in reverse order

since this is a blog, you have to go to the very bottom and read them in reverse order. eventually, there will be pages across the top where you can read chunks of information in a logical order. this is all free posting, so, maybe that is why it has to appear in reverse order.


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Spooky Experiments

Mr. Legend left a comment about his nib skipping. I brainstormed a few possible solutions. Then I tried some random swoopy motions. If you have never tried writing with a nib, try some wavy lines. I made some rows of letters that are a common exercise in Spencerian. At some point, I might talk about Spencerian, but for now, let's stick with the first exemplar that I posted. The first line of actual words is from the exemplar.

Then I tried to make some quirky, spooky writing by making everything less uniform. The third line is scrunched - then angular - then slanted. The writing explains the thought process.

Then I Googled *spooky lettering* and some fun Halloween cards popped up. I redrew the three figures, making them significantly different than the original. I can't really decide which one I like best.

Hopefully, if you have your nibs and ink, you can try some quirky writing and let me know how it goes.

I will wait to hear from the people who expressed an interest in trying nibs and ink, to see if they have their materials. I also need to know if anyone bought a book. Which book you are using will determine what kinds of comments I make.

If you just want to use the exemplar that I recommended (rather than any of the books), please let me know.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Essential information

Computers sometimes refuse to post photos in the right direction. We won't let it bother us.

I forgot to mention something that is essential to nice lettering with nibs and ink. It is really hard to make pretty lettering when you have a single sheet of paper on a hard surface.

You need some *cush.*

The easiest thing to do is write on a stack of 4-6 sheets of paper. If you look closely, you will see faint lines in the photo. There is a sheet of lined notebook paper under the sheet of photocopy paper. That's an easy way to give yourself some guidelines.
Or you may just write on notebook paper.

You need cush with all kinds of pens and markers. I imagine a sheet of blotter paper would be perfect.
I'm sure you can still find blotter paper somewhere.....

And conversely, beware of writing in a notebook. When you start on the first page and the notebook is 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick, as your hand gets down to the bottom of the page, it will be falling off that edge and you will not be able to write neatly. I am pretty emphatic about discouraging students from writing in notebooks or on tablets. I think loose sheets are much friendlier. As Mary Jones says: That is just my opinion, but I am right.

Spencerian tips

Mr. Legend left a comment and mentioned that he was having trouble with the nib skipping on the upstroke on his Spencerian. This style is one of my favorites. The image is from Bill Kemp's webpage

Bill is a past president of IAMPETH.
I will do a post about IAMPETH at a later date. But you could Google it and surf around their website.

Possible problems - and all of these suggestions apply to any of the pointed nib styles:

1. Slant - of paper and pen

How much you slant your paper is something to consider with all styles.
Spencerian is sometimes referred to as a running hand and the books teach cross-drills which are fascinating exercises where you fill the page with rows and rows of rhythmic lines of the same letter
eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee  only in script. IMHO, you need to find a slant that is comfortable
and then keep your nib rather *flat* - I do not have any success with Spencerian when I let the nib go up on its tippy toes - with the pen holder nearly vertical. To keep the nib rather *flat* you can't have your hand too close to the nib. If your nib holder is hour glass shaped it might be forcing your hand to be too close to the nib. You might need to get a straight holder so that your hand is a little further away from the nib.That is the advantage of a straight holder. Although, I like hour glass shapes and with practice, most people can make friends with both kinds of nib holders.

2. The nib.
The slit on the nib may be rotated to the left or right so that you are getting too much drag on one of the two prongs. The nib may be worn out or defective. The nib may need to be cleaned. I use windex and a lint free cloth. Old linen is my favorite. Or old cotton handkerchiefs or napkins.

3. The ink.
I can't think of a reason that the ink would be skipping, although, it never hurts to try a new ink.

4. The paper.
It could be the paper. Some papers that are for printing have a clay coating. I never have any problem with skipping on really good paper (William Arthur envelopes are my favorites) So, you might want to get some Rhodia or Clairfontaine paper. I have never heard anyone say that they have problems with either of those two papers.

5. Speed.
It is a delicate balance writing fast enough to get smooth lines, yet, not so fast that your nib skips.
Go back to the wavy lines and see if you can make them to your liking. If you can't, you have to keep trying options until you get pretty wavy lines and then move on to letters and words. Once in a while I find a paper that is just fine for words, but when I start throwing in some big flourishes, they skip. So, I have to write at one speed, but then slow down just a bit to make the flourishes.

