Colouring and calligraphy make a comeback with workshops for adults

Calligraphy students (above) learn the basics, including how to use a pen to form letters. Friends and colouring hobbyists (from left) Jennifer Vas, Ana Jean Gonot and Olivia Ho, all aged 39.
Calligraphy students (above) learn the basics, including how to use a pen to form letters. Friends and colouring hobbyists (from left) Jennifer Vas, Ana Jean Gonot and Olivia Ho, all aged 39.PHOTO: PAULINE IBARRA ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG
Calligraphy students (above) learn the basics, including how to use a pen to form letters. Friends and colouring hobbyists (from left) Jennifer Vas, Ana Jean Gonot and Olivia Ho, all aged 39.
Calligraphy students (above) learn the basics, including how to use a pen to form letters. Friends and colouring hobbyists (from left) Jennifer Vas, Ana Jean Gonot and Olivia Ho, all aged 39.PHOTO: PAULINE IBARRA ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG
Pages of Johanna Basford's colouring book Secret Garden (above), coloured in by hobbyist Christine Leong, and calligraphy (right) done during a workshop.
Pages of Johanna Basford's colouring book Secret Garden (above), coloured in by hobbyist Christine Leong, and calligraphy (right) done during a workshop.PHOTO: CHRISTINE LEONG ST PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH
Pages of Johanna Basford's colouring book Secret Garden (above), coloured in by hobbyist Christine Leong, and calligraphy (right) done during a workshop.
Pages of Johanna Basford's colouring book Secret Garden (above), coloured in by hobbyist Christine Leong, and calligraphy (right) done during a workshop.PHOTO: CHRISTINE LEONG ST PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH

Call it a fad, but more adults are embracing modern calligraphy and colouring books to relax and unleash their creativity

Many of us might have left our colour pencils and calligraphy sets behind with our school days, but some people are finding new pleasures in going back to old-fashioned pen and paper.

Modern calligraphy and colouring are becoming trendy pastimes for adults. They swear by how relaxing these activities can be, even for those who are not naturally good at art.

And workshops and classes have sprung up to meet the demand. In Singapore, there are at least five places that offer calligraphy workshops each month, taught by local or visiting artists from overseas. This number has increased since interest picked up in the past two years, say calligraphers.

Beginner classes here tend to focus on the copperplate script, a round fluid style of writing from the 18th century that is created using a sharp pointed nib and different degrees of pressure to create thick and thin strokes.

The name comes from the copperplates that the works of early calligraphy masters were engraved on to make books.

Classes cost between $120 and $220 for a three- hour session and often covers the cost of materials, including the calligraphy penholder, nib, ink and paper, all of which students get to keep at the end of the class. There are also online tutorials to learn the basics of calligraphy.

But calligraphers here say that the scene used to be quieter.

"When I started about seven years ago, I didn't know of anyone doing it. I learnt online and through books. I also went to Japan and the United States to learn from other calligraphers," says Mr Clarence Valerius Wee of Craft Varies, a creative company that specialises in calligraphy.

The 27-year-old started teaching workshops at the end of last year due to requests for them.

Calligrapher and lettering artist Pauline Ibarra, 34, says she has taught between 100 and 200 students since she started last year and demand is growing - her last workshop, with a capacity for 12 people, was booked out in two minutes.

Meanwhile, the latest buzz in the book world seems to be colouring books for adults, which come with more intricate drawings and text, compared to those for kids.

The surge in interest is sparked by the worldwide success of the adult-targeted Secret Garden by Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford. The colouring book features animals hidden within flowers and vines, and has sold more than 1.5 million copies in 24 languages since it was published in 2013.

The English version is out of stock on Amazon and Books Kinokuniya, though the latter still has copies of the Japanese and Chinese versions.

Basford's publishers, Laurence King Publishing, had originally asked her in 2011 to do a colouring book for children.

She told The New York Times: "I came back and said I would like to do a colouring book for grown- ups and it got a bit quiet for a moment. Colouring books for adults weren't as much of a thing then."

Since then, the colouring book's success has spawned similar titles for adults, including Animal Kingdom by Wales-based illustrator Millie Marotta and Basford's second title, Enchanted Forest.

The cool quotient of these hobbies has gone up along with the rise of the do-it-yourself culture in Singapore, as seen by the popularity of craft markets such as MAAD (Market of Artist And Designers).

"Technology seems to have killed things that take a longer time to be crafted by hand. Yet, in the same way, the oversaturation of technology has led the pendulum to swing in the opposite direction," says calligrapher Joanne Lim, 33, of The Letter J Supply, which also sells paper-based crafts.

Visual-heavy social media sites including image- sharing platforms Pinterest and Instagram have further fanned the flames for handmade items.

A search for the hashtag "johannabasford" on Instagram yields more than 50,000 posts by people keen to share their coloured versions of Secret Garden's detailed illustrations with others.

Bookstore chain Books Kinokuniya has always stocked Secret Garden, but copies started flying off the shelves only from the end of last year.

