Don’t call us… we’ll call you

Over the years, I’ve received a number of calls from a Glasgow television studio, asking if they can borrow my right hand, so they can video it scratching out a few lines of script with a quill. The resultant footage would then be incorporated into some proposed period drama.

Apparently, a quill-wielding actor would be filmed at his writing bureau. Then the scene would cut to a brief, zoomed-in, shot of my hand doing its thing. Then back to the actor. Seamless. Who would ever guess it was me, and not the actor, doing the writing?

Unfortunately, as I mentioned in a previous post, it’s always Copperplate the studio requests, or some other form of pointy-pen writing, which instantly rules out me and my favoured broad-nib Italic.

Here we go again, I thought, when the studio called me a few months ago. But, as the conversation progressed, the possibility of success began to look more likely than in the past. The friendly voice on the line asked if I could be available to be videoed writing a few words in a calligraphic style. I was assured that neither Copperplate, nor a quill, were mandatory, which made me perk up.

“Why don’t you come along to the studio,” suggested the friendly voice, “and show us what you can do.”

It was a challenge I couldn’t resist. So, the following day, I travelled by train to the television studio. A smart young man greeted me with a firm handshake, and introduced himself as the friendly voice from the previous day. He introduced me to a flamboyantly-dressed older man… apparently the director of the programme. We found a vacant table in a communal seating area, where the two of them sat opposite me. It was now me v them, and felt like a proper audition.

The task, it was explained to me, was simple. They needed to video a calligrapher’s hand writing the title of a new series… just five short words… the footage of which would be incorporated into the title sequence.

The older man revealed the title to me. “Can you write it for us now?” he asked, “so we can see how it would look.”

I nodded and, from my bag, produced a selection of calligraphy fountain pens and a pad which I set out on the table. The two men studied the equipment intently. If they were disappointed by the absence of a quill, they kept it to themselves.

I wrote the title a number of times… different sizes, different weights, some compression here, some sharpening there, a little bit of flourishing. Just showing off, I suppose. I sensed two pairs of eyes tracing my pen strokes, scrutinising the lines of writing. I was happy with the standard of my lettering. But, despite my best efforts, I felt that I was failing to impress. I sensed a lack of enthusiasm, that both men were underwhelmed by what was on offer. Maybe it was because they were viewing my calligraphy upside down.

The older man nodded towards my pad. “What do you call that style?” he asked.

“Italic,” I replied.

“Hmmmm…. do you do any other styles?”

You don’t like Italic? I was tempted to ask, incredulous.

Concerned that I was being regarded as a calligraphic one-trick-pony, I opted to illustrate my versatility by writing the title in a more contemporary style. One that was less formal, more lively. While I wrote, the two men remained silent, their enthusiasm remaining in short supply.

“Hmmmm…” came the eventual response from the older man, a fingertip pressed thoughtfully against pursed lips. “To be frank, Duncan, we haven’t ultimately decided on calligraphy for the opening sequence.”

“You haven’t?”

The younger man back-pedalled in tandem with his colleague. “We have another option to consider,” he confirmed. “We have a Plan B.”

“Oh… a Plan B… OK,” I replied, a little flustered. My pen stuttered to a halt, mid-stroke.

So. A Plan B. I was confused about this unexpected u-turn, this Plan B that had turned up unannounced. Without warning, Plan A had gone to the dogs, and I wondered if I had somehow helped it get there.

As if reading my mind, the younger man gestured enthusiastically towards my pad, which he continued to view upside-down. “Oh, we definitely like what you’ve shown us,” he gushed (at this point, I swear to God, he told me how much he admired my ‘r’s). “Definitely!” he continued. “We just have to consider our options.”

“Of course,” I replied, gathering my pad and my pens and packing them away. In the midst of this anti-climax, the older man got to his feet, thanked me, and rushed off somewhere in his gaily chequered trousers.

The younger man escorted me to the exit, where he thanked me with his signature friendly voice and firm handshake. “We’ll let you know,” he said, before he too disappeared.

While walking back to the railway station, I remembered something I once read. When they say, “we’ll let you know”… you know!

