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Copperplate Handwriting: Considering a Classic

What can I say about Copperplate handwriting? Well, for starters…it’s the most romantic, yet dramatic lettering, I’ve ever seen. Its flamboyant flourishing grabs the eye and steals your heart thinking about the time it took to create such a lovely word or line. Classic and dainty, it’s no wonder brides around the world consider it a “must-have”. I call the Copperplate hand “the letters of love”.

The ornate, delicate design looks like loads of love went into writing this hand. You certainly can’t scribble out a name in two seconds and get it to look graceful. Maybe that’s why Copperplate is synonymous for formal occasions, especially weddings.

A few years ago when I started my calligraphy journey, my original exposure to this art stemmed from a friend’s impending wedding and Copperplate writing became my ultimate goal. I’ve been hooked to calligraphy ever since.

As you develop your own calligraphy journey, add Copperplate handwriting to your list for hands to learn. It’s a beautiful and challenging art; you’ll take pride in learning.
                                                                                                                               

What is Copperplate?          

Copperplate is a cursive handwriting developed in England, which spread quickly throughout the English speaking world around the 18th century. The lettering is characterized by looping majuscules (upper case letters) and minuscules (lower case letters), which are usually written with decorative flourishes.

Unlike Italic or Roman hands, Copperplate handwriting requires a 55 degree slope and they’re normally linked together since the release of the 1770 copy manual by John Sealy called “The Running Hand”. Although it’s an ornate and fancy letter, Copperplate started out with bolder lines for business use called “Round hand”. It’s counterpart we know and love today, offers lighter, narrower lines called “Italian” or “ladies” hand, which we use today for commercial and personal art.

When did it start?

Copperplate writing originated in the 16th century and grew in popularity in England around the 18th century. When Copperplate started, Americans wrote with feather quills to dip in ink for document preparation. Later, dip pens with sharp flexible nibs became popular.

Creating the slim, delicate lines and loops of the Copperplate letters worked better than the heavier nibs, which is common for the Italic hand. After the inception of the Declaration of Independence, the Americans used Copperplate handwriting for business and personal use until other hands like Spencerian prevailed in schools around the latter part of the 19th century.

What to use?

For most hand lettering, ink reigns. On the other hand, if you’re working with lightweight invitations or envelopes, depending on the grade of it, it might cause trouble. Certain paper grades (or weights) are too light to handle average calligraphy inks, so go with paints, like gouache. Gouache is versatile and fun for artists who don’t mind the added preparation for mixing paint (with distilled water) and placing it on the nib.

Although black and white inks offer dramatic and formal appeal, brides these days prefer color to matching wedding announcements with a specific theme.

Who should try Copperplate?

Any artist interested in learning Copperplate can do it. But, it’s not something you can master in one day. Whatever your skill level, dedicate yourself to practicing consistently to master this hand with confidence.

In my experience, I found classroom instruction worked better compared to using a practice manual. Unlike the italic hand, it’s not easy to learn Copperplate alone because you need to know where to place the thin and thick lines that characterize a proper Copperplate hand. And, believe me, class instruction helps, but frustration still reared its ugly head with me.

If you’re an extreme newbie to calligraphy, prepare yourself with mounds of patience and dedication. For the moderate artists with minor exposure to lettering, you’ll find Copperplate a joyful challenge.

Have you tried Copperplate writing before? If so, what was your initial experience like?

Spencerian – Fancy Pointed Pen for Beginners


Thinking about trying a flourished and fancy writing style to challenge your inner calligrapher? Have you tried any of the pointed pen styles? Well, there’s no need to freeze and panic like I did when I first started. If you’re excited about trying a formal style, like Spencerian or Copperplate, I’d suggest Spencerian. Once you begin this hand, you’ll discover Spencerian is not the easiest pointed pen style to learn, but if you’re a beginner looking for something fancy, I recommend it.

