Left-handed calligraphy

In my role as calligraphy tutor, I frequently teach left-handed students. I am presently teaching two classes, and out of twenty-six students three are left-handed (normal ratio of left-handers to right-handers is around 10%, so 3 out of 26 is about right).

Having learned calligraphy the hard way, being almost completely self-taught, I would recommend that anyone (right and left-handers) who wants to learn the craft should attend an evening class. Books can tell you what to do, but there is no substitute for having a competent tutor demonstrate the numerous pen-strokes, and who can elaborate on calligraphic techniques and the characteristics of various alphabets.

I’m right-handed, so not being ambidextrous, it’s more difficult for me to teach calligraphy to a left-hander. Because of this I have found the book Left-handed Calligraphy by Vance Studley to be very useful… both to me and to my left-handed students… and I would definitely recommend it as an essential resource.

While reading online reviews of the book, I was dismayed to discover that one reviewer had awarded the book a single star out of a possible five, and had commented…

“What I wanted was a book that would have script styles suitable for a left-hander. Right-handed styles come out all wrong if they are done by a leftie as the broad and narrow strokes are all reversed. Money wasted.”

I totally disagree with this review. Contrary to the reviewer’s comments, there is no such thing as a dedicated “left-handed script style,” just as there are no dedicated right-handed script styles. That’s why the reviewer couldn’t find any such scripts in this book.

ALL calligraphic alphabets can be learned by both right and left-handers. It’s just a bit more difficult for a left-hander to achieve success. Although it’s no substitute for formal tuition, a book such as Left-handed Calligraphy will explain essential information such as how a left-hander should write with an oblique nib, and with their paper sloping. Calligraphy takes time to learn, and demands determination, patience and a lot of practice whether by a left or a right-hander. Success is not achieved overnight.

My single reservation about the book is that it is a wee bit old-fashioned in its presentation (the newest edition was published almost 20 years ago) but in a world dominated by right-handers, left-handed calligraphy books are thin on the ground. Therefore I would definitely recommend that left-handed incipient scribes grab a copy of this book while they can.

Buy a new copy of Left-handed Calligraphy on Amazon from just two pence + £2.80 p&p (at time of writing). Or read the first eleven pages on Google Books here before you buy.

There is a new source of information for left -handed calligraphers at Bill’s Space. In Bill’s words, “Here I have begun a collection of links, videos and articles of interest to the left-hander, hoping it will make life easier if they can find  hints, tips and encouragement all in one place.” Definitely worth a visit.

For a list of left-handed calligraphy books and pens, visit Anythingleft-handed.co.uk.

Read the musings of a left-handed calligraphy student here.

Discover the many ways to write left-handed here.

Watch an interesting YouTube video called Writing Left-handed here.

And finally, anyone who thinks that calligraphy can’t be mastered by a left-hander should look at Gaynor Goffe’s work here. Simply amazing!


10 Responses to Left-handed calligraphy

  1. billgrant43 says:

    Thanks for your latest books I shall pass a link on.

    I wonder if you have seen this pdf copy of Writing & Illuminating and Lettering? A huge file ( 24.6 Mb )
    but well worth having in one’s collection


    Or this short video of a left handed scribe at work?

    Cheers. Bill.

    • Thanks for sending the two links, Bill. I wasn’t aware that Edward Johnston’s book was available online.

      • billgrant43 says:

        A long while since I responded to the L/H article. I hope you don’t mind, I have added a link to Bill’s Space and also to the Facebook page Calligraphyfor the Left Handed.
        Keep up the good work.

        Cheers. Bill

      • Hi Bill

        I’m delighted that you regard my left-handed post to be a worthwhile addition to your Facebook page.
        Of all the posts I’ve written on my Wishful Inking blog, that one has proved the most popular, which makes me think that left-handed scribes are hungry for relevant information about their different approach to the craft. Hopefully the extra exposure on your Facebook page will bring my post to the attention of even more left-handed scribes.
        And I’m sure your dedicated page will prove to be a really worthwhile resource for left-handers.

        Best wishes,

  2. Nicoll says:

    Thanks for this Duncan. I am a leftie. Many years ago into the start of my calligraphic journey I was told by the tutor of the 2-year course I had just completed that there was no way I could ever teach calligraphy, due to being left-handed. I wonder what she would say to discover that I have been teaching that course for 11 years now. 🙂 Being left-handed has never been a disadvantage, in fact it has been a distinct advantage for other lefties enrolled in the class. The interesting thing is that most people don’t notice. Left-handedness is an excuse that only works for a short time, as nearly everything can eventually be mastered by a leftie. But having some tuition in person is a must, so that you understand the technicalities – something the negative reviewer of the above book obviously missed!

    Cheers, Nicoll

    • Hi, Nicoll. I agree with you that left-handed calligraphy students are capable of achieving the same calligraphic standard as their right-handed counterparts if they work hard enough at it. During my many years of teaching calligraphy, I have taught dozens of left-handers. The first few weeks are always the most difficult, and on many occasions it has taken all my powers of persuasion to convince the students not to give up. I usually see a difference around the 4th or 5th class, when their pen-angle begins to lose it’s flatness, and settles into the desired 45 degrees (or thereabouts). By the 6th or 7th class, I usually can’t tell the difference between the lettering produced by my left and right-handers (although the left-handers do smile the broadest when they make the breakthrough). I’m glad that you proved your tutor wrong (a little encouragement wouldn’t have gone amiss)… your left-handed students must be encouraged by your own achievements. Thanks for getting in touch, Duncan

  3. William Lothian says:

    Having attended a set of Classes by Duncan about 15 years ago, and being left handed I can recommend them to anyone.

    I struggled with books and practised for quite some time but it became so much clearer when you have someone to point you in the right direction. Duncan takes his time with everyone and is a joy to watch when writing. Thank You

    • And thank you, William, for your kind words. It’s good to hear from you after all this time, and I appreciate you letting me know that my classes benefitted you (all those years ago). Hopefully, like me, you’re still wrestling with a calligraphy pen, and loving every minute of it. Take care, Duncan

  4. Susan Bernard says:

    I took my first calligraphy class last Thursday night. As a left-hander (the only one in the class) with a slightly arthritic left wrist, it was a disaster. My teacher was great, but I didn’t realize that the movement (even with a brace) would hurt so much. Two hours into the class, I had to go across the street to a pharmacy, buy aspirin, a new brace, and a mentholated salve. Still, I couldn’t write any more during that session.

    And, now it’s three days later, my wrist still hurts, I’m going to a doctor next week, and I’ve spent days pouring through everything I can find on left-handed calligraphy. The most helpful info so far were the tips in Timothy Noad’s book.

    I’ve also got Gaynor Goffe’s book, but I had no idea he was left-handed, and it’s pretty much the same information I’ve read elsewhere.

    If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know. I must tell you that I’m 61 years old, and when I was in the class, it brought back all the feelings I had when I was 6 years old in the first grade. Then, my teacher demonstrated on the chalkboard, and at the end of the session, she turned to me and said, “Susan, follow what I’m showing the rest of the class, but use your other hand.” Alas!

    In fact, I’ve got great penmanship, but I literally taught myself. And, I use the “underhanded position,” although I wasn’t aware it was called this until I began researching calligraphy!

  5. Pingback: The Left-handed Calligrapher. | BILL'S SPACE

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