Despite our digitally dominated lives, handwriting’s timeless power continues to be a hallmark of human connection. From its critical role in the evolution of early civilizations to its modern-day status as a romantic expression of creativity, this sacred ritual’s transformative benefits are endless.
Brenna Jordan, master calligrapher and author of The Lost Art of Handwriting is on a mission to help people rediscover the beauty, power and transformative benefits of handwriting. The American artist has built a growing community where she shares accessible tools, tips and exercises to enable people to find the value, joy and relaxation in putting pen to paper.
Jordan is keen to highlight that the values of penmanship are not limited to creative expression. Research has shown the profound neurological benefits of writing by hand are beneficial for memory recall, engagement and sharper critical thinking. Studies have also linked the craft to a boost for the immune system and valuable in reducing stress, anxiety and improving overall mental health.
To celebrate International Handwriting Day, we talk to Jordan about her creative journey so far, her devotion to the craft and how she developed her unique visual style.
How did you become a professional calligrapher?
As far back as I can remember, I was intrigued by the alphabet and beautiful handwriting. I also collected books, poetry, and quotes. I was in awe of the power of words and how they promote healing, growth, and connection.
In middle school, I received a calligraphy kit as a present; it’s incredible how one gift can lead to a life-long pursuit! At first, I was self-taught, with lettering books and experimentation paving the way for more formal education. I have tremendous gratitude for the many teachers in my life. Attending workshops and conferences offered by local and international calligraphy organizations, as well as online classes, gave me opportunities to learn from master calligraphers and apply their valuable feedback to my work.
My hobby evolved into a business several years ago. Doing this work has connected me to various people, projects, and experiences that continually inspire me to keep learning.
Your book, The Lost Art of Handwriting, is both a workbook and celebration of writing history. What did you discover in researching the book?
Delving into the brain research and stumbling upon many anecdotal stories surrounding handwriting, fueled a more pronounced respect for how it enriches our lives individually and culturally. The book is peppered with sidebars containing fun facts, handwriting heroes, and practical tips. Handwriting may stir up connotations of a tedious school subject, but the quirky and poignant tales, from Leonardo da Vinci’s mirror writing to the incredible discoveries of the pufferfish writing a love letter on the ocean bottom, remind us that this couldn’t be further from the truth!
Handwriting is such a meditative act, the silent, thoughtful and reflective process of putting pen to paper. Can you talk about some of the benefits of writing and how it affects our wellbeing?
One of the tremendous benefits of handwriting is that, by its very nature, it slows us down and wakes us up to a wealth of thoughts and discoveries. When we take the time to access them, handwriting helps us process hardships like grief, disappointment, conflicts, and painful memories.
Writing in a journal can reduce stress and help us with problem-solving by engaging our minds and hearts in a powerful quest for wholeness. Studies done on the physiological benefits of daily journaling by hand, even for a few minutes, reveal that this practice boosts the immune system and lessens symptoms of asthma and arthritis. Handwriting is a deeply personal practice, and each person can tailor it to meet their needs and fit their preferences.
The book also talks about the enormous neurological benefits that aid memory and focus. Can you talk about what you discovered?
The world of brain research has shed light on how important it is for children to learn to handwrite. College students and adults also reap significant benefits from using handwriting to avoid distractions and remember things longer.
For example, experiments done with college students show that handwriting notes during lectures helped them remember more material long term. Even though using a computer is faster, the slower process of writing by hand and prioritizing the material gives the brain a boost in later recalling the information.
Studies were also performed on adults studying new symbols such as musical notes or chemistry formulas. The benefits of writing by hand far outweighed other learning methods. We can all practice these neurological benefits in our daily lives by scribing our lists by hand, keeping a bullet journal or paper calendar, and writing out excerpts from books that are especially meaningful to us.
Writing by hand is a genuinely creative act which can be a way to unleash and express individuality and personal style. How has your creative style evolved over the years?
Having a traditional foundation in calligraphy that merges with modern styles has helped bridge the gap between old and new. I love the magic that happens when they influence one another.
I love the Greek adage commonly attributed to Socrates: “Know thyself.” Anyone who creates regularly and pushes through frustrations, self-doubt, vulnerability will discover self-awareness and moments of experiencing your truest essence. It’s exhilarating that a philosophy of life can be captured on paper through an art form. For me, the use of joyful flourishing, contrast, balance, and symmetry has become an integral part of my creative process that continues to evolve.
In an age of rapidly-changing technology and people spending more time than ever using digital devices, what does the act of handwriting on paper give you that digital communication cannot?
Abu Dulab said it well with his definition, “Handwriting is the garden of the sciences.” The art of writing by hand nourishes us and satisfies different yearnings than technology, that its speed and convenience cannot fulfil.
When I wrote the book, I often thought about the comparisons between handwriting and technology as similar to the differences between walking and driving a car. It’s not an either/or: they are both vital to our modern life. Striking a healthy balance between our devices and writing by hand is worth the effort. Handwriting is a distinguishable part of our personality that type cannot replicate. It connects us to others in a unique way, we share a bit of who we are through the marks we put on paper.
At the heart of what you do is human connection and a big part of this in your global community on Instagram. How has the community evolved, and what have you discovered along the way?
When I started posting regularly, my goal was a simple year-long commitment to create daily, and share my learning. It was rarely an easy discipline, but it pushed me out of my comfort zone and consistently taught me to create and find pleasure in the process. Even though I worked hard to bring value and inspiration to whoever happened to view my work, I never anticipated that there would be so many people interested in handwriting and calligraphy! I’m grateful for the tool of social media, and how it introduces us to a broader, more diverse community than we can find otherwise.
What are your top three tips for people wanting to improve their handwriting?
First of all, I think it’s essential to cultivate a sense of fun, playfulness and enjoyment. This will motivate you to practice. Write things that give you joy, whether it’s music lyrics, recipes, gardening labels, or whatever is meaningful to you.
Daily practice reaps more benefits than marathon sessions once in a while. Use even short windows of time to pick up a pencil, and you’ll see how these small moments aid your progress in significant ways. Always take time to critique your work, and you can also ask others for feedback on legibility and consistent spacing.
Most people can achieve remarkable improvements in their writing simply by slowing down and concentrating on the basic strokes that make up letters. Singling out trouble spots and spending extra time on those areas will also help improve your handwriting. Be patient with yourself; you’ll soon be able to look back and celebrate how far you’ve come.
In your opinion, what is the future of handwriting?Writing by hand is a profound gift that we pass on to future generations. Although handwriting has undergone a significant shift with technology, I think we see a burgeoning interest in activities such as hand lettering and bullet journaling. Handwriting encapsulates both language and art, and when people invest time in the practice of writing by hand, they are often transfixed and transformed. For me, this leaves no doubt that the art of handwriting will continue to flourish.
Moleskine celebrates the timeless power of hand-writing as an essential expression of human civilization, a powerful act to unleash the human genius and foster the development and sharing of literacy and knowledge. Discover more here.