Before calligraphy class, I assumed Copperplate and Spencerian were the same, but they are very different. While writing in the Spencerian hand, the calligrapher must write gracefully holding the pointed pen light enough to show ink on the page. A heavy pen stroke throughout the word could confuse the style with Copperplate. The lowercase letters flow easy with a light touch, but the uppercase letters are a different matter. They demand more concentration with thin and thick lines similar to Copperplate, but with very different styling to characterize the hand.

The Spencerian hand originated in America in 1848 by Platt Rogers Spencer. He created a writing style that would be easier to use, faster to write, and more legible for business and education. Before the invention of typewriters in the early 20th century, students learned Spencerian as normal handwriting similar to the cursive writing that our school children learn today.

With the invention of the word processor, it seems like words are created at nearly the speed of light, so handwriting with a pen to paper shows care for its recipient. This is possibly why calligraphy has experienced a rise in popularity for formal occasions, like weddings and other exclusive engagements.

At first sight, the Spencerian hand looks intimidating with swirls and curls delicately surrounded with soft handwritten words. But, believe me; it’s easier to write than you think. If you practice the basics first, you’ll get the chance to improve your skill and dress up words with wildly ornate flourishes.

Spencerian is a beautiful hand to write, but I had a tough time trying to complete the uppercase letters. Uppercase lettering is important to learn because it provides the starting point to creating fabulous flourishes, but they require the most practice time compared to lowercase letters.

In my opinion, Spencerian is not a hand you want to learn alone. Of course, the lowercase letters are a snap to grasp, if cursive writing came easy as a child. But, the uppercase letters alone are worth spending time and money. In class, you receive instructor assistance and classmate encouragement, which helped me tremendously during my first practice hours.

For calligraphers who’ve practiced other pointed pen styles, working solo with an instructional video or book on how to write in Spencerian hand should be simple.

Now, stop reading, grab your pen and ink and give the Spencerian hand a try. If you’ve tried before, start practicing. You’ll fall in love with it all over again. And, for the beginner, once you’ve practiced for a week, you’ll see exactly what I mean.

Have you tried this hand before or one similar? Feel free to share your work. I’d like to see it.

Thinking About Italics?

With the end of my calligraphy class, I’ve started the summer with a chance to take on new projects and learn new styles. After reviewing a few hands from another calligraphy book, I’ve taken the joy in learning three styles that favor the italic hand. At first, I practiced all three in one weekend and then practiced each one every week. Right now, my art desk is covered with paper and a variety of pens in multiple-sized nibs.

The semi-casual italic styles I’m working with resembles the italic hand with a fun yet fancy flair and I’m sure they’d look great for addressing envelopes or even offer visual appeal in an art project. But, the entire process got me thinking about traditional italics. I wondered if I could actually still write this letter well.

Lately, I’ve tried traditional italics with my broad edge Parallel Pens and, I’m happy to report, I haven’t lost my touch.

During my calligraphy journey, the italic style was the first style I tried to see if I’d really enjoy writing the alphabet with a weird pen. But, during the 12-month period, I discovered my love/hate relationship with italics and by then, I was already hooked. A special bond developed with this style until I dropped it completely to focus on learning uncial, Copperplate and Spencerian during my calligraphy class.

Italic handwriting is possibly the best hand for any new calligrapher to learn. Obviously, most people think about italics when they think about calligraphy. It’s possible they’re envisioning a beautifully flourished italic word with its delicate slopes and broad edge lines.

Though modern–age technology replaced handwriting significantly in the early 20th century, italics is one hand that’s survived since the 15th century. This style developed in Italy and emerged in manuscripts and scrolls. Today, italic handwriting also graces scrolls, but it’s also found on certificates, invitations, signs, envelopes, as well as, art projects.

In my opinion, any novice calligrapher would enjoy learning italics. Compared to other hands, its broad edge lines are forgiving when it comes to those unavoidable mistakes. And, if you’re too nervous to invest in dip pens and nibs, a fountain pen set already complete with broad edge nibs and interchangeable color cartridges make it fun and easy to learn whether you’re 9 or 90.

You’ll enjoy the challenge and benefits italics bring if you join a class, or even if you learn solo. Believe me, with time and patience, you’ll see results.

