Getting Started: Broad Edge Calligraphy

    by Jennifer Allen


     Just as with pointed pen, getting started with broad edge calligraphy can feel a little overwhelming at first. There are many options, and finding the right ones for you will make the journey a bit easier in the long run. Often something as simple as changing your nib can make a difference in the results you are getting. First and foremost, you will need to choose a nib that works well for you. While there are several brands, the two most popular with our customers are Mitchell nibs and Brause nibs. The Mitchell nibs are the only standard broad edge nibs we carry that will not come with a reservoir already fitted to them. However, you can buy the reservoirs separately and attach them. (Note that unlike the reservoirs on the Brause and other nibs, the Mitchell reservoirs fit onto the bottom of the nib.) Many opt to use Mitchell nibs without reservoirs, though, because the reservoir will affect the flexibility of the nib. That flexibility is one of the biggest differences between the Mitchell and Brause. Other options include Speedball nibs, Tape nibs, and Tachikawa nibs. The Tachikawa nibs do not have the pronounced slants that the others do and are a bit stiffer. The Speedball nibs are particularly useful in their largest sizes (C0-C3).  In general, the flexibility is relatively similar among the broad edge nibs. The exception is, as noted, the Mitchell nibs without reservoirs. In terms of holders, straight holders are far more universal in the broad edge nibs they accept than the oblique holders and pointed nibs. Most have a metal globus in the middle, and the nibs fit on the outside of the prongs. (It is not unusual for someone just starting to attempt to fit the nibs in the middle of the metal tongs; however, the nib will not fit securely that way. It must be placed on the outside.) The plastic Speedball holder actually has a plastic middle piece, and some of our wooden holders actually have wooden middle pieces.  The right holder is generally just a personal preference, with the main variations being length, weight, material and color. While most of our less expensive holders are similar in weight, the Straight Rosewood holder is notably heavier than the other wooden options. For inks, a common starter ink is often Higgins Eternal, but equally popular is sumi ink. Moon Palace is our most popular sumi, and it delivers a rich black color with a slight sheen. Sumi ink is carbon based and is derived from stick inks. (Some calligraphers prefer to use the actual ink sticks to make the ink themselves.)  Unlike Higgins, sumi generally performs well on a variety of paper. Higgins can bleed pretty significantly on lower quality paper. Broad edge calligraphy lends itself well to many styles of paper. For practice, Borden and Riley Cotton Comp or Borden and Riley Marker Layout are quite popular. Both offer semi-translucent surfaces that allow you to easily see guidelines underneath. For formal pieces, there are many options. Cold Press watercolor paperArches Hot Press watercolor paper, German Ingres or Canson Ingres, Arches Text Wove, Arches MBM, Schiller, and Bugra are all suitable. We also have Murano paper pads that offer a nice range of colors for broad edge calligraphy. In terms of resources, there are a plethora of excellent resources. Sheila Waters’s Foundations of Calligraphy provides backgrounds and instructions for a wide variety of hands and is considered to be one of the best books available. Italic Letters by Inga Dubay and Barbara Getty is a superb resource for Italic, and Lloyd Reynolds’s Italic Calligraphy and Handwriting is a must have.  Maryanne Grebenstein’s Calligraphy:A Course in Hand Lettering is yet another outstanding resource, as is Annie Cicale’s Art and Craft of Hand Lettering. Eleanor Winters’s Italic and Copperplate is perfect for the intermediate student. For left-handed calligraphers, Insights Into Left-Handed Calligraphy by Betsy Rivers-Kennedy is particularly helpful.  Relatively new to our inventory is a wonderful dvd series by Reggie Ezell, a truly exceptional teacher of calligraphy. This series gives instruction for Italic, Basic Romans, Blackletter, or Carolingian. Beyond the nibs and holders, there are numerous fountain pens and markers that can be used for broad edge calligraphy styles. We’ll be taking a closer look at those in a future post!

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