Penmanship Progress Report

PracticePracticeI wasn’t completely idle while I took a break from posting here- I did pick up my pen from time to time and filled the many sheets in the photo above.

Comparing the alphabet below with the last one I posted, I can see I’ve made a little improvement in the slant and the hairlines (Just the things Michael Hayes had trouble imitating!). I’ve gotten a bit better at understanding the “turns,” particularly placing the transition between the thick downstrokes and the thin lines, but there’s a long way to go (I’m already embarassed by the m and n in this picture, and the u, and. . .).


As I’ve handled my quill pens, I’ve gotten more and more comfortable with them and thus better able to pay attention to the details of the strokes rather than struggling to make marks.  In my last penmanship post I wrote that I needed to dip my pen often, sometimes for each stroke within a letter. I’m not sure exactly what’s changed- my speed, the level of ink I keep in my inkwell, the trim of my pen- but I’m now able to write a couple of large letters before dipping my pen again.  It helps me to write much more confidently!

One thing I’ve become incredibly aware of as I use quills is surface tension.  The quill only holds one little droplet of ink at a time, by virtue of the surface tension of the drop and the inside curvature of the quill barrel.  Modern pens are designed around controlling ink flow from a reservoir to the writing point. Quill pens, on the other hand, require the writer to control the flow of that drop of ink to the page using the angle of the pen. The slit in the nib helps to hold the droplet and direct its flow, but it’s not a channel that the ink travels down from a reservoir above, which is how I originally conceptualized it.

SurfaceTension copy

The above picture shows the ink droplet in place, and how the angle of the pen changes how the droplet contacts the page. If you look closely, you can see a glint of reflected light on the drop where it bulges most.  I’ve found that for thin, smooth hairlines, the pen needs to be at a high angle to the page, closer to the picture on the right. This helps the ink flow even though I’m only using a corner of the pen nib (according to Bickham’s instructions for hairlines), and it prevents the droplet from touching the page except at the point of the nib.

The other thing I’ve learned is to mend my pen often.  With much use, the nib tends to splay apart and the left corner, used for those hairlines, turns up and wears to a soft curve. Whenever I find myself struggling to get good crisp hairlines, it’s probably time to trim my nib. I have a new, sharp knife which makes it a pleasure- more on that another time!



One thought on “Penmanship Progress Report

  1. Good day! In italian rotunda I use two quills – normal and thin for thin lines (samples on my facebook). Maybe can be useful for this style.


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