"We entered a perfect storm initiated by Johanna Basford through social media at the end of last year, leading it to be as big as Sudoku used to be," says Kinokuniya's store and merchandising director Kenny Chan, 63, referring to the popular Japanese number puzzle.

Not everyone is a fan of Basford's book though. Mr Kenny Leck, 36, owner of independent bookstore BooksActually, says: "It is a consistent thing that we see in the book trade or the food trade. Remember the days of bubble tea? This is the 'colouring book fad' for the book trade at the moment."

But BooksActually will stock more "serious" colouring titles, including Fantastic Cities by Canadian artist Steve McDonald, which has illustrations of cities including New York, Tokyo and Amsterdam as seen from above. It is due to be released next month.

Civil servant Faizlyana Ismail, 27, picked up calligraphy last year so that she could design her own wedding cards and she continues to make cards for her loved ones. She says: "I'm attracted to its intricacy and beauty, particularly the flourishes and swirls, and I find the process of doing calligraphy therapeutic."

Similarly, colouring fans are drawn to how relaxing the activity is and say they also find it an easy way to express their creativity.

Ms Christine Leong, 27, an education administrative officer who spends hours colouring almost every day, says: "I used to be horrible at art and couldn't even colour within the lines. But now, when I'm colouring, I can lose track of time."

Like those long-gone days of penmanship drills, putting in the hours is crucial to have something worthy to show off.

For example, Craft Varies' workshops are held in four two-hour sessions in a month to give students enough time to hone their new skills. Mr Wee says: "I always tell them that it's going to be dry and boring. It's not just about the beauty of it. Before you reach that step, you need to understand the basics."

But the effort pays off, with "likes" on social media acting as the modern-day equivalent for gold stars that schoolchildren get.

Colouring hobbyist Olivia Ho, 39, a deputy section chief at Books Kinokuniya, says: "I post some of my completed works on Facebook and get pretty positive reactions. People are quite amazed while I get that sense of satisfaction from creating something."

nabilahs@sph.com.sg


GET INSPIRED

CALLIGRAPHY WORKSHOPS

Craft Varies

What: Learn the basics of classic copperplate calligraphy from Clarence Valerius Wee, from understanding fundamental strokes to forming words. The four-class session ends with a mini-exhibition of participants' new works.

Where: 04-01, 133 Joo Chiat Road

When: Next series of sessions next month; two hours a session for four classes

Cost: $560 inclusive of straight penholder, nib, a small bottle of ink and paper (two students registering together get $30 discount each, five students get $60 discount each)

Info: Go to www.facebook.com/craftvaries or e-mail info@ craftvaries.com for details of the next workshop

Happy Hands Project

What: Pauline Ibarra teaches an average of one copperplate calligraphy lesson a month at various venues, where she goes through the basics, from how to handle a calligraphy pen to forming letters and words.

Cost: $140 for a three-hour session, inclusive of penholder, nib, ink and paper

Info: Go to happyhandsproject.com or e-mail info@happy handsproject.com for details of the next workshop

The Letter J Supply

What: Joanne Lim teaches the fundamentals of modern calligraphy letterforms and how to use a traditional dip nib pen in a three-hour class.

Where: homestolife pop-up shop, 03-04/05, I12 Katong, 112 East Coast Road

When: June 20, 10.30am

Cost: $120 inclusive of penholder, nib, ink, paper and guide sheets

Info: Go to www.homestolife.com or www.facebook.com/Theletterjsupply

The Workroom

What: A variety of calligraphy workshops taught by Ruth Tan and visiting calligraphers

Where: Tan Quee Swee Building, 19 Lorong Kilat

When: July 24, 1 to 5pm - brush script for beginners; July 25, 10am to 4pm - copperplate for beginners, both classes with Gail Anne Madalag from the Philippines; Aug 29, 10 am to 1pm and 2 to 5pm - modern calligraphy workshops with Ruth Tan

Cost: Between $120 and $220, inclusive of penholder and nib, ink, papers and guide sheets

Info: www.thelittlehappyshop.com

COLOURING BOOKS FOR ADULTS

Secret Garden by Johanna Basford

What: This well-received colouring book, which features intricate drawings of vines and flowers and hidden animals, has made colouring for adults cool again.

Info: Out of stock; check with Books Kinokuniya ($16.80 before GST) for availability or order from Amazon (US$13.10 or S$17.60)

Enchanted Forest by Johanna Basford

What: A follow-up to the successful Secret Garden, this adult colouring book brings a magical forest to life, with symbols hidden in the midst of castles and mazes.

Info: Out of stock; check with Books Kinokuniya ($17.98 with GST) for availability or order from Amazon (US$10.60)

Animal Kingdom by Millie Marotta

What: You can make the details in a tortoise's shell or a giraffe's spots come to life in this animal-themed book.

Info: Out of stock; check with Books Kinokuniya ($18.64 before GST) for availability or order from Amazon (US$13.19)