Monthly Archives: April 2014

Calligraphy Tip no. 2….and 3

It is summer 2003, it is hot, the birds are tweeting outside my window and I am sitting at my desk sucking on the end of my Osmiroid fountain pen. I am perplexed. I am trying to add thin flourishes to personalise my Gothic lettering and I don’t know how. I have read somewhere that I should skate the ink with the corner of my nib. So far I have failed miserably. I then have a brain wave; the end result is this….


Made in 2003…

And this is how I formed each word…


hello without a flourish

I wrote each word without attempting the flourish and then….


Adding the flourishes with a uni pin pen….

I added the flourishes with a marker pen… it may have just been a stray felt tip pen I had handy 🙂

Anyhow, back in 2003 I was quietly pleased with my cheat… and I also felt a little bit naughty. Had I read one of the many books I owned at the time I would have discovered that my ‘cheat’ was not a cheat at all, and the Gothic style script I had been attempting was produced by using two different nibs.
In The Calligraphy Source Book, Miriam Stribley writes:-

’18th Century Gothic-style script is of a light-weight, even texture on which flourishes are grafted with the ornamental line of copperplate writing.’

‘Grafted’ being the operative word!

So today I have two calligraphy tips, the first is that it’s okay to use more than one nib to produce individual letters, but best to do it in moderation! A couple of years ago I also did it here….


We are all in the gutter…

‘We are all’, ‘But’, and ‘at the stars’ were all constructed with a Mitchell split nib and a Brause 361 Steno nib, simply because it gave me more of the look I wanted.

My second tip today is that it’s worth reading the writing bits in calligraphy books as well as looking at the pictures.

It is now spring 2014, it is warmish, the birds are tweeting outside my window and I am happy to report that I can now skate ink with the corner of a broad edged nib… but if it all goes tits up I can always rely on my trusty Uni pin pen.

Learning Calligraphy with a Flourish!

I have just come across a wonderful calligraphy resource called The Flourish Forum, and I hope that anyone who wants to learn more about calligraphy finds it and joins. It was started by Erica McPhee, lettering & design artist at Paperwhite Studio, in October 2013 and it already has over 1000 members from across the globe! All I can say is THANK YOU Erica for sharing! An amazing feat!
The forum itself is packed with tutorials – totally perfect for calligraphers of any skill level…. and brilliant for beginners – it’s all inclusive and chilled, I imagine I will be lurking around on there on a regular basis.

Meanwhile, I do have plans for a calligraphy post next week… Calligraphy Tips no.2.. it is something to do with this old piece of work I did in 2003…


…from 2003

I’d better get on with it then.

Being a Wedding Calligrapher in the UK…

Obviously being a wedding calligrapher in the UK is the easiest and quickest way of making money EVER…. hence I only did it for two years before retiring to the South of France to spend the rest of my days languishing in luxury on the proceeds of my inky deeds. Unfortunately my opening sentence is a big fat fib; being a calligrapher of any sort is not a get rich quick scheme. AND, to be honest, calligraphy just isn’t as popular here in the UK as it is in the USA. We sit here with our nibs a quiver waiting for the inevitable calligraphy boom, waiting for when the UK follows yet another American trend… and we wait… and we wait some more… we have a few enquiries, we write wiggly words, we prepare our cursives, we flash with a flourish, but sadly this trend seems to passing us by. Actually, this is not the only American trend to fly over our heads… Martha Stewart also went down like a lead balloon; we have Mary Berry…… Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen… The UK seems to like style gurus to be authentic… and possibly slightly bonkers… gurus who have passion, but don’t necessarily take themselves too seriously.
In my 2 years of offering my services as a wedding calligrapher I didn’t do too badly considering that my marketing was minimal and my blog posts were on the flippant side of sensible… plus, my photographs were not as professional as they could have been… they were snap and go whatever the weather. BUT, that’s how I wanted to work. I didn’t ever want to be too involved in the wedding industry. I just wanted to offer a service for those who appreciated calligraphy. After 2 years of doing this I realised that although I had the skills something was very wrong… I was unhappy. The truth is that I am not cut out to be wedding calligrapher. I do not have the mettle.
I do have a general anxiety disorder, and over time I developed a dread of writing calligraphy on wedding stationery… especially if it looked expensive… and this simply developed further into a terror of being asked to write commissions! Hopeless. I always feared cocking it all up…. or spilling ink over someone’s invites… there’s a lot than can go wrong in calligraphy and I am a natural born worrier. Plus, my ultra carefulness slowed me down – it was extreme… to the point of locking things away in boxes and not letting people, pets, food, drink, wet washing, scented candles, fluffy jumpers, Robert Downey jr. etc, within 100 yards of my working space. My cautiousness ate into my profits… I was probably earning less than £3.00 an hour because my quality control was second to none meaning I’d rewrite commissions that were perfectly fine the first time I’d written them. This is no way to behave. Experience did not improve the situation. I had to stop. I’d turned what was once a pleasant pastime into a miserable experience for myself in an effort to make money. I decided that just because I was relatively good a something, it didn’t necessarily follow that I had to make a career from it.
So now I work for myself, and if people want to buy anything I’ve already produced, then that’s nice… and I’m fine with digitally scanned work – I have no idea why this is because I don’t change anything after my work is scanned… and I have been making some bits and pieces for a friend who wants to sell them at a craft fair… maybe I need to be removed from the final customer! Who knows?
Meanwhile, here is something I did last week… in a relaxed orderly fashion…


