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Copperplate With A Fountain Pen


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#1 Ken Fraser

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 08:40

Until I joined FPN in March 2007, I had never attempted writing Copperplate (English Roundhand) with a fountain pen and had always used a dip nib in an oblique holder. Since then, I have realised that the possibility of being able to write in this style with a pen which could be carried around in a pocket, is a bit of a holy grail and is a subject which surfaces frequently on this forum.

As I see it, there are two basic problems.

1) Finding a suitable fountain pen with a nib which is as responsive as a good dip nib, is extremely difficult. I have been searching for four years and the best I have found is a vintage Watermans 92 with a very flexible nib which quickly returns to normal once pressure is released. (This is known as snap-back and without this characteristic, Copperplate or Spencerian writing of any quality is impossible.)
Unfortunately, the hairlines produced on upstrokes when pressure is released, aren’t as fine as those possible with my dip nibs.
I have tried modern pens with flexible nibs and I like my Namiki Falcon but to achieve any useful degree of flex, too much pressure is required for controlled writing, in my experience.

2) To write at the necessary 55 degrees slope from the horizontal for Copperplate (52 degrees for Spencerian) for a right-hander, with a straight pen, the wrist and hand have to be twisted considerably to the right in order for the tines of the nib to point at at the slope line.
I have seen acceptable Copperplate written with a straight pen fitted with a dip nib, but only with an unconventional pen hold, with the hand turned over to the right. here This may well be an answer, but I, personally, haven't had much success with it, so far.

There are many fine examples of writing with flex-nibbed fountain pens on this forum, but to overcome the writing slope problem, they are all written too upright to be called Copperplate. The 55 degree writing slope is an essential characteristic of the style and if a slope of 55 or close to it, can’t be achieved, it’s no longer Copperpate IMO. Having said that, some of the flex-nibbed writing on FPN is very attractive in its own right, as a separate style.

This may well be a satisfactory compromise for those who are attracted to flex-nib writing and like to be able to carry the pen around with them.

My first attempts at Copperplate with a fountain pen were abysmal and it’s taken me four years to reach this limited standard of Copperplate simulation. I couldn’t quite manage the 55 degrees writing slope and this is written at a slope of 58 degrees. It’s better that it used to be, but light years away from the standard of lettering with a dip nib. Certainly, I wouldn’t have posted it here, other than to make a point.

I’m sorry that this is such a negative post, but it is a recurring theme here, and I would be very interested in the opinions of others. It may well be that another approach can produce better results. In the meantime, I’ll keep looking for the fountain pen with the magic nib!

This was written with a vintage Waterman’s 92 fountain pen filled with Aurora black ink. The x hieght is 4mm.
The quotation is from the writing of F.W.Tamblyn.

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Edited by caliken, 23 August 2011 - 12:50.

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#2 fuchsiaprincess

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 09:26

Dear Ken,

Thank you very much for enlightening us! You are correct, this question has been asked many a time, and it is fantastic that you have shared your experience with us.

I have a few vintage flexible FPs that I've used to write a semi-modified Copperplate (what I would term "flourished cursive"), mainly in my correspondence to fellow FP enthusiasts. I still resort to an oblique pen holder and flexible nib for any proper Copperplate projects.

Warm regards,
Soki

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#3 mirosc

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 09:40

Thank you for the good insights.
For me there is another point: price. Compare the price of a flex fountain pen with that of a dip nib, holder, and reservoir. Plus the extraordinary qualities of dip nibs (that you will never achieve with a fountain pen nib). Plus the hazzle to maintain the fountain pen - or paying extra for restoring a sac, a filler mechanism...
And so I prefer dip nibs much more!
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#4 Yuki Onitsura

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 10:27

I don't think I have the patience or dedication required to learn proper Copperplate (or Spencerian, or any other hand really) but I do appreciate the little nuances that go into such things and although they may be negative, your comments about Copperplate with a fountain pen were quite insightful. Kudos.