When did you first learn calligraphy? Did you try italics or another lettering style?

Calligraphers Must Be the Best Recyclers


According to the EPA, Americans use over 85 million tons of paper products per year and we’re only recycling half that much annually. If you know anyone involved in the arts, it’s no doubt they’re using their fair share of paper for sketching, writing, or painting. In my opinion, they should be avid recyclers.

With the amount of paper calligraphers use for practice, we should be number one at recycling. Sketch artists and painters usually sketch lightly on a page, but normally keep it for the final project. On the other hand, calligraphers hone their skill by practicing several hours in an effort to maintain mastery of a lettering style; otherwise, they’ll lose the ability to create flawless lettering. When you think about it…that takes up a lot of paper!

During the school year, I compared my paper use with my children and wondered who uses more paper…them or me? While they’re using paper for homework, tests, art projects and plain old doodling, it’s not uncommon for me to use practice paper and sketch pads every week to perfect a certain letter styles or plan out an art project. While sitting at my art desk, I’ll pull sheet after sheet practicing and sketching layouts consuming more paper than I realize. It’s fun, but the paper’s piling up.

In an effort to save on costs and unnecessary paper consumption, I’ve tried writing on both sides of the paper. If you haven’t tried this before-take my advice-it’s not a good idea. Unfortunately, writing on the back poses problems depending on the prior ink used. When the ink dries, indents and bumps from lettering on the other side causes the nib to skip or rip up the paper. At best, it’s aggravating.

So, if I’m strictly using the paper for practicing styles, I’ll cover every inch of blank space with lettering, excluding the normal area for ascenders and descenders. As stacks pile up each week, I find this practice reduces excess paper use, though it’s still necessary to make room for new paper.

Over the years, I’ve managed to develop a large collection of practice sheets, so it’s time to organize and recycle them. Looking back, it’s not easy to let go of the hard work I put into those pages. It impresses me to see how much I’ve accomplished in my ability to create polished calligraphy letters, but now I’m prepared to let go.

As a compromise, I’ll keep the first two practice sheets from a new letter style, plus any doodling sheets for future inspiration. Everything else gets recycled. I promise.

Do you save your practice sheets or recycle them?

Summertime, Kids, and Calligraphy

Summer’s drawing near and I’m already looking forward to fun with the kids. Lately, I’ve wondered exactly what will keep them occupied with constant activity and challenges aside from sitting in front of the television or playing video games.

For the past few days, my husband and I have been brainstorming ideas and struggling to find a variety of activities to stave off boredom.

Luckily, I discovered an idea last week during class when our instructor mentioned calligraphy for a new generation. She explained that if we expose our kids or grandkids to this art at an early age, then the art form will thrive. Classmates agreed and stated that encouraging children to visit calligraphy workshops or an occasional meeting exposes them to hands-on experience, which creates more enthusiasm for hand-lettering.

Suddenly, I experienced an “a-ha” moment. I realized this season offers the perfect opportunity for me and the girls to spend quality time while they learn the basics of calligraphy.

A 30-minute mini-workshop will allow the girls to explore their artistic talents and learn a new skill. Each session will give them the chance to build on their new-found skills and incorporate it into art and daily life.

Although I haven’t experimented with this approach yet, I thought I’d share a few ideas for parents looking for a different summer project to try with kids. And, don’t worry if you’ve got boys. The industry includes highly successful male calligraphers who create magnificent lettering.

Consider inviting children ages 6-17 for a mini-workshop. They should enjoy this new activity since children are normally exposed to art throughout school. If you have a third grader, it’s possible they’ve been exposed to cursive writing recently, so this workshop should be easy for them.

