The art of hand-lettered words

Several years ago, I took an introductory calligraphy class with calligraphy artist Don King. He was a great instructor, even for as poor a student as I was. Watching him create calligraphic letters was nothing short of mesmerizing, and he occasionally brought in beautiful pieces he had done to illustrate particular techniques.

From him, I learned that calligraphic art is equal parts engineering and artistic talent. This may seem a contradictory combination of science and art, but King’s life may also seem a contradiction. He served in the US Army’s Special Forces before deciding he would prefer to take orders from himself. There’s no gruffness left over that you might anticipate from a career military man, only discipline.

Along with that discipline—he constantly told us to practice, practice, practice every day to improve—and his artistic talent, he generously shares his gift for encouraging and teaching budding calligraphers, sometimes leading multiple classes in a season.

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Don King with some of his artwork

Don sent out an email recently announcing an exhibit of some of his 2D and 3D work, and unlike my usual procrastinating self, I didn’t wait until the end of the exhibit to rush over. (Facing a cross-country move has made me carpe diem more often than usual of late.)

The exhibit is at a local church and is only open to the public when the church holds services. But two other times each week, Don has agreed to escort visitors through his works. If you’re in Raleigh, NC, and love this kind of beautiful work, make sure you see it (more details at the end of the post).

He graciously agreed to let me photograph his work and even him, asking afterward, “Did that look as unnatural as I felt?” I laughed. I’m also one who feels about as unnatural as possible when someone asks me to pose for a photo. Some of us prefer to create and let the light shine on our creations rather than on ourselves.

Don’s work does shine. Some of it literally, with metallic paint and even costume jewelry pins he inherited from his mother and is now using to inspire unique works of art. There’s one of these pieces I would buy in a heartbeat if it didn’t mean one more thing to wrap up for the move. (Most of what he is exhibiting is for sale.)

These photos provide details of some of the pieces on exhibit. You can visit Don’s website to learn more about him and his works, but nothing beats seeing them in person. Go if you can. The exhibit runs through October 30.

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A detail from John’s Revelation. Many of Don’s works incorporate Scripture, his favorite source.

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A 3D piece called Why Not?

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A delightful piece called Joyful Noise

DonKingBeginningdetail_ 2014FT

A 3D piece Beginning inspired by the turn of the millennium and 9/11

The story behind Beginning is an intriguing one, and in case you don’t get to hear Don tell you about it himself, I’ll share a bit of it with you. He was creating a piece for the new millennium and came into his studio one morning to find that the easel had fallen and dashed the work into little pieces. He saved them, not suspecting the tragedy of 9/11 that would inspire this work and enable him to put his own rubble toward its own new beginning.

As I looked at piece after piece, I was reminded again: we lean increasingly on computers to produce calligraphy and lettered “art,” but simply nothing beats what an artist can do with a real calligraphy pen.

More on the art and cost of letters
Learn more
about the exhibit. I’ll try to post here as he announces days and times he’ll escort visitors through the exhibit. This week, he’ll be there today (Wednesday, Sept. 10) and Friday, September 12, from 4-6 p.m. both days. The church is Crossroads Fellowship, located at 2721 E. Millbrook Road in Raleigh.

See some of the “hands” (we might call them fonts in our modern age) Don uses in his work.

While we’re talking about hands and fonts and why sometimes computers aren’t better, check out this Huffington Post article about the cost of the font Comic Sans.

I’d love to hear what you think of Don’s calligraphy, whether you view it on his site or get to visit his exhibit. Maybe you’ll be inspired to sign up for one of his classes or find a local teacher near you.

4 thoughts on “The art of hand-lettered words

  1. Here’s the latest on the times Don will be at the church for you to see his exhibit (this is in addition to the times the church is open for usual church services):
    Starting this week and running through the end of October, you may see the exhibit on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. You may also arrange private showings on Saturdays, but you’ll need to contact him personally no later than noon each Friday to arrange those Saturday showings: http://www.dkingstudio.com/contact.html

    • Definitely lots of patience (which may have been why it wasn’t the best art form for me). Maybe I’ll get back to it one of these days. If you can go see the exhibit, I encourage you to do so. Don does lovely work.

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