In a world where email, instant messaging and social media rule modern day communication, writing by hand has taken a back seat, often reserved for rushed shopping lists and meeting minutes. Long before we learnt to touch type with our thumbs, written word took shape through calligraphy, differing across cultures but still serving the same important purposes; communication between parties and the preservation of the world’s most important manuscripts.
Lettering by hand has almost become a lost art, kept alive by dedicated practitioners who are now few and far between. At the forefront of this modern revival is Kuala Lumpur-based calligrapher and hand letterer Sharon Tan, widely known by her online moniker @ronnycakes.
“I began dabbling in calligraphy some time in April 2015. At the beginning, there was this manic and obsessive energy to practice and achieve perfect script – I spent two to three hours every night after work practicing my drills, strokes and writing quotes.” Sharon’s calligraphy journey could be likened to a pursuit for perfection – fuelled both by a hunger to truly hone the craft and the therapeutic reward that came with every stroke.
The first few weeks were difficult, as she learned her way around new tools and coaxed herself into an entirely new form of writing. After six months of rigorous practice, she ran her first every calligraphy workshop, realising a personal dream to share her knowledge and passion for lettering.
Sharon cites her body of work as a series of spontaneous creations and an extension of her practice sessions. She encourages all of her students to approach calligraphy as an art form by beginning with the basics and building up to a solid foundation in order to branch off into other forms of contemporary lettering; she herself began by studying the Engrosser’s Script method.
In addition to lettering, Sharon also loves to combine calligraphy with watercolour illustrations to create whimsical mixed media pieces that are inspired by travel, literature and childhood nostalgia.
She also describes Kuala Lumpur’s art scene as a thriving environment, with calligraphy slowly making its way to centre stage. Calligraphy has a very niche local following in Malaysia, which has been steadily gaining traction in recent years. “I think that certain people appreciate the art of good penmanship, but not necessarily everyone. Some find it as a luxury that is hardly worth spending on. Others wonder why we spend so much time and money on something that can be reproduced by a computer!”
In between holding down a full time job and co-owning a wedding photography business, Sharon sees calligraphy as an opportunity to push her creativity and collaborate without constraints. Previously, she’s worked with Stabilo, a German stationery manufacturer; Swatch, a swiss watch brand; and MUJI – such projects have allowed her to explore new techniques and create freely. As one of Kuala Lumpur’s most dynamic young artists, Sharon continues to blaze the trail for budding calligraphers in Malaysia and around the world.