In case you’d like to try the workshop with your kids, I’ve indicated a few tips to get started:

  1. Start with tracing paper and calligraphy markers (found at craft and art stores). If you’d rather not invest in the markers, try using a ballpoint pen.
  2. Gather calligraphy letters to trace. Copy letters from your calligraphy book or print letter examples from www.speedballart.com (found in “art studio” section under “art lessons”). You’ll find lettering techniques for the kids to trace.
  3. Practice tracing with pencil. Once the child feels more comfortable with the pencil, he should feel more confident writing or tracing with the calligraphy marker.
  4. Try an easy project with cardstock. Have the child write his name in calligraphy on plain, colorful cardstock. Then, offer embellishments, like stamps, stickers, and glitter to decorate the paper. Add the finished piece to a scrapbook or hang it in the child’s bedroom.

I’d suggest doing this project about once a day for a half hour to an hour or break it down to once a week and place any unfinished work to the side for your next session. Finishing a project will encourage your child’s inner artist and teach them a new skill for the summer.

What new projects have you lined up for your child’s summer?

10 Dos and Dont’s for the Novice Calligrapher

You could read several books about calligraphy and never learn all the best and worst practices to follow. When it comes to lettering, it’s all about the experience. As we calligraphers prepare to work on a project, we don’t expect to make errors, but we’re only human.

Throughout our experience with lettering, mistakes come with the territory. We learn as we go along or we bend the ear of a colleague from time to time who might have struggled with a similar issue in the past.

While we address an envelope with pen and ink, it’s not uncommon to suddenly realize the ink type will cause problems and blur the work.  Or, we quickly begin a project without warming up first and discover our Copperplate “g” resembles the letter “j”.

As a novice, I’ve struggled with mistakes and nearly allowed the frustration to deter me from practicing calligraphy. With time, I grew to understand that both novices and veterans alike endure their fair share of countless errors during practice; it only makes us better calligraphers.

Although I’ve read a few books and gathered some important advice, nothing beats learning your mistakes from firsthand experience. So, I’ve compiled the following list based on my trial and error. Hopefully, it helps you limit mistakes and encourages better calligraphy practice.

Calligraphy Dos

  1. Sit properly in an ergonomic chair. – You’ll enjoy the experience much better if you’re able to practice without a sore back and neck. I highly recommend using a chair adjusted in height for maximum comfort.
  2. Use a slanted desk or table easel. – Sometimes it feels easier to write on a flat table surface, but in the long run, you’ll notice an unwanted discomfort from this position. If you plan to write less than ten minutes, it should be okay.
  3. Group similar supplies in an art box. – After lettering for a while, you’ll recognize the supplies you use more often. Add them in a container with individual dividers and close by for easy access.
  4. Take a small supply bag for extra practice. – Fill the bag with paper or a journal and one or two calligraphy markers or refillable ink pens to practice while waiting at the doctor office or auto service.
  5. Test your paper before starting a project. – Make sure your ink holds well on the paper before starting a project. It might be necessary to change paper or use paint instead.

Calligraphy Don’ts

  1. Don’t dry out your pen nibs. – Clean them regularly during and after practice to avoid clogging the nib. This ensures smooth writing for the next project.
  2. Don’t start without extra paper. – Keep a large quanitity on hand; you don’t want to panic if you make a mistake.
  3. Avoid last-minute or rush jobs. – Take your time to limit errors and create fabulous letters.
  4. Don’t push yourself too soon. – Think carefully before taking on a large project. If you don’t feel ready, practice smaller projects first.
  5. Don’t worry. – If your lettering doesn’t make you an overnight sensation, it’s okay. It takes numerous hours of practice to achieve flawless lettering and rank with the accomplished calligraphers.

Believe me, I’ve only touched the surface of the dos and don’ts, but the list offers a brief starting point. Lettering should be fun, not frustrating. Take my advice and enjoy.

Happy lettering!

Calligrapher Appreciation

Why would anyone spend money on calligraphy when computers can do it? Recently, a friend asked me this question which caught me off guard until I realized that others probably had the same idea.

Instead of responding with a less than friendly comment, I shared a few lettering stories and invited her to try a few pen strokes.

Although my friend struck a nerve, I couldn’t blame her misunderstanding about calligraphy and how it works. At one time, I might have asked a similar question since I’m known to look out for a discount or two. But, when it comes to calligraphy for special events, I’ve learned it’s not about letters on paper; it’s about appreciation for your guest.

