So, What Is Calligraphy?

calligraphy writing birdseye view of setup

Calligraphy is an art form that emphasizes beauty and style. In western culture, it’s been relegated to wedding invitations, envelopes, etc, but a century ago, it was widely used. In many eastern and mid-eastern cultures, it continues to be an inseparable part of identity.

Human history owes much of its record-keeping to calligraphy.

When I first started writing calligraphy, I didn’t dig into history. But I’ve spent so much time writing calligraphy, that after creating tutorials and buyer’s guides, I finally dug into its origins.

A good starting place is meaning of the word “calligraphy.”

greek calligraphy


The word “calligraphy” comes from the Greek word kallos, meaning “beautiful,” and graphein, meaning “to write.” Put it together and calligraphy means “beautiful writing.” While the word calligraphy is Greek, the art form of calligraphy did not originate in Greece.


Calligraphy has been around for millennia and the details of its origin are shrouded in some mystery and debate. But China is largely recognized as the first to use calligraphy, and Japanese, Indian, and Persian cultures are widely responsible for its continued expansion across the globe.

chinese calligraphy

You can still see calligraphy in each of those countries’ written languages today (and in many other countries!)


Pictographs are the oldest form of written communication, and kicked off the whole written language thing. These are the forerunners to today’s emoji – simple pictures that represent an object or idea.

ancient pictography on cave wall

Ideographs and Logographs

Writing continued to evolve, transforming words and concepts into single characters, called ideographs. Followed by logographs, which used symbols to represent words and sounds.

jade ideogram

Your keyboard and calculator have some of these – $, @, %, +, 1, 2 3…

Calligraphy then came along and added feeling and expression to logographs, focused on bringing words to life, instead of simply writing things down.

Calligraphy is Tied to Human History

Not every historical moment of importance is written in calligraphy; for instance, cuneiform which is the earliest example of writing, preceded calligraphy by a thousand years.

However, numerous significant historical moments were recorded in calligraphy, such as the Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence, and too many to put into an article.

magna carta calligraphy

Both of those documents are examples of western calligraphy, which has many branches of styles on its own.

For those who speak and write in English, Foundation Hand calligraphy is the writing style that you may see most frequently.

alphabet of western fountain hand calligraphy

If you’re looking to get into calligraphy, definitely check out our courses for beginners.

I wrote a tutorial that helps beginners learn eight important strokes for writing calligraphy, practicing those on a Fountain Head alphabet, and finally a couple ways to practice on favorite books and movies. If that sounds interesting, you may need the right tools for the job.

If you found this truncated history of calligraphy interesting, leave a note in the comments. It’s a robust history, so if you have some cool tidbits to add, drop them there and I’ll see if I can share them in the article too.

Happy Hobbying.


Hey - I'm Steve, co-founder of New Hobby Box, and hobby enthusiast. A few years back, I felt like I was getting dull when it came to learning new things. That's why I was part of the original crew who set out to challenge ourselves to learn new things. We liked it so much that we decided to take our challenge public - and that's what ultimately started New Hobby Box. I love going against the status quo when it comes to hobbies, I've tried so many things that I would never have thought to do, that ultimately became part of my life. You'll find quite a few of my hobby experiences throughout the site. Happy Hobbying!

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