My friend Fauz Ahmad (AKA The Inkpot Files), who I had the pleasure of speaking with for an artist spotlight), sent me a message the other day. He suggested writing a post about the physical aspects of the art form. What actually constitutes as good calligraphy posture and positioning? I loved this idea.
Practicing Good Posture and Positioning
As calligraphy artists, we spend so much time focusing on the letters and their strokes. We focus on composition. We focus on writing tools and inks. But do we ever stop and think about ourselves and how we’re physically applying ourselves?
I hadn’t until I got that message from Fauz. I had to take a few days to deliberately try out some new ideas and figure out what yielded the best results. And that’s what I’m going to share with you now. Hopefully taking these tips into consideration will improve your comfort and calligraphic capabilities!
Step 1: Feet on the Floor
Let’s start from the ground up. Whether writing calligraphy or not, crossing your legs is not good for your back. It might feel more comfortable, but that’s because you’re relieving muscles in your lower back and abdomen that actually need to be strengthened. Crossing your legs will provide temporary comfort, but you’re actually further atrophying those muscles.
When practicing calligraphy, you want to keep both feet planted on the floor with your knees at a perfect right angle (90º). It sounds rather easy, but if you’re someone who tends to cross their legs when sitting, it can be a tough adjustment. It certainly was for me.
Having both feet on the floor, spread about a shoulder length’s width apart will provide a solid foundation on which to rest your body. Crossing your legs will do just the opposite.
When you cross your legs, your body becomes unbalanced and you subconsciously use other parts of your body, like your back, neck, and even arms to correct the balance. While you might not fall over, you’re not allowing your calligraphy hand to operate in the most efficient way. So keep those feet on the floor!
Step 2: Sit Close to Your Writing Surface
I changed this section title from “Sit on the Edge of Your Chair”. I’ve read that sitting at the edge of your chair promotes good posture, but in experimenting I found that it doesn’t matter where you’re positioned on the chair as long as you’re sitting up straight — and we’ll get to that shortly.
You do want to make sure that you’re not far away from the writing surface. If getting closer to the workspace means sitting on the edge of your chair, then sit on the edge of your chair. On the other hand, if you’re able to tuck the chair in under the table so that your abdomen is up against the writing surface, then opt for that.
Step 3: Avoid Awkward Waist Rotation
Keeping your torso straight as you’re writing calligraphy will prevent your body from working harder than it needs to counterbalance any pressure coming from your writing arm.
Some folks tend to be overwriters (this is common with left-handed calligraphy artist). If you’re an overwriter, or you rotate the page (or your arm/wrist) to write more comfortably, then you might want to experiment with how you rotate your torso. There isn’t necessarily a “proper” way that you need to adhere to, but you should definitely invest some time figuring out the most comfortable way to write.
Step 4: Keep Your Back Straight
I don’t know about you, but I have TERRIBLE posture. I’m talking really bad. It’s something that I’ve struggled with for years now as someone who spends a lot of time sitting in front of a computer. With that said, do as I say, not as I do!
It might not be comfortable, particularly at first, but tuck your stomach in, pull your shoulders back, and keep your neck aligned with the rest of your spinal column. Do you feel like a robot? If so, you’re doing it right.
Now you might be thinking “how am I supposed to write like this if I can’t even look down at my writing surface?”… great question. Good posture isn’t necessarily about sitting straight upright, it’s about not slouching in a way that imposes a curve in your spinal column. You can lean, just make sure to engage your core as you do so and focus on keeping your back straight.
Step 5: Ensure Proper Surface Height
You’ll want to make sure your work surface is of suitable height based on your body’s position. Essentially, you want your forearms to be able to rest on the surface with your elbows bent at a right angle 90º.
Since you also want your knees bent at a right angle, it might be best if you can use an office chair. Office chairs have adjustable heights which will make getting your positioning just right much easier.
It might be hard to get things perfect (both feet flat on the floor with knees bent at a right angle AND forearms flat on the surface with elbows bent a right angle), but don’t feel like it’s all or nothing. Do what you can to make some improvements even if you can’t make all of them. A little goes a long way!
Step 6: Holding the Pen Firmly
Believe it or not, how you hold your pen is going to have a big impact on how your body distributes the forceful energy coming from your arm.
If you hold the pen too firmly, you’ll find your self pressing down hard on the surface harder. To counterbalance the energy from your arm, your body is going to tighten up to match that energy evenly. This is what keep your body from bouncing around. For example, sit down on a chair and push down on your thigh. The harder you push, you’ll notice your abdomen tightening. This is your body counterbalancing itself. Eventually, you’ll become fatigued.
On the other hand, if you don’t hold then pen firmly enough, your body is providing no counterbalance and as a result, will shift around more. This will impact the consistency and precision of your strokes.
Hold the pen firmly with your fingers close to the nib. The closer you can hold to the nib, the more control you’ll have. Hopefully, this will prevent you from inadvertently death-gripping the pen. It also encourages an optimal amount of pressure when executing a stroke, so your body will provide counterbalance, but not to a strenuously exhausting degree.
I hope you find these tips to be as helpful as I did. If you have any other thoughts or ideas, don’t hesitate to reach out! I’d love to add them here so everyone can practice good calligraphy posture and positioning.