George Thomson’ s Practical Calligraphy is a small book full of big ideas. It introduces the history and uses of calligraphy in straightforward and inspiring ways, from ancient Mesopotamia, through medieval monks to modern wedding invitations. The examples and step-by-step instructions for projects look very accessible, and they are clear.

The big problem for me was with the execution. It took me awhile to get started, as figuring out the various writing implements left me a bit stymied – filling those bamboo pens is MUCH harder than it looks! So it was on to Plan B: simple calligraphy pens with cartridges from the office supply store, and, even better, “cheater” felt tip Elegant Writer pens.

Next challenge: consistency of lettering, angles, spaces, etc. The book does an excellent job of illustrating and instructing the ways to achieve a professional look with a hand that ranges from simple to beautifully embellished. Easier said than done, but with even a bit of practice, and my trusty cheater pens, I did see some modest improvements in my efforts.   It is not the book’s fault that I need much more practice before I can come close to a consistently good result.

The second half of the book outlined how to put newfound calligraphy skills to practical use through the completion of projects such as monograms, bookplates, posters, illustrations, a manuscript book and the aforementioned wedding invitations. These are complex projects, not for beginners, at least, not this beginner. However, once I have put in the requisite extensive practice on the basics, I will enjoy using the techniques outlined to complete smaller projects such as place cards.

Overall, this little book is a great reference and a good starting point for aspiring calligraphers with ideas for projects both big and small.