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#5 rhr2010

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 14:37

Ken,

Thank you for your post. I was wondering myself about the possibility of writing Copperplate with a fountain pen. I have been collecting fountain pens for a few years and I have many flexible nibs. I have been following passively the other thread on writing Copperplate style for a few days. I am a very beginner pupil of Copperplate. In my experiments I found that a few fountain pen nibs might be acceptable for Copperplate, with the biggest drawback being the up strokes that cannot quite get as light as the ones of a dip pen, exactly as you mention. I have tried a few Wahl, Waterman, Swan and Pelikan pens and I think I can mimic some Copperplate-like style. I am too much of a beginner right now, but I hope to post something in the future. I bought myself and oblique holder and dip nibs too and therefore I will try and carry out some extensive comparisons. For what concerns the up strokes I feel I have to almost lift the pen from the paper to get really thin lines. Shades are easier and can be achieved with several fountain pen nibs.
Achieving 55 degrees seems less problematic for me, as I rotate the sheet so that the 55 degree lines are almost perpendicular to my chest. This might not be a "professional" posture, but it does not bother me too much.

I am fascinated by Copperplate and I will most likely come to the your conclusion, that nothing compares to a dip pen for proper Copperplate. However, being able to mimic "Copperplate" with a fountain pen would make my hand writing more interesting.

Another big question lurking in my mind is what was the use of all the fancy flexible nib fountain pens of the 10s and 20s? I have been told that at least in US Palmer was the style used, or maybe people just liked to make their handwriting more interesting with some "shading". Sometimes I look at those old postcards and letters that appear at antique stores now and then. People had beautiful penmanship, even if maybe their style was kind of "free".

Nowadays I spend most of my time in front of a computer at work, I have an iPhone and an iPad for fun and spare time and still I would like to improve my penmanship, because I feel I can better think when I slowly put my thoughts on paper.

Federico

Edited by rhr2010, 23 August 2011 - 14:38.

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#6 handwriter

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 15:09

Thank you very much, Ken. I fully agree with you, those aspiring to become proficient in Copperplate should turn to dip pens. On the other hand, there were many pens with flexible nibs in the fifties, and those were not even as flexible as the wet noodle pens made in the tens or twenties. Those pens came with tips in all sizes ranging from EF to double or triple broad, the latter obviously unsuitable for Copperplate. I think the users of those pens in the fifties were not attempting calligraphy, just to write with some degree of line variation when writing "normally". For someone used to ballpens, learning to take advantage of these nibs does require some practice -being able to properly draw the letters does not hurt- , although nothing compared to learning Copperplate.
Is not an all-or-nothing game; at least in my experience, using a flexible nib on a Soennecken, Osmia or the like can be really fun and make my everyday writing much better, while at the same time I realize it is not Copperplate or any calligraphic style. And I guess this is what most users of these very same pens did sixty years ago.
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#7 Mauricio

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 15:58

Ken,

Thanks for your very interesting report. Have you considered trying a vintage fountain pen with a wet noodle nib, great snap-back and XXXF-BB or XXXF-BBB line variation?

Edited by Mauricio, 23 August 2011 - 15:59.

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#8 smk

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 17:01

I have recently received my Noodlers Flex pens. Here's an example of my writing with them.

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I found it easier to turn the paper so it was parallel to my chest. This results in my having to write away from my body. Unnatural as it is for me I find that I can maintain the 55 degree angle with a bit of concentration although I clearly need more practice before I can produce proper copperplate with an FP.

I find that it much harder to use an FP for this kind of writing. I need to concentrate more, apply much more pressure than I'm used to to get shaky looking shades and end up with a less than perfect result. However, I have spent much more time practicing with dip pens than I have with flexible nib FPs - I'm sure my results will improve when I've put some mileage on my pens.

I understand that the Noodler's offering isn't the best experience in the world of flexible nib fountain pens but its all I have. I do look forward to owning a proper wet noodle some day.

Salman

Edit: There was a fair bit of bleeding along the guidelines so please allow for that in your assessment of the results.

Edited by smk, 23 August 2011 - 17:03.

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#9 Ghost Plane

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 18:28

Intriguing! I commonly write with my paper nearly parallel to my body, so it's a surprise to discover others struggling with what is my norm. :hmm1:

#10 Ken Fraser

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 20:15

Achieving 55 degrees seems less problematic for me, as I rotate the sheet so that the 55 degree lines are almost perpendicular to my chest. This might not be a "professional" posture, but it does not bother me too much.


I do exactly the same. Regardless of the style of writing, I always turn the paper so that the slope line is perpendicular to the edge of my desk.

Ken

Edited by caliken, 23 August 2011 - 20:17.

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#11 Ken Fraser

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 20:24

I have recently received my Noodlers Flex pens. Here's an example of my writing with them.

Very nice Copperplate, Salman; especially when written with a straight pen.
I particularly like the beautiful x and v in the last line.

