Having exams tomorrow, I’ll leave you with a quick observation on comparative handwriting. I’ve been practising a simple italic hand (i.e. neo-Chancery) for some time now—I haven’t really started with actual Latin calligraphy, I just wanted to improve my appallingly unreadable squiggles, and a low-key italic is much more appealing for me than Palmer– or Spencer-style cursive (which I find hard to read and kitschy). Now, a frequent piece of advice in this area is to tilt the paper a few degrees “for writing comfort”. I experimented with it and found that, indeed, sloping the baseline a few degrees makes it much easier to keep the letterstrokes in consistent directions. (But there’s an unexpected side effect: I feel conflicted when I’m writing something in the Latin alphabet with a few Japanese or Chinese characters sprinkled in, because East Asian calligraphy instructors strongly admonish you to never tilt the paper in the slightest!)
Then the other day I was reading Ishikawa Kyûyô’s Taction: The Drama of the Stylus in Oriental Calligraphy (preachy at times, but informative), and he draws attention to the upward slant of “horizontal” strokes in cursive and regular (kǎishū) styles. Regular has been the standard style of Chinese characters for some 1800 years now; it developed from cursive, which developed from clerical, which had “horizontals” that were actually horizontal. In regular, as the brush travels from left to right, it climbs up; Kyûyô also points that, when the character has several “horizontals”, they can radiate outward from an imaginary point in the far left, so that the bottom-most can end up truly horizontal.
Kyûyô says the tilt is a natural development of trying to write fastly in cursive. Claims of “naturalness” are sometimes hard to believe in calligraphy, but he suggests a test I found convincing: try to draw a very long horizontal line with your finger, “hanging arm”–style, and notice how your elbow moves; now try the same with an upward tilt—it should be possible to do it without moving the elbow at all. Did you make the same connection as I? It’s the same angle as the Western tilt of the paper! I suppose that’s what they call the “natural arm angle”. Faced with an uncomfortable fact from anatomy, Latin and Chinese calligraphy arrived at symmetrically opposite solutions; the one tilts the paper so that the lines can be horizontal, while the other tilts the lines so that the paper can be horizontal (which is a necessity in Chinese writing, given the nature of the gesture for brush-drawing the strong, vertical “pillar” strokes). The more you know〜☆