January 9, 2012 – Copperplate Class #1 at Sinai Temple

(note: more photos to come)
DeAnn introduced herself and had the students introduce themselves.

DeAnn’s Philosophy for learning Copperplate: For success in writing beautiful Copperplate, think of the Copperplate letters as a series of STROKES, which you’ll be learning in today’s class. By disassociating them from the letters you’re familiar with, you can avoid common mistakes that could make your Copperplate letters look like cursive writing.

DeAnn distributed supplies and handouts. We will be starting out using the Gillot 404 nib and Vermillion ink, using the large (1/4”) guideline sheet. The Gillot 404 nib has a ridge that distinguishes it from the Gillot 303.


DeAnn strongly recommends “Let’s be organized this semester”. Find a container to carry your supplies. Study your handout and put it in a folder or binder that will help you find the appropriate page quickly. A lot of information is in the handouts, so even if you miss something DeAnn says in class, reading the handout later will be very helpful.

Preparing your supplies for ease of transportation: pour ink from their containers into the dropper bottles. The dropper bottles are leak-proof so bring those to class; it’s OK to leave the original containers of ink at home. From the dropper bottles, fill one of the ink wells (or “dinky dip”) to at least the ridge-line. You want to be able to dip your pen and cover the nib’s reservoir area (“eye of the needle”) completely.

Learn Your Nibs: Unlike calligraphy written with a chisel-point nib, Copperplate nibs create thicks & thins by pressing & releasing. The more pressure you apply when pressing on a down stroke, the wider the stroke. So unlike chisel-point nibs that come in different set widths (e.g. 5mm, 1mm), Copperplate nibs come in a wide variety of sharpness and flexibility. This is another important area to explore & learn. By the end of this semester, you will have filled out your nib chart with notes on each of the nibs, paying particular attention to each nib’s sharpness and flexibility.

Satomi’s nib chart

Preparing the Pen: Put the nib into the oblique pen holder so that the “eye of the needle” (the opening in the nib) points directly upward. The fit may feel tight, but push the nib in at least halfway for a secure hold. Hold the oblique holder as you would normally hold your pen, with the angled nib to the left side. If you have a brand new nib, you’ll need to prepare it by rubbing gum Arabic all around so that the ink will adhere to the nib and not just bead-up and slide off. New nibs usually have a waxy coating and you may have to rub with gum Arabic several times until the ink will stay in the reservoir. NOTE: Vermillion ink will rust your nib, so wash it off with water after you’re done practicing.

Preparing the paper: Make a crease in the cover of the cotton comp paper pad about an inch down from the top. Fold this back so that you’ll have a flat writing surface without the cover bunching up to the left. Place the guideline sheet underneath the first sheet.

Guideline sheet: We’ll be starting with the large ¼ – inch guideline sheet. ¼-inch refers to the x-height, the space between the waist and the base. These lines are indicated by the black box on the left margin. The line above the waist is the ascender, the line below the base is the descender. 3:2:3 at the bottom of the guideline sheet refers to the ratio of the spaces between the horizontal lines. 3:2:3 is the same as 1:1.5:1. If the x-height (base to waist space) is considered 2 units of space, then the ascender & descender lengths are 3 units of space. The 35-degree slant lines are there as guides for the angle of writing, not for spacing.

TIP: DeAnn suggests highlighting the waist to base space so that it’s easier to distinguish as the line to write on underneath the cotton comp sheet. The handouts are already highlighted, but remember this tip for guideline sheets you later create yourself.

Prepare your work space: The key to being able to write Copperplate correctly is to set up your work space correctly and sit in the right position in relation to your paper. Position the paper so that the slant lines are pointing toward your stomach. This angle may seem extreme, with the paper pad almost at right angles to the table’s edge, so you need to position yourself so that your elbow rests completely on the tabletop, which means you’ll probably have to sit at an angle to the table edge so you’re not twisting your torso.

Use your left arm to take the weight off your body by placing your left hand above the area where you’re writing. Try to learn NOT to have a heavy writing hand, but practice having a light touch. Putting the pressure on your left hand helps with this. REMEMBER to breathe! If you’re having trouble writing the strokes, exhale.

Writing with the nib:
1. Write straight lines (with slant)
2. Pen should be in the direction of the slant lines
3. To create the square top & bottom edges, set – press – pull – stop – release
4. If the nib is sticking into the paper, adjust the angle of how you’re holding the nib. Lowering the angle may help.

Writing the basic strokes: You apply pressure on the down stroke (thick), no pressure on the up stroke (thin). This is how you create thicks & thins. The goal is for all the down strokes to have the same width (i.e. consistent pressure). Look carefully at the exemplar handout, it has a lot of important information on it.

the basic Copperplate strokes

Notes on individual strokes:
1. #2, #3, #4, #8 should all have the same white space. White space is the space between the down strokes & the up strokes.

2. #2, #3, #4: the arch should be like a paperclip.

3. #2, #4: start the curve with no pressure, build up to full pressure by midpoint on the down stroke.

4. #4: start the second curve before you hit the baseline so you don’t have a “staple” instead of a paperclip curve.
5. #5, #6: the size of their white space should be similar, though they are not exactly the same shape.

6. #8: start at 3:00 and think of it as an oval shape, more hot dog than hamburger. It’s thickest through the center. The inner white space should match the width of #2, #3, #4 strokes.

7. #9: start counterclockwise to create a tiny filled oval, then exit. Like the #7, it’s an exit stroke to the next letter.

REMEMBER: Don’t get overwhelmed! If you get really anxious, go back to the last step you were comfortable with and practice that. You can even practice the Copperplate strokes with a pencil if it all seems to be too much at the moment.

HOMEWORK: Practice all the strokes with the Vermillion ink and Gillot 404 nib. Study the exemplar carefully – it is more important to be accurate than to write a stroke many times. Memorize the basic stroke numbers – DeAnn will test you next week. Then try out all your other nibs and see how they’re different from the Gillot 404. Be sure to note on your nib chart that the Gillot 404 is “medium sharp, medium flexible”. Observe how the different nibs behave in comparison to the Gillot 404 (e.g. “very sharp”, “dull”, “very flexible”, “stiff”).

NOTE: On your practice sheets, write what nib you used, ink type, and then date in the lower right corner. Also put your name in the lower right corner on practice sheets you turn in for homework. DeAnn will review and give a thorough critique.

NOTE: The Gillot 1068 nib is made of thinner metal than the others so it may be loose in your pen holder. Flatten it slightly (be careful not to flatten it too much!) just at the very end (NOT the tip!) with small needle-nose pliers.

If the ink doesn’t come out from the nib point, go back and forth slightly to start the ink flowing. Wet attracts wet, so if you can get a spot of ink to start the stroke, the ink should flow more smoothly.

REMINDER: No class next Monday, 1/16/12, due to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Class will resume on 1/23/12. Also, no class on 2/20/12 due to Presidents Day.