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With all the various trades that I put my palms to, I am frequently asked what devices I use to create each work of art. So, in order to please the curiosity of those who go after my work, I have determined to create a blog series that answers this question for each medium I work in. This series will span over a four week period (posted weekly) where I cover the contraptions I use for calligraphy, woodworking, painting, and drawing. To kickstart this series, I determined to begin with Calligraphy. More specifically, the pointed pen. Commencing from the surface up…

  • This may seem demonstrable to some, but the type of writing surface sometimes varies from different styles of calligraphy. For the pointed pen or script calligraphy. you want to write on a vapid, even surface (as opposed to a slant surface which is required for broad-edge calligraphy).
  • Table should have slew of room for you to work, unencumbered by clutter and/or any sort of distractions.
  • Never permit yourself to write where your mitt is elevated above the vapid surface, i.e. writing on a pad of paper. This will inhibit decent arm positioning and whole-arm movement.
  • Critical when writing script calligraphy as it provides elasticity to the writing surface, permitting the pen to smooch the page ever so softly.
  • Permits for very fine hairlines
  • Brings forgiveness to to the writing surface and thus prevents less catching of the acute peak of the pen into the paper.
  • I use a leather pad from Saddleback leather. I’ve used scrap leather in the past to get the kind of surface I wished, but this leather desk pad has made for a sweet writing/desk practice.

    You want your table plane and your paper slick. An utterly slick paper surface gives your pen the freedom to dance fluidly. Avoid paper with fibers that will quickly absorb your ink, lift, and gum up your nib. Avoid paper that is too rigid and stiff, like card stock. These types of paper will negate the supple surface you created with your cushion sheet.

    The types of paper I recommend…

    For practice paper :

  • Clarefontaine Writing Pad (but recall, rip off in sheets, never write on the pad itself).
  • Rhodia
  • Hammermill 28 lb. Bright White Color Copier Paper
  • Life Co. Paper from Nanami Paper
  • For Finished Work:

  • Strathmore Bristol Plate
  • Arches 90lb Hotpress Water Color Paper
  • For black paper. Strathmore Artagain.
  • There are endless varieties of paints and inks that can be used. To make things plain, these are the ones I use most.

    This is the choice ink of past masters as it offers ideal viscosity and fluidity for ornamental penmanship. Albeit this ink is acidic and will cause quicker wear and rip on your nibs, it permits you to create beautiful hairlines and dark, bold shades. My two dearest brands are: McCaffery’s and Old World.

    Two. Walnut Ink

  • This ink is fine when you want to achieve a classic vintage look. It is inexpensive and available at most art supply stores. I buy mine at my local Guiry’s .
  • My brand of choice: Tom Norton’s .
  • Five. Sumi Ink

  • This is Japanese or Chinese Stick Ink.
  • My choice ink for finished chunks.
  • A carbon-based ink, which means it is archival and is lightfast (opaque).
  • Brand of choice: Moon Palace.
  • Again, there are uncountable types of nibs on the market, making it sometimes difficult to know which ones to choose from. Here are my top three choice of nibs: 1. Leonard Principle

  • This nib has a acute point that permits fine hairlines yet is supple enough to create thick shades.
  • Two. Gillott 303

  • I recommend this nib for finer (smaller lettering) work.
  • This smaller nib permits you to create fine hairlines, and fairly large shades.
  • Trio. Zebra G

  • This is the nib I recommend to anyone fresh to the art. For the heavy-handed beginner, this pen is very forgiving. It also has a acute point and good ripple.
  • The two primary characteristics to be mindful of when choosing a penholder are functionality and convenience. Here are the top two (oblique) penholders I recommend:

    1. Ergonomic Oblique Penholder As some of you know, I create my own penholders, the Ergonomic Oblique being one among many. In the beginning of my calligraphy career, I found many of the penholders available on the market to be unsatisfactory. I exclusively and whole-heartedly recommend my penholders as I have made them to be the very best, faithful contraption I have ever known in the art due to the care and tailored craftsmanship that goes into each one.

