I began teaching last year. I have found that not only do I enjoy sharing my love of letters, I learn a lot too. Not only have my letters and lines become more sure, but each class has has also led to a breakthrough moment, or an Ah Ha moment. Sometimes these come while studying to teach, or setting up the class. But more often than not these Ah Ha moments come while actively teaching a concept to students.

snapshot of handout from flourishing class by Katie Leavens
A few design principles as applied to flourishing

This summer, I taught a flourishing class. The first class started students with the principles of design and how to apply those principles to flourishes. During the last class, I was doing some on-the-fly flourished writing for the students. While I do this, I try to explain what I’m thinking—why I’m doing what I’m doing.

Often students of flourishing lament that they just don’t know where to begin flourishing, or when to stop. As a calligrapher with a background in design, I think of flourishes as tools to emphasize what’s important.

"Books" written in Engrosser's Script with parts marked in color. The commonly flourished areas are in blue. The stem of the capital is in red. Calligraphy by Katie Leavens.
The commonly flourished areas are in blue. The stem of the capital is in red.

Often calligraphers flourish the left appendages of the majuscule or the end of a word. But are those really areas that should be emphasized, or are we just filling space? If we use the principle of emphasizing importance, what should we be flourishing? What’s the most important part of a word? Generally, the first letter (usually a majuscule). What’s the most important part of that majuscule? The backbone, the stem, the line of universal beauty. In that case, why do we not flourish it in pointed pen work?

"Books" written in Engrosser's Script with stem flourished in repetition. Calligraphy by Katie Leavens.
Repetition design element applied to stem.

I would like to challenge calligraphers to look at their work as pieces of design, not just making pretty pieces.

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Here are a few historic examples of stem flourishing to get your creative juices flowing.

Jan van de Velde's signature written in 1604
This signature V was the inspiration that began these ideas. Calligraphy by Jan van de Velde, Spieghel der Schrijfkonste from the Letterform Archive
J. Bland written in copperplate, from the Universal Penman
Though the J, B form more of a monogram than a flourish, the principles are the same. Calligraphy from the Universal Penman at the San Francisco Public Library Special Collections
J. Brown written in copperplate, from the Universal Penman
Again this J, B interaction is a great inspiration. Calligraphy from the Universal Penman at the San Francisco Public Library Special Collections

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