In October 2023, I took a class called “Intro to Devanagari” at Practica – super inspiring! It was a five-week course led by Kimya Gandhi. We learned about the structure of the script, and then experimented with making our own letterforms. I took the class to learn about the technical aspects of complex scripts, so that I can engineer fonts later on (I work as a font engineer), but natuarally I was also intrigued by the script from a calligraphic perspective. Working with shapes that are written with a completely different pen angle was quite challenging, but also an enrichment.
The pen angle for writing Devanagari is cut opposite to Latin scripts.
Working with a script you cannot read
There is one thing I have not experienced before and it was a great enlightment: When trying (!) to copy a different script, one you cannot read yourself, you have to concentrate more. Memorizing each glyph is a challenge by itself, but when copying Latin scripts, I can read a word or two and then start writing. When copying Devanagari, I could only memorize two glyphs before starting to write. That means constant eye movement between model and actual calligraphy piece, making it harder to focus. Errors happen easily, and if you look close, you can spot some in the photos below. I have read about that phenomenon in the past. There is a book called “Probleme der Schreiber – der Schreiber als Problem” (Paul Gerhard Schmidt, 1993) which talks about the monks which were illiterate but still copying texts on a daily basis. There is a detailed description of the problems they were facing and it was astonishing to experience having all these issues myself. An eye-opening experience.
This is the last piece I worked on, written with quills and gouache, paper size is A3.
The text is article 1 to 4 of the declaration of independence.
Here are some paractise sheets, you can see how I get more familiar with the script over time.
In the weeks while taking the class, I was always carrying a little booklet with me, whereever I went. So when I sat in a coffee place, I was practising, or waiting for an appointment at the doctors – I was practising, practising whenever possible. I just had a lot of fun drawing new letter shapes.
Here is an example of a digital attempt:
(including the suggested corrections, if the animation is working for you)