Getting Started with Pointed Pen Calligraphy

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With a large upswing in the number of people interested in pointed pen calligraphy, we thought it made sense for our first product education article to focus on the tools you need to get started. Due to the sheer number of products available, it can be overwhelming to figure out where to start. Let us help you take out some of the guess work.

First and foremost, you’re going to need a holder. Whether you are right-handed or left-handed will play a part in which holder you should select. Right-handed calligraphers will want to use an oblique holder. These holders have brass flanges that hold the nib at the right angle for writing pointed pen scripts. In terms of variety, you can choose the least expensive plastic holder by Speedball, a mid-range holder such as the Peerless holders, or the nicest holders with adjustable flanges. With the Speedball, you will be limiting yourself in terms of the nibs you can use as the flange is not open and will not allow for the correct angle on some of the larger nibs. The peerless holders are a great starting point, but you may need to adjust them slightly with needle nosed pliers for certain nibs. The wooden Turn of the Century holders may also need adjusting with needle nosed pliers. The adjustable holders-the Hourglass Oblique and Paper and Ink Arts Adjustable Obliques– are going to accommodate the largest range of nibs as they can be loosened and tightened to hold a wider variety of sizes. We also have a few holders that are made to fit very specific nibs.

If you are left-handed, you will likely find that you do not need an oblique holder at all. You will likely be able to achieve the correct angle with a straight holder, and we have many choices available. From the inexpensive plastic holders to the nicer wooden holders, straight holders can accommodate all pointed pen nibs. You do not have to worry about switching holders when switching nib sizes. The holders perform pretty similarly, but many customers desire a holder that not only works well but also looks nice. One main difference between the less expensive holders and the wooden holders are the openings. The wooden holders do not have pronged openings and thus can often offer a tighter fit for your nibs.

Next you will have to select pointed pen nibs. Nibs really are a personal preference, but a basic understanding of how they function can be helpful in choosing a few to try. The chrome nibs (Nikko G, Zebra G and Tachikawa G) are among the stiffest nibs available. They are excellent for beginners because they are stiff and hold up to pressure, and many beginners tend to be quite heavy handed. Further, they provide a smooth upstroke. The opposite end of the spectrum would be the most flexible nibs. The EF Principal nib and the Brause EF66 are two of the most flexible nibs we offer. They require very little pressure to get a differential between thicks and thins. Our other nibs tend to fall between these two types on the spectrum. Often the difference between success and frustration is the choice of the right nib. Thus, we always suggest trying several nibs before settling on just one. Also, it’s important to realize that even when you have a favorite nib, it may not be favorable for certain papers. For example, when you are dealing with a softer, more fibrous paper, a chrome nib may be difficult to use because it is so sharp and will pull up fibers. A nib like the Hiro 41 or the Leonardt 30 may perform much better.

Speaking of paper, a smooth paper is ideal for pointed pen calligraphy. For practice, we have several options. Borden and Riley makes both the Cotton Comp pad and the Marker Layout pad that can be used for practice. These are inexpensive, semi-translucent papers that allow you to use guidelines underneath. Canson’s Pro Marker Layout is the next step-up, offering a slightly smoother practice paper. The Rhodia and Clairefontaine pads are our nicest pads for pointed pen practice. Both are exceptionally smooth and semi-transparent. As you move up in price, you generally get a paper that will take most inks nicely. We also offer a lined practice pad that we have printed. It allows you to have lines directly on your page instead of using guidelines underneath. With the less expensive pads, you may find that some inks will bleed or feather. When you need paper for a finished product, diploma parchment or hot press water color paper would be perfect. Both are smooth and sturdy.

In terms of ink, many teachers recommend Higgins Eternal as a starting ink. Sumi inks are also quite popular, with Moon Palace and Kuretake Sumi being the two that we sell the most often.  Sumi ink gives you a rich, dense black and is water resistant. Depending on the brand, Sumi ink can eat away at your nibs rather quickly, so be sure to clean them often when working with these nibs. In terms of being able to achieve the most delicate upstrokes, so often craved in pointed pen calligraphy, the iron gall inks are the best choice. McCaffery’s and Old World are the two iron galls we offer. They are not waterproof, and they are more of a lighter gray in color, darkening as they oxidize. They also tend to be corrosive, so they can eat away at your nibs. However, they are second to none in terms of allowing you to achieve fine hairlines.

Last, you may want to consider resources to help you learn pointed pen hands. Nothing compares to instruction from a solid teacher, but there are books and dvds you can purchase to complement your learning. Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy by Eleanor Winters is considered one of the premiere learning manuals due to the fact that she deconstructs the hand quite well and helps you identify common mistakes. Learning to Write Spencerian Script by Michael Sull is the best book available for Spencerian. Sull is considered to be a leading pointed pen expert and offers other wonderful books and dvds as well. Modern Calligraphy by Molly Suber Thorpe is an excellent resource for those wishing to develop a more modern version of the pointed pen styles after learning the traditional hands. Ron Tate , Michael Sull, and Bill Lilly all offer excellent dvds for pointed pen instruction. For an easy way to view several of our favorite pointed pen products, visit our Copperplate Basic Products page!

Once you have supplies, you may also want to seek local classes or summer conference. Our favorite pointed resource is most definitely the International Association of Master Penman, Engrossers, and Teachers of Handwriting-most commonly known as IAMPETH. This organization is dedicated to promoting the art of the pointed pen and has a stellar website full of helpful information. They also host a conference every summer that offers the chance to study with a wide variety of teachers in an intensive one week format. You also should search for a local calligraphy guild. There you will likely find seasoned calligraphers, class offerings, and encouragement as you continue in the craft of calligraphy.

 

10 comments

  1. Carol Balabanow

    I have been waiting all my life for this article. I have tried different nibs, but I have never used an oblique holder.

    Could you recommend a book or DVD that demonstrates the calligraphy style that appeared during the Arts and Craft movement?

    I’m changing my Christmas list and will place an order soon!

    Thank you so much!

    • Carol, most of those styles are going to be broad edge hands. We’ll be doing a post soon on getting started with a broad edge pen. In the meantime, Sheila Water’s Foundation of Calligraphy offers a comprehensive look at many broad edge hands, and The Art of Calligraphy and Lettering offers good exemplars as well.

  2. Leta Smith

    Thank you for this post, I just gave a demonstration of M. Sull’s Spencerian monogram and was gratified at the interest. I forwarded this post. Leta Smith

  3. Jack Brooks

    What type of ink is best for dip pens? I understand that fountain pens use a lighter grade ink and dip pens prefer a more viscous ink. Any help would be appreciated.

    • It depends on the style of calligraphy and the surface on which you will be writing. For pointed pen calligraphy, thinner iron gall inks work beautifully, sumi is lovely, and acrylics work well. Acrylic and sumi are also great for broad edge styles. Further, gouache can be mixed to an ink like consistency for great results.

  4. Pingback: Getting Started: Modern Calligraphy | Paper and Ink Arts Blog

  5. Pingback: Calligrapher’s Christmas Wish List | Paper and Ink Arts Blog

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