27 January 2014

[art] Saturday in Portlandia: Handwriting Class with Barbara Getty and Inga Dubay

If it's Saturday and I'm in a handwriting class and there are adults there, this must be Portland.

That's what I couldn't help thinking while waiting for the workshop to start, and various variation thereunto.

This last Saturday, the handwriting artists and calligraphers Inga Dubay and Barbara Getty held a three-hour seminar on their Getty-Dubay Handwriting Method in a room called Kempton Hall at the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in NW Portlandia. This was a feast for my eyes and senses on so many levels.

The room itself was large yet cozy, with the sort of clear-lacquered floor one expects to see in auditoriums and dance rooms. Inlaid into this is a large labyrinth, the kind that's popular these days to walk along as a meditative tool, and a stage at the front of the room which has seen decades of use, worn in that well-maintained, much-loved way such things can be.

All was in brown, comforting, earth tones. Above the room, on the south wall, a monumental painting of the cleric this room was named for commanded and watched over all; it's a very very kind space. And we were all there to see how we might right gud.

Er, write good. Sorry. Couldn't suppress the joke.

The seminar was free and offered me a chance to kick my obsessed-upon handwriting up to the next level, and The Wife™, who is writing more stuff these days and I couldn't be more pleased with this, wanted some tips to make her handwriting sing a little more.

Ain't no sin there, wanting to handwrite better, and I'll stand in nobody's way.

My handwriting has always been good, and the way I obsess on it, it should be. But a refresher betimes is no sin, and when you can get Getty and Dubay's insights for just showing up … well, as Tom once said, free is a very good price!
You may have heard that the preference for handwriting in America is declining, with even cursive in danger of becoming a lost art (I wouldn't be so sad as to lose cursive, but more on that later). So, even though the seminar  was on a Saturday tucked into a corner of NW Portland which is kind of hard to find parking in even on a slow day, the attendance was … well, extremely heartening. We got there about 35 minutes before the show got underway, which was lucky for us as we were kind of pushing it. Though I lived in NW back when it was still affordable, there's one thing that hasn't changed at all: Parking is hell there. We lucked and got one of the few spots in the Trinity Cathedral's microchip-sized parking lot.

I'd heard of Getty-Dubay handwriting before but this was going to be an up-close look, and I was eager, to say the least. I've been an advocate of italic handwriting (as opposed to cursive, which is what we all learned in school – I was a victim of the Palmer method) for all my adult life so far. When I was
The first of my many role-models.
Sourced from here.
in high school I had an epiphany after looking at typing from an IBM Selectric Light Italic typeball (how the olde-tymers kicked word-processing old-school, yo). I can't remember the day or time of the epiphany, but I do remember gaining, quite suddenly, the awareness of two things:

  1. I didn't have to write cursive the way they said I had to anymore, and
  2. If I made it legible, they wouldn't care anyway.
I had started in junior high, actually, writing my minuscule q a certain way that gave it a foresail-shaped banner instead of a loop, not knowing then I had discovered one of my own keys to distinctive, recognizable, and admired handwriting (I am not bragging when I say I've received more compliments than I can count on my everyday hand … it's the truth). 

What I was busy discovering, in my reinventing-the-wheel way, was italic handwriting. To most of us, italic means what I just did with that word italic there … giving it a slant for emphasis. The word italic comes to us from Italy, where the slanted hand was first devised. And it was  used there for fine, fine handwriting … every handwriting aficionado knows of Arrighi's La Operina, and it would do one no damage to peruse a copy when the chance presents itself. This is italic at its utmost, and most poetic.

Today's handwriting is a mess. This I lay at the door of what we commonly call 'cursive'. It has a noble purpose - speed. The word cursive itself shares Latin roots with a word which also gave us coursing and Corsair … words denoting fleet speed. Some call it running script. To promote quickness in writing, letters are joined and loops introduced, and if you can do it right, it stays readable. 

It's tough, though, to do cursive right. Cursive promotes speed and speed becomes its own excuse, leading to a mess of loops and capital letters than in no way resemble either the minuscule versions or the constructed, printed version. Sure, there's a G, Q and S somewhere in the strange cursive construction meant to stand in for them. But you've pretty much got to take their word for it. Cursive destroys legible handwriting, without legibility, nobody wants to do it much. Who's going to blame them?

Italic handwriting promotes deliberation, and if you started out slowly at it at first, don't worry: you needed training wheels before you can ride on two wheels, and starting out in italic can be maddeningly slow. 

But then, you weren't born writing cursive, either.

The Getty-Dubay method teaches italic handwriting with an emphasis on simple rules you learn on the 'printing' side of the learning curve which just about anyone who can hold a pencil can aspire to. Then, when you're ready to go to the 'big leagues' of cursive italic, you learn a handful of simple joins, then you learn you can use them or not, as you care to. There's a wonderfully simple structure that you can decorate up or leave spare as you please. Italic really is more simple to learn than you might think. I'd challenge people to find this out for themselves.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by a very nice and polite young lady who gave us white envelopes with the seminar's materials. There were handouts with practice-sheets (which we all used, rather lustily) five or six sheets of good-old-fashioned looseleaf, and the most delightful example-card which now has pride of a certain place in my studio. It's pleasant just to look at, and inspirational to look at besides. It'll stay up there for a long time to come, I expect.

The teachers, Barbara Getty and Inga Dubay, give off the air of being elementary school teachers from way back and, as far as I was able to find, they were; you wouldn't think that they could deliver the basics in three hours but, by Arrighi's nibs, they sure were. The passion they had for this certainly delivered. And the classmates were as affable and friendly a group of learners as I ever wanted to find. There was free World Cup coffee, which can make a bad day good and a good day better, and they sold some of their books at a table in the back for a discount just for your having come out.

I've read books by Lloyd Reynolds and Fred Eager, and Getty/Dubay belongs alongside of them; ahead, because they are the current champions of handwriting as a thing in these modern times, a task which must seem thankless now and again. But I'd recommend this to everyone. Look, you don't have to write for anyone but yourself even to enjoy the fun in handwriting this way.

From what I've seen, Getty and Dubay run a seminar like this every January. They are more popular than you'd think, and if there's going to be another one in January 2015, then I'd just start making my plans now.

You can keep up with Inga and Betty on their website, http://www.handwritingsuccess.com/.  I've seen their books on handwriting at Powell's, as well.

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