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Disappointingly, (and discourteously) they didn’t let me know. But, as I said, I knew.

The reason I’m relating this story months after the event is that the series is now being broadcast on tv. Selfishly, I’m disappointed that my rejection didn’t cause the cancellation of the series (I like to think of myself as indispensable).

It’s childish, I know, but I’m boycotting the series. I’m determined not to watch a single episode. Blame my ego, but I simply do not wish to see the title sequence and discover what I was discarded in favour of. Although, it wouldn’t surprise me if I was discarded in favour of Copperplate with a quill.

So, It looks like my right hand needs to wait a little longer before it gets its big break on tv. And I’m digging my heels in… television studios please note… it’s Italic or nothing. It’s time for my favourite script to get the tv exposure it so rightly deserves.

And, finally, for the sake of my reputation… I would like to confirm that (in my opinion, at least) my calligraphy isn’t as bad as the above experience might suggest. It invariably looks best when viewed as I intend.

Which definitely isn’t upside-down.

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Last-Minute Birthday Card created with Pilot Parallel Pens

Happy Birthday Liz

It was my wife’s birthday on Sunday. I’m ashamed to admit that it kind of snuck up on me.

I wasn’t totally unprepared… I had bought her a gift. Well, to be more specific, I had ordered her a gift. The reason I didn’t actually have it is because Amazon lied to me about its likely delivery date. So the only thing that stood between me and empty-handedness was a birthday card. Which I also didn’t have, although I can’t blame Amazon for that.

So, at the crack of dawn on Sunday morning, I considered driving to a local 24 hour supermarket to purchase a card. That would have been quick and easy.

It would also have been folly on my part. Because, on their birthdays, my family won’t accept a shop-bought card from me. With my calligraphy skills on tap, they expect the real deal. They expect ink and effort and nibs-a-scratching and creativity and uniqueness and personalisation. And you can’t buy that kind of devotion in Tesco.

So, while the Birthday Girl slept, I pulled out my Pilot Parallel Pens and got to work. Using a simple process similar to the one I used when addressing my Sherlock Holmes envelope, and creating my son’s birthday card, I made a card for her in less than fifteen minutes (see image above).

She was so delighted with the card that she didn’t appear to notice the absence of a gift. So, with the Amazon returns policy in mind, I decided not to mention her oversight.

Happy Birthday, Liz. Next year, I promise to be better organised!

X marks the Scot

Ever since I discovered the poem, Scotland Our Mither, by Charles Murray, I’ve had an urge to create a piece of calligraphic artwork based on it. Only fellow calligraphers will comprehend such an urge. We calligraphers discover words that strike a chord… and we are suddenly fetching our pens and putting them to paper. It happens to me all the time. It’s not enough just to read the words. I have to become involved with them, to immerse myself in them… I’m compelled to be creative.

But, as I said, it’s a calligrapher-thing. My “normal” friends just don’t get it.

Scotland Our Mither is written very much from the perspective of an expatriate Scot. So, although I am Scottish through and through, I have no idea why the poem’s sentiments affect me so much, since I’ve never spent more than a fortnight outside Scotland at any one time. I certainly can’t identify with the thoughts of an expatriate. And I’m reluctant to admit that, despite being a Scot, I don’t understand much of the language, which is written in Old Scots.

Yet the poem somehow got under my skin, and so I started writing. The resultant artwork is shown above, (or larger on Flickr).

The poet, Charles Murray (1864-1941), was born and raised in Alford in north-east Scotland, but he emigrated to South Africa. The poem, Scotland Our Mither, features in his second book of poetry, Hamewith.

A previous post featured a quotation that I was similarly compelled to write. Maybe I should consult a doctor about my “affliction”!

And so that I know I’m not alone, if any other calligraphers suffer from a similar “affliction,” I’d love you to leave a comment.

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The Poem (thanks to rampantscotland.com)…

Scotland Our Mither

Scotland our Mither – this from your sons abroad,
Leavin’ tracks on virgin veld that never kent a road,
Trekkin’ on wi’ weary feet, an’ faces turned fae hame,
But lovin’ aye the auld wife across the seas the same.

