Her profession is a profession that belongs to the past, a profession of memories and nostalgia. Mónica Raquel Shirazi has been a calligrapher for 20 years. Calligraphy is an art that, if it were not for people like her, it would be bound to disappear.
We meet at a small coffee shop in Zone 13 [Guatemala City], decorated in tones of pink, where she is teaching a group of 10 students. It is Saturday noon, but this has no effect on her students, who observe and follow carefully her instructions. Mónica Raquel Shirazi is a Guatemalan citizen, married to an Israeli. They met in Guatemala, but have been living for the past 5 years in Israel, where they raise their 2 little girls. Every year, she returns to Guatemala to visit her family and conducts Calligraphy workshops. The courses are intensive, 4 hours-long each class, and they are directed towards everybody who shares her love for this art. She also studied Graphic Arts, and this gave her the tools to complement her career as a calligrapher and an illustrator.
How and when did you decide that you wanted to be a calligrapher?
Since I was a child, I had the ability to copy letters and draw easily. When I was 18 years old, I started to study Calligraphy at Universidad Francisco Marroquín [Guatemala] where I graduated with honors. My first teacher was Guillermo Fernández. He taught me many things and was very generous in his classes. Since then I have never stopped practicing it, and I became kind of obsessed with it. I looked for options where I could study and I found a place in the U.S. where calligraphers go from all over the world. It was then when I realized that I could make a living out of my passion. Being surrounded by other calligraphers helped me to overcome my shyness and to gain more confidence in myself and in my work.
Why did you choose this profession in an increasingly technological world?
Precisely, my interest in Calligraphy is to be different from the rest and to go back to the origin: to take up again its beauty, and to try to make it accessible and popular once more. It may be insignificant for some people, but it is still appreciated by others.
Why do you believe that the passion of handwriting has been lost?
I think that Calligraphy originated from our need to communicate and to express our thoughts. And the fact of having so much technology available has changed our way of fulfilling this need.
Who were your influences or teachers in this discipline?
The person who influenced me the most in my approach to Calligraphy is Sheila Waters. She is a British expert in Calligraphy, a passionate woman, and a generous and inspirational teacher. Her work is synonymous with continuation and pride. She is all I aspire to become one day. She was my teacher in the U.S. a few years ago.
What is the importance of experimenting in Calligraphy? Everything is allowed?
Now, there are many tendencies in Calligraphy. Yes, experimenting is allowed. Nonetheless, when we talk about formal Calligraphy, we must follow certain guidelines; there is no mistake. Calligraphy is made only with calligraphic tools. Using any other tools to create letters would become something else (lettering).
Trying, crossing out and restarting, do you have to repeat it many times until you get the final results?
In Calligraphy there are no shortcuts: we must practice endlessly, every day, and be patient. The results are obvious when we compare our work with previous works. If we are persevering, we will attain good results.
What use does Calligraphy have at present?
Calligraphy is making a comeback! In the past few years, people are increasingly appreciating the beauty of handwriting. In my work, I use Calligraphy in everything: in designing websites, in social invitations, in logos, and in my paintings I also add calligraphy and use it in many ways.
What does Calligraphy provide that typography does not?
If we compare calligraphy with typography, the latter refers to the use of generic letters that everyone, regardless of the situation, may apply at any moment (fonts). While in Calligraphy, on the contrary, the calligrapher, after years of experience, develops the ability to “write” letters for specific purposes and according to each person.
What advice would you give someone who wants to learn Calligraphy?
I would advise them to buy Calligraphy books where they can find different styles and learn by themselves. One of my favorite books is The Calligrapher’s Bible: 100 Complete Alphabets and How to Draw Them. It is a complete book with instructions. And also to use the help of workshops to learn the basics: how to handle and take care of the specific tools of the calligrapher, and to learn the techniques to continue on your own.
(This article appeared in Vida en Rosa, a column written by Haydée Archila, in the magazine “ContraPoder”.)