Vincent de Boer

Use the Tools at Hand: Performing Calligraphy When You Are Left-Handed

Interview with Vincent de Boer of High on Type

When faced with a challenge, how will you rise to the occasion? This week, we speak with calligrapher Vincent de Boer about his love of calligraphy and how he dealt with being left-handed.


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TypeThursday: Vincent, thank you for being here for TypeThursday.

Vincent de Boer: Hi there! Nice meeting you.

TT: I’m excited to talk to you about All Eyes on Type, but before we do, I’d like to learn more about yourself. Looking at your work, I can see you love letterforms. Can you share with us more about yourself?

Vincent’s Motivations

VB: Thanks! Nice talking to you. I’m Vincent de Boer, Letter artist from the Netherlands. I have a background in Graphic Design but always had a strong urge to focus on typography. What is vital for me is making letters by the hand. Whether it’s writing or drawing, I need to make my letters and alphabets by hand. For the last two years I have been an independent artist. Previously, I had a graphic design agency together with two fellow type lovers.

TT: Fantastic. What motivates you to make letters by hand? Is it a personal preference or something you learn from school or mentors?

VB: Since a very young age I’ve been drawing, of course not yet letters at the age of 4; But other things, like comic books and stuff like that. It has been an unconscious challenge for me since I was 4 to get my left hand as skilled as possible. When I was 11, I started to have an interest in graphics. It felt like a very logical step to combine these two interests. Besides that, I’m very much in love with the directness of making things by hand. Just one brush, one piece of paper, one stroke of black ink. That’s pure romance to me.

TT: Your writing hand is your left hand. Is that correct?

VB: Yes.

TT: Being left handed is a challenge for calligraphy. Did you experience such challenges?

Performing Calligraphy When Left-Handed

VB: It’s indeed very much a challenge. The smudges you make as a lefty can be frustrating. Plus what annoys me the most is that my hand is blocking the view of the finished writing. That makes it very hard to calculate your spacing. Joining classes from right-handed teachers was also difficult because they just cannot understand what’s going on. But unconsciously, I think it brought me good things as well. Creativity to me is something that exists by the need of solving issues: to follow a path that has not been walked before. I had to accept that some things in calligraphy are just not reachable, like writing with copperplate for instance. That made me focus on other things. Plus I started with the dry brush technique, probably because of avoiding smudges.

TT: That’s fascinating you had to respond to the limitations of being left handed. Can you walk us through the different writing tools available? I noticed you note copperplate and dry brush. Are there others? How do each stack up from your experience?

Work by Vincent de Boer

The Importance of Tools and Material in Calligraphy

VB: I use brushes the most. Why I mentioned, the copperplate is because the ink will stay wet for a while. So more chance for smudges. If you compare metal tools with brushes, also broad-nib metal, the ink just takes longer to dry. Of course, it also is a matter of paper use. I once used a metal broad-nib, on a glossy paper. It took 3 hours to dry. One sentence took me three weeks because I could only make three letters at the time. Frustrating you see ;) So for me: Flat brushes. Sometimes pointed brushes. Chinese brushes. I use the metal pens sometimes. What is a significant advantage of the brush: you’re able to rotate it while making the stroke. I mean: changing from full-width to slightly less, and back to full-width again, all in one stroke. For this the brush is very useful, you can make your strokes come to live ;)

TT: To summarize, the choice of tool and paper significantly affects the writing process. You’re especially inclined to use brushes because of the ability to rotate the tool and add vitality to your work. Is that a fair summarization?

VB: Yes indeed. Plus: working with a dry brush brings, even more, possibilities to the table. I use this for my ‘3D suggestion’ works.

TT: Talk to me about All Eyes on Type. What’s it all about?

All Eyes on Type Festival

VB: All Eyes on Type is a Calligraphy and Typography Festival. We’re hosting a lot of workshops, there’s going to be lectures, and there’s an exhibition. Besides that: party, a calligraphy jam session. All you need as a type or calligraphy enthusiast. We’re very proud to have Julien Priez and Ellmer Stefan as lecturers. Julien will also give a workshop. The other workshops will be offered by me and my High on Type colleagues. To name a few styles to learn at the workshops: script lettering (pointed brush), blackletter and roman calligraphy (flat brush).

TT: Is this the inaugural festival, is that correct?

VB: This is indeed our first festival. The past four years we’ve been doing pretty much the same, workshops, lectures and exhibitions about type and calligraphy. But never in the shape of a full-weekend festival.

TT: That’s a big step forward. Are there other involved besides yourself? What motivated you all to scale up to a full-weekend festival?

VB: We felt like surprising the audience and ourselves. That’s why. Plus, there’s also some big advantages of scaling up: now we’re able to involve a lot of our favorite calligraphers and type designers. For example, Yomar Augusto from Brazil: 8 years ago, I joined his calligraphy class. Also we’re going to have Mark Caneso from the US, one of my top favorite type designers at the moment. The workshops will be given by the usual High on Type teachers; Hans Schuttenbeld, my brother Guido de Boer and myself.

TT: Excellent. In your eyes, what would be a great outcome for All Eyes on Type?

VB: That it will be two things for my fellow type enthusiasts: real fun and real education. In that sense it’s exactly the goal of High on Type: we want to be a guide in the world of calligraphy. There’s growing attention to this old craft, and the internet is almost exploding with type/lettering. But it’s quite difficult (especially for beginners) to find the proper examples because there’s just too much to see. The fun part: having a beer and a laugh with your calligraphy heroes at the festival :)

TT: Vincent, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you. Thank you so much for being here for TypeThursday.

VB: Thanks so much, it was my pleasure!


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