Sweet Neglect by Ben Jonson


On my mantelpiece.



Calligraphy Tip No. 1 – Thickening Down-Strokes

Update: 9/8/2014 A short calligraphy downstroke is called a minim. This is for those looking for the crossword solution!

I am calling this post Calligraphy Tip No. 1 with the vague hope that there will be a post sometime in the future called Calligraphy Tip No.2. But I shan’t worry about that right now. Since my last post I have been trying to think about things I’ve learnt about the pointed pen that perhaps I didn’t read in a book and that a beginner wouldn’t necessarily be thinking about.
My first tip concerns working surface. I am not talking about paper, I am talking about the surface the paper is on i.e a table, desk, or drawing board, as I find that the surface I work on affects my lettering. I seem to naturally have thick down-strokes, or ‘shades’; some might think I am heavy handed, but I have a trick that helps me to develop thick strokes and this trick is to put a huge pad of paper beneath anything I’m working on! The wad of paper gives me extra spring… a bit like the dance floor at the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, but working straight onto my desk without a cushion of paper feels like dancing on a block of concrete – there is no ‘give’ and the tines on the nib won’t open quite so wide.

Here is an example of my writing showing the difference…


Hard and rigid…click to make big

I found writing ‘hard and rigid’ really difficult because I’m not used to writing without extra padding, plus the nib I used is really, really old so I struggled with the upstrokes as the nib wanted to snag… I didn’t have this problem with ‘soft and squashy’! With this in mind I’m wondering if the paper pad cushion extends nib life… I do use my nibs for ages, but a new nib always feels fab! The only drawback to working on a pad of paper is that I can’t use a lightbox.

Another way to thicken down-strokes is to simply add an extra stroke, as seen in this example from one of my warming up pages… the letter ‘m’ here is large because I’ve used a double down-stroke.


Double down-stroke ‘m’

Extra down-strokes can be added to marker pen lettering (big or small) to give it a calligraphic feel and this is sometimes called fake calligraphy… but what the hell, it’s effective, and if there’s nothing but a marker pen to hand and you want flashy letters, then why not?

I am extremely proud of myself for writing this post without including any double entendre… that was hard as well.

Learning Calligraphy, quirky or otherwise….

These days I mostly get enquiries from people wanting to know how to learn calligraphy, my answer is to point them in the direction of CLAS, who provide a comprehensive list of accredited teachers. I also tell enquirers to visit Scribblers who advertise calligraphy courses in copperplate, roman capitals, italic etc. Janet Smith at Oakleaf Calligraphy also provides an online learning course. It is no good asking me to teach you… I am entirely self-taught, which means I have probably taught myself some appalling bad habits. I wish I had learnt properly from the outset, as it would probably have been quicker, and cheaper.
I learnt copperplate calligraphy from a book – Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy by Eleanor Winters and I taught myself quirky calligraphy from following the advice in Lisa Engelbrecht’s wonderful book – Modern Mark Making. I Recently purchased Modern Calligraphy by Molly Suber Thorpe – which is a superb book covering everything you need to know about writing quirky modern calligraphy… it  has a great projects section as well, which ranges from how to write on chalkboards to making water colour gift tags for weddings, parties and special occasions.


Calligraphy books for learning…

I usually buy most of my supplies from Scribblers, I mostly use a Gillott 303 nib… but to start with I used a 404 because a 404 is less flexible and therefore easier to control. The nibs from Scribblers are HERE. When I started learning copperplate I did use an oblique pen holder, but I now only use straight pen holders… all pen holders are HERE. When starting out there’s no harm in trying a straight and an oblique just to see which you prefer, I like short pen holders like the school pen holder. I am cheap and cheerful 🙂 For general calligraphy and practice I use Higgins Eternal permanent black ink; for ‘best’ I use Schmincke calligraphy gouache.

Some would imagine that the calligrapher is neat, tidy and organised… I wish I was. My desk always looks like a bomb has hit it… don’t work like this, it is hellish and I never know what I’m doing….


My new studio…

Meanwhile, my mantelpiece is tidy….


On my mantelpiece….