Ken

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#12 Ken Fraser

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 20:38

Thanks for your very interesting report. Have you considered trying a vintage fountain pen with a wet noodle nib, great snap-back and XXXF-BB or XXXF-BBB line variation?

The nib in my Waterman's has good flexibility with good snap-back, but produces hairlines which are a fraction too thick. I enjoy writing with it, but it's a great relief to get back to my dip nibs as I can control them much better with less effort.

Ken

Edited by caliken, 23 August 2011 - 20:38.

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#13 smk

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Posted 24 August 2011 - 07:18

Intriguing! I commonly write with my paper nearly parallel to my body, so it's a surprise to discover others struggling with what is my norm. :hmm1:


So you are halfway there then :-) a better start than I had!!

I also keep the paper fairly parallel to my body when writing but for Copperplate I need to keep my hand in a position so the tines are aligned with the shaded strokes - that's the unnatural part for me. I'm sure I can get used to it and the experience will be much better with a better (and much more expensive) flexible nib pen.

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#14 smk

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Posted 24 August 2011 - 07:22

Very nice Copperplate, Salman; especially when written with a straight pen.
I particularly like the beautiful x and v in the last line.

Ken


Thank you Ken. I find that I get better results at the larger x-height and included some letters for comparison.

The shaded strokes require significant pressure resulting in loss of accuracy. I have taken a bit of material off the shoulders of the nib in an effort to make it softer but it didn't make any noticeable difference.

Salman

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#15 Ken Fraser

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Posted 24 August 2011 - 08:11

Salman,

I have three flexible-nibbed fountain pens.

1) A Vintage Waterman's 92 made in the USA and fitted with an 'Ideal' nib. Very wet and flexible with good snap-back but not quite fine enough for fine hairlines. It's probably a 'wet noodle', but I've never been entirely sure what that means.

2) A Namiki Falcon with a flexible SF nib. This is a nice pen, but shaded strokes require too much pressure which, inevitably, leads to lack of control.

3) A Pelikan M250 with a normal, medium nib which has been modified by Richard Binder. This is the best of the three. I sent him this letter which he has placed in his Gallery on his web site. Being a Pelikan, it's entirely reliable, with sufficient, easy flex for modestly-shaded Copperplate. However, it's a little bit stiff for the heavily-shaded strokes of Spencerian.

Someday, I'd like to try a Noodlers flex pen. I've read a couple of reviews and it sounds as though it writes a bit like my Falcon but with less reliability - but at a fraction of the price!

Ken

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Edited by caliken, 24 August 2011 - 08:18.

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#16 smk

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Posted 24 August 2011 - 10:41

Ken - thanks for the information. The Binder modified nib seems to be the best solution for the job - your letter to him is just lovely. It doesn't look like the pen got in your way at all. My research into the options for flexible nibs pointed me in that direction too although Waterman's with xxf-BB nibs do come up for sale from time to time.

The price is a deterrent for me at the moment - both the Binder option and the Waterman's are quite expensive. Some day when I have the spare cash I might be able to justify the expense :-)

I'm a novice in the field of flexible nibbed pens but I don't think Noodler's are going to do the job. First off they are quite picky about inks. I tried three or four until I found that I got ok results with Parker Quink Red. Even then, the nib is a medium-fine at best and requires quite a lot of pressure to produce the shades. The pen doesn't hold much ink either.

I have ordered three pens and all three exhibit the same characteristics. It is possible that I got three duds from the same batch but reading the mixed reviews leads me to believe that there's room for improvement.

Regards,
Salman

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#17 Ken Fraser

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Posted 24 August 2011 - 12:55

Salman,

Thanks for the valuable information regarding the Noodler's pens.

The only other flex-nibbed fountain pen I tried, was the inexpensive Ackerman Pump pen. An interesting concept, as you could fit a Gillott 303, for example but it didn't work for me. After the third minor flood, I dumped it - literally. A portable pen which isn't safe to carry around, is pretty useless.
However, the Ackerman pen has been around for a few years now, and it would be interesting to hear from anyone who is satisfied with it. I may have been just unlucky.

Ken

Edited by caliken, 24 August 2011 - 12:55.

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#18 rhr2010

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Posted 24 August 2011 - 14:13

I am practicing myself with a two tones 14kT M400 Pelikan nib modified by Richard Binder to an "artist" nib xxxf with full flex added. I am still just writing rows of repetitive exercises, but I find this nib quite easy to control and the upstrokes get quite thin.

