#NoFilter Interview w/ SC artist: John 肥肥

John growing out from a capital stem, circa 1989

John growing out from a capital stem, circa 1989

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

I am impulsive. I was watching Youtube videos of some dude with nice handwriting, and thought to myself: man I need one of them fountain pens. Two hours later, I was in a fountain pen shop where I procured my first pen (no, I do not consider ball-point / gel "pens" pens). I then started my Instagram account, taking pictures of my only fountain pen and horrendous writing. 

At that point in time, I happened to chance upon an event called "InCoWriMo", which led to me writing an un-solicited letter to Sarah Ko. She duly wrote back, in Copperplate. At that point, I thought to myself: What is this even magic whaaat? I impulsively bought an oblique holder that day, and that was the start of my dip-pen adventures!


Fast-forward several years, I am an advocate for "historically accurate" English Roundhand. The reason I used inverted-commas is because historically, broad edge pens were used, not the pointed pens I am so accustomed to. Anyway, I spend countless hours stalking George Bickham's The Universal Penman, studying the shapes and forms of English Roundhand as they were written in the golden years. 

Due to my stubborn-ness to accept newer forms of writing, one of my pet-peeves is when people shade the ligature of "o". Doh!


Are there any artists whom you admire, or who may have influenced the work that you do today? 

Well, I have to give a lot of credit to George Bickham, for it is through his engravings that I am who I am today. Very few calligraphers follow the traditional way of writing English Roundhand, with most calligraphers leaning towards the American Engrossers' script, so it is  really quite difficult to find work that inspires me greatly. 

Most of the time I am inspired by un-named artists when I stumble upon random pieces of writing on historical pieces of art, like those from the book "The Birds of America"




Describe a typical practice session?

When I started my Instagram account (@yakiujohn), I read posts on how to grow my followers count, and many guides mentioned multiple posts a day. Multiple posts a day, it is!

I am not a fan of taking multiple photos of a single piece of writing and posting it over several days or weeks, so every post had to be new content. This forced me to write a lot, even though I was just re-writing a word or sentence multiple times. Yet this strange technique taught me something too—how to identify shortfalls in my work and improve them in the next iteration.

With each word I write, I try to figure out why the piece looks good or bad, and I try to improve in the next round. Of course initially I didn't really know why a piece would look good or bad.

Today, I still practice a lot this way, but instead of blindly trying to figure out what to improve, I refer to The Universal Penman and compare mine vs the engraved versions. 

I would say that this method of practicing trains the mind and the eye. By knowing what a letter should look like, and being able to write it in my head, my eye can then pick these mistakes out when I write.

Another practice session involves training the body. You probably already know that I am about to say: "Drills!"

Drills are a good way to get your muscles used to the movements they have to perform, but drills without using the mind is pointless! If one has no idea what a compound curve (line of universal beauty) should look like, one would most likely drill in page-after-page of mistakes. As far as drills are concerned, it's not meant to be therapeutic. It's meant to commit conscious into sub-conscious, slaying that muscle-memory game. And it is most important to ensure what you are doing in drills is correct! 

The drills I do are from penmanship manuals or workbooks written by masters of the past. The drills usually involve ovals, circles, and nib control techniques.


What is the hardest thing aspect about learning lettering/calligraphy?

I like to say that we don't know what we don't know, and we can't see what we can't see. 

As a beginner, we often look for the obvious in our script: Did I shade or not? A beginner would surely not be able to point out other aspects such as the uniformity of ligatures, the angle of ascenders and descenders, the way tines should open and close when making a shade, the list goes on...

As a result, without proper guidance, one would find it difficult to progress as we would master what we can see, but not be able to work on other aspects of the script. 


Think about this: how high along the previous shade should a ligature start in the case of the minuscule "n"? While we might have our own ideas about where it should start, what is actually correct and aesthetically pleasing? If a Copperplate student follows the Madarasz / Spencerian school of thought, the ligature should start right at the bottom. Yet, in English Roundtext, it's really close to the top! Well my point is that even though you must have seen a thousand n's, it is hard to actually know what it looks like unless you consciously know what to look out for when you see an n. Okay ignore me I am crazy.


Tell us one (or a few) unknown fact about yourself

I'm really annoying? 

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