Scotland our Mither – we left your beildy bents
To hunt wi’ hairy Esau, while Jacob kept the tents.
We’ve pree’d the pangs o’ hunger, mair sorrow seen than mirth,
But never niffer’d, auld wife, our rightfu’ pride o’ birth.

Scotland our Mither – we sow, we plant, we till,
But plagues that passed o’er Egypt light here an’ work their will.
They’ve harried barn an’ basket till ruin claims us sure;
We’d better kept the auld craft an’ herdit on the muir.

Scotland our Mither – we weary whiles an’ tire;
When Bad Luck helps to outspan, Regret biggs up the fire;
But still the hope uphaulds us, tho’ bitter now the blast,
That we’ll win to the auld hame across the seas at last.

Scotland our Mither – we’ve bairns you’ve never seen –
Wee things that turn them northward when they kneel down at e’en;
They plead in childish whispers the Lord on high will be
A comfort to the auld wife – their granny o’er the sea.

Scotland our Mither – since first we left your side,
From Quilimane to Cape Town we’ve wandered far an’ wide;
Yet aye from mining camp an’ town, from koppie an’ karoo,
Your sons richt kindly, auld wife, send hame their love to you.

Meaning of unusual words:
kent = knew
aye = always
beildy bents = sheltered hilly ground
pree’d = tasted
niffer’d = bartered
bairns = children

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For the technically-minded…

After hand-lettering the entire poem in black ink (in Italic with reduced x-height), I scanned the lettering and imported it into Photoshop, where I digitally coloured it white and created a centred layout by organising the verses into two columns (one left, and one right justified). I centered the title above, and the poet’s name below the verses. That was simple enough, but the background took more time to consider and create.

My original hand-lettering of the two final verses of the poem, before scanning.

I knew I wanted the background to be the Scottish national flag (Saltire), but the difficulty was in unifying it with the lettering in the foreground. I eventually settled for stacking a few textured layers (with various blending modes and opacity) on top of a blue rectangular background (the official blue, chosen by the Scottish Parliament, is Pantone 300). Then I placed a white x-shaped cross above these layers to complete the flag, and used a white-to-transparent radial gradient to subtly remove the centre of the cross so that the poem’s white lettering would show on the blue background. A few additional minor tweaks completed the effect.

Learning Calligraphy: my experience

I’ve always wanted to create artwork featuring the above quotation by Alexander Pope, so my post below about learning calligraphy presented me with the perfect opportunity. The words in the quotation are the first two lines of Pope’s “An Essay On Criticism,” but although he intended the word “writing” to be regarded in a journalistic context, I think the sentiments of the quotation relate just as well to “writing” calligraphically. They also relate well to the benefits of putting the time into learning calligraphy properly.

See a larger version of the artwork on Flickr.

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My previous post about Margaret Shepherd made me think about my early experience of learning calligraphy, so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on that topic…

I learned calligraphy the hard way, by teaching myself, and I would definitely discourage anyone who considers doing the same. There is only one way to learn calligraphy, and that is to attend a calligraphy class. One of the first things I tell students who attend my own classes is that they have done themselves a favour by signing up for formal tuition. Yes, it costs more than learning from a book, but it also saves an unbelievable amount of time and frustration. I don’t exaggerate when I say that, in the space of just ten two-hour classes, I teach my students more about calligraphy than I learned in years of slavishly copying examples from books.

An example of my earliest calligraphy.
I’m not sure what style I was intending here, but don’t laugh… we all have to start somewhere!

Just to be clear, I love calligraphy books… I have a bookcase full of them… but they are no substitute for formal tuition. Books are handy for reference, for guidance, and for inspiration. But in regard to tuition, they can only illustrate a process. Unlike a tutor, they can’t demonstrate or elaborate, they can’t answer questions, they can’t nip bad habits in the bud, and they can’t motivate you when you feel like throwing your pens in the bin and taking up crochet instead. If you want to learn calligraphy, by all means surround yourself with books. But use them in support of formal tuition, not in place of it. It’s the only way.

