A Conversation With German Calligrapher Andrea WunderlichNovember 30th, 2018
In the small Bavarian town on Goldkronach, you will find the Old Firestation that Andrea Wunderlich calls both home and studio. Andrea has been working as a calligrapher and book artist since 2003 and specializes in wall calligraphy. She is responsible for the conception and organization of the Europa Scriptorium in 2012 and was honoured with a CLAS Fellowship this year. Andrea will be teaching a week long class at Rendez-vous that begs the question: Who’s Afraid of Rudolph Koch? Read more below to learn about her introduction into the world of calligraphy and how she felt when she saw Koch’s work for the first time.
Where did you grow up and what first sparked your interest in letters?
I grew up in a small town in the northern part of Bavaria. My mother had beautiful handwriting, and she did care for my handwriting, too. I saw the beauty in her letterforms and that was something that was worth aiming for.
What was the first hand that you learned, and which hands resonate with you most today?
Uncial, in a workshop by Helmut Hirmer. Italic letterforms had and still have a great impact, even in gestural writing. Italic and its origins in 15th century cursive offer a huge playground. And then it´s gothic letters, another world of its own. You still see all kinds of fraktur lettering on historic buildings and signs in Germany, especially in Bavaria, but then there is also a much more contemporary approach to gothic writing, too.
Which teachers have made the deepest impact on you and your work, and why?
Helmut Hirmer was my very first calligraphy teacher. He saw my talent and encouraged me until I became a full time calligrapher. Gottfried Pott changed my calligraphic world and my approach into a much more expressive way of working. Denis Brown even more raised my will to practice and become a skillful artist. Ewan Clayton introduced me to really looking closely at old manuscripts and how to learn from them. And then Sheila Waters - what a workout on Roman caps, drawn versals and spacing! I went to a lot more workshops and teachers, but these five had the greatest impact on me. It’s important for me to learn the craft from the very best to be able to use the skills for my own ideas.
What was the first conference that you attended and what did you gain from the experience?
My first conference was the Letters Mingle Souls conference in Chicago in 2008. I remember sitting in the auditorium during one of the evening events and telling myself “This is exactly what you want to do for the rest of your life.” I was at a point where I wasn’t sure whether I could become a real good calligrapher, good enough to make a living. After that I made a list of teachers I wanted learn from and skills I still had to achieve.
Where do you create, and how have you organized your work space?
I live and work in my studio. It’s not that my studio is in my flat - I moved into my studio two years ago. I built in a bathroom and a bedroom, so it became the best place on earth. The studio space is by far the biggest room. I could work at my table at the window or work on the huge table in the middle of the room, put together with ten smaller tables. Those are usually for my students. But in daily life, I can put several projects onto there and work on them simultaneously. Computer, printer, cutting machine, materials - everything is in reachable distance.
What are three of the most essential tools for your calligraphy practice?
Nib and penholder (pointed and broad edged), automatic pen and brush (pointed and broad edged).
As one who specializes in calligraphy murals, how do you approach designing a wall? What do you have to take into consideration when creating a large scale piece?
Exact measuring of the wall is important, because I would write out the design in original size. Before that, the client has received a photoshop file, where I have put my idea into the photo of the actual wall. If it is a mural with multiple transparent layers, I would write out in original size at least the most important lines in the foreground to have a good starting point. One has to take in consideration that the brush might react different depending on the surface it is used on. Usually the strokes get broader on a hard surface like a wall.
How would you describe the calligraphy community in Bavaria and Germany?
The calligraphy community is Germany-wide. Where I live I’m the only calligrapher, and there are only a few in Bavaria. There are two societies in Germany, ars scribendi and the Schreibwerkstatt Klingspor Offenbach. I’m a member of both and for the Schreibwerkstatt, I’m a board member, responsible for booking international tutors for our workshops. I really enjoy the exchange with colleagues, but then it’s not only Germany, I especially appreciate networking with my colleagues and friends europe-wide. Therefore, I’m a member of CLAS (Calligraphy and Lettering Arts Society) and LX (Letter Exchange), both situated in London.
What was the genesis behind your class “Who Is Afraid of Rudolph Koch”?
During a visit at the Klingspor Museum´s archive, I was introduced to the work of Rudolf Koch. My first thought was “Maybe that’s art, but I don’t like it and it’s not beautíful at all.” This has been years ago, and I wasn’t very experienced in calligraphy then. It had been Koch’s expressive gothic pieces that had shocked me a little bit. Over the years I learned how important and outstanding Koch’s work was. Then I looked at it again during my archive visits, and I started to buy antiquarian books. Besides the ABC Büchlein and Gerald Cinamon´s Rudolf Koch, Letterer, Type Designer, Teacher, I got hold of Koch’s diary that he wrote during his time serving as a soldier in World War I. This is quite touching, and I saw the changes in his work before and after the war. I recognized the influence of expressionism. I got an insight into his character, his way of working and thinking about his work. It made me think about what it means to be a calligrapher/lettering artist/craftsman and the metamorphosis into an artist. It made me think about the freedom we can achieve in our personal approach to our calligraphic work.
Outside of calligraphy, what are some of your other interests?
No sports, unless at least one dog is involved. Going for walks, running around in the woods, mantrailing - those are the only sports that make sense. I love a glass of good craft beer. It’s not surprising that one of my biggest clients is a local brewery!