manchester is a city known for its abundance of creativity and in my time here i’ve become increasingly keen to tap into that positive energy and try out some new artistic and crafting activities to see if i can unlock any hidden creative talents myself..
enter joyce lee, who was introduced to me by a wonderful mutual friend (tori of unfold the day). joyce had also been inspired by the creativity in the city after moving from singapore 3 years ago, and drawing upon her love for calligraphy and a desire to bring back the art of beautiful writing, launched artsynibs. she now teaches a number of modern calligraphy and brush lettering workshops across the city, many held in two of my favourite northern quarter haunts: porter+cole and form lifestyle store.
i went along to one of her sessions at porter+cole a few months ago to see if i had what it takes to start crafting my own line of motivational quotation posters.. (haha!)
calligraphy has seen a massive resurgence over the past five years and modern calligraphy has become a popular choice for the aforementioned quotation artwork and wedding/party invitations, as well as being viewed as a relaxing and easily accessible ‘offline’ hobby. the idea of spontaneous crafting as an appealing antidote to the amount of time we spend online these days was something i touched upon in my recent post reviewing katie treggiden’s urban potters: makers in the city book, and i think the same type of thinking applies to the popularity of calligraphy as a hobby just now.
artsynibs’ intro to modern calligraphy workshop is tailored to beginners who want to explore the art of writing with a pointed pen, similar to the pointed parker fountain pen nibs you were made to write with at school (at least, you were at my school – anyone else?), and during the 3 hour session joyce guides you through the basics of the art form and how to care for your writing tools, which are provided in a specially curated starter kit included in the workshop price.
despite its relaxed style, modern calligraphy is still characterised by the combination of contrasting fine lines and thicker strokes, and you need to get your head around the basic principles before you start crafting your own calligraphic style. after a brief warm up exercise to get us used to handling the pen and using the ink, we began working on a series of calligraphy drills, designed to help you practice keeping both tines of the nib evenly on the paper, exerting the right amount of pressure, and familiarising yourself with the dip/clean/repeat process.
there’s a certain type of calmness required to keep your lettering consistent and your nib flowing lightly across the page, and throughout the session joyce reiterated that we should maintain a focus on our breathing. those timely reminders were required; it’s amazing how maintaining minute focus on single letters on a page often results in you hold your breath in deep concentration, when actually its free flowing breaths that will help steady the movement of your hand and create a smoother, more harmonious scroll across the page.
there have been numerous studies into the stress-reducing effects of calligraphy and its ability to quiet the mind and thus enhance cognitive function, and even in just a few short hours practising the technique – even while feeling somewhat anxious about getting my lettering right! – i definitely walked away from the workshop feeling both calmer and more energised than before.
as we moved through the session, we graduated from drills to practising strokes and minuscules (i.e. building lowercase letters one stroke at a time). let me tell you, calligraphy is not as easy as it may look and having someone on hand to show you the basics, critique your technique and provide practical advice for improvement is a godsend. i think we were all very much focused on getting things just right in our session, but the key to improvement and being able to move from single letters and words into phrases is – of course – practice, practice, practice!
you leave the workshop with everything you need to be able to keep on practicing and building up your repertoire, with guide sheets, nibs, nib holder and ink, and i really need to set aside a quiet saturday afternoon, put on a mellow soundtrack and break out my kit out to practise again – perhaps i’ll even share the results of my endeavours here, or on instagram..
in the meantime though, i’ve asked joyce to share a few of her ‘secret city’ tips with me so i can get her take on the very best spots to enjoy in the city. read on for her recommendations below:
joyce lee, artsynibs
how long have you been living in greater manchester, and whereabouts are you based?
about 3.5 years now and in the city centre. i’m born & bred a city girl!
what drew you to the city initially?
a much slower pace of life – i’m originally from singapore. i never knew much about manchester, and only relocated with the intention of leaving after my husband’s mba was done.
what’s your favourite thing about the city?
oh, i can’t really pin down on one. but if i really have to, it’s the creative vibe because it’s how artsynibs was born!
best place for a morning cuppa?
mancoco! quite off the beaten track but it takes me to the quieter part of the city where i just want a cuppa whilst penning my morning thoughts and bask in the fragrance of freshly roasted beans.
favourite place for a design-fix?
form lifestyle store – where i teach my workshops at and spend half my profits after!
can you share an insider’s secret spot you’ve discovered in the city?
umezushi – i’m a serious foodie and they serve some serious sushi. although, i don’t think they’re much of a secret now that they’ve been featured by a few travel publications. the fact that they’re tucked away just outside the city centre, under a railway arch – that’s quite a secret spot!
favourite way to spend a weekend in the city?
take a walk along the canals – castlefield canal and new islington canal are my favourites.
joyce runs calligraphy and brush lettering workshops in locations across manchester (and beyond). be sure to check her website for full details of the latest sessions.
photography of joyce lee © josie farquharson / jfqphotos, used with permission; photography of calligraphy workshop © fabric of my life.