Headshot of Paul Shaw

Paul Shaw

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

I don’t really know. I was drawing letters and filling them in with various Speedball pens sometime around age 9 or 10 I guess. But I didn’t use the pens to write letters until age 18 or so.

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

Challenge what you read and what you are told.

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

I don’t do much calligraphy anymore due to the assault that left me with damaged fingers on my right hand.

What is your dream project?

My dream project is to finish my critical biography of W.A. Dwiggins.

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

It all depends on what I am doing. Since most of my projects now are articles or blog posts, I begin by looking up background material or original sources online via Worldcat, Google Books, Hathitrust, Gallica BnF, and Internet Archive. Before the pandemic I used to go to the various libraries at Columbia University and the New York Public Library to look for things. For much of this year I have been researching life in 1890s Chicago to understand the diaries of Frank Holme, a newspaper artist.

Name 3 non-lettering artists who inspire you.

Are you asking about “non-lettering” artists or non “lettering artists”? Romare Bearden, Koloman Moser and Nicolete Gray.

What do you aim to say with your work?

I have never aimed to say anything with my calligraphy.

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

I teach because I enjoy transmitting what I know and have learned to others. In calligraphy my current teaching style is to emphasize collaborative discovery. I no longer try to teach an alphabet or specific set of letters. I would like to emphasize collaboration in my academic teaching but the structure of courses and of Zoom have made that very difficult.

What is your favorite pastime when not in your studio?

I am rarely in my studio anymore. I send my non-working time (free time is a misnomer) cooking, reading, watching sports.

Work by Paul Shaw

What jobs have you done besides being an artist?

I have never been an artist. I have been a calligrapher, letterer, graphic designer, design teacher (typography, book design, calligraphy), design historian, and I once worked (very briefly) as a garbage man.

You’ve literally written the book on Blackletter. What place do you think it has in our modern culture?

Blackletter Primer was a youthful effort that should be taken out of print until it can be properly updated. However, I am still proud of the blackletter trilogy Blackletter: Type and National Identity (monograph and catalogue) and The Calligraphic Tradition in Blackletter Type. Blackletter has a marginal place in our contemporary culture. It is useful in various subcultures and it provides a nice contrast to roman/italic/san serif letters and type in the dominant culture. It is an important part of Western European cultural heritage and thus needs to be nourished.

Trajan: History, or Sci Fi?

I am not sure I understand this question. The Trajan inscription is a touchstone for our entire Western lettering, calligraphy, and type tradition, but it is also highly overrated. I prefer the inscription on the monument of Sextus Pompeius on the Via Appia. And there are many other examples of excellent Imperial Roman Capitals scattered throughout Italy and elsewhere in Europe.