What does it take to become a master penman? A tremendous amount of practice, for starters. Specifically, five years of study to complete the formal training and mentorship program.
But there's much more to it than that: "Most people are intrigued that it only took me 'five years,' but I spent at least 15 years before that working meticulously on my handwriting. The practice adds up. The final step to become a master penman is completing your own certificate, of course. I executed mine on calf-skin vellum (see below), carved the pen I used on my certificate, and completed the piece by carving the frame for it as well," says Jake Weidmann, the youngest inductee into a very small society of master penmen of the world (there are only 12 total on the planet.)
But why would someone want to be a master penman? When there are only 11 other people in the world who are as good as you are at something, how does that feel? Intrigued by Weidmann's talent and obvious dedication, I sent some questions his way, and he was kind enough to answer.
MNN: Did you have great penmanship when you were a kid? Did you enjoy learning to write by hand?
Weidmann: Inspired immensely by my mother’s beautiful penmanship, I knew that I wanted to perfect my handwriting ever since I was very young. I was always the last one to finish hand-written tests and essays in class, even into my college years. And it was in my college years that I became more intentional with my handwriting and pursued the art of calligraphy. Identifying myself as an artist most for my life, I had vowed that everything I created would be a thing of beauty — including my handwriting. As I have said many times before, calligraphy is ballet on paper. I love the dance.
Did your art come first, or did the penmanship?
I’ve been drawing ever since I can remember. Pencil and paper were my entry into being an artist. My practice in various mediums expanded throughout my life, my handwriting being a part of that. As I mentioned before, it wasn’t until my college years that I truly dedicated myself to the art of calligraphy. A girl in one of my college classes had seen my handwriting (though I was a psychology major, I was known on campus for my art work, including my handwriting) and she had asked if I would write out her wedding invitations. It was my first commission I received that required my diligence in handwriting. It was then that I looked more seriously into making my writing the best it could be and I came across several introductory videos on YouTube. I watched John DeCollibus (another master penman, now my mentor and good friend) write the most beautiful script I had ever seen. Enamored, I looked further into the art form and came across IAMPETH (International Association of Master Penman, Engrossers, and Teachers of Handwriting) and through whom I would later receive my certification as a master penman. One of the things I am known for today is integrating traditional calligraphic designs into my fine art.
Working in his studio in Englewood, Colorado. "This was a letter to my wife," Weidmann wrote. (Photo: Jennifer Little /Sugar Photography)
You don't allow your designs to be used for tattoos. Why?
Many people cock their head curiously when they find out I prefer my designs not to be used for tattoos. There is something to be said about dedicating your entire self to an art piece, only later to see it on someone’s body. It depreciates the original work. Taking fine art and turning it into a tattoo feels like my work has been cheapened, gorged in consumption rather than being carefully digested as it was intended. The power in an original piece is overlooked and most times lost completely in the tattoo process. There is also the issue of copyright laws. Someone getting a tattoo of my work without permission or recognition is the same as someone printing off my work at home, using it on CD covers and posters, you name it. Tattoos often fail to point to the original artist and the story being told, and instead, points to the person wearing the tattoo. It’s no longer about the art.
What's next for your work?
I am currently creating the concept sketches for a series of birds in flight. I absolutely love birds and I’ve studied them in-depth in several other pieces I’ve created. Birds have such a poetic way of speaking to the human soul and I want to capture that. This series will be executed larger-than-life with classic calligraphic flourishes enveloping each bird, giving them life and movement. I’m excited to see what each new piece holds and how I will learn and grow in the process.Becoming a master penman was a big milestone in my life and enriched my career as an artist immensely.