The fall and rise of paper

9 05 2008

I’ve been thinking about writing today. Not typing – real writing. Pen-and-paper, no-backspace-key, ink-smudged writing. Why? Cleaning out a cupboard I happened upon a box full of calligraphy quills given to me by my Nan years ago. Memories came flooding back.

As a little girl (and as the ‘arty one’), I was taught uncial, blackletter and gothic scripts sitting at her Formica kitchen table. We borrowed books from the library on The Book of Kells and tried to recreate gilt-laden Celtic pages with black, silver and molten gold inks.

This was a practice piece I did – and yes, it is a list of dates from the 1994 Ren & Stimpy Diary (c’mon I was only a little tacker at the time):

We sucked, of course, but perhaps that was my watershed moment. I’m still putting together page layouts today, and loving it.

So whatever happened to beautiful writing on beautiful paper?

A few years ago, the Next Big Thing was that communication would become totally electronic, automatic, e-this, e-that, with no time or space in our busy lifestyles for old-fashioned paper. The future was symbolised by the paperless office. This has become a reality to some degree – communication in business is almost always done via email, company letterhead is almost defunct, friends email and IM each other instead of posting a letter. Even photographs have gone the way of the dodo, replaced by jpegs on a hard drive.

But there is a backlash towards this high-speed, impersonal, function-without-beauty trend – a resurgence of the art of the pen. Receiving a hand-written letter is an event; posh paper shops are popping up all over the place; and the rarity and specialness of beautiful, tactile papers is reflected in their price tags.

Personalised, decorative office stationery is a strong trend at the moment with stores such as kikki.K and Smiggle catering to the worldwide obsession with customisation. Even Officeworks is in on the act. There’s thousands of handmade cards, notebooks, gift tags and writing sets for sale on Etsy. And scrapbooking is taking over the world like some sort of Laura Ashley-clad Godzilla.

Personally, I’m glad paper is back. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to write a letter to my Nan.






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