In this column, we pick a notable personality to go cafe-hopping with us. Meredith Woo explores the connection between calligraphy and working out at the gym with calligrapher Clarence Wee
Did you notice the gorgeous lettering for local SG50 film, 7 Letters ? And when perusing Instagram’s fashion influencers’ pictures, chancing across exquisitely beautiful, personally handwritten notes tagged to events by Burberry, Chanel and Dior? That’s the unexpected work of Temasek Polytechnic alumnus Clarence Wee of Craft Varies, a classmate of our own BiTES graphic designer Benjamin.
First, we establish that Clarence isn’t into sports, nor video gaming, save for that time in secondary school when “Attack, Pikachu! Thunder, thunder, thunder!” used to be his Game Boy mantra. Right now, “there’s nothing other than calligraphy that I dedicate time to,” the vis-comm design graduate tells us. And practice he does, every single day–in between client projects and teaching his craft. But his seriousness segues to contemplation when we throw out some suggestions, and finally elicits a response. “Um, I do go to the gym sometimes, and I enjoy watching MMA (mixed martial arts), especially grappling or Brazilian jiu-jitsu.”
What fascinates the 28-year-old is the mind and muscle link involved in both activities (not that he practices jiu-jitsu). “I find parallels to calligraphy: whatever lifts or squats you do–you need to understand which part of the muscle you’re using, and using it correctly. Similarly in calligraphy, it’s about how you hold your pen, the pressure you’re exerting and how you write.” Craft Varies, With Quiet Longings, the full name of his business, is made up of the initials of his full name: Clarence Valerius Wee Qing Liang. It’s a functional choice, like his original handwriting, where every word is capitalised for legibility.
We’re sitting at Sun Ray Cafe, and our orders arrive. Three of us have opted for the fish in homemade spicy assam sauce, served with okra, brinjal and rice (white/brown) upon Clarence’s recommendation. I can’t help but wonder, if his choice was influenced by the myriad Peranakan options found near his Joo Chiat creative studio.
Much like the practical person he is, Clarence’s preferred choice of drink is water–lots of it–to keep him hydrated. “And it says that I am a very plain person,” he adds jokingly. But today he’s sipping a latte, due to his girlfriend (and occasional manager) Stephanie’s influence: “She drinks coffee like a ’coffee tong (bucket)’; I’m just a beginner who enjoys the balance of milk and espresso (laughs).”
Unlike this newfound coffee enthusiasm, calligraphy has been Clarence’s calling for almost eight years. His interest was piqued in his final year of poly, during his internship in the Netherlands where typography is a speciality. His final year project focused on experimental typography, and freelance gigs afterwards gradually culminated in a full-blown career.
About the same time that Craft Varies officially became a brick-and-mortar business three years ago, the artist took to social media to promote his craft. Some 6,500 people follow him on Instagram, while his Facebook page sees 1,300 likes. “I try to make the effort to post daily [on Instagram] for consistency and also to update my followers.” Clarence also has a handsfree camera mount and a GoPro that he uses to film Instavideos of himself working.
I look up from my notes, suddenly self-conscious about my hurried scribbles in near-illegible black ink. As if knowing what I’d ask, Clarence debunks the myth that bad handwriting equates a poor calligrapher. “There’s no correlation. With enough practice and understanding of the fundamentals, one can still achieve the right kind of style.” There’s hope yet for us!