(Photo of envelope that arrived in December 2011, from Micheline Courtemanche of Betty & Bing)
Having taught at Colleges and Universities for a decade, I've noticed that my students rarely write in cursive. For the most part my students print when they must write tests by hand and their handwriting sometimes verges on illegible.
Handwriting has evidently taken a back seat to other curriculum priorities in schools. The absence of handwriting ability creates an exponential loss for those who aren't practiced at the skill. Longhand (or cursive) writing requires fine motor skills that are different from those required to print letters. Also, when students aren't taught to write in longhand, they have difficulty reading it. I remember reading an article about handwriting which mentioned that the brain processes the skill of printing letters differently than it does writing in longhand. The inability to write in longhand apparently affects brain capacity in a not altogether insignificant way.
France recognizes the value of handwriting skills and sees it as part and parcel of artistic expression. It is taught in conjunction with drawing, dance and music. Here is a British-made video of French schoolchildren being taught handwriting in a comprehensively artistic manner.
Cursive is simply loaded with the individual personality of the writer in a way that an army of emoticons cannot replace. Certainly, email is expedient and convenient but nothing can replace the visceral thrill of getting a hand-written note or letter in the mailbox. Honestly, who wants a love letter printed in Helvetica from a laser printer? I miss seeing the "personality" part of written communications that arrive via email. It seems a high price to pay in exchange for volumes of email...too much of which is pointless.
Longhand is expressive. It's drawing, it's dancing on paper, it's emotive and personal. It's an art form that only improves with regular practice, just as any other art form does. When drawn well, letters are objects of beauty. For those who wish to hone their skills, it only takes about 10 minutes of practice each day to steadily improve.
A copy of a 'Palmer Method' book can often be found on eBay, or templates of the alphabet found with a Google image search. That is the hand that was commonly taught in the early half of the 20th century and looks quite nice. The 'Zaner Method' is a very similar alternative.
So dust off your pens and stationary. Make someone's YEAR by writing them a beautifully handwritten letter...and make yourself a smarter, more skilled penman in the process!
**Note from nook: Take a look at this related blog post by fellow illustrator Jacqui Oakley!
Nook successfully launched it’s “salon” series on the evening of January 25th with artist Maurice Vellekoop.
Aside from his obvious talent, Maurice is known as a charming, witty raconteur. He’s cute and always decked out in snazzy garb, but best of all, he was a great first guest.
We explored how Maurice developed his unique approach to the creation of his art. Discussions of influences, mentors and even scandals took up the bulk of the evening. A visual presentation that spanned Maurice’s 25+years of working as an illustrator and creator of graphic novels and books, rounded out a captivating discussion.
In preparation for my talk with Maurice, I had spent some time getting to know him a bit better. As it turns out, we have a lot in common. We’re both first generation Canadians, children of immigrants who left Europe after the devastation of WWII. Both our mothers were hairdressers and both our fathers were bakers – Maurice’s father for a short time, mine for all of his working life.
Both our mothers took their trade into the home after they had children. Saturday mornings meant seeing women coming through our homes and trotting down the stairs and into the basement to be transformed into visions of beauty, while the kids played and watched cartoons in the adjacent room. We recounted the ever-present smell of perm solution, hairspray and cigarette smoke.
Our lives became less similar as Maurice described his upbringing through his childhood in a strict Dutch Reform private school, living in a devoutly Christian home to having an eccentric father who introduced him to art & opera. It got even more interesting as we heard of Maurice's terrifying trips to a public high school where taunts and name-calling become a daily minefield he had to force himself through.
That he escaped into his art makes absolutely perfect sense, when you think about it.
About this Nook Salon, people were heard to say:
"The Nook Salon series is a terrific new event platform. Part talk show interview, part TED-like lecture, this series promises to be good. The first event with Maurice was a terrific examination of the mind behind his iconic work. Loved hearing about his childhood and family and how that experience informed his career."
"It was great to get some real insight into how and why Maurice makes his wonderful work. Sort of a 'Maurice unplugged'."
"I already adore Maurice's work and it was fantastic to hear the story of how the legend came to be! What's not to love? A well-researched interview and an engaging, hairspray-scented discussion!"
p.s – a few recent pages from my latest sketchbook...