Tools of the Trade: Calligraphy

With all the various trades that I put my hands to, I am frequently asked what tools I use to create each work of art.  So, in order to satisfy the curiosity of those who follow my work, I have decided 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 tools I use for calligraphy, woodworking, painting, and drawing. To kickstart this series, I decided to begin with Calligraphy.  More specifically, the pointed pen. Starting from the surface up…

Writing Surface

 Table 

  • This may seem obvious 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 flat, even surface (as opposed to a slant surface which is required for broad-edge calligraphy).
  • Table should have plenty of room for you to work, unencumbered by clutter and/or any sort of distractions.
  •  Never allow yourself to write where your hand is elevated above the flat surface, i.e., writing on a pad of paper. This will inhibit proper hand positioning and whole-arm movement.

   Cushion Sheet

  • Critical when writing script calligraphy as it provides elasticity to the writing surface, allowing the pen to kiss the page ever so softly.
  • Allows for very fine hairlines
  • Brings forgiveness to to the writing surface and thus prevents less catching of the sharp tip 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 wanted, but this leather desk pad has made for a sweet writing/desk experience. 

Check out the Saddleback Leather Desk Pad here.


 Paper 

You want your table flat and your paper smooth. An extremely smooth 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 remember, tear 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.

 

 


 Ink

 There are endless varieties of paints and inks that can be used.  To make things simple, these are the ones I use most.

  For practice and correspondence, I suggest:

1. Iron Gall

 This is the choice ink of past masters as it offers ideal viscosity and fluidity for ornamental penmanship. Although this ink is acidic and will cause faster wear and tear on your nibs, it allows you to create beautiful hairlines and dark, bold shades. My two favorite brands are: McCaffery's and Old World

 

2. Walnut Ink
  • This ink is great 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.

 

5. Sumi Ink
  • This is Japanese or Chinese Stick Ink.
  • My choice ink for finished pieces.
  • A carbon-based ink, which means it is archival and is lightfast (opaque).
  • Brand of choice: Moon Palace.

  

 

 Nibs

 Again, there are countless 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 sharp point that allows fine hairlines yet is flexible enough to create thick shades.
2. Gillott 303
    •  I recommend this nib for finer (smaller lettering) work.
    • This smaller nib allows you to create fine hairlines, and fairly large shades.

 

3. Zebra G
    • This is the nib I recommend to anyone new to the art. For the heavy-handed beginner, this pen is very forgiving. It also has a sharp point and good flex.


Penholders

     The two primary characteristics to be mindful of when choosing a penholder are functionality and comfort. 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 tool 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 comfort.
  • Encourages whole-arm movement and proper grip of the pen.
  •  Lends as a  gentle reminder of correct hand 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 starting at $350.00 on Wednesdays at 9am MST.

2. Brian Smith of Unique Oblique Penholders, a talented pen maker from Louisiana makes some beautiful pens that I have had the honor of owning. 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 tools of the trade?


Wishing you all the best in your calligraphic endeavors!


35 Comments

ishmael
ishmael

September 30, 2016

Thank you.

Skyler
Skyler

February 03, 2016

This is great Jake! I’ll be sure to show this to tons of people, as many people ask me how to get started as well. It’s always good to see what other writers are doing and how they work.
All the best.
-Skyler

Patsy Roeder
Patsy Roeder

February 03, 2016

Thank you for this. I’ve sent it to my students; you saved me much time!

Heather Toliver
Heather Toliver

January 23, 2016

My family throughly enjoyed your ted talk. We are currently homeschooling our two daughters are teaching them handwriting. I was curious if you had any suggestions for resources that would help us learn and teach them properly. Thanks, Heather

Jonathon
Jonathon

January 12, 2016

Here are the top four oblique pen holders that you recommend…. I only see yours…?

Erik Samuelsohn
Erik Samuelsohn

January 02, 2016

These are great recommendations! A quick note: having spent some time in Japan and China, I’m often surprised 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
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
Taylor Raine

December 30, 2015

While I couldn’t agree more with your nib recommendations, I would stress to anyone desiring better tools 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 nearly 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 easy to control, much more so in fact than the Leonardt Principal.

Janelle
Janelle

November 17, 2015

What are the 3 other obliques you recommend?

