Tools of the Trade: A Series

I get asked a lot of questions about what I do, but the most frequent topic is about what I'm using to create my lettering. Now, I'm a strong believer in it NOT being about the tools (give me a shitty pencil and a scrap piece of paper and I'll still do my thing) but since there is so much interest I decided to photograph everything I have and take everyone through it. This may take a while! Just please remember: just because I have these things, doesn't mean they will work for you or that you should run out and buy them. I have an extensive pen collection that has been built up over a number of years through experimentation. My best advice is just to get out there, find things that take your interest and give them a go!

Anyway...on to part one: Calligraphy Pens!

Calligraphy Pens.jpg

The Speedball holder is the calligraphy pen I learned with (and teach with). It may not look fancy but the shape is fantastic and it provides such an affordable way to dive into calligraphy. I still use one to this day as I really can't fault it. I even put some copper tape on the end so that I can keep track of my own one when I teach (that's MY pen dammit).

The holder with a cork tip is a lovely, substantial holder that some find more comfortable as it's softer on the fingers during a calligraphy marathon. Whilst I do like the hold of it, I find the cork just absorbs too much ink which gets everywhere. Now, I'm a messy calligrapher at the best of times but this really takes the cake. You can see how black the formally cork-coloured end is - my fingers looked exactly the same.

When you follow experienced calligraphers on Instagram, etc, you'll most likely see them using an oblique holder. For a while you also saw me use one! It took me forever to get the hang of as I'm left handed, but dammit I was a calligrapher and I needed to use the same pen all the other calligraphers were using! Or so I thought anyway. What a mook. The oblique holder, identified by a flange (pause for giggle) which holds the nib off to the side, is basically so that right handed people can write in an italic manner. Now, as a leftie I can simply do this by changing the angle of my hand (italics always lean to the right so I just angle my hand 'inwards'). To use an oblique holder as a leftie means I have to angle my hand unnaturally off to the left which is quite uncomfortable. Finally, after quite a lot of work using this position, my wrist started complaining quite seriously at me. When I made the connection between my pain and my calligraphy I panicked thinking I was soon to be out of a job. MY HANDS WERE RUINED! No they weren't, calm down. I was simply using the wrong tool for me all for the sake of being like everyone else. Even though in reality plenty of right handed calligraphers use a straight holder. I was just being an idiot. The moral of that ramble is: probably don't use an oblique holder if you're left handed and value the use of your wrists. You can get left handed obliques (with the flange on the other side) but wow that did not work for me. Waste of money that was!

Once I decided to head back to straight-holder-ville, I thought I should treat myself to a fancy one. The calligraphy thing was most definitely a major part of my career and wasn't going away. I also wanted to celebrate making the move to full time freelance and being able to keep a roof over my head with lettering so I decided to commission the amazing Tom's Studio to make me a swanky one-of-a-kind holder just for me. It doesn't really show on the photo, but the white part of the holder has a subtle grey marbling which is just dreamy! It's made from resin but actually has marble dust in it so it feels like stone to the touch. It's just so comfortable to use when I'm at my desk for hours working on a commission. I'm tempted to commission another one that's black with gold marbling.... maybe for my birthday (pretty pens like this don't come cheap!)

So those are my holders. I don't just have these four, I have several of each kind (apart from my Tom's Studio one). You could call me a pen hoarder. You'd probably be right.

That leaves us with nibs! A much simpler affair. I'm sure plenty of calligraphers use all kinds of nib but I just get by with two. 

The Nikki G is the nib I learned with (and teach with along with the Speedball holder) and is such a lovely nib that I use it for most work when I can. It's a Japanese drawing nib that has such delicate thin strokes but it capable of creating quite chunky thicks if needs be. It's beautiful and lasts really well.

The Brause 361 (also known as a 'Blue Pumpkin') is a softer nib that creates thicker lines overall, although with a light touch your calligraphy doesn't have to be a chunk-fest. I only tend to use this nib when I'm using thicker inks. That generally means metallic and acrylic-based ones. I find the Nikki G doesn't deal well with thin strokes with these inks as it's too thin so the thicker nature of the Brause is a better choice. The only thing I will say though is that I find it wears out quite quickly. I have a huge graveyard of them on my desk!

So there we have it! Calligraphy stuff! I'll tackle inks another day. This has gone on quite long enough.

Stay tuned!