Carolyn Porter | Carolyn Porter: Blog
Learn more about the book "Marcel's Letters" and the font P22 Marcel Script, which is based on the handwriting of conscripted WWII laborer Marcel Heuzé
Carolyn Porter, Marcel Heuzé, Marcel's Letters, Graphic Design, Font Design, P22 Marcel Script
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A Drop of Ink, A Drop of Persian Culture

One thing I enjoy about TypeCon, the annual conference hosted by the Society of Typographic Aficionados (SOTA), an international organization dedicated to the promotion, study, and support of typography and related arts, is the opportunity to take workshops. Workshops provide an intense, hands-on way to learn something new from experts; this year’s workshops included an intro to Chinese calligraphy, a wood type printing primer, instruction on the construction of brush majuscules, an introduction to Hangul (Korean) type, reduction block printing, hot glass experiments (attendees got to make a neon letter!), and a day trip to the Hill Manuscript Museum in St. Cloud.

The workshop I signed up for was “A Drop of Ink, a Drop of Persian Culture,” taught by Maryam Khaleghi Yazdi, a design professor from University of Minnesota–Duluth. Maryam is originally from Iran and has designed three Farsi/Arabic typefaces: Khalaat, Vejahat, and Tasleem (see them here).

I’ve never studied Persian calligraphy before. I came to the workshop knowing nothing beyond the fact Arabic reads from right to left and that some letters connected. Over the years I’ve seen exquisite samples of Arabic calligraphy and I was curious to learn more.

Maryam began by explaining the differences between the various styles of calligraphy. Kufic script is primarily used in the Quran; Sols, which has a strong vertical stress, is often found on buildings and is common across Arabic countries; Banooi is geometric and can be adapted for use in tile.

The style of calligraphy Maryam teaches is Nas’taliq. “Nas’taliq is the most popular contemporary style among classical Persian calligraphy scripts. … This calligraphy style has such a strong structure that it has changed very little [in seven centuries]. Nas’taliq is the most beautiful Persian calligraphy style and also technically the most complicated. It has strict rules for graphical shape of the letters and for combination of the letters, words, and composition of the whole calligraphy piece as a whole. Even the second popular Persian calligraphy style, “Cursive Nas’taliq” or “Shekasteh Nas’taliq,” noticeably follows the same rules as Nas’taliq, with more flexibility.” (Source)

In Iran, Maryam explained, Nas’taliq is preferred over Sols because the Persian aesthetic preference is for rounded, expressive letterforms. Nas’taliq is ideal for poetry and other lyrical writing.

Next, Maryam walked us through the alternate forms for the 32 letters of the Farsi/Arabic alphabet. Most letters come in four variations: when a letter is at the beginning of a word, when it’s in the middle of a word, when it is at the end of a word, and when it stands alone. It’s not entirely different than how letters written in cursive might vary based on position. It was also interesting to learn that the letters B, P, T, and S differ only by the number of, and placement of, dots above or below the horizontal strokes.

Once we went through the alphabet, Maryam tested our knowledge by having us write our name on the whiteboard. “Carolyn” appears as “NLRK,” or “KRLN” when reading from right to left. Vowels are only used when they appear at the beginning of a word, hence the missing A, O and Y.

Next, Maryam gave each of us a chunky bamboo pen, cut by a friend of hers to have a nib with a 30˚ angle, a bowl of ink-saturated cotton, and large pieces of poster board. We attempted to replicate the loops, lines and dots of individual letters in the Nas’taliq style. Some lettershapes came easily. Others, such as an angled aleph that Maryam effortlessly made look like a feather with a last-second twist of the nib, I was never able to properly replicate. (You can see Maryam’s feather-shaped aleph in one of the photos above.)

After a quick break for lunch, Maryam had us practice lettershapes by creating an abstract composition on a fresh sheet of poster board. It was fun to layer letters and to use other tools (brushes, erasers, even a folded styrofoam plate) to create broad, expressive strokes. Once the compositions were complete, she had us identify and cut out the most interesting sections, then re-compose small squares and rectangles into an abstract piece of art. It felt great to spend a day off the computer, get ink on my hands, and play.

