Calligraphy in modern times | Deccan Herald

Technology has changed the way a lot of art is done today and calligraphy is one of those art forms in transition. Some changes are welcome, some less so, say practitioners. This week, DHonSaturday zooms in on the ancient art of calligraphy that’s becoming a common sight on wedding cards, birthday invitations, and personalized gifts.

Go digital

Karishma Mansukhani, a young calligrapher from Bengaluru, says digital calligraphy is the easiest option to reproduce calligraphy works for print. Moreover, you can correct errors by simply pressing the undo button, it highlights the advantage.

Digital calligraphy is usually done on a touchscreen device using a stylus. It can also be done on a desktop computer using software like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator.

However, seniors in the field have reservations. Bengaluru-based KC Janardhan says, “The personalization and attention to detail make calligraphy a special art even today. Digital tools cannot match these.

Others view digital calligraphy as a lazy approach to the art form. The software automatically fixes a few strokes to make the work smoother, removing the imperfections that make handmade objects endearing and unique.

Digital works can also create false expectations. “People expect calligraphy done by hand to look like done on a computer. They expect fonts and colors to be the same and consistent, which is not possible,” comments Mumbai-based veteran calligrapher Achyut Palav on the challenges of modern times.

Evolution of styles

There is a traditional and a modern version of every art form today, Janardhan notes. “Anything that does not follow the rules of traditionalism is considered modern,” he says simply.

Likewise, modern calligraphy does not follow traditional rules and favors a mixture of scriptures and styles, Achyut explains. Breaking these rules allows artists to develop their signature style.

According to Karishma, modern calligraphy is whimsical while traditional calligraphy is elegant. “Most modern calligraphy styles evolved from copperplate or ‘Roundhand’ writing (a style where the upstrokes are thin and the downstrokes are thick). Ancient and modern styles vary in spacing , slant and letter formation,” says Karishma.

Interestingly, the change in script and style is a result of changing market demands. “Previously, calligraphers largely depended on the “certificate market” to get paid. Today, the market for physical certificates is almost dead. Weddings (cards or invitations) are a big market now. Personalized calligraphy has sentimental value to many,” says Janardhan.

The tools remain the same

Whether you practice traditional or modern calligraphy, the tools remain largely the same. These include straight, left-tilted, and right-tilted tips. “New tools like brush pens have appeared, but they are used more for lettering than calligraphy,” Janardhan points out. Also, the training remains the same. “First, perfect your handwriting, then move on to lettering to learn how to draw different fonts and understand each style. You can only become a calligrapher after perfecting them,” he adds.

Calligraphy vs Lettering

The two terms are often confused. Lettering refers to the process of drawing or illustrating a letter – you can decorate the “O” with flowers, for example. Calligraphy is the art of writing letters with an artistic touch – like adding strokes and curls to letters like “A”.

Another difference is readability. Achyut Palav says, “In lettering, readability is the top priority. The same is not necessarily true for calligraphy. In calligraphy, beauty takes precedence over readability, he realized that.

The difference lies as much in the result as in the process of getting there. “The lettering process is more rigid than calligraphy,” he adds.


According to KC Janardhan, calligraphy has historically been linked to several countries like China, Japan, India and Europe. “But the roots of calligraphy are mainly in the Arab world. Arabic script is one of the few scripts flexible enough for calligraphy,” he explains.

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