By Robert Blood
[Editor’s note: The following interview was culled from conversations between the reporter and McCoy, artist and penmanship teacher. Find out more at McCoysWriteWay.Com.]
Why teach handwriting?
Well, the Constitution’s in cursive, which is a pretty good reason in and of itself. That’s finally being brought back into the classroom after 30 years of non-teaching. I actually went into the schools here and offered to come in and teach handwriting for free. I didn’t want a buck for it. But they didn’t want me. From what I’ve seen and heard, they don’t even teach cursive in the schools anymore — certainly not how they used to. When you look at the laws of this country, it’s not supposed to look like Greek. These are the rules we live by, the rules our country was founded under.
You’re an artist, but surely you learned penmanship earlier than that?
I did, in a Catholic school. I was taught by nuns. Legibility. You had to make the letters right. It was the only thing I was very good at in school. I got C-s or whatever in everything else. But the highest compliment anyone every paid me was that I wrote like my mom. I really liked that. I mean, I looked up to her, the way she wrote and would flourish her writing. … I’ve always considered it a compliment when someone tells me I write like a woman. I love women. I value women.
On the “McCoy’s Write Way” DVD course, you talk about the importance of a person’s name, as in a signature. Why’s that important?
When you look at great works of art, take a look at the signatures. So many of them are just garbage. There’s this illegible script at the bottom that you couldn’t read unless you’re from the “Antiques Roadshow.” And most people have signatures like that, too. You shouldn’t write like a doctor, though you should probably think like one. A signature is like a résumé. It shows how you were raised, how you were educated, and what you value.
Which brings us to the power of names.
It’s a source of pride, or at least it should be. Everyone has their own signature, and it stands for them and it stands for something bigger than them. Why do you think people get tattoos of names and gang signs? People identify with words and especially their name.
Despite how seriously you take this, your approach to instruction is light-hearted and quite whimsical.
That’s what makes it fun. I’m not a calligrapher. There is no specific way to do this. It’s important to practice and to be consistent within a piece. You don’t have to follow the rules every time. Calligraphy can be quite beautiful — and I couldn’t do a lot of the really good stuff — but it’s different.
You finished the DVD in 2017. What’s the response been like so far?
Really good. A lot of people have commented about how this isn’t taught in school anymore. Reading, writing, and arithmetic. How could you take out one of those three and still call it a school? Maybe they’ll teach texting now. I don’t know. They’ve already taken out the art and music. It’s really frustrating and it makes me mad. … But people have been positive. I think it reminds people, older people at least, of something that used to be so important that we don’t think about anymore.
How does the approach work for school-age kids?
It works for any age, really, but probably second or third grade. They learn to write within the lines, but you don’t have to be as restrictive as long as you’re consistent. It’s all just ovals and elongated strokes. Once you have the letter shape, you add flourishes or color it in, or whatever you want to do — especially for your name. Your name is important; the way you write it expresses who you are. You should take your time when you’re doing it, especially at first, because it’s not a chore. You should be proud of it. … With children, the important thing is to get on their level and just try to have fun with it. You can turn it into a game, see who’s doing better, girls versus boys, or whatever, and you can use the same techniques for drawing, which is something I show on the DVD. At some point, I plan to make a coloring book with some of this stuff in it.
What’s advice can you share about penmanship, in general?
Well, you should always use both sides of the paper when you’er practicing. There’s no reason to waste materials. All my drawings, as an artist, are on paper that I picked out of the trash, that someone had thrown away. People destroy trees like they’re nothing. So, when you find discarded paper, just flip it over and practice on it. You can draw on it. You can write poetry, whatever your thing is — this goes beyond penmanship. … Holding the implement is important. There’s a three-point method. The most important part is the Fillip, which is the lock between your middle finger and your thumb. … You can practice with a pencil and you can erase, but a pen is a commitment. That’s what we use for important things, and it’s good to practice doing important things. And the more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll get and the more ideas you’ll have. Like I said, it’s important to have fun with it.
How important is it to practice lower case lettering versus upper case lettering?
Except for monograms, the beginning of sentences and proper nouns, most of your lettering is in lower case. It’s the upper case stuff, though, where you can get really fancy. When you look at really old documents, you see these outlandish first letters. You’re consistent with the lower case letters, and even the upper case letters, but with the upper case letters you can really get whimsical. That’s where you add filigree — whatever catches your eyes.
On the DVD, you draw a bird and a few other things using the same shapes as letters.
I’m really into birds. I’m a taxidermist by profession, and I specialize in birds. But in terms of the drawings, they’re just using the letter shapes. The trick is the pen never leaves the paper. All of those drawings — and there’s one you can trace with the DVD — are made without the pen ever leaving the paper. There’s really only two strokes in writing: a hard downstroke and a light upstroke. You can use that for letters, you can use that for poetry, and you can use that to draw. Drawing birds makes sense because nature has all these curves. I try to take my cues from nature and birds have these smooth, continuous movements. I try to bring that to my penmanship. It really brings together everything, and I think it’s really important to get a good foundation in it and to return to it again and again.
Find out more about McCoy and his penmanship program at McCoysWriteWay.Com.
Robert Blood is a Mayer-ish-based freelance writer and ne’er-do-well who’s working on his last book, which, incidentally, will be his first. Contact him at BloodyBobby5@Gmail.Com.