One fun bonus was that a friend in the type world, Erin McLaughlin, who specializes in fonts for Indian and south Asian languages, was also in the workshop. Erin summarized the day perfectly: “Maryam’s workshop was like exposure therapy for a neurotic, perfectionist, digital media-based person like me. I need to do this more often!”


I enjoyed learning about the lettershapes, but I already have typographic projects on my plate, so I don’t foresee continuing practicing Nas’taliq calligraphy. But the workshop was a delightful way to kick-off my TypeCon conference experience. Maryam’s passion for the style was evident, and I love workshops where the only requirement is curiosity and an open mind.

A Morning at Letterform Archive

I will confess: I didn’t really know what to expect. Friends who had visited Letterform Archive gushed: “It’s amazing.” “You will love it.” “I could have spent an entire day there!”READ MORE

Q & A with Mamta Chaudhry, author of Haunting Paris

When an author writes a book proposal, they often invent profiles of prospective readers; the purpose is to help a publisher envision what type of reader might buy that book. When I first heard about Mamta Chaudhry’s forthcoming novel, HAUNTING PARIS, it felt as if my picture should have been used in her book proposal. The book checks off just about every topic I could ask for: Paris? Check. An old, handwritten letter? Check. WWII? Check! A compelling history-mystery? CHECK!


Book Marketing: What Worked (So Far)

Last week I had a conversation with a friend whose book, Crackerjack Bands and Hometown Boosters: The Story of a Minnesota Music Man, is coming out in July. She’s at the point in the process where the writing is done, the book is in production, and she’s facing the daunting next step: launching her book. She asked great questions about marketing: What worked? What didn’t? What seemed to be the best investment of time and money? Her questions were smart and on-point, though I would expect nothing less since her background is as a journalist.


May 14/15, 1942: “…my greatest ambition is to get home to you…”

10-page handwritten letter written by love-lorn British soldier stationed in Sudan, May 1942

Letter 52

Wednesday, 13th May, 1942
1887416 Sgt. Leigh AA, RE

My Darling Sweetheart,

How long it is since I last wrote you. I don’t know but it is longer than it should have been. I am extremely sorry to keep you of all people waiting but I am sure you must know and realise that I have an excellent reason, so please forgive me darling. I must confess that I have been frightfully busy and working hard in the intense heat produces a tiredness which hinders all attempts to write but the smallest of letters. Since my precious you are worth far more to me than a few scrappy lines I just wait my opportunity. READ MORE

Handwriting Writing Prompt

Undated envelope with beautiful handwriting expressing disappointment (subject of disappointment unknown)

I found this delightful, mystery-filled handwriting sample on eBay for just a few dollars. I love the loopy handwriting, the flourished initial letters, and the extra-long cross bars on the t’s. Most of all, I love the sternness of the note. I’m dying to know what was so unworthy! The note was written on the front of the envelope; unfortunately the envelope doesn’t include any other clues.

It struck me as a fantastic writing prompt. What do you think was such a failure and that was so “untrustworthy” that it required courage to send? Do tell!

April 1, 1944: Furlough is coming near

Handwritten WWII postcard, written in French, with hand-drawn fish basket and Lily of the Valley

Lafond–La Rochelle
April 1, 1944

Dear Mom,

Yesterday there was beautiful sunshine and today, for April Fish, we have grey weather and fine rain. Tomorrow night Gaston will take the train, and after tomorrow noon he will go see you for sure. It seems to me you come back at noon or 12:30.READ MORE

“What’s the name of your new dog?”

I’ve met with enough book clubs to anticipate the questions readers have about Marcel’s Letters: A Font and the Search for One Man’s Fate. One question that has come up time and time again is, “what’s the name of your new dog?”

A woman at a book club in Stillwater has been the only one to ask the harder question: “why didn’t you tell us his name?” The book included so much detail, she explained, the absence of his name seemed unusual. She didn’t believe it was an oversight. When I learned the woman was a judge, her question made more sense. She may often ponder motives behind people’s actions.

So, I thought it was time to tell you why I didn’t include Watson’s name in the book.READ MORE