By Hand

The simple power in putting pen to paper.

Periodically, we like to share insights from the heart of Real Art. Straight from the source, these “wiretaps” feature experts in the Real Art tribe, offering an inside look at the personalities and passions flowing through our home and pervading our work. In this piece, Real Art Design Director Crystal Dennis discusses the role of calligraphy and hand drawing in design.


Hand-written text feels special.

We did a project for Sylvan Learning last year with a lot of handwritten type. A key campaign phrase was “Learning is Personal” so we tried to think about what makes something personal and the handwritten style came out of that. We drew a lot of those headlines and picked supporting typefaces that looked like they were done by hand. It’s a style that really adds something. It’s as though you have that physical human touch on the project. More than you would have with a font that anyone else could use. Another time we used handwriting to show a personal side was the year we wrote every client and company friend a handwritten letter. Hundreds of them. It was our Real Art Holiday Gift. Every staff member wrote a certain number of letters and we could essentially write whatever we wanted. Some were very heartfelt or funny. One I remember was a picture of a horse that said, “Hay, how ya doing?” The project as a whole was something touching and personal. A handwritten letter shows care.

Sometimes drawing is just in your nature.

Everyone draws as a kid. Who doesn’t? But when people get older, they do more of other things. If they draw at all, they doodle. But I have to draw. It’s not just my job. I even draw what dinners I’m going to have for the week and I put it up on the fridge. And I draw what my outfits are. It’s just my nature. I have a planner and the left page has the dates and right side is a gridded sheet. It needs to have something about it on my life. So I use it to document things visually. Sometimes I’ll go back and check what I wore to an annual event because I won’t want to wear the same outfit from last year. It just helps me visualize.

The rules of typography come from calligraphy.

We learn all the type rules in college. But it wasn’t until I started calligraphy that it all came back to me and fit together why the line weights or “o” angles were a certain way, especially in Old Style fonts. I’ve learned to do calligraphy in 5 or 6 different alphabet styles. It’s interesting that some of them don’t even have ‘y’s or ‘u’s. Those letters hadn’t been created or weren’t in use when the style was developed. The uncial alphabet, for instance, was used during the 4th-8th centuries and didn’t contain six of the letters we have today. That shows you just how old the form is. So when you look at a really old map and the letters look super weird, that’s why.

Handwriting can be a way of thinking.

Sometimes I take notes and can hardly read them. It’s just a panel of copy. I scratch things down to retain it better. My calligraphy teacher was saying that if she typed a grocery list and left it at home, she’d forget what it said when she’s at the store. But if she wrote it out on a piece of paper and left it at home, she’d remember everything on that list. I feel the same way. When I’m in a meeting, I’m taking down everything people say. It’s not like I’m tuning everything out. I’m tuning everything in. I have it attached to me through this pen and this piece of paper.

Technology has always changed how we communicate.

Some consider the beginning of handwriting to be in prehistoric cave paintings. We can look at pictograms and see how technology influences and evolves how we communicate. First it’s pictorial. Then people took those pictures and tried to make letterforms and I’m sure there were folks saying “No! No! This is bad for our culture.” People began writing words out in the language we know now, taking it further away from pictures. When the Gutenberg press came along, it changed everything again. It cut out the monks in the scriptorium. Then typewriters and computers. And now handwriting isn’t taught in school. Some people are saying that future generations won’t be able to read cursive text because they’ll never learn it. So a lot of historical texts like the US Constitution or even the Coca-Cola logo could become unreadable to the general population. Technology will always be involved in how we visually communicate with each other. Even while parts of it are still tied to the past. Like handwriting or pictograms.





Got you hooked? Here’s more:


A Short History of Old Style Type
A brief overview of the ways calligraphy influenced Old Style typefaces


What’s Lost As Handwriting Fades
The New York Times explores how the rise of typing is changing our brains


This Pinterest Board of Hand-Drawn Type
Can you feel the personality?

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