Here is a short interview about me on Magazine Umbria Giovani by Arianna Sorrentino:
It all started with the fascination for history, art and architecture, in particular for the Belle Époque, the period between the late ‘800 and early’ 900 linked to important industrial inventions and extensive artistic developments: it is the basis for his countless interests, which later became real skills.
You will see him on his Instagram profile and you will know Francesco Cotana for what he is: a twenty-three year old boy who discovered his passion for beautiful handwriting and for the creation of pens and who, against time, cultivates it day by day. Knowing him, I really am not surprised when he confesses to me: “I don’t like to put limits on myself. If I see that something can interest me, I throw myself into it. I always want to learn. ” He defines himself as an eternal nostalgic. It is from his maternal grandmother and her youth stories that he fell in love with history.
Why exactly the Belle Époque? “For me it’s an interesting period. On one hand it marks the beginning of the contemporary world but on the other there is still a legacy of an archaic world: two realities that coexist in parallel but which are also in contrast. It fascinates me to see how the ancient world tries to reassert itself and legitimize itself. I believe it is a period to wich we can relate: it is as if it were our contemporaneity, with people similar to us today, but, with ways and manners of ancient traditions “. Studying this historical moment, he learns – just fourteen years old – of calligraphy, in particular of the American cursive1, typical of the Belle Époque years.
He studies as a self-taught and sometimes follows courses – online and not – to learn more. But to be a good calligrapher he needs adequate pens, hence his idea: pen craftsman. He bought his first lathe, the historic tool used by woodworkers, and it was from there that he began his adventure in the world of craftsmanship.
“At the beginning it was difficult, I had to learn. My pens broke often, I didn’t have much inventiveness, I had to work for several hours straight “. He came back from school and spent the afternoon between studying scientific subjects and handling pieces of wood.
He soon realizes that his passion can turn into a real job when he starts the Instagram page where he shares what he does: calligraphic notes and pens made by him. “More than financial satisfaction, it was a personal one: seeing that many professional calligrapers appreciated what I was doing encouraged me to continue.”
Despite being very young – barely seventeen when he starts selling – and a novice, he has a good following. The main feature of his pens is the plexiglas base, a harder element to work and that distinguishes it from the others on the market. He begins to use marbled resins, brass, copper, diamond dust … He finds his style and manages to indulge himself with creativity.
But among his creations, pens are not the only ones to be requested. What attracts the attention of ordinary people, not just professionals, is the precise and elegant writing. He was commissioned to participate in weddings, addresses on envelopes, names on the tables …
Why exactly the American cursive? “I like it because it is an elegant and geometrically perfect style. In the golden age of American calligraphy, in the second half of the nineteenth century, calligraphers manage to break down the letters and define each shape with such a precision that makes the letters fascinating as if each were a small work of art, perfectly studied and that reflects on aesthetics “.
Francesco also continues improving his technique. He proudly tells me about the experience in the United States in the summer of 2019, with Christopher Yoke, the one who rediscovered the craftmanship of pens. Initially they had started an online correspondence, then he managed to attend the course he taught at his home in Indianapolis, in the state of Indiana.
His constantly updated Instagram profile – another working front – talks about him. In the About me of his stories highlight we can see him as an impromptu cook, tailor with crochet, carny hanging from an aerial hammock, but also a careful student ready to graduate – in Building Engineering – Architecture.
So, are you more inclined towards practical or theoretical matters? “I consider myself creative, and in creativity there are both aspects. Both the theoretical conception of the idea and the practical implementation. I have to admit I’m not good at pure math. I struggled with my analysis exams”.
- This article mentions American cursive but it actually means Engrosser’s Scrip (wich is the American version of English roundhand) to make it easier for the original Italian article and readers to understand