Got Your Tools, Now What? (Part 1)

So I was getting a few girlfriends of mine started on calligraphy the other day and after the excitement of receiving the tools died down, I got bombarded with a series of questions that seemed to have escaped me. (If you’re wondering what’s needed in your “starter kit”, refer to my first few blog posts.. Or you can just drop me an email.)
Strangely enough, I was rather surprised that as an educator myself, I actually forgot that tools are just half of the equation! Therefore, I’m going to try to answer 8 FAQs about ‘How to Use a Dip Pen’. I’ll be breaking this into 2 posts, tackling questions 1 – 4 in this part and 5 – 8 over the weekend!
Alright, here we go!

1. How to fit the nib in?

For most straight holders, this is what the Pen Insert (the base of your holder) looks like – 4 bendy metal parts. There are a few different types of constructions out there depending on the brand of the holder. Some are just flat, with a ring (where you inset the nib) around while others are moulded into a semi-circle.
 But for most part, you align the base of the nib to the pen insert where the former curves nicely around the latter. And then you fit it in.
Since the pen inset is really just a circle, it doesn’t matter which “side” you insert the nib into. Some holders are shaped in such a way that give you better grips, so try holding the pen before moving on to inserting the nib.

2. How deep should the nib be fitted in?

a. This really depends on the structure of your pen insert.
Some, like my oblique holder on the right, has no backing, so I can actually push the nib all the way to the back and slip it off. Whereas for this straight holder, the pen insert is rather shallow – yes, I’ve pushed it really hard to get the nib to go in but to no avail. Hence, I don’t like to use it. Which brings me to the next point…
b. It depends on how you like to write.
I use my oblique holder a lot, so the picture above shows how far I normally try to fit the nib into the insert. The tip of the nib isn’t too far from me, and it’s worked fine. Just for your estimation, I’d say slightly less than half of the nib should be fitted in and then you can adjust from there according to your personal preference.

  3. How much ink is enough?

This isn’t a good picture, but refer the ones above, notice the oval shape on the nib? That’s the Vent. Dip your nib into your ink well up to slightly past the vent, covering it up. Having said this, different nibs work slightly differently, but this is a good gauge. Start from here and then adjust accordingly.
Just avoid staining your nib holder, you shouldn’t need to dip your pen in that much.

4. How should I hold my pen?

With both straight and oblique holders, I’d always advice others (and myself) to work towards having the holder perpendicular to the horizontal line your sentence is running on. It’s more a habit, getting your hands to get into that proper posture and it takes time.
Also, I won’t deny that when you first start writing with an oblique holder, it’s gonna mess with your psychomotor skills. If your eyes and hand aren’t working together because the words are coming out a different angle, IT’S NORMAL!


But what about angle?
Before anything else, always write with the tip of the nib, not the side. Trust me, at some point in your sentence, you’ll find that the nib’s slanted to one side. Be mindful of that.
I must also say that I’m really bad at estimation and math, so refer to the picture above. Angling your nib too close the paper will restrict your movement and too far will see you having a hard time controlling it.
Well, one good way to find out if you’ve been holding your pen the right way is to check the condition of your nib’s tines (the two metal tips).
This is how it looks like with a slight pressure added. But it should snap back to being side by side when the pressure is lifted. However, if you notice that it’s overlapping even without pressure, it just means you’ve been writing the wrong way.
That’s all for this post, please stay tuned for Part 2 that’s dropping on Saturday!

Have you got any other calligraphy related questions and/or tips?

Please share them with us under the comments!

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