I am also using a flexible Wahl nib (marked flexible) from a Wahl Decoband of the thirties. This is a very big nib, 14 kT. I am very please with the results of this nib too.

I have a few Waterman eyedroppers over 100 year old. Some have a nib extremely flexible, the gold is very thin and they behave almost like a brush. I think they might be the perfect nibs for Copperplate but I am not yet using those, as I want to learn more of the theory and practice since these appear to be very delicate and nowadays scarse nibs. I would be upset if I damaged one of those.
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#19 hughdrbf

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Posted 24 August 2011 - 14:18

Someday, I'd like to try a Noodlers flex pen. I've read a couple of reviews and it sounds as though it writes a bit like my Falcon but with less reliability - but at a fraction of the price!

Ken


Ken,

I ordered an extra Noodler's Flex pen that I have not used and is brand new in the box. I would like to send it to you with my gratitude, thanks, and appreciation for everything you do and offer to all of us here that helps expand and guide our ongoing penmanship skills and capabilities.

If you're interested, please email a postal address that I can use to send the pen to you.


Hugh

#20 Ken Fraser

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Posted 24 August 2011 - 21:11

If you're interested, please email a postal address that I can use to send the pen to you.


PM sent.

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#21 ihtzazqamar

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Posted 25 August 2011 - 21:01

Salman,

I have three flexible-nibbed fountain pens.

1) A Vintage Waterman's 92 made in the USA and fitted with an 'Ideal' nib. Very wet and flexible with good snap-back but not quite fine enough for fine hairlines. It's probably a 'wet noodle', but I've never been entirely sure what that means.

2) A Namiki Falcon with a flexible SF nib. This is a nice pen, but shaded strokes require too much pressure which, inevitably, leads to lack of control.

3) A Pelikan M250 with a normal, medium nib which has been modified by Richard Binder. This is the best of the three. I sent him this letter which he has placed in his Gallery on his web site. Being a Pelikan, it's entirely reliable, with sufficient, easy flex for modestly-shaded Copperplate. However, it's a little bit stiff for the heavily-shaded strokes of Spencerian.

Someday, I'd like to try a Noodlers flex pen. I've read a couple of reviews and it sounds as though it writes a bit like my Falcon but with less reliability - but at a fraction of the price!

Ken

Posted Image


Just beautiful, Ken. I have just ordered mine from Richard Binder and will be shipped on Saturday.
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#22 Mauricio

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Posted 25 August 2011 - 22:15

Ken,

Enclosed are some writing samples made with three different vintage Waterman wet noodle nibs with great snap back. Please note that I am not very proficient at writing with extremely thin and soft nibs, my hand leans towards a heavier writing hand, and I am not proficient with Copperplate writing either. Unlike the typical vintage flexy Waterman nibs, wet noodIe nibs are very hard to find, especially those capable of producing hairlines, in good condition, and smooth writers like the ones below ...


Posted Image

Posted Image

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I wonder what those nibs would do in the hands of someone like you. Let me know what you think of them. I would like to ship your way one or two pens fitted with nibs like the ones above so you can write and play with them. When you are done you just pay for return postage.

Edited by Mauricio, 26 August 2011 - 01:07.

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#23 Ken Fraser

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Posted 26 August 2011 - 13:11

I would like to ship your way one or two pens fitted with nibs like the ones above so you can write and play with them. When you are done you just pay for return postage.

Mauricio,

They all look like excellent pens - it looks to me as if the Waterman's 32a is best with finest hairlines and, as you say, great snap-back.

I'm afraid that I have to decline your generous offer. If I found your pens to be as good as I expect they are.....you'd never get them back! :unsure:

Seriously, I really appreciate your trust in me; thanks very much for the offer, but I'll pass for now. If they are as they seem, I'd hate to let them go!

Ken

Edited by caliken, 26 August 2011 - 13:12.

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#24 Watercycle

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Posted 01 September 2011 - 03:59

from the very start i must say it looks like the first picture was printed out the letters keep such consistency! :o

honestly is it every about getting it exactly perfect? or to achieve what is appealing and can hold that very consistency?
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#25 penpals

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Posted 01 September 2011 - 05:58

Do you think a lefty would have an easier time aintaining the 55 degree angle? Just seems like an underwriter lefty would have an advantage here by not having to contort as much. Granted I only played with copperplate with dip nibs and no where close to your level.