Sam
Sam

November 10, 2015

Where did you get your inkwell?

Tae
Tae

November 03, 2015

i was wondering, where i could buy that inkwell

Davey Jones
Davey Jones

October 23, 2015

Thanks for posting this!

Tae
Tae

October 16, 2015

I was wondering, where can I get that aluminum ink jar?

Dante Rosas
Dante Rosas

October 05, 2015

Thanks for the tips, Jake!

Corinna Taylor
Corinna Taylor

September 16, 2015

You said “Here are the top four (oblique) holders I recommend” but you only name your own. What are #2,3, and 4?

Corinna Taylor
Corinna Taylor

September 16, 2015

I recently tried 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 hand 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 approach the shape of your holders.

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

Rebecca Sherrod
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 study?

viviana vera
viviana vera

September 13, 2015

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

Krystel Sanchez
Krystel Sanchez

September 13, 2015

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
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 study of handwriting with my creative writing students.

Dawn McCauley
Dawn McCauley

September 09, 2015

I recently saw your FB Human post presenting you as a Master Penman. It was so inspiring I have watched it over and over. I was quite good with calligraphy in High School and watching your video has awakened the desire to learn again. I am not sure where to start 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
Sam Nelson

September 03, 2015

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

Kayden Linfield
Kayden Linfield

August 28, 2015

You are a briliant are test

Lisa
Lisa

August 27, 2015

Do you have tutorials for beginning students? My son loves to doodle and draw but has terrible
penmanship. I’m not sure how to get him past this. By the way, he is dyslexic.
Lisa

Keith Oelschlager
Keith Oelschlager

August 25, 2015

I’d love to know when pens become available again!

Isaiah Gales
Isaiah Gales

August 22, 2015

Hey mr. Weidman what book should I look at to study penmanship

Doug Fredrikson
Doug Fredrikson

August 22, 2015

Saw the remarkable video of your work. Simply amazing and i appalud your well honed skill and the effort it took.
I was interested in your drawing apparatus you use as the straight edge and scale…..can you tell me what it is.
Thanks…….

Wanda Phillips
Wanda Phillips

August 22, 2015

You are a very wonderful artist and a very generous person to share such a wealth of information.

CAROL HAMBRICK
CAROL HAMBRICK

August 22, 2015

When will you be offering more T-shirts?
Also, do you do names? I would love to have my children’s first name done and our last name done.
I love your work.
Thank you, Carol Hambrick

Pan- ngoen Sirijitti
Pan- ngoen Sirijitti

August 17, 2015

Dear Jake,
I am a lecturer in philosophy dept. Nakhon Sawan Rajabhat University, Thailand. I am so much love pens in any style from childhoo. I purchased even cheap or expensive because of its style.
I would like to please you allow me share this topic to my facebook. when I first watched your penmanship in you-tube. I would like to keep up in my FB. and if you’ve written any book about the penmanship please tell me. I hope I would like to have my essay about my collected pens help me create my philosophy.
Best regards,
P. Sirijitti

Jay
Jay

August 15, 2015

Hi Jake,
Your video is very inspiring.

Sincerely
Jay from Singapore

civ
civ

August 14, 2015

any tips for lefties?

Elaine Murrell
Elaine Murrell

August 14, 2015

i went to night class years ago (maybe 25 years ago) I still have my pens and papers I used and often look through them and have been meaning to have another go at this beautiful writing. I have read your news letter here and you have given me the inspiration to try again. Thank you.

Heidi
Heidi

August 11, 2015

Thank you for being the person you are Jake! I’m in love with the pen and history of America. I’m hoping to take classes soon as I have just found a local teacher. I’m in love with Spencerian and Cooperplate as well as Italic writing. I want to master all 3 of them! Hard to find the time with a full time job, husband with full time job and 2 kids 8 and 10. But it’s always something I’m learning and watching online. I want my children to always see me reading up on it and practicing so they fall in love with it as well. I stumbled across your video and love it – so inspiring. There is a book about 3:43 in, looks very old – what book is this? I would love to read it.

Thanks again – I look forward to seeing your work and videos of your work. You are a great inspiration to so many!!

-Heidi Reid

Roseanne
Roseanne

August 10, 2015

Thank you for sharing this information… it has helped a lot.

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