Written by: Olivia Adams, SCC Summer Student
Kristina Komendant is a calligrapher who resides in Blaine Lake, SK. She has a passion for all things calligraphy and lettering. I had the privilege of talking with her about her art and how she got into it. She jokes that she got into calligraphy to improve her handwriting, but after all of these years it has only gotten worse. The two are not related at all!
I loved being able to chat with Kristina about her artwork; the method and the personal significance it has for her. She said that she is always looking at and inspired by all kinds of lettering everywhere. From street and storefront signs, to billboards, food packaging, to even graffiti. Kristina also does bookbinding, paper marbling, paper making, and illumination artwork on deerskin. Kristina is enjoying making Artists’ Books lately: “The tactile task of bookbinding with the sewing of the signatures, the writing in calligraphic style on the pages, the incorporation of hand marbled or handmade papers for the covers or end pages, is very satisfying for me as an artist. All of the skill sets I have learned throughout the years come all together into this compact and interesting art form.”
Do you have a specific tool that you like to use?
No, not really. I like to use anything and everything. Calligraphers use many different types of tools from metal pen nibs of ½ mm to 2” in width, square-edged and pointed brushes, pencils, even handmade tools made from popsicle sticks, willow sticks, and marsh reeds etc. Calligraphers also incorporate a lot of different art techniques and materials to complement their art compositions such as inks, watercolour, gouache pigments, and acrylics to name a few.
How did you get started in calligraphy?
I wanted to improve my handwriting and decided to take a calligraphy class through Saskatoon’s Leisure Services in the early ’80s. When I wrote a few words in the Celtic style in this class, I was hooked to learn more. It was a lot of fun for me to write with a square edged pen and even though just a beginner, it looked so much nicer than my handwriting.
Do you like to go to a specific place to get inspired?
I really like to attend the International Calligrapher’s Conferences to get more motivated and inspired with my work. Last summer, I attended the 37th International Calligrapher’s Conference at Sonoma State U just north of San Francisco, California. Over 400 calligraphers came together from all around the world to immerse themselves into the art and craft of calligraphy for one week. I just loved it! The high caliber of instructors for this art area is top notch. Many of these instructors are typeface/font designers, have published many books on hand lettering of all kinds and operate very successful design studios of their own. I found not only the classes I took to be very inspiring, but also the networking with fellow calligraphers from all around the world was fantastic.
Can you explain a little bit about calligraphy?
Calligraphy in general is misunderstood. Many think it’s just handwriting and anyone can just do it. What I have learned is that it takes a long time to acquire the skill, control and coordination it takes to manipulate a square-edged pen and other writing tools. A lot of hand and eye coordination is necessary in order to make the letters. It takes a number of strokes to complete just one letter and therefore takes time. The eye must travel just a little ahead of the pen in hand, in order to make the multiple strokes connect with one another. Also, keeping a specific and constant pen angle to the writing surface for all letters takes much concentration and control. What I like a lot about calligraphy is that because you are writing with a free hand so to speak, one can write on any kind of surface and anywhere – papers of all kinds for sure, but also on wood, clay, fabric, leather, even on indoor or outdoor vertical walls. It is a very portable, flexible, and versatile art form. The contemporary styles of lettering today when compared to the traditional have become much freer and expressive but one still needs to understand the basics of letterform construction in order to jump off this deep end.
Do you have anyone that mentors you or that you look up to?
In my early years of learning calligraphy, I took a number of workshops from Martin Jackson (Vancouver, BC), the best calligrapher in Canada I believe. I admire immensely his disciplined and precise artistry of the letterform and his raised gold gilding is spectacular. Julian Waters (USA), John Stevens (USA), Denis Brown (Ireland), to name just a few as there are many. More recently my instructor from the Sonoma Conference – Massimo Polello (Italy). They have all left an incredible signature on calligraphy and lettering art today. It is more than fine writing.
Do you have a favourite quote?
I have been collecting quotes and verse since the early ’80s and have many favourites. The one I really like and have on my wall in my studio is from Rudolph Koch – a Master of Lettering, Calligraphy and Typography. “No serious calligrapher can overlook the handwritten book. Only there will he find all of the questions and only there can he prove his art.” I am still asking many questions.
What makes calligraphy interesting for you?
Calligraphy for me is my artistic outlet. I like playing with pens, inks, and all kinds of paper. The thick and thin strokes of a calligraphic styled letter cannot be matched by anything on the computer. It does have a spirit and life all of its own. I also enjoy the challenge of making my Artists’ books as well. Fonts are accessible and wonderful but look stiff and mechanical. When I am asked to do a commission for someone, I know they have chosen the real over the mechanical and it is up to me to deliver as best as I can a finished piece that expresses what they had wanted. To complete four family tree keepsake books, for example, knowing that they will be handed down throughout the generations is very rewarding and satisfying for me as a calligrapher today.
Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?
I feel very lucky to have had this passion of calligraphy and lettering art sustain and nurture me throughout many years. I will continue to practice this long as I can. I wish the school systems would reintroduce basic instruction for handwriting. Many parents have told me they are dismayed that their children cannot write well at all. Though very basic and almost taken for granted, we cannot lose the art and craft of writing in all of its diverse forms. It has been an instrument of learning and dissemination of knowledge for everything in our society throughout the centuries. All gadgets aside, we still need to hand write. When the power and lights go out, I am glad I can still write with a pen on paper and candlelight, and get the job done!