

Leveling up the pattern play

IMG_8206.jpgThis fall my Fun With Letterforms class, a drawn pattern-play class meant for kindergarteners to strengthen their handwriting skills, expanded into the first & second grades. As I brainstormed what to do with folks on the first day, I tried to anticipate the several returners who would be very familiar with the patterns I’d taught them before: I didn’t want anyone to be bored! Inspired by an excellent exhibit at the Legion of Honor I’d seen earlier this year, I decided to introduce Square Word Calligraphy.

The class watched me demonstrate the concept, but seemed restless. “What about the patterns?” someone asked. Instead of paint and brushes, students picked up their trusty colored pencils and used independent work time to revisit their familiar friends the zig-zag, bump, swing, swirl, over-and-back, and (especially) flip.

The FWL curriculum’s enduring popularity encouraged me. I am eager to move into newer territory with the older students and test their capabilities relative to kindergarteners, but this experience reminded me to reinforce the students’ established skills and build incrementally upon them, rather than worry about novelty. We’ll revisit Square Word Calligraphy later!

Below are pictures of FWL Level 2 student work after we revisited Chris Van Allsberg’s The Z Was Zapped, a FWL class favorite about terrible misfortunes that befall our alphabet’s 26 letters one by one.



Mini-zine Madness

At the first meeting of Comic Book Storytelling class for 3rd/4th/5th graders this year, we made six-page mini-zines out of one computer-size sheet of paper.  Before anything else, we performed some simple “origami”: folding the pre-cut paper correctly seemed tricky at first, but students helped one another and soon we were all set.

Next, I showed them other examples of mini-zines made in similar ways, and I read mine, “Sam Scissors Hits the Street,” out loud:

Screen Shot 2017-10-04 at 11.29.09 PM.png

On a different sheet of paper I encouraged students to plan who their own starring character would be and what would transpire over the six pages. I also gave them a catch: whatever happened in their story, they had to draw a 3D-looking hole (which we had drawn together during our warm-up) on page two.

Some students followed my lead and had their hapless main character fall into a hole… only to discover treasure (not slime) within! Others drew things emerging from the abyss.

It was useful to have some added structure with certain caption panes already in place. See my template here: Comics Mini-zine 1 page template

Some people were really into the mini-zine medium during the session.