Interview with Laura Di Piazza
After a friend of mine (thanks Emma!) introduced me to Laura Di Piazza's calligraphy, I couldn't wait to do one of her classes. Earlier this year, I jumped at the opportunity and I first met Laura when I did one of her workshops in New York City.
Laura is a calligrapher and teacher with years of experience teaching calligraphy workshops and has exhibited artwork in Austria, Canada, Germany and the US.
Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Laura has a MFA degree in Interdisciplinary Arts and has been practicing the art of calligraphy since she was twelve.
What made you get into experimenting with typography?
I began my professional practice in my mid-twenties shortly after my then-boss at Screen Actors Guild, asked me to source quotes for calligraphy on awards. I was surprised to learn that people actually did this for a living. I had been doing calligraphy as a hobby, at that point, for about 12 years.
My calligraphy went from hobby amateur level to professional in a couple of short years as a direct result of studying at the Society of Scribes.
How did you learn calligraphy?
My very first introduction to calligraphy was when I was placed in a new art class, Italic Calligraphy, in the 7th grade, in an inner city school in Brooklyn. When I first saw my schedule and learned that most of my friends were in the ‘real’ art class, painting, I was a bit upset. However that lasted about 2 minutes.
Once the class started I fell in love with letterforms. A love that is still as vibrant now decades later as it was then when I was 12 years old.
My calligraphy teacher, Mrs. Kanter, was a wonderful and caring instructor. She really liked my spacing and said that I had promise. I very much wish I could reconnect with her today (I have tried contacting my old Middle School, with no luck) and thank her for lighting that spark.
Tell us about your favorite project.
I’d call it my most meaningful project. Last fall, a friend asked me to letter 20 Hebrew blessings in honor of her dear friend who died at only 32 years old. I moved all other work aside and focused on these blessings. It gave me deep reflection of time and precious opportunities we have—or don’t have—to express our love for one another.
What medium/s do you enjoy working with? Why?
When I letter in black I tend to go with a good quality sumi ink, like moon palace. It’s a good jet black and provides excellent contrast on bright white paper for reproduction lettering. For white, I use Dr. Ph Martin’s bleedproof white—good hairlines for a white pigment. For Spencerian penmanship, involving ultra fine hairlines, I use McCaffery’s ink.
For color pigments I use gouache or watercolor paints. I use paints because I’m able to create a wide range of colors by mixing this medium. For metallics I love FineTec handmade paints from Germany and I also use Winsor & Newton gouache metallic paints; both work well on a wide range of papers.
Do you have a favorite nib? Ink? Material?
For pointed pen lettering I typically use a quality nib such as Nikko G and my cherished wooden oblique pen holder made by one of my teachers and mentors Michael Sull. I’ve been using it religiously for 15 years and it shows no signs of slowing down. I typically use Hewlett Packard premium laser paper when lettering for reproduction or just for practice and sketches. It’s a 32lb (120gsm) paper that’s very bright—excellent contrast for reproduction work.
For board edge lettering I tend to use Mitchell Round hand nibs with a reservoir. I’m also a big fan of Pilot’s Parallel pens, which are great for broad edge pen calligraphy.
What does your set up look like?
My set up is quite simple and portable. Sometimes if I want to be in ear shot of my kids, it’ll be the dining room table. Other times, I work on an ink-stained Ikea writing desk in my home office. Since I love to teach most of my supplies are in a ready-to-go tote bag. What I pull out to write is a pen rest, a small glass or ceramic decorative cup or candle votive for my cleaning water, my pen(s), a little glass or ceramic inkwell, ink or paint, a paper towel and paper; and voilà I’m ready to letter!
Have you ever encountered any difficulties when learning?
The only difficulty I’ve encountered, which I release from my practice, is impatience.
Calligraphy, to me and for many other practitioners, is more than creating beautiful lettering it’s also a moving mediation.
Any calligrapher who has lettered for more than say, 15 minutes (some 5, others 30), can tell you that they go to a timeless place and are both very present and very calm. In this space there is no place for impatience and stress.
Any advice to share with beginner calligraphers out there?
Find or build a calligraphy community where you are and connect with calligraphy communities nationally and globally. Lettering can be a very quiet practice. If you check in every now and again with other calligraphers, perhaps form a local group at your neighborhood library, you can learn from each other and build a supportive community. I’ve received some amazing projects from other calligraphers who I’ve either collaborated with or passed along a job that they were too busy or unable to do. I continue to be inspired by beginner, intermediate and advanced lettering artists from all over the world.
Find a local calligraphy guild. I’ve been a member of the Society of Scribes in NYC since the late 90’s. I’m also a member of MassScribes in Boston. I’ve also attending a couple of IAMPETH (International Association of Master Penmen, Engrossers and Teachers of Handwriting) conferences. They are fabulous—I highly recommend attending one!
I’ve found that the calligraphy community is a very welcoming and generous community.
I also recommend seeking out mentors. When people compliment my calligraphy, I say thank you and that I’ve been blessed with amazing teachers. I’ve also had several outstanding mentors who have provided encouraging guidance: Nan DeLuca, Karen Gorst, Elinor Holland, Chi Nguyen, Michael Sull and Sheila Waters.
How can we find out about your upcoming workshops?
I live in Vermont and teach locally, regionally and have also taught internationally. Close to home I teach calligraphy workshops at Dartmouth College’s book arts department in Hanover, NH, AVA Gallery and Art center in Lebanon, NH and the Library Art Center in Newport, NH. In NYC I teach at Society of Scribes, who holds their classes at the School of Visual Arts.
Who are some calligraphers you’d recommend to follow?
The calligraphers I recommend may not be widely popular outside of the old school calligraphy community and most do not have 20K followers on instagram, but they really are among the best calligraphers alive today: Karen Gorst, Michael Sull, Sheila Waters, Elinor Holland, Rosemany Buczek, Massimo Polello, Luca Barcelona, John DeCollibus, Cláudio Gil, Lordana Zega and Ute Kreuzer.
Any exciting projects coming up we can look out for?
I’m in the final stages of designing this year's postcard for Society of Scribes Holiday Fair in NYC, at the Brother Synagogue (28 Gramercy Park South) on Sunday November 13, 11am–4pm. I’ll be demonstrating copperplate and foundational calligraphy, it's free and open to the public.
Laura's latest project was Camille Henrot’s Office of Unreplied Emails, [at the 9th Berlin Biennale] where pointed pen calligraphy was part of the display.
Laura currently resides in Vermont with her 3 children, partner and 9 year old rescue dog.