It is very fussy work getting everything to your liking. If you calculate how many combinations there are in the 5 factors listed, you will see that technically there are an infinite number of options. But, you'll usually run across one that works after about 17 trials. 17 is my magic number. Do anything 17 times and you will either figure it out or you will decide to give up. But, you can give up knowing that you tried 17 things and that is an admirable number of attempts. Anything short of 17 and you are a *quitter.* After 17, you are just cutting your losses and moving on. You do get a lot of extra credit if you try 100 things before giving up.

Lemmekno if any of these tips work.

You could write with the paper square and level in front of you, but you will probably have better luck with the paper slanted and writing at an angle, heading towards 2 o'clock. Make sure your nib is clean. Nib cleaning deserves its own post.

Let me know what happens when you clean your nib, and try some different slants and possibly a different holder. Are you using an oblique holder?

P.S. Relax. IMHO, you really need to be relaxed to do Spencerian. Lots of wavy lines might be soothing. I'll go make an envelope with a lot of wavy lines and see what happens.


These are the books I recommend.

For approx. $10, The Speedball Textbook will give you more than 15 styles of lettering. The pages are small and I recommend making an enlarged photocopy of the style you are working on. It is a wonderful book, first printed in 1915 and updated 22 times. There will be a 100th anniversary edition in 2015. It has launched many scribes and the inside front and back covers have personal notes from many scribes telling their stories about what the book means to them. It is mostly black and white. The exemplars are traditional. I frequently call this book *the bible* because it really does have a ton of information. It has quite a bit of interesting history, if you read the fine print. I love this book and it packs the most bang for your buck. It does not cover any of the quirky contemporary styles.

If you want contemporary, you can go with Modern Calligraphy. It is much bigger and costs approx $25.
Molly Suber Thorpe is young and clearly loves the quirky script styles. I disagree with a few of the things she writes in the book. But that's because I am old and wise and started with traditional calligraphy. It is rare for scribes to agree on everything. She likes the Higgins Eternal, I don't. At least she took the time to write the book and there is plenty of valuable information. Keep reading my posts and I will add my perspective where it is appropriate. This book will provide everything you need to have fun and you will not be saddled with any discipline whatsoever.

The two books on the bottom are two choices, based on price, if you want to try a more traditional approach and if the more disciplined approach will work for you. Gordon Turner's book is approx $7 and Eleanor Winters' book is approx $16. The Winters book is twice as thick, so you get more information. They both have the basics.

How to decide which book to get:
If you love my envelope blog and want to learn everything, buy The Speedball Textbook.
If you know you want quirky lettering, buy Modern Calligraphy.
If you know you want traditional pointed nib script, choose one of the copperplate books based on what you can afford.

Don't worry that you have chosen the wrong book. Any of them will be perfect for your first book. I will also be sending links to books that are available for free at the website.

You will enjoy having one real book.
Here is where to order one (or more)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Top 10 Problems (6 thru 10)

6. My hand/wrist/arm/shoulder/neck/back/entire body is getting sore.
Yup, that happens. Try to relax and take some breaks. Also, it is really important to be in a proper position at your desk. There will be many posts about all the issues of maintaining your health. For now, just work on two things. Relaxing so that you are enjoying the process (and losing track of time) BUT remember to take breaks. To be good at penmanship, you really need to get lost in the process so that you are enjoying your practice time. But, sadly, when you start to really enjoy the practice, you lose track of time and sit there for so long that you run the risk of destroying your joints. Seriously, I blew out my elbow one time and ever since, I have to be very careful to not re-injure it. So - find some balance between maintaining focus but also taking breaks. I can't give you any exact recipe. It's like finding those balance points in every other part of life.

7. My work is ugly.
No it isn't. It may not be what you want it to be - but seriously, this is not rocket science. It is hands down the most accessible artistic endeavor. If you can hold a pen, you can improve your penmanship and if you tell me what your problem is I will be very surprised if it is not something that I have already heard and already resolved.

8. I don't have time to practice.
OK. That's the one problem I can't resolve. Many people have long lists of things they hope to accomplish. Writing with nibs and ink will take a little time. If you can't make the time, let me know and I will toss out some other options for you. If you want me to help you reorganize your life so that you do have time, I will be happy to do that. You probably won't like any of my suggestions....but they are pretty creative.

9. Your exemplar is ugly.
Baby steps. Remember the first time you rode a bike? Was it lovely and fluid?
No. You probably fell off. So, we are going to start with some clunky weird looking stuff and then later on, we will smooth off the rough edges and transform it into whatever you like.

