talk about gorgeous letters: luca barcellona video

by Grace Bonney

I couldn’t think of a better way to start today than with this amazing video of artist Luca Barcellona hand-writing for the “Legacy of Letters” Italian tour, organized by Paul Shaw NYC. I was hypnotized by the fluid nature of his movements and the insanely gorgeous final product. Moments like this make me twinge with jealousy — I would give anything to have that sort of natural artistic skill. My hands just seem to draw chicken scratch. Thanks to Melissa for the tip! xo, grace

*Speaking of letters, there’s still time to enter the D*S “Design Your Own Alphabet” contest (and possibly win $500!). We’ve already gotten some amazing entries but I can’t wait to see what else you guys have up your sleeves!

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  • This is not an illustration of “natural artistic skill” this is a demonstration of the fruits of hundreds if not thousands of hours of practice. I agree with you that it is amazingly beautiful.

    • hepaestus

      is calligraphy a skill that can be taught and learned? absolutely. but will everyone with the same amount of training be just as good? no way. luca’s got an amazing natural skill that makes his work so impressive (his design work outside of this project is really fantastic). i took calligraphy classes in college and the people with natural artistic skill had work that looks light-years beyond ours because of their innate ability to create a composition and line weight that was more sophisticated and interesting.


  • Do you know what kind of pen he’s using??

    This is my favorite week ever at Design Sponge! More type/design!

  • I agree with Hepaestus! I am an art teacher and a big follower of design sponge. But the phrase “natural artistic skill” makes me cringe. I’m sure Luca put as many hours into practicing his letters as the violinist playing in the background. Composition and line weight are things that are taught, studied and learned, not innate. Artists are hard workers and intelligent people.

    • amy

      i don’t understand your last point. i understand and agree that artists are hard workers and intelligent people. but do you think that luca isn’t an artist, or that artists don’t have innate abilities?


    • carolina

      you can usually take classes at local art centers, book stores, or colleges. if you tell me where you’re located i can google a few for you if you need help.


  • I think his work is captivating! As a design student who took Calligraphy, it is not an easy task to pick up. While technique can be taught, I believe that the artist needs to have a passion for the subject in order to create such inspiring pieces like this! Beautiful and thanks for sharing!!

  • Wow.
    As an art student who has a love of typography and the art of the handwritten letter, this was an amazing video to watch this morning. SO inspiring, and beautiful! Thanks for sharing!

  • This is totally mind blowing! I agree with Sarah- This week has excellent stuff! Keep the typography stuff coming! More hand lettering! WOOT!

  • reminds me of graffiti artist Retna’s work, although his alphabet is more stylized and hieroglyphic looking.
    Art is a skill that can be learned just like reading and writing need to be learned. Unfortunately, we just don’t practice the way we do writing & reading unless we think we have an innate gift.

  • There is no such thing as “natural skill.” He may have a natural eye and good artistic intuition, but work of this quality is achieved through hundreds of hours of hard work and practice.

    It’s absolutely gorgeous.

    • art student

      if we’re going to be precise about wording, yes, skills are things that you typically learn. but my point here is that artists are often born with natural talents and abilities that others aren’t. i think in every art, job, or pursuit in life there are some people who excel over others because of a natural ability to see, hear, or do things differently. if you look at the art world, i doubt you’ll find that the biggest successes are people with the most hours under their belt. people who have a unique style or ability to grab people’s attention, interest and respect often do so because they do things differently than what the rules/skills/lessons would teach. and that ability to do something different isn’t something you’re taught in school- it’s something that comes from within.

      i wouldn’t want to live in a world where everything was about the amount of practice you put in. some people have gifts for certain pursuits and i love that we get to see that in the art world so much. i agree that with practice and teaching most people can achieve a certain amount of skill and talent within a field, but i think the arts are one area where natural talents and someone’s eye for composition make a very big difference. believe me, i took years of classes on composition and could never naturally grab things as well as some of the new students in class who had never taken composition.


  • i love this video. i used to do calligraphy in place of babysitting money. i made a lot of certificates, i will tell ya! this makes me think, oh, if i would have kept it up!

  • absolutely breathtaking and inspirational video! I agree that everyone has “innate” abilities that may be improved with learning, but you cannot teach everything. I can throw a basketball, but no matter how hard I practice or what teacher I acquire, I will never be a Michael Jordan (an athletic artist, if there ever was one). I may also learn physics from a professor and get A’s in the class, but I will never be an Einstein (an “artist” of the sciences). I think the problem lies in that we often call art “subjective,” and therefore unquantifiable, which leads to the impression that *anyone* can do it with enough practice and training. As one with a design degree, I can attest that those with a natural aptitude for color, composition, AND hard work will do much better than those with only the latter.

    What is most important though, is that everyone has a *natural* aptitude, talent, what-have-you hidden inside them. Tapping into it is what makes us all unique AND creative individuals!

  • i think that saying that there is no such thing as natural skill or innate abilities discounts many groups of artists: the self taught, outsider art, folk artists, children, etc. i am sure some in these groups can create more exquisite works than some learned degree holders. yes, anyone who creates will spend hours doing so, but time is not the only thing that makes an artist. in school, we were not allowed to talk about how many hours we put into a piece as it was irrelevant to our discussion of the conceptual ideas in the work.

  • This reminds me of all the gorgeous medieval illuminated manuscripts I studied. I love how the same letter within the same monastery can look different based on the the particular calligrapher.

    My mom does calligraphy, and while I can mimic the same letters, hers just look so much more fluid. It is such a beautiful skill and talent. And totally worth the money for wedding invitations :)

  • I can see from your response to comments that you didn’t intend to imply that his skill is the result of some natural talent as opposed to the many hours that he has spent practicing his art and developing his steady hand.

    However, your post says that his “movements” make you jealous – and you compare them to your “chicken scratch” and imply that that the difference is something he was born with. Totally untrue. Each movement that he makes appears fluid and perfect because he has literally made that motion hundreds of thousands of times.

    • ruth

      i see your point, but i’ll add that grace of movement is something someone can be born with as well. in art school the painters in my classes that were exceptional had a fluidity of movement i could never, ever mimic. even with years of classes. so yes, i think movement and the ability to judge the way something should look and feel can also be innate. the same goes with the sports analogies someone made earlier- maybe you could teach me to dunk a basketball (on a much lower hoop) after tons of practice. but could i do with style? probably not. technical skills can be learned, but there’s something to the grace and talent that comes with people who have born artistic talent.


  • Captivating. This makes me want to pick up calligraphy again!

    I do believe that “natural artistic talent” doesn’t mean that you haven’t studied and worked hard on your skill but that you had it in you to develop this skill in the first place.

  • I practiced calligraphy as a child, and the music combined with Luca’s grace and skill (be it innate or honed, as this conversation seems to be focusing on), it absolutely inspiring. I think it is time to break my own markers back out. Speaking of music, though, does anyone recognize the music in the background? I’ve always found painting/drawing with music playing in the background very powerful, and this song definitely contributes to the awe everyone is feeling.

  • Amazing and beautiful. Thank you! For those who commented on the music, I think it’s a piece by the cellist Zoe Keating.

  • I would love to know who did the music and what piece it was. It was as amazing as the calligraphy.

  • I don’t think I’ve seen such rigorous debate here before! It’s as mesmerizing as the video.

    P.S. not a violin, but a cello. :)