WALKER — Cursive letters with flourishes follow the nib in Jo Miller’s oblique pen holder.
Previously, Miller spent 20 years making her living at a drafting table drawing mostly straight lines as she created plans for a structural engineer.
Bored and “burned out on that” she found herself ready for a change.
Miller considered going into woodworking, for which she has an obvious talent evidenced by the furnishings she has built for her studio.
Then she discovered calligraphy.
Catering to her new interest, her husband gave her a pen holder for Christmas in 2006, and she began practicing for hours every day.
A person has “to go through a lot of bottles of ink” before “finding one good letter” at the bottom of one of them, she said.
But developing skill as a calligrapher requires more than just repetitive motion, Miller said as she displayed some of her work.
“You can’t just practice. You have to study letter forms,” she said. “If your mind doesn’t know where your hand needs to go, it’s just kind of luck if you come across a good letter.”
A calligrapher needs to learn to see letters as “shapes and images.”
At first calligraphy became a hobby for Miller, but the more time she spent practicing the more she discovered “I really love this.”
She picked up a job crafting the addresses on wedding envelopes, and her new profession had begun.
Now her work is featured in the latest addition of Bound & Lettered, a national magazine on calligraphy and book binding.
Those pieces combine creation of classical letters with art, as do many of her pieces that go beyond the addressing of envelopes.
It’s not until a calligrapher has paid the dues of the craft that the art can seep through. The dues involve learning what makes a letter “proportionately pleasing,” Miller said.
Some shapes are pleasing to the eye, and some make people uncomfortable, she said.
Sometimes people attempt to compliment Miller by saying her calligraphy looks just like a computer font. Though she accepts such comments as well intended, they aren’t a compliment to a calligrapher.
“One of the great things about handwriting is that it’s not perfect,” Miller said.
“People often think of calligraphy as just sitting down and writing,” she said. “Most people who start the process don’t see it all the way through to art.”
Once the foundation is learned, the calligrapher can take a Roman letter and make it contemporary or do a piece of art that morphs out of letters, she said.
Though she has done exhibits and her studio is well populated with the pieces of art she has created, much of her work still goes back to stately writing for wedding invitations, family trees, monograms or written gifts of poetry or quotes.
Like many of the early calligraphers, who made copies of the Bible or other religious works, Miller’s calligraphy is linked to her spirituality.
Her artwork often shows “who I am and what God has done for me,” she said.
“I’m not good at talking to people about my faith. This is my testimony,” she said as she looked around her studio.
“A lot of my work shows that in some way,” Miller said. “Some of it is subtle.”
She’s also starting to teach calligraphy.
“If you learn something and you love it,” she said, “you should teach it to others who have that same passion.”