Back in the mid eighties, when I decided to learn calligraphy, there were no local calligraphy classes on offer. So I taught myself by copying alphabets from Margaret Shepherd’s Learning Calligraphy. The resulting letters (I use the term loosely) were neither decorative nor legible, simply because I dismissed the finer points of Ms Shepherd’s instruction as supplementary information. I was naive, intending to master calligraphy within the shortest time possible, so I took shortcuts. The result was that I didn’t appreciate the importance of spacing, I didn’t consider proportion, I didn’t know what an x-height was, my pen angle was inconsistent (occasionally non-existent), and I bypassed Foundational with all its benefits, diving straight into the Gothic alphabet simply because it looked like the fanciest form of ‘fancy writing.’

Another early attempt of mine.
Almost recognisable as Carolingian.

At that time, in my opinion, Gothic was synonymous with calligraphy. And, even now, that appears to be a widely held notion, because whenever I tell people that I’m a calligrapher, a common response is, “Oh, so you do that Old English stuff?” Actually, yes, I do, but my preference is always for Italic. (It has become my favourite calligraphic alphabet, even though I originally loathed Italic, simply because I couldn’t get to grips with it. And now I love it because I have got to grips with it. The key to progress is that simple!)

My first attempts at Italic produced jagged, sharp-cornered, triangular letters that resembled a succession of lightning streaks. My pen was not so much dancing across the page as zig-zagging.

But, oblivious to my calligraphic shortcomings, I continued to practice my jagged triangles. Then I practiced them some more. In fact, I practiced them until I became very good at being very bad at Italic. Then, with the realisation that I wasn’t making progress, I practiced some more. But despite all this practice, I just became better and better at being bad, and my latent talent for calligraphy remained stubbornly dormant.

My big break came in 1987, when I saw an ad for a two week course in calligraphy and handwriting being held in Stirling University, less than twenty miles from my home. The tutor was none other than Tom Gourdie MBE, although his name meant nothing to me at the time. This was the only calligraphy class I had ever seen advertised, and I remember it being very expensive in relation to my income at the time. But I knew that it might be my one and only opportunity to gain some formal tuition in calligraphy, so I signed up immediately.

Those two weeks of tuition genuinely changed my life. Thanks to Mr Gourdie’s expert tuition, whatever raw talent I possessed when I first walked through the doors of his classroom became fine-tuned within a very short period of time. He sat with each of the students in turn, giving us a few precious minutes of one-to-one tuition. I can’t explain just how much that experience helped me to progress. Suddenly, like a switch going on inside my head, everything made sense. I can only describe it as an epiphany. Consequently, I was able to undo most of the bad habits that had thwarted my progress, and that had made my lettering look distinctly amateurish. But I benefitted mostly from watching an expert create the strokes right there in front of me. It made me realise that there was no magic or special equipment involved. Mr Gourdie was writing on my paper. Using my pen. For the first time I felt confident, and thought, I can do this. It was a welcome breakthrough after the futility of following instructions in books throughout the previous two years.

One of my earliest calligraphic “works of art.”
Copied directly from a book, if I remember correctly.

My subsequent progress was so rapid that within a year of attending Mr Gourdie’s class, I began teaching evening classes in calligraphy at Glasgow College of Food Technology. Two decades later, I continue to teach in The City of Glasgow College and in Strathclyde University, and I love to share my knowledge of, and my passion for, calligraphy with incipient scribes. Having learned so much from Mr Gourdie’s teaching methods, I spend as much time as I can giving one-to-one tuition to each of my students. It’s amazing how quickly they master a stroke or letter after being shown, first-hand, how to create it. On their paper. Using their pen. And it gives me great pleasure to be able to flick the switch inside their heads, as Mr Gourdie did for me all those years ago.

Since the late-eighties, calligraphy has been my life. I work as a freelance calligrapher during the day, and I teach calligraphy classes in the evening (even my hobby is digital calligraphy, but I tend to keep that quiet lest I become regarded as an anorak). I am convinced that if I had continued trying to teach myself calligraphy, then I would have soon given up through frustration and lack of progress. It was inevitable. And I dread to imagine how less satisfying my life would be if it didn’t revolve around calligraphy.