Today, nearly every font or letter style easily prints from advanced computer technology. Printing envelopes and letters has become so commonplace that no one finds it special anymore. Unfortunately, the newer generation fails to realize a well-practiced calligrapher created the letters first before they were added to the computer program.

Living in the 21st century, we’ve become accustomed to receiving fast “everything”.  We love fast food, fast service, fast delivery, or anything associated with fast. Fast equals better, right? In an age, where most societies spend more time on their daily commute, I guess fast should be better, but that’s another topic in itself.

If more people took time to sit down and write, they’d realize addressing one envelope doesn’t take much time if a writer uses a fountain pen. On the other hand, imagine using a dip pen and ink. This practice takes enormous patience.

First, the writer should set up a comfortable area for writing. This allows ample space for an ink bottle, nib with pen holder and envelope or paper. Next, the pen must be applied in ink to “warm up” with a few practice strokes while making sure the nib works fine. Once the writer feels comfortable with the pen nib and ink, they’re ready to address the envelope. Throughout the addressing process, it’s necessary to continue dipping the pen in ink until the addressing is complete.

For one who lacks patience, this procedure sounds daunting, but once it’s complete, the finished piece offers an added touch and shows the recipient you cared enough to spend your time, or money to hand write an addressed envelope.  

So, now that my friend gained hands-on experience with calligraphy, she now has a greater respect for a calligrapher’s fees.

Planning is a Plus

Think about the last novel you read. If it drew you in from start to finish with captivating words, you might think the words flowed easily from the author’s brain onto every page.  If you’re an admirer of fine art, you probably imagine the artist randomly splashing color onto canvas to create this visual masterpiece? Well, for some artists and writers, this is a rarity instead of the norm. It actually takes some artists painstaking hours of planning, editing and sketching before unleashing their work at their own standards.

Personally, it took several months of calligraphy before I appreciated the time and effort lettering artists spend to layout designs for addressing envelopes and designing creative pieces.

In the beginning, most novice calligraphers understand the importance of basic envelope layout because no one wants to lose any addressee information while maintaining the proper letter style.

To avoid errors,  a ruler and straight-edge measure line width and length, which helps before adding the name and correct address. Then, using a light pencil, like #2B or #2, helps write the address in the exact size and length. Planning ahead eases the writing process and allows the calligrapher to fit letters and numerals perfectly before starting with permanent inks and paint. Once the layout appears accurate, writing with ink or paint should be a painless process and save time and envelopes!

During a recent assignment, I also discovered sketching in pencil helps generate ideas and determines how lettering will appear in the project format. Plus, it’s fun to brainstorm new ideas in smaller form then compare what appeals to the eye before making the final decision. Once the lettering artist reviews and makes changes,then they’re ready to create bigger and better designs with added color on their favorite paper.

Not all works of art or writing need careful planning to achieve greatness, but when it comes to calligraphy, I’d suggest beginners to plan every time. If you do, it’s harder for anyone to notice that you’re a novice.

A Break from Copperplate

Not much happened during our last class of the season. The first half was purely devoted to book binding instruction since most of us have either forgotten or never learned how to book bind before. But, once the break started, the fun and mingling began. Although a quarter of the class did not show, those in attendance helped themselves to crudités and dip, spicy hummus chips, and assorted baked goodies.

While eating and mingling, I definitely took the opportunity to browse around the room and check out the completed books.  Some books were filled with quotes in various colors and calligraphic lettering. A large number of them included original drawings and designs to enhance the quotations while adding interest and color to the book’s theme.

The impressive artwork displayed in those books caused me to realize just how much can be done with calligraphy. There is so much more to calligraphy than just addressing envelopes or notecards.

This class of talented people has influenced my love for this art more than I ever imagined, and I feel very lucky to be a part of it. I’m going to take every opportunity to practice Copperplate during the winter break since we’ll learn a new calligraphic style when class begins in January.

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