  • My unique ergonomic design embodies functionality and convenience.
  • Encourages whole-arm movement and decent grip of the pen.
  • Lends as a gentle reminder of correct arm position.
  • These specific design elements lend well to both beginners and advanced calligraphers.
  • My Ergonomic Oblique Penholders are individually carved in various types of wood and hand-poured resin. They can be purchased on Wednesday Pens Day through my website beginning at $350.00 on Wednesdays at 9am MST.

    Two. Brian Smith of Unique Oblique Penholders, a talented pen maker from Louisiana makes some beautiful pens that I have had the honor of wielding. You can check out his available penholders on his Etsy site at https://www.etsy.com/shop/UniqueObliques

    Question: For those of you who have been around the art of calligraphy for a while, what are your top recommendations for contraptions of the trade?

    Wishing you all the best in your calligraphic endeavors!

    35 Comments

    Erik Samuelsohn

    January 02, 2016

    These are excellent recommendations! A quick note: having spent some time in Japan and China, I’m often astonished by the universal praise for Moon Palace sumi ink in the West. This ink is meant for elementary students and, while there’s nothing wrong with it in my view, there are literally hundreds of subtler bottled sumi inks available for those who wish its convenience over stick ink. Many of them are just as black, but much higher quality and can be found online with a little diligent searching.

    Suanny

    December 31, 2015

    Hello. I am from indonesia and just a beginner in copperplate calligraphy. I like to purchase one of your ergonomic holder. But I have No idea what to choose. And which suit me better. So can you pls Gideon some opinion. Looking forward to hear from you soon, tq

    Taylor Raine

    December 30, 2015

    While I couldn’t agree more with your nib recommendations, I would stress to anyone desiring better instruments to look into vintage points. While the more affordable of the excellent points such as the Esterbrook 357 or 128 are themselves becoming somewhat scarce, there are still a lot of less well appreciated nibs out there at good prices. For example, I recently acquired a box of Esterbrook 524s for less than one would pay for the better modern nibs and must say that even these pens that were manufactured for students are higher quality than almost anything being made today. If you have the resources and the desire, get a hold of the very best vintage nibs while you still can – they are worth it. The better Gillott’s are absolutely exceptional and last several times longer than their modern counterparts. The Principality especially has a snap to it that makes it both the most responsive pen I’ve ever used as well as remarkably effortless to control, much more so in fact than the Leonardt Principal.

    Janelle

    November 17, 2015

    Corinna Taylor

    September 16, 2015

    I recently attempted one of you ergonomic oblique holders, and by the end of one sentence my Spencerian had improved at least 50%! This is obviously the solution to achieving the mitt position I’ve struggled with for years. Alas, your holders are miles beyond my price range. Have you considered making a less expensive version – perhaps cast in resin or some plastic – or an adapter to glue onto other obliques? In the meantime, I’m waiting for a back-ordered Carrot oblique in hopes that it’s fat enough to chop away a bit here and there to treatment the form of your holders.

    By the way – your work is magnificent – but you already knew that

    Rebecca Sherrod

    September 14, 2015

    I am so very interested in this. I have loved writing and calligraphy since I was introduced to it in high school and had no idea there was such height to which I could aspire!

    Where can I find more information about courses of examine?

    viviana vera

    September 13, 2015

    Maravilloso su trabajo, se ve el talento y preocupacion que dedica a cada una de sus obras…. Bravo eres un Davinci de esta era

    Krystel Sanchez

    You truly have inspired me. Which book or books would you recommend? Or do you have a book for beginners?
    Thank you!
    Gracias!

    Kim Scales

    September 12, 2015

    Thanks Jake for the inspiration. I am further inspired to improve my own handwriting, I am 55, and resurrect the explore of handwriting with my creative writing students.

    Dawn McCauley

    September 09, 2015

    I recently witnessed your FB Human post presenting you as a Master Penman. It was so inspiring I have observed it over and over. I was fairly good with calligraphy in High School and watching your movie has awakened the desire to learn again. I am not sure where to begin and wonder if you could recommend some books and or process to begin to improve my skill? Thank you in advance for your communication.

    Sam Nelson

    September 03, 2015

    Thank you for sharing your beloved materials! I found out about IAMPETH through your TEDxTalk and am finding the inspiration to practice with pen again.

    Related video: La Chanson d’Orphée by Valerie Schoeller (with English translation)