Handwriting for Calligraphers by Phawnda Moore

Many people feel intimidated by the idea of calligraphy yet still wish to improve their every day writing. To promote and honor writing by hand, National Handwriting Day is celebrated on January 23rd. Calligrapher Phawnda Moore has written a wonderful article on ways to perfect your own script that we are happy to share with our blog readers. Enjoy her tips, and enter for a chance to win a handwriting kit to complement your practice!

Revisiting Handwriting for Calligraphers

by Phawnda Moore

Calligraphy students often ask if taking my class will improve their handwriting. Equally popular is the lament of parents or teachers, especially if they home school or their child is no longer learning handwriting in school.

Less than half of U.S. elementary schools now require handwriting instruction. Interestingly enough, when the Washington Post asked Americans if they felt handwriting was still relevant in a digital age, an impressive 82% responded ‘yes’.

There’s hope on the horizon! January 23 is National Handwriting Day (that day was John Hancock’s birthday) and the majority vows to keep it alive, one way or another. Some personally show support by sending handwritten notes; others mentor youngsters, an afternoon or two a week. Good for them! Today, let’s revisit handwriting to see how you can improve yours, especially if you’re a calligrapher.

As you may know, calligraphy usually references historical hands that have thick and thin strokes. Handwriting (with joined letters) evolved from these styles during the Renaissance (16th century). An example is my piece below, a variation of English Roundhand from the 1700s. I used gouache and a pointed nib for this formal script.

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Handwriting differs from calligraphy in 3 ways: speed, joins, and tools. Its key frustration is legibility, which is minimized or even destroyed by excessive loops and not lifting the pen. The problem of illegibility can be greatly improved by moving into ‘slow’ mode. Aim to be more conscious of every letter you make.

A personal note: There was a lot of joking when I, a calligrapher, married a physician, especially from those who had seen his handwriting. My personal mission has been to reacquaint my husband with the pleasure of writing. He loves fountain pens and nice paper, thankfully! Writing has become a time of meditation for him, as it is for many who write out their favorite quotes or keep journals, simply for the pleasure of doing so.

Even for handwriting, you’ll need quality materials: Rhodia pads or nice quality digital copy paper and a pen that’s comfortable to grip. Choose an ergonomic chair and a slanted writing surface at elbow height in a room with bright lighting. Create an atmosphere of enjoyment: instrumental music with a beat works for me, but some prefer silence. Then: FOCUS. Put life and all your thoughts on hold so you can become one with the letters. If you love what you’re writing, you’re half way there.

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Refresher on your grip ~ as shown below, hold the pen between your pointer and middle fingers; hold it comfortably. Don’t hold on for dear life, your letters will record the fear! Aim for this position each time you write.

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Speaking for myself, this is not easy; it’s a lifelong goal. I’ve found that brush markers have helped a lot. The smaller ones, like the Pentel Sign Pen with the brush tip, are good for place cards and envelopes, and their colors make writing fun.

Practicing with historical models like Italic, shown below, will improve legibility. (Fortunate students learn Italic handwriting in school.) Recall how the emphasis is on individual letters, not loops. And even though “printing” is frequently discouraged, its simplicity has merit. In my opinion, it’s better to print than to scrawl.

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Experiment with different writing tools. Your search for the ‘perfect’ writing tool is not that important, really! While some are troublesome, the range of good to great pens is phenomenal. For less formal Italic handwriting, try chisel fountain pens like Lamy, Rotring Art Pen or Shaeffer. All have multiple nibs and use convenient ink cartridges. This Italic is appropriate for special correspondence, cards, and small gifts ~ and you’ll probably find that in time, more creative projects will spark your interest!

For everyday handwriting ~ making lists for the market, keeping journals or writing a check ~ I like using a Zebra (gel pen) Sarasa with a 0.5 tip. The ink dries quickly (especially important for lefties and authors who sign books) and makes clean, crisp letters. I penned the very informal Italic style below in just a few minutes, using a minimum of loops and simple joins.

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Try your hand at more beautiful writing in 2017! Let’s keep it alive! Celebrate handwriting in January with a new tip each Monday on my Facebook page.

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20170119_111246-1-1.jpgIn honor of National Handwriting Day and Phawnda’s article, we are giving away a handwriting kit filled with some of our favorite handwriting tools. The kit contains a blank Rhodia pad, a Seven Year Pen, a Pentel Hybrid Technica pen in a .5 tip, a Plaisir fountain pen, a Le Pen, and a Pilot Varsity pen, as well as the book Italic Letters: Calligraphy and Handwriting by Inga Dubay and Barbara Getty. For your chance to win, comment on this post with your name and email address. A winner will be announced here on the blog on Monday, January 23rd.

90 comments

  1. It’s really had to keep that relaxed grip, especially when worried about making a mistake! But it’s oh, so important. Thanks for this post!

  2. This article gives some wonderful advice on practicing and improving the skill of handwriting. I appreciate that she mentions the various tools she uses for a particular style.

  3. A post that reminded me why I loved handwriting class so much in elementary and middle school. I keep a journal simply to practice handwriting but this post gave me some nice tips and reminders.

  4. I’ve always been fascinated with calligraphy and am about to start learning how to practice it! I would’ve already went by Paper & Ink Arts if I didn’t already have a pre-planned vacation.

    This article inspired me even more to get back home to Nashville & visit the retail space! Also, eager to take some classes.

    Thank you!

  5. You have inspired me to create something elegant for National Handwriting Day! I love your article and the gorgeous samples, especially the formal script done with gouache.

  6. Thank you for your time in putting this article together. I find it difficult to change up my natural handwriting that I don’t like the looks of; I’ve been trying to come to terms with it! Printing included. But, I love papers, pens, and inks. Thank you for this chance ofwinning these fun items.

  7. Thank you for this article. I keep a handwritten daily journal, in either fountain or gel pen. I think of handwriting as art, although calligraphy still eludes me. I like your comment that the pen will feel a too tight grip and react accordingly.

  8. Thank you Phawnda, your passion for handwriting is inspiring. I wasn’t aware that January 23rd was so named National Hand writing day because it was John Hancock’s birthday!

  9. I’ve always wondered about what kind of handwriting was taught before computers. The Italic form mentioned is simply beautiful! I hope to learn this one day!

  10. Your handwriting article was most welcome and I feel it will be a wonderful notice to pass on to beginning writers. If it is a new challenge for them your gentle hints and notes will certainly encourage them to give it a try. Thank you.

  11. Thank you for your informative article. As a beginning calligrapher, and being self-taught via lessons accessed through blogs, I would love to receive your generous bundle of implements! Beautiful, handwritten notes are such a pleasure to give and receive. It makes me happy that this art form will continue through you, those like you, and those following like-minded blogs and articles.

  12. Thanks for the great article. I appreciated the tips, and also that she gave some samples of pens she likes and why. It’s sometimes hard to choose new pens when you can’t try them out, unless you have a good recommendation. Much appreciated.

  13. Handwriting is very important! I love sending letters, they make people feel so special that you took the time to write them something by hand in this easy time for emails and chats.

  14. I work in public education myself, and even though handwriting is no longer a portion of our curriculum I make sure to emphasize with all of my students how important penmanship can be. I thoroughly enjoyed this post and cannot wait to celebrate on January 23rd!

  15. Greeting from the Lowcountry in Beaufort, SC. Just finished reading your post. Loved seeing the red and blue lettering, usually I see black. Would be intestered in seeing more of your beautiful hand. Do you have a websight I could go to? Thanks. Nancy D.

  16. Great article! I definitely need to remember to relax with my grip… it’s like I’m always clenching for dear life lol

  17. Great article that is so well written. My calligraphy practice has improved my handwriting as I think about the letters as I write.

  18. Liked the tips and ideas. Wish schools would teach the proper way to hold a pen, if not handwriting itself.

  19. Thanks for this article. I love beautiful handwriting, and think of it as a basic personal art form for one and all.

  20. This was an enjoyable read–thank you! It’s a challenge to bring mindfulness into our every day, which is probably why it’s so important 😉

  21. Thank you Phawnda. Good article. I usually get asked where one learns about calligraphy, as if it is a one day lesson. More often than not, the questions are for learning Copperplate. Daily handwriting practice is a wonderful idea. We depend so much on our computers and may do handwriting infrequently.

  22. It was a great article and the relationship of “handwriting” to “calligraphy” is very interesting.

  23. I’m so happy to hear someone teaching beautiful handwriting! It is such a joy to write lettering in any beautiful way. Even printing, as you mentioned.
    I have always loved alphabets, letters, calligraphy, and even making wood signs. I’m having real fun with the new supplies I got for Christmas from Paper & Ink Arts!

  24. Wonderful article Phawnda! I believe that we’re on the verge of losing script & beautiful cursive writing which many of us had the good fortune to learn as children. Keep up the good work!