10. This is ridiculous.
Well, maybe it is. But, it's free and it's delivered to your house. So, give it a try and let me know how it goes. It is a completely different approach but I like to try out-of-the-box things. I once taught a penmanship class on the radio. Seriously. I did. I will tell the whole story at some point. In the meantime, if you really want to learn how to write with nibs and ink give it a try. If you don't have nibs and ink, you can always do the same lessons with any regular pen or marker and see what happens. At the very least, you could improve your penmanship.

Top Ten Problems (1 thru 5)

Before I hear from anyone, I am going to anticipate what kinds of problems you might be having.

1. Catching and splattering.
If you hold the pen holder too tight and if you press too hard and if your nib is too perpendicular to the paper, the nib will catch and the ink will splatter. You need to write with a light touch and you do not need a death grip on the pen holder. It's hard to relax, but you must. Don't press too hard. Read no. 2 [below] there is more about pressure. If the nib is too perpendicular to the paper, you can have problems. Try holding the pen a little further back from the nib and have the entire pen at an angle, not straight up and down. [also read more about holding the pen in no. 5]

2. Can't make the variations of thick and thin in the strokes.
The thickness happens when you apply pressure on the nib. There is a slit in the nib and when you press down, the two tips spread apart and deposit a wider line of ink. You can only apply pressure when you are pulling a stroke from the top, down. From north to south. Once you are moving the nib back up towards the top of the paper, you must lighten the pressure so that you are just barely touching the paper. You might try to write with no pressure, at first, just to get the feel of ink on paper and then gradually start applying pressure (on the down stroke) as you get the hang of it.

3. The nib is repelling the ink.
Many nibs have a coating. The Nikko G nibs that I recommend don't seem to have a coating and sometimes I can just insert them into the holder and they write fine. But, other times the ink beads up. If you read the books, they will recommend passing the nib through the flame of a match. Or cleaning the nib with tooth paste or nail polish remover. And some teachers will warn you that there are scribes who put the nib in their mouth to make it ink friendly. They will tell you that you should never do that. So, of course, the daredevils try it and sometimes it becomes the preferred method. I won't recommend it. But, I also won't be hiding anything from you. You decide if you want to live dangerously. While it is dangerous, I guess it appeals to those of us who are lazy. I've heard about all the toxic things found in art supplies and fur shur, I do not put anything else in my mouth. And don't open tubes of paint with your teeth. I broke a tooth when I was in college and have not opened any paint tubes with my teeth since then. Painful as well as expensive to repair.

4. The ink is feathering.
Try a different paper. There are a lot of papers out there. Many scribes find a photocopy paper that works for practice. Sometimes I find Mead notebook paper and sometimes it is just fine. For practice paper, you just have to keep trying different kinds until you find one that works with you ink. If you have a really bad ink, you might need to get some different ink. I hesitate to name names, but I really dislike Higgins Eternal. It is so popular and other scribes use it all the time. I can't make it work. So, ink is a very personal thing. If you have tried a lot of papers and they all bleed, email me and we can chat about inks options. Once again, I find the Clairfontaine and Rhodia papers to be pretty nice for practice, although more expensive than photocopy paper.

5. Your first 4 suggestions have not helped.
How are you holding your pen? Many young people hold their pens with their fingers curled around in very curious grips. Back in the olden days, we learned to hold our pens like this. I have had students who curl their fingers around in curious grips that are so close to the nib they can't even see the tip of the nib. And after much coaxing, I get them to modify their grip to something like this and they whine a lot, but they do see good results. So....give it a try. It's not like I am trying to convince you to switch hands. It's a very moderate change and it will also keep your hand relaxed so that you can enjoy the whole experience rather than getting all knotted up and cranky.

Lesson 5

This is written with a Nikko G nib in a straight holder, using walnut ink on photocopy paper.

There are more formal ways to start lessons with nibs and ink, but I am going to replicate the process I used. I just opened a bottle of ink and started writing. I was a teenager. My formal training did not start until I was in my forties.

I don't know if I even tried the marks in step four. I probably started writing words. But the point is really need to enjoy the learning process.

In my opinion, if you make it too regimented and complicated at the very beginning, you run the risk of making it not fun. And we are all about fun. After you have fun, if you want to get serious, that's fine. Or if you just want to have fun and never get serious, that's fine too.

You decide.

I have volumes of advice. Some of it comes from classes I took. Other advice is from observing students struggle along the way.

Please email me and tell me what kinds of problems you are having and I will probably have some good suggestions.
My email is
jmwilson411 [at] yahoo [dot] com

At some point I will repost Lessons 1 through 4 that are on my envelope blog.
If you want to look at them now, try this link: