Margaret Shepherd: my earliest influence


Sometimes unexpected things happen that simply knock you for six, and a few days ago such a thing happened to me. But before I explain, I’ll set the scene.

Back in 1985, when I first decided to learn calligraphy, there were no classes available, so I decided that I would teach myself from a book. It can’t be that difficult, I thought, having no idea what I was letting myself in for.

After buying a calligraphy pen, I went along to my local library and was directed to the “calligraphy section,” which consisted of a single book: Margaret Shepherd’s Learning Calligraphy. I Margaret Shepherd booksduly booked it out and, with no consideration for anyone else who was thinking of learning calligraphy courtesy of the local library, I selfishly borrowed the book continuously for the next two years.

Learning Calligraphy became my constant companion. Almost every day I practiced from its progressively dog-eared and ink-stained pages. I eventually returned it to the library and purchased my own copy, which is still in my possession (and which I, naturally, have kept pristine and ink-free as the photo above confirms).

I later created an arsenal of Margaret Shepherd books by purchasing, Capitals for Calligraphy, Borders for Calligraphy, and Calligraphy Projects for Pleasure and Profit, all of which played a huge part in my introduction to the craft. Calligraphy Projects, in particular, gave me my first ideas about how to use my hand-lettering constructively.

Unfortunately, I didn’t use the books efficiently. I was impatient, in a rush to master the alphabets, so I copied the letters without paying much attention to the instructions. Consequently, through no fault of Ms Shepherd, my progress was slow. I eventually attended a short, but life-changing, calligraphy course (more of which in my next post), which assisted me enormously, and helped me to get more from the books that I owned.

Despite my self-inflicted slow progress while learning from her books, I can wholeheartedly attribute everything I learned during those first two years to Margaret Shepherd. Even now, twenty-seven years after discovering Learning Calligraphy in the library, I show examples of her work to my calligraphy students, citing her as my original influence. Throughout almost three decades as a practicing calligrapher, I have considered her to be the person who kick-started my career in hand-lettering.

And now to the “unexpected thing” that happened to me…

A few days ago, this very blog received an emailed comment that was complimentary about a post that I had written. Although I was delighted with the positive feedback, I was distracted by the name of the person who had commented. It was familiar, making alarm bells ring in my head.

Margaret Shepherd must be a pretty common name, I thought, not daring to get too excited. I clicked on the associated website address and… sure enough… it was THAT Margaret Shepherd. It was a surreal moment, and I was absolutely gobsmacked.

I spent the rest of the day excitedly babbling to everyone I met that Margaret Shepherd had contacted me. My wife and son were delighted, of course, but random strangers seemed wary of my enthusiasm. I think they must have been feigning disinterest, because how could anyone fail to be moved by the fact that Margaret Shepherd had written to me?

I immediately wrote back to her, describing the impact that her books had on me while I was learning calligraphy. Embarrassingly, I probably gushed like a starstruck teenager, but she was kind enough to respond, and mentioned that she had looked at some of my work online. “Very nice Italic,” she wrote.

I’m back on solid ground now, but the kind words of Margaret Shepherd will keep me buoyant for weeks to come.


Margaret Shepherd is presently working on a book about American Calligraphy. Many of her calligraphy books can be purchased on Amazon here.

Visit her website and her blog.


One Response to Margaret Shepherd: my earliest influence

  1. Scarlet says:

    I have all of Ms Shepherd’s books too! I did exactly the same as you, i.e I rushed through them without reading the instructions properly! In about 1994 I went back and read all my books properly. I wish that I’d found a proper calligraphy course – it would have saved an awful lot of time.

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