  25. Thanks for keeping handwriting alive! My second grader is lucky to be learning cursive writing this semester. He came home last week, so excited to show me how he could write an “a”, instead of just printing it!

  26. Getting back into calligraphy after loosing my husband this past spring. I love the art and hope to get inspired again. Thank you.

  27. I was told I should try calligraphy because I have neat handwriting. I’ve always enjoyed handwriting, but am just starting to learn hand lettering, taking a course I found via Instagram. I look forward to taking the time each day to practice. Thank you for your encouragement!

  28. Thanks for the great post. I thought of my mom in reference to National Handwriting Day.
    My mom had the most beautiful handwriting. She learned the Palmer method. I still have two of her certificates.

  29. It is so important to show, share and encourage others to learn more about The Art of Beautiful Handwriting. Practice and proper sitting position using any number of the great pens and tools available now can be so rewarding and fun. I’m going to do my best to impress everyone I can!

  30. Thank you for a great article! I am just beginning to learn calligraphy and this article gave me many helpful tips to try. Many of us are so busy in our everyday life and this will give me the perfect reason to slow down!

  31. Thanks for the motivation! I should really thank my 3rd grade teacher who was a stickler for penmanship. She got me started!

  32. Brush markers – that’s a great tip – and article – Phawnda. I don’t have any brush markers (yet) but when I do, will give them a try and maybe I’ll find them easier to work with than pen and ink or gel pen or even ballpoint pen in writing letters. Thanks. 🙂

  33. I did not learn penmanship in school and alway was embarrassed by my handwriting. Thnak you for advice on beautiful writing!

  34. I have heard of Clairefontaine paper, though haven’t used it, but know nothing about the Rhodia pad. I need to do some investigating and try both with different inks and gouache. Thanks for the ‘push’!

  35. Lovely article. I find the rhythm or sound the pen to paper makes is also soothing. With the handwritten letter forms, there’s such beauty that only comes through the energy of your hand to paper regardless of the writer’s skill level. The mere fact you took the time and effort to write a quote, card or note to send someone is such a special gift.. I also smile just imagining the receiver opening it when it arrives. Thanks for sharing.

  36. Thank you Pawnda. You are always an inspiration. Hopefully I am passing on my love for lettering on to my students. I’m one of the lucky ones who gets to teach high school calligraphy!

  37. I have been doing so much work lately that requires hand lettering. I’m not all that good at it and this kit and course would be just exactly what I need to help me get a handle on this part of my artwork!

  38. This quote is very true for me. Why does lettering bring me such joy? It must be because it allows me to express myself and the thoughts of others both current and from ages past with beauty and grace. Hey! That is the definition of Calligraphy!

  39. Thank you, Phawnda, for sharing your love of lettering and calligraphy with the world! You inspire me so often when you share your work on FB! I am focusing on my lettering/calligraphy skills in 2017, as well, and beginning a class on calligraphy at a retirement home in my neighborhood! Looking forward to an awesome lettering year 🙂
    Joy Danielson/danielson.joy@gmail.com

  40. Paper and Ink is my “Go to source” for all of my calligraphy needs ! I am always excited to see all of the supplies they bring to Letters California Style in Pomona, California. I am a perpetual lettering student and appreciate Pwanda’s dedication to the art of beautiful handwriting.

  41. The Koch quote is exactly how I feel. Why do I find so much joy in lettering? I think it must be because it allows me to express myself and the thoughts from ages past with beauty and grace. I will be forever grateful to the intern teacher that retaught our entire class cursive in 5th grade. We knew how to form letters, but she encouraged us to make them beautiful! Happy Birthday, John Hancock!

  42. I appreciate her reminder to FOCUS. I do much better work when I block out everything else that is going on and just focus on forming the letters. There is a meditative quality to doing calligraphy that is often overlooked.

  43. Lovely work. I’m a watercolorist and have been using my handwriting skills together with art. The two can be beautiful together but still learning the tools of the trade with handwriting. Thanks for offering this. Many happy letters in return!

  44. I must endeavor to write more slowly so that my script is neater. I must learn to savour each word, or indeed, each letter so I can master my writing 😉

  45. I would love to win this giveaway! I love how Phawnda makes even gel pen writing look elegant! As a result of this blog post, I made sure to send a handwritten letter this weekend.

  46. I would love to win this giveaway! I love how Phawnda makes even gel pen writing look elegant! As a result of this blog post, I made sure to send a handwritten letter this weekend.

  47. Such a great blog! So many people nowadays don’t know how to write correctly anymore, much less spell correctly! Bring handwriting back!

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