Hopefully, I have made a good case for choosing to learn calligraphy in a classroom setting, rather than going down the self-taught route. But a number of years ago one of my calligraphy students recognised an additional benefit of attending a class that I hadn’t considered.

It was the first night of a new term, and the students were putting pen to paper for the first time. Looking around the room, I noticed one young chap who appeared to be distracted and perplexed. I assumed that he was having difficulty with his letter-making, so I caught his attention.

“Do you have a problem?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied, hitching a thumb in the direction of the attractive girl sitting at the next table. “She won’t give me her phone number.”

Not the type of problem I felt qualified to deal with, so I resisted the temptation to become their go-between. I don’t know if he ever did get her number, but the combination of romance and calligraphy would surely have led to beautifully written wedding invitations. And I don’t know of anyone who ever got a date while learning calligraphy at home, on their own!

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If you would like to comment on your experiences – good or bad – of being a self-taught calligrapher, I’d love to hear from you.

Margaret Shepherd: my earliest influence

Image

Sometimes unexpected things happen that simply knock you for six, and a few days ago such a thing happened to me. But before I explain, I’ll set the scene.

Back in 1985, when I first decided to learn calligraphy, there were no classes available, so I decided that I would teach myself from a book. It can’t be that difficult, I thought, having no idea what I was letting myself in for.

After buying a calligraphy pen, I went along to my local library and was directed to the “calligraphy section,” which consisted of a single book: Margaret Shepherd’s Learning Calligraphy. I Margaret Shepherd booksduly booked it out and, with no consideration for anyone else who was thinking of learning calligraphy courtesy of the local library, I selfishly borrowed the book continuously for the next two years.

Learning Calligraphy became my constant companion. Almost every day I practiced from its progressively dog-eared and ink-stained pages. I eventually returned it to the library and purchased my own copy, which is still in my possession (and which I, naturally, have kept pristine and ink-free as the photo above confirms).

I later created an arsenal of Margaret Shepherd books by purchasing, Capitals for Calligraphy, Borders for Calligraphy, and Calligraphy Projects for Pleasure and Profit, all of which played a huge part in my introduction to the craft. Calligraphy Projects, in particular, gave me my first ideas about how to use my hand-lettering constructively.

Unfortunately, I didn’t use the books efficiently. I was impatient, in a rush to master the alphabets, so I copied the letters without paying much attention to the instructions. Consequently, through no fault of Ms Shepherd, my progress was slow. I eventually attended a short, but life-changing, calligraphy course (more of which in my next post), which assisted me enormously, and helped me to get more from the books that I owned.

Despite my self-inflicted slow progress while learning from her books, I can wholeheartedly attribute everything I learned during those first two years to Margaret Shepherd. Even now, twenty-seven years after discovering Learning Calligraphy in the library, I show examples of her work to my calligraphy students, citing her as my original influence. Throughout almost three decades as a practicing calligrapher, I have considered her to be the person who kick-started my career in hand-lettering.

And now to the “unexpected thing” that happened to me…

A few days ago, this very blog received an emailed comment that was complimentary about a post that I had written. Although I was delighted with the positive feedback, I was distracted by the name of the person who had commented. It was familiar, making alarm bells ring in my head.

Margaret Shepherd must be a pretty common name, I thought, not daring to get too excited. I clicked on the associated website address and… sure enough… it was THAT Margaret Shepherd. It was a surreal moment, and I was absolutely gobsmacked.

I spent the rest of the day excitedly babbling to everyone I met that Margaret Shepherd had contacted me. My wife and son were delighted, of course, but random strangers seemed wary of my enthusiasm. I think they must have been feigning disinterest, because how could anyone fail to be moved by the fact that Margaret Shepherd had written to me?

I immediately wrote back to her, describing the impact that her books had on me while I was learning calligraphy. Embarrassingly, I probably gushed like a starstruck teenager, but she was kind enough to respond, and mentioned that she had looked at some of my work online. “Very nice Italic,” she wrote.

I’m back on solid ground now, but the kind words of Margaret Shepherd will keep me buoyant for weeks to come.

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Margaret Shepherd is presently working on a book about American Calligraphy. Many of her calligraphy books can be purchased on Amazon here.

