Pen to Paper

Part of the Maiwa ink-making workshop is a brief lesson on writing with a pointed pen. I learned calligraphy as a teen at my local library, which had a wing for pottery and art lessons. I also remember having a book-and-fountain-pen set of the sort that used to be available at newsagents. Mostly of what I learned involved a flat-ended nib meant for medieval style writing, and later I was lucky to learn a bit of sign and ticket writing at TAFE before computers rendered those skills obsolete – well, until the hipster revival, that is.

I’m not sure when I learned pointed pen calligraphy. I know the way I was taught to write at school had roots in cursive script, but with simplifications that made some letters look more like printed type. The ‘r’ in particular has really changed, and capital letters are much simpler. The result of all this is my handwriting is a weird hybrid of styles. While I didn’t expect the workshop to teach me anything new about calligraphy, I did hope it would iron out those inconsistencies.

The approach was more along the lines of basic principles – more an explanation of how pointed pen writing works than fussing over letter shapes – which you can apply to handwriting. There were seven Spencerian script pen strokes to practice:

I found the second ‘O’ felt quite awkward, which explains why so many capital letters feel wrong to me. But overall I find it quite meditative and have done quite a few pages of alphabet practise now, so the awkward letters are starting to feel more natural. A bit of research told me that a desk slope of 20 degrees is better, and since I am all about ergonomics these days I decided to make an adjustable ‘writing slope’. Fortunately, before I went to the trouble I checked to see if IKEA had something suitable and, of course, they did. Adjustable from flat to 20 degrees to 30 degrees.

On which my glass slab fit nicely, giving me a deeper writing surface so I can get my whole forearm onto it.

The last module was about making ink from anything. There were lots of tips and a few recipes. One was white ink, and since I happened to have just bought some Titanium white pigment with the intention of making gouache, I mixed some up. At the same time I’d bought some ground walnut to make ink out of, but haven’t tried that yet.

The question of what to use all this ink for is constantly in the back of my mind. Last week I took the indigo and carbon black inks to life drawing class and they were really nice to work with. I’d like to do more pen and ink drawing, too.

And I snapped up seven notebooks with dot grids at the local trash and treasure for $15 – perfect for pen practise, but also they’ve got me thinking… maybe I’ll use one to give journalling a try.