By Doug Katz
My first-born daughter will marry in October. Months ago, she asked me to help her design custom invitations. I have reasonably refined graphic sensibilities, having been a professional for some 20 years. But the truth is, my talents can’t hold a candle to hers. She came to visit, sat with me at the computer, and directed my every move as she visualized an invitation motif I never would have dreamed up myself. I think what she designed is gorgeous.
This past weekend she visited again with two boxes of freshly printed invitations pre-stuffed into eight inch by eight-inch envelopes. She’d researched a half-dozen calligraphers and handwriting artists and told me she and her fiancée preferred my hand to the others. Of course, my hand also is the cheapest.
We made my studio a clean room for the pure white envelopes, brought in extra tables, and organized a highly efficient assembly line. She read the addresses, I hand-lettered the envelopes. Her mother stacked them in neat piles of 10 after they’d dried.
In the process, I rediscovered what it’s like to touch a pen nib to paper. The gentle pressure. The muffled scratch. Fragrant ink spreading through the envelope’s pores. The tiniest muscles of my fingers controlling the characters’ consistency and distinctiveness. The conscious effort to maintain straight lines without rules or scores.
Making forms appear by your own hand in empty white space is magical… a visual, kinesthetic, and olfactory pleasure long lost to the digital stylus and computer screen.
All of this was amplified by non-stop, playful banter with the daughter I was about to lose to another man – humor as sharp-edged as the angles on my ‘K’s and ‘Z’s. She so enjoyed when I made a mistake. It gave her the chance to admonish me and threaten to pull the job. We laughed hard, tears flowing like ink. I loved lettering the envelopes for her even more than she loved my fallibility.
But even were the work for a paying client, drawing the alphabet was a profound and unexpected joy that’s kept me afloat for days.
On April 25, 2011, the State of Indiana officially dropped penmanship from the public school curriculum. It was a tragic and mindless decision.
Doug Katz runs JamArtz, a one-man branding and communication design studio in San Diego, California. He is the middle son of the late Stan Katz who founded the New York advertising agency Leber/Katz Partners in 1951.