Visit her website and her blog.

Envelope addressed using Pilot Parallel Pens

In my everyday role as a “serious” calligrapher, when addressing envelopes for weddings and corporate events I use regular dip nibs and waterproof ink to achieve a restrained, classic look. But occasionally, when I’m “off-duty,” I pull out my Pilot Parallel Pens, simply to put some fun back into my envelope-addressing and birthday card creating (see here and here).

I recently sent my daughter a letter, and used my Parallel Pens to address the envelope in a fun way. She liked the effect so much that I decided to address another envelope, creating the same effect with the same pens, to feature here (see main image above).

It’s quite simple to achieve this effect, and a great opportunity to use your calligraphy skills to brighten up your intended recipient’s day. Who wouldn’t want to receive an envelope that looked like this?

Here’s how I achieved the effect…

I started off by pencilling a slightly curved line across the envelope from left to right (a quick movement… nothing too precise) to act as the baseline for the large lettering. Keep the pencilled line quite low on the envelope, starting about three-quarters way down on the left. If preferred, a parallel pencil line can be drawn above to create an x-height.

I used my 6.00mm Parallel Pen, loaded with green ink, to speedily write the words “Sherlock Holmes.” But before starting to write, and at frequent intervals while writing, I transferred red ink from my 3.8mm pen into the 6.00mm pen by touching the two nibs together. Hold the pen that you intend to write with upside down, and feed ink into its nib from above. The longer the nibs touch, the more ink will be transferred, and so the gradation between colours will be longer. Although I used red and green inks together, Pilot offer a pack of “Mixable Colour cartridges” which includes 12 assorted colours. Some produce amazing gradated effects when mixed… others produce the colour of mud! It’s really down to trial and error, so experiment with different colours. If you load four Parallel Pens with four different coloured cartridges, you can mix them in various permutations to produce extreme gradated effects.

Another brilliant function of a Parallel Pen is that by tipping the nib onto its corner, a monoline can be produced, which is excellent for handwriting, drawing, or for producing extended hairlines in calligraphic lettering (all the hairlines in “Sherlock Holmes” above were created spontaneously, and on the fly.

After lettering “Sherlock Holmes” in a compressed Italic to fit the envelope’s width, I simply dotted each letter using a silver monoline gel pen to add some highlights.

I lettered the remainder of the address in Italics using a Manuscript broad nib to provide contrast in lettering size. I wrote with black ink so as not to dilute the colourful effect of the top line, or lessen its effect as a focal point. For consistency, and to tie the two elements of the composition together, I looped the “k” in the small lettering to echo the loop in the large “l” above.

Why did I choose to address the envelope to “Sherlock Holmes,” you might ask.

Well, while googling for an appropriate generic address to write, I discovered that 221b Baker Street, London, is the (allegedly) most famous address in the world, surpassing even 10 Downing Street and the White House in popularity. That’s the rather uninspiring reason for my choosing that particular address. More interesting is the fact that although the address of The Sherlock Holmes Museum is 221b Baker Street, London, the building is actually located between 237 and 241 Baker Street. So, now you know!

The elusive Parallel Pen Wizardry book

If you already own a set of Parallel Pens, or intend to treat yourself to a set, you should definitely consider purchasing the book “Parallel Pen Wizardry,” by Brenda Broadbent, which is devoted exclusively to the pens. If you can track a copy down, that is. For some reason the book is not widely available in the UK, although it can be purchased from stockists in the US. At time of writing John Neal Bookseller in US has available copies here, although international postage may be costly. The book consists of just 25 pages, but contains a lot of useful information & examples, and is a good companion to the pens.

It’s much easier to find the actual pens, which can be purchased at most High Street art stores for around £12.00 each. With four different sizes of pen available (1.5, 2.4, 3.8, and 6.00mm) the full set works out quite expensive if purchased individually. A more economical way is to purchase a set of the three smallest sized pens Pilot Parallel Pen Set of 3"" at Amazon for just £19.95 + £1.99 p&p (at time of writing), then purchase the 6.00mm pen separately, if required.

