Elmo van Slingerland headshot smiling in front of expressive calligraphy strokes

Elmo van Slingerland

When was the first time you picked up a calligraphy pen?

The first time I picked up a calligraphy pen was in the early 80’s. I saw a calligraphy fountain pen in an office supply store with some samples of written text. I was captivated, I wanted this too! Soon after, I went to school for graphic arts and printing, and letter writing/calligraphy was part of the curriculum in the first year. These were the best lessons for me. I often think back to Henk Verkamman, my teacher at the time. It was during this time that I got to know calligrapher Marion Andrews, who ran a calligraphy and bookbinding shop with her husband. Through Marion, I got further into the world of calligraphy. She was co-founder of Scriptores (the Dutch-Flemish organization for calligraphy), and thanks to her I came into contact with more calligraphers in the Netherlands, Belgium and France; especially my first workshop with Claude Mediavilla, which was then organized by Scriptores.

What is the best advice you ever received (lettering or otherwise)?

That I need to get out more with my work. One piece of advice I should follow even more…

Why do you letter? What keeps you coming back every day?

To remain fascinated by the movement, the stroke, the tension that the stroke can evoke and activate the white space.

The activity itself of letter writing and drawing also continues to fascinate me; it doesn’t always have to be about a finished composition, but making sketches, doodling and writing empty words on a piece of sketch paper is something I enjoy doing; just play!

What is your dream project?

My dream project is any letter-related project which help me to make a living, with which I can take a step forward and show myself more to the world where my passion lies. This can be an assignment for a commercial party, or for a private person.

What research do you do when learning or starting something new? i.e. a new style or new project.

Make lots of sketches, read, study and interpret hands when necessary.

Wim Hofman book & spreads

Name 3 non-lettering artists who inspire you.

The Dutch children’s author, poet and illustrator Wim Hofman, the drawings and collages of the Dutch designer Ootje Oxenaar and the Spanish visual artist Antoni Tàpies. But if you ask me tomorrow, I’ll probably name three other names.

What binds them to a greater or lesser extent and what interests me is the craftsmanship, a kind of nonchalance or apparent carelessness, playfulness, humor, irony, quality of form and texture. These are characteristics that presumably also creep into my own work.

Ootje Oxenaar book spreads

What do you aim to say with your work?

In my calligraphy I always go for the quality of the line, shape and counter shape, the attention to detail. The aesthetic aspect takes precedence. The link form/content is sometimes consciously present, but often not (or perhaps in a more subconscious form).

Why do you teach? What is your teaching ethos/style?

I am not a teacher by birth, but it gives me satisfaction to see that I can pass on the things I have learned from my own experience and/or partly from other teachers. It makes me happy to see people pick up on it, even if they won’t be using it regularly in their work. Furthermore, I always think it’s fantastic to be able to talk about our passion with like-minded people; people around me will understand what I do to a certain extent, but being able to talk to real “letterheads” about the shape of a serif, the tension of a curve in a line, or the importance of the white space in a letter, that’s something else.

What is your favorite pastime when not in your studio?

I like photography and recreational walking, and visiting a museum every now and then.

What jobs have you done besides being an artist?

I have always worked as a graphic designer (first I had my own design agency with my wife Els, then as an employee at a few design agencies that mainly specialized in corporate reporting — mainly annual reports) and now since June 2021 I have been trying to build a life myself with calligraphy, letter drawing, painting and letter teaching. An exciting road for me…

Elmo van Slingerland’s experimental work

You do a lot of experimental work. How much of a plan do you have before you start a new piece?

It varies, but usually I start and see where it goes; this is especially the case with the more experimental paintings and more experimental works on paper. Sometimes text fragments appear in it and sometimes no text at all, but movement/gesture and texture are part of the guideline along which I work. In that sense it’s still calligraphic I think. In such works I always try to strive for a certain playfulness.

You have done type design and some very loose lettering. How do you approach & switch between the two very different styles?

Type design is a bit longer ago, unfortunately. I would very much like to continue working on that.

In essence, I don’t see much difference in the approach to formal or informal work: I approach it all more or less with the same view. I look at the line quality, the contour of the pen stroke so to speak, whether that be in gestural calligraphy, formal calligraphy or a drawn letter. Tension of the line, the right distribution of form and counterform, these are the touchstones for me. The formal work seems more thoughtful and the more gestural work seems spontaneous, but every stroke of the pen is also thought through in the gestural work; I often jokingly call it “thoughtful spontaneity.”

Elmo van Slingerland’s digital drawn work
Elmo van Slingerland’s gestural lettering work