Betty Soldi – calligrapher, designer and creative thinker – reminds us why it is important to preserve the manuscript, what lies behind it, and why it can be considered the matrix of a different lifestyle, focused on instinct and letting go.
We learn to write by hand as children in school, and then we forget the importance of that gesture and repeat it automatically. Yes, in the age of technology, we practice it less and less, considering it obsolete and useless. We have forgotten the wonder of creating something with our hands, turning thoughts into actions and then into ink on paperand we have totally replaced the typical human rhythms with the speed of the machines, and we forget the benefits associated with them. Betty MoneyInstead, she works with written words and tells us what they mean to her.
How did your passion for calligraphy start?
Everything is connected with the story of my family who have been engaged in fireworks in Florence for one hundred and fifty years. Since I was a child, I have had to deal with matter: black and silver dust, paper and string. These elements only create magic after ignition. Just as fires create wonder in the viewer, I have sought my tools to evoke this incredible feeling: pen and ink. Every person needs inform and get inspired, I use handwriting to do that. The passion for calligraphy has always been in my veins, it first manifested itself in London, where I moved as a seven-year-old with my family. I did not know English, and the blackboard where the teacher wrote white words evoked a familiar feeling in me, like the fires. Back in Italy I attended a design course at my uncle’s art and restoration studio at Palazzo Spinelli. Everyone knew how to draw, I did not, and I began to do it in words, taking up what I later discovered was the ancient art of calligrams.
You associated yourself with the subject as a calligrapher and designer, how did that happen?
Back to London I attended a course in graphic design and visual communication. The teacher argued that in order to achieve harmony, it was necessary to know where one is coming from: only by honoring the past is it possible to evolve and break the form. After practicing traditional practices, the teacher gave me and my classmates different ideas to express ourselves. After this course, I started collaborating with luxury brands, helping them understand how to customize their products. It is not only the name that counts, but also – and above all – to communicate something that directly addresses people who are loyal to the brand, and touches on values and emotions that are important to them through the products. The setting – normal corporate – of the big brands tend to lose the creative and human side of the work, and it is precisely to find it again that companies ask for my cooperation.
You coined the term “Inksperiences“ to your courses, why did you feel this need?
In Italy, when it comes to calligraphy courses, a certain type of public is attracted who has a specific expectation: to learn traditional writing techniques. These experiences teach us to do things a certain way, and those who participate end up believing that this is the only one who trains for perfect practice, precisely because we are judged by precise rules and schedules. I wanted completely away from this type of course and so on I invented an expression reminiscent of everything behind handwriting: Let yourself be inspired and then let go. As I explain in my book Ink inspired, published by Guido Tommasi, the experiences I suggest start from the feelings and sensations that writing gives you. A process of self-discovery, reflection and listening is activated. Those who participate first fill in a little on the paper, then write big, talk and scream on paper.
Many claim that handwriting is outdated compared to modern technologies. What do you think about it?
Modern and antique are not in conflict, rather they exist together and it is important to learn to use both. In my work, I combine calligraphy as old as the history of mankind with modern design. My favorite pen is not a new Montblanc, but a vintage fountain pen that has already written and told stories and already knows how to do it. I am the one who uses these tools softened by time in a new way. Handwriting is beautiful because it allows you to go back to basics by restoring an action that is as simple as it is forgotten. A clock activity that brings out what we have inside makes it tangible, which helps us to listen to ourselves and therefore to understand ourselves. Handwriting is about feeling: it is written on a level with the heart, which connects with the head and the hand.
What do you think calligraphy can do for humans?
Handwriting is an exchange, it opens the mind by helping to understand that things are not a way. You can write on a window, on a mirror, put yourself to the test by performing various actions that we have now acquired automatically in a given way. I believe the function of the manuscript is to help restore a way of doing things that is human, dwell on what we take for granted and notice what we did not see before. During the pandemic, I held courses for London professionals who worked in smart work, needed new stimuli. By tackling issues far from their profession – such as poetry and calligraphy, in fact – I pushed them to understand the importance of developing a more homely way of working, surrounding themselves with the things they love. Feeling comfortable in the workplace is crucial, as is opening up new ways of doing things by going beyond their original framework and overcoming the mentality associated with them.
We can therefore say that the leitmotif of all your work is creativity. What does this mean for you, and how do you recommend restoring it?
In our society, creativity is considered a hobby, an alternative pastime to everyday life. In fact, it is the magic dust that opens up new perspectives. In English it says “it is not what you look at, but what you seeWe can all look alike, but that’s it how we see that it makes the difference. I believe that the key to regaining creativity is precisely to cultivate oneself, because it is something we always have with us, a way to experience things. It is said that he who throws seeds into the wind will make the heavens blossom. I try to do just that: leave traces that force us to give up the weights that keep the soul anchored to the ground, to open our inner suitcase and free us from limitations and pain. And that is how it is the pen becomes a magic wand that can open our eyes to how beautiful it is to be human and how important it is to cultivate this essence because that is what allows us to create wonders.
Photo by Beatrice Angelini, Sejla Ljubovic, Kathy Miller, Maria Riazanova