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Calligraphy's learning curves

Penmanship is as individual as the writer, but we all start with basics. Betty Tadman looks at a guide to elegant script

Handwriting is a means of communication. If it is illegible, it is useless. And legibility is crucial for passing examinations - indecipherable work is automatically marked down. Copperplate, which is not mentioned in Patricia Lovett's Calligraphy for Starters, can be beautiful, but it has to be executed with care: its loops become tangled at speed.

Italic, on the other hand is the most legible of all scripts. It is a unique discipline which, after practice, becomes a habit. With italic there are no loops, only certain letters join up. The descender (or downstroke) on the letters f g j p q and y end at their tail - they never loop up to the following letter. This prevents it breaking down at speed so it is still readable - even with a ball-point pen. The beauty is that, when the skill has been mastered, the personality of the writer shows through: small and neat or larger and more dashing, the capitals can be precise or florid.

Italic is one of the scripts which Lovett introduces as being of interest to improve children's "joined up" writing skills to meet the national curriculum's handwriting requirements. But its usefulness is limited: cursive writing is not included in its instructions, nor is it suitable for young children, who need a simpler approach. For them, the old Marion Richardson books are still the best - if you can get hold of them - since they lead by comfortable stages from simple rounded letters.

This manual is also hard to manipulate. It is ring-bound at the top but side binding would have avoid turning it around to read the page numbers. It is, however, a good introduction to italic, round hand and gothic (never known for its easy legibility and generally useless for classroom work).

The companion video shows Lovett choosing pens, inks and paper and giving a commentary while she writes. She talks about spacing and pens for left-handed writers. The video will also be useful to teachers setting projects such as posters.

Teachers who have no training in italic may need to back up these resources with other books. I would recommend Development of Handwriting Skills (by Christopher Jarman, Stanley Thornes, teachers' resource book pound;18.50, three photocopiable masters' books, pound;17.50 each). Aamp;C Black still publishes Tom Gourdie's Calligraphy for the Beginner (pound;4.99) but his other books are out of print. Tom Bar-nard's Write Ahead (Os-miroid International) is an invaluable italic guide, but out of print too.

* Calligraphy for Starters by Patricia Lovett, Cable Crouch Productions, Delta House, 11-13 Albion Place, Maidstone, Kent ME14 5DY. Tel: 01622 673787 Workbook pound;7.95, video pound;11.99. Age range: 12 plus * Aamp;C Black(Publishers), Stand PV194 * Stanley Thornes Publishers, Stands PV14, PV278 * Calligraphy and Lettering Arts Society, 54 Boileau Road, Barnes, London SW13 9BL. Tel: 0181-741 7886

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