Betty Soldi, author of Inkspired: Creating Calligraphy, says that people can find tranquility by taking some time out of their day to be creative. “We discover so much about ourselves by just taking the time to stop.”
There are many benefits to calligraphy: “Mindfulness – writing reflects that. Creativity – you can be utterly creative with what you do. Wellbeing – it actually helps a lot on so many levels if you take time and nurture your skills, because it’s not something you can master instantly.”
The art of mindful calligraphy
Betty believes that calligraphy can help people to create a mindful space even as part of a hectic day and it’s a skill that anyone can take up. All you need is a pen!
She says: “That’s the incredible thing about it – it’s like getting on a yoga mat at the beginning and feeling like you don’t know what you’re doing and then of course the more do the better you get.
“You don’t have to learn how to do something in a particular way for it to be beautiful. It’s important to learn to let go and express yourself more – and then the beauty comes from that.”
Surprisingly, breathing and posture is an important part of learning calligraphy, according to Betty. If you’re tense and not breathing properly, it will have an effect on your writing.
And you need to get into the right state of mind in order to create beautiful calligraphy.
“No one ever says: ‘Remember to breathe.’ We naturally tense up because we have this fear that we’re not good enough and wonder: ‘What am I doing? Will I be judged?’
“We have preconceptions about calligraphy, but breathing grounds you and helps you to let go,” says Betty.
On one page of her book, Betty scribbled on a picture of herself to show posture and breathing. “To get from your head to your heart to your hand you have to go through your lungs and they’re all connected,” she says.
“When you’re thinking of what to write you need to get yourself into the flow of it – it can be scribbling.
“It’s the joy of sitting on the phone and doodling – now, of course, we’re all on our mobiles. That’s why calligraphy is growing in popularity – it’s that timelessness of letting go and doodling.”
Betty took yoga classes for many years and found that, like calligraphy, it always came back to breathing: “You go to classes and they all tell you that the breath is the most fundamental part of what you’re doing.”
“When it comes to writing, you need to focus and concentrate, but you also have to let go.”
Finding your creative space for mindful writing
When writing, it’s important to set the right atmosphere to allow yourself to fully relax and find your creative mojo.
Betty used to write invites for fashion brands and her favourite time to sit and work was in the evening.
“I’d have my favourite movie on in the background or some music, light the candles and just prepare and just be still while I was doing it,” she says.
“The rest of the day you’re on the computer and it needs to be a different mindset. Finding that calm moment is good.”
Follow Betty’s lead and seek out new ways to settle into the calm, focused state of mind that you need to access for calligraphy. But that’s not all Betty wants to teach you.
Watch Betty in action…
How to become a confident calligrapher and writer
In our modern lives, we’re often disconnected from the act of writing although we actually write – or type – all the time.
Betty wants to help people regain their confidence in their writing and find their own style: “Calligraphy is also exciting. You’ll get the idea of leaving a note for someone or writing with lipstick on a mirror, but you need to have nurtured the confidence to do it, which I think is what people have lost.”
“I find that a lot of people don’t know what to write. A friend of mine the other day was saying the other day that she’d been to the beach and had a load of postcards, but didn’t know what to write and didn’t have friends’ addresses.”
“People have stopped knowing what to write, so they get blocked when the pen is in their hand,” she says.
“We all text and type and it’s so free flowing, but the beauty of writing is that you slow down and really think about it a bit more. And breathing through it and being calm and making it a bit more precious and personal.”
But Betty thinks that we shouldn’t get too hung up on writing something beautiful. Simply writing anything is the first step.
“Calligraphy is a step further along, but to receive a personal note from somebody is fantastic – however it’s written.”
Create your own quirky calligraphy art
One of Betty’s favourite ways to share her writing with others is to get creative with it – and have fun at the same time. She says: “One of the things I’ve started doing – because I’ve got a seven-year-old – is taking photos and then doodling on them with a pen. I put crowns on people or little wings and add touches.
“A lot of people think that when you do calligraphy it’s all about paper and wax seals, but it doesn’t have to be like that. You can just take a photo and write on it.”
A lot of books can be intimidating, but Betty’s mission is to show people that it doesn’t have to be. You don’t need to have expensive pens or nibs to create something stunning.
It’s difficult to learn complicated techniques unless someone shows you and it’s quite challenging to teach yourself from a book.
“That’s why I started with: grab a pencil and if you’re right-handed put it in your left hand,” Betty explains.
“Just leave behind anything that you’ve come with. Close your eyes and write and see what comes out.
“You’ll think: I can do this, I’ve done this rather than being intimidated by what you could do in the future.
“Then you can move from pencils and scrawls to thinking about what you want to write.”
Developing your own writing style
“People come to it thinking that their handwriting is terrible, but you don’t wear the same lipstick as they did 10 years ago or the same haircut that they had in the 90s, you can change your writing. You don’t need to stick to what you learnt at school,” Betty says.
Handwriting can be developed and it can flourish “I made up an alphabet and called it Alphabetty and it shows lots of different ways you can do an A or different ways of doing a T and what happens when you cross two Ts together or you can even add a swoosh – it’s a bit more fun!”
Once you begin to play around with your writing, you being to develop your own unique calligraphic writing style.
Betty says: “It’s like getting on the yoga mat for the first time – it’s those slight nerves. But I think a lot of people are interested because you realise that it’s in your hands and it’s something that you can do your way.”
Betty Soldi’s writing style
Betty’s a calligrapher, but she’s also a designer and runs her own shop in Florence, Italy, so she’s often called upon to show her skills to new clients.
She says: “Sometimes I get asked for a commission and I’ll have to write in front of a client so I get in the zone and envisage it and then I’ll do it and they’re always like ‘Wow, that was quick! You rattled that off!” But it’s taken me 40 years – it’s taken me a lifetime.”
“You have to nurture your skills, but I’m very busy which is probably why I write so fast. When people see videos of my writing, they ask if they’ve been sped up! But that’s my real speed.”
While Betty can write quickly, she still finds her writing time allows her to stop and step back from everyday life.
She’s also found that calligraphy allows people to connect with each other in a way that an email or text can never replace. She says: “My friend Tamara has done a few pages in the book and she’s left-handed and she’s in the technology business.
“Whenever she meets people she sends little thank you notes and people are just fainting, because in the technological world to receive a handwritten note is just so rare.
“She’s super busy – as I am – but we always try to take the time to write little notes because it’s good to share.
That’s the one thing that I’m finding out more and more – it’s a very generous thing to do and people notice it.”
Practise calligraphy every day to become an expert
The best way to bring calligraphy into your everyday life is to get creative and write on everything! Betty says: “I want people to develop their own style and not just be like me.”
Here are some ways Betty brings calligraphy into her day:
- “You can use it to write notes or write all over wrapping paper instead of buying your own. But you need to get to that point where you think: I can do this. I can write.”
- “I love graffiti. I love ugly scrawls and ink splatter – calligraphy isn’t all about perfection!”
- “I love writing on windows because I can wipe them off, so you can put up a mantra for the day.”
- “I’ve written on a lot of foliage and a lot of food. I love writing on fruit. Just experiment – it doesn’t matter if you do it with a biro. The other day I was shelling beans with my daughter so I drew on them.”
Download free calligraphy work sheets
You can download some free calligraphy work sheets here. To download them, simply click on the download arrow on the top right of your screen. Happy scribbling!
Inkspired by Betty Soldi is published by Kyle Books (£16.99). Photography by Debi Treloar.