#26 Ken Fraser

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Posted 01 September 2011 - 10:25

Do you think a lefty would have an easier time aintaining the 55 degree angle? Just seems like an underwriter lefty would have an advantage here by not having to contort as much. Granted I only played with copperplate with dip nibs and no where close to your level.

Left handed underwriters have a natural advantage when writing Copperplate as the nib is already pointing to the slope line with a normal hand hold. The disadvantage is that the hand is moving over the wet ink, so extra care has to be take. Some lefthanders use an oblique pen but a straight one is usually fine.

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#27 WestLothian

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Posted 01 September 2011 - 15:53

I have been looking more closely at the writing process for generating English Round-hand, the slope as you noted is usually at 55 degrees. This slope is the diagonal on most sizes of common modern writing papers. I checked that all the A4, A5 sizes are based on a ratio of width to height (one:root-two) many of the small notebooks are 120x170mm too. The advantages of basing a paper size upon an aspect ratio of √2 were already noted in by Professor Lichtenberg in 1700s.

Rotating the paper anti-cockwise so that the right-hand sweeps a straight line horizontally across the page, with minimum compensation, requires that the arm is parallel to the page edges at halfway across the line. This can be a reasonable right-handed posture and it will normally result in the page-diagonal being set to be in the line-of-sight, inline with the shoulders. If this is the writing slope then it is easy to keep an eye on the consistency of parallel down-strokes.

Where it seems to go a bit awry is when looking at the flexible nib geometry and the pen contact to the page. If the pen is held with a very small angle to the forearm and pointing parallel to the page then the pen's maximum bold stroke will be on vertical lines drawn towards the writer. After a bit of trigonometry the down-strokes at 55 degrees will only be 18% less wide than the maximum pen width.

The effect of having a stronger rotation of the pen anti-clockwise relative to the forearm, and towards the body, will be to dramatically reduce the ability to produce bold down-strokes and this is when the off-set nib or pen holder will be essential to restore the angles and get the optimum shading.


P.S. I note that Willis A. Baird recommended a 10c pen oblique-holder, in his Lessons In Roundhand published in The Business Educator.
Also that one should "Use the same position at the table as in light-line writing, both as regards the arm and the paper."
"The hand may be turned farther to the right and may rest on the side; the little finger being the center of control".

If you read through his lessons you soon realise that his method is not really a true cursive flowing script, as he draws-in loops, dots and liaisons independently with "unnatural" directions in separate strokes. The results are wonderful calligraphy but not really a method for fountain pen handwriting.

Edited by WestLothian, 01 September 2011 - 17:44.


#28 Val

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Posted 08 September 2011 - 13:04

I think Salman's got the right idea.

If one avoids changing pen grip and using an oblique holder, the pen just can't get to the correct angle if one keeps the vertical lines perpendicular to one's chest.
It seems to me that one can improve the situaion by turning the page anti-clockwise even more by a similar amount to what an oblique pen holder grants.

There are a couple of downsides: the movements are in different directions from the ones practiced with an oblique holder and the wrist ends up being a lot more static.
Nonetheless, the larger problem of pen angles is solved by further rotation and both the fingers and the arm are free to move and create the necessary shapes.
My guess is that mid-size letters (where the wrist is used) would become a lot tougher, but small, finger-sized letters should be fairly doable by someone skilled at the art (/me looks at caliken).
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#29 Mickey

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Posted 08 September 2011 - 15:03

Page position relative to the body, as well as rotation, determines the orientation of the pen slit. (This is the geometry underlying the side-saddle to the desk seating which effectively extends the desk to the right. This is what I do.) For example, a page placed farther away and to the right does not need as much rotation to achieve the same nib / slant alignment.

Ultimately, proper page position and equipment choice (oblique or straight) devolves to satisfying a limited number of conditions. Any combination of position and equipment is acceptable if 1 the hand can smoothly traverse the writing line an acceptable number of characters without disturbing the geometric relationship of nib, page plane, and slant angle and 2 applying pressure for shades is well controlled and is (potentially) intuitive. In essence, find such a configuration and place the paper under it. (Visual considerations, which are undoubtedly important, would generally be satisfied by condition 1.)

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#30 WestLothian

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Posted 08 September 2011 - 18:49

It seems that the oblique holder is an invention of the 2Oth Century (in USA)?
The steel flexible nib is an invention of the 19th Century?
The Copperplate was first being used as an ideal form for copybooks from 17th and early 18th Century.
The most notable reference The Universal Penman (1st ed.1743) would have been for quills?

Edited by WestLothian, 08 September 2011 - 18:50.