Of the sixty-six accounts I follow on Instagram, only a handful are friends. The rest are calligraphers, logo designers, and photographers. One of those accounts posted something about Ink Academy the day before they were set to launch their Indiegogo campaign, so I emailed Suzie for an interview. Below is due homage of her love for calligraphy, layered on top of my gratitude for making so accessible one of the most beautiful art forms of our species. Enjoy. —Brandon Giella
Who are you and what do you do?
Hi there! I’m Suzie McKig, and I’m an art director, graphic designer, calligraphy student, and entrepreneur (not by choice, it’s in my DNA, lol).
What got you into calligraphy?
As an event invitation designer I’ve worked with some amazing calligraphers over the last twelve years—and I’ve always drooled over their luscious writing! About two years ago I decided it was time to jump in and learn! I did some research to find a teacher and fell in love with Barbara Calzolari’s gorgeous work, so I invited her here to Berkeley to teach a workshop in the summer of 2015. After that weekend I knew this was something that reached far deeper than the letterforms themselves.
Calligraphy is exploding right now. What about it connects humans to something deeper within themselves?
It’s kind of amazing, isn’t it? There is nothing more beautiful than creating something special for a friend, for a colleague, or just for yourself. Calligraphy is mesmerizing actually. Both to learn and just to watch, and I think we’re in a time when we desire to be mesmerized by something simple.
In this crazy fast-paced life of ours we rarely just sit down and do something not only simple in nature, but something active yet quiet, requiring our full attention over an extended period of time in order to progress with it. It’s like going on a long bike ride in the country, or meditating, or sailing.
When we allow our mind to just chill for a while and create an environment where all that matters is the stroke we’re writing, it creates this world where you’re really letting something inside manifest through your hand.
Calligraphy is an ancient art. Where do you see it heading—or what is its future?
Calligraphy has evolved so much over time—from the Roman letters of the first century, to the broad edge medieval styles, to the decorative pointed pen scripts of the last centuries. Calligraphy has always been the primary source of personal written communication, not merely a decorative art form.
We’re in an interesting place right now in history where we can draw from the classic forms of all this lettering history—and find not only one but many styles we really love—then push them further into the modern age to give them a contemporary feel. Our world of communication right now is so full of repetition lacking variation or personality—as everything we do is digitally based. As Barbara Calzolari mentions in our little film we made: “I cannot be represented by any font in the world.” And it’s so true.
Calligraphy is so unique in that way—we each learn the same basics and foundations of a style, yet each of us will naturally interpret it with the stamp of our own personality—we can’t help but do that. And that’s the beauty as we each have something interesting to say in our own way.
What do you hope for the art? How could we cultivate that?
My hope for the art is that we don’t treat this like a trend. There is such a wide range of people from all over the world right now that really are appreciating learning the art of writing beautifully. It’s so incredibly satisfying to slip into the relaxed process of picking up a pen, dipping it into ink, then thoughtfully expressing yourself in your own unique way, in the style that you are embracing.
I think that calligraphy has a special opportunity right now to take root rather than to fly away like a dandelion seed in the wind. And hopefully Ink Academy is creating this opportunity right now. With our wise and wonderful Academic Director and Master Penman Michael Sull at the helm, our programs will be so rich and full of history, integrity, and structure.
With a virtual school that will offer an infinite range of styles to learn over time we are building a foundation for growth and richness rather than a condition for boredom of just one trendy look that is going on like wildfire right now. “Modern Calligraphy” has really created something wonderful to capture people’s interest on a super accessible level since it’s so easy to pick up. But once the sugar high wears off, there is so much more to learn that is the “meal” of lettering.
The wide range of programs Michael Sull and I have planned are what I hope will bring about a deep cultivation of learning to those that truly love the art form. We have other wonderful calligraphers like Master Penwoman Pat Blair (and chief White House Calligrapher for over twelve years), Giovanni de Faccio of Austria (with a wide range of broad edge), and Tom Kemp from England (specializing in brush Trajans). Our faculty is bursting with variety and historical richness!
How does calligraphy tie into your world as a graphic designer?
I’ve always been super passionate about letterforms in all shapes, sizes, and styles. Creating a style and personality with type has always felt like play to me—it’s a puzzle sort of challenge to find the perfect balance and proportion within the context of layout. When Barbara Calzolari came to teach a class at our studio a few years ago, she pointed out something that turned on a big light in my brain—a realization that hadn’t come to me before—when she said she couldn’t be represented by any font in the world.
As designers, we pick fonts that we are attracted to, those that impart a personality with the way we construct a page, but digital fonts never can truly represent our own individual souls the way calligraphy does. As stylized and essential to design that fonts are, they remain fixed designs created by another person with vectors on a computer. The fact that each letter is never uniformly precise, that each time the letter that we draw is a bit different—that creates the imperfect perfection of the artist behind the letter.
What is Ink Academy?
The last calligraphy school closed over seventy years ago. There currently are no comprehensive calligraphy programs anywhere in the world offering specialization in a wide variety of calligraphy styles. Without the Ink Academy, there is a huge risk in losing the integrity of thousands of years of the past. We can’t let the chain be broken.
The Ink Academy is the first international calligraphy school of its kind—offering students both short- and medium-length classes, as well as full Master’s and Proficiency certification programs for those who want to get really accomplished in specific styles.
We also will continue to hold live workshops in Berkeley, California, and week-long luxury calligraphy retreats (the first one will be in July 2018 in Tuscany, Italy!). Another exciting goal of ours is to begin filming a series of visually-arresting documentaries—each episode focusing on the life story of a Master calligrapher from our faculty. If you’ve seen Netflix’s Chef’s Table series, you know how high our bar is set! :)