One final note of warning. My first experience of Parallel Pens was very negative, as the ink bled and feathered to an extreme level. I gradually discovered that this was due, not to the Pilot cartridges or pens, but to the type of paper I was using. In my experience, Pilot Parallel pens are very particular about the type of medium onto which they will write sharply. Experiment with different papers. I have found that Navigator printer/copier paper works well for general practicing, and is not too expensive.

If you haven’t already done so, treat yourself to some Pilot Parallel Pens, and see how they put “FUN” back into your calligraphy.

And if you have any opinions about Pilot Parallel Pens (or addressing envelopes, or anything remotely calligraphic), I’d love you to leave a comment.

New nib sizes… 2.00mm, 3.00mm, 4.5mm and a hand-cut 1.00mm.

ADDENDUM

Tonight, a day after writing the above post, I discovered (purely by accident) some new additions to the Pilot Parallel Pen range. An online store called “Paper & Ink Arts” is offering a set of three Parallel Pens with nib sizes 2.00mm, 3.00mm and 4.5mm for $40.50 (American dollars). Remarkably, they are also offering an additional Parallel Pen with a hand-cut 1.00mm nib, for small lettering, which retails at $14.95 (American dollars).

About the 1.00mm nib, the website states, “NEW 1mm size – Just right for envelope work! We’ve had lots of requests for a smaller Parallel Pen and are happy to announce a 1mm pen, hand cut for us in the US by a master craftsman. Try this new size to give you more options with the terrific Parallel Pen design. (You will notice that your 1mm pen’s package was opened so that we could cut your nib and that we have marked your custom cut pen with its new size.) Comes with 1 red and 1 black cartridge and a bladder converter.”

Unfortunately, every single page on the “Paper & Ink Arts” online store has an identical URL, so it’s not possible to direct you straight to the relevant page. But you can access their website here, then type “Parallel Pens” into the search engine on the home page. On the resulting page, click “Parallel Pens.” On the next page, scroll down until you see the new nib sizes.

At present there doesn’t appear to be any UK stockists of these new nib sizes. But if, like me, you’re tempted to be the first kid on the block to own the new pens, it may be worth paying the international postage and waiting a week or two for them to arrive from the States. I’m sure they’ll be worth it (and just think of the kudos)!

Update: Thanks to Sergii, who commented that the 1.5, 2.4, 3.8, and 6.00mm pens are available for £8.99 each (at time of writing), including UK p&p at The Writing Desk.

An effort to improve American handwriting

Today I came across an online article in The New York Times, dated 8 September, 2009.

Image from The New York Times

I rarely see newspaper articles promoting the merits of cursive Italic handwriting, so despite the article being a year out of date, and directed at poor penmanship in the USA only, I was encouraged to find cursive handwriting receiving some badly-needed publicity. I’m not aware of any recently published UK-based newspaper articles on this topic.

As someone who writes cursively on a daily basis, and who teaches Italic, I think it’s worth re-posting the article for anyone who would like to make a start on improving the style and legibility of their handwriting.

Handwriting resources by the authors of the article, Barbara Getty and Inga Dubay, can be found here.

The full New York Times article on cursive handwriting can be found here.


I need to learn "scratchy writing"


It happened again today… a call from a TV production company asking if I can produce some old-fashioned writing on parchment that would be featured in a commercial for a famous whisky brand.

“When do you need it?” I asked.

“What are you doing right this minute?” the woman replied, somewhat ambitiously.

It turns out that even if I had been idle ‘right that minute,’ my area of calligraphic expertise doesn’t encompass Copperplate, or “scratchy writing” as it’s normally described to me by the uninitiated. And scratchy writing is what she needed. It’s what they always need!

Over the past few years I’ve been asked countless times to be the calligraphic stunt-double for actors in TV programmes and commercials… or at least my hand has been asked. The undesirable rest of me will apparently remain off-camera.

But nobody ever wants a nice flourished Italic, my alphabet of choice. They always want Copperplate. And they always want it written authentically with a quill. And they always want it scratchy.

But despite my best efforts, I’m hopeless at writing in a scratchy fashion. And that’s why I’m still waiting for my fifteen minutes of calligraphic fame.

Or, at least, my hand is.

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