October 24, 2011 – Pointed Pen Variations Class #3 at Sinai Temple

(note: more photos to come)
Today’s lesson was getting control of your pen and paper so that your letters come out correctly.

For warm-up, we practiced writing the strokes and letters. Don’t write the same letter 20 times. Write a letter once, then study the Exemplar and compare them. If you find something to improve, write it once or twice more. Then move on to the next letter. It’s more helpful to study the Exemplar & your written letter than just writing it many times without any observation.

Review:  DeAnn reviewed parts of the guideline – ascender, waist, base, descender. She also emphasized setting up your materials and self correctly. Tape down the inkwell in front of your paper pad so you can develop a rhythm of dipping and writing. Make sure the pen point is in line with the slant line. DeAnn recommends methodical practice:  start at the top left of the sheet of paper and keep going until all the lines are filled. Don’t crumple up the practice sheet in frustration; don’t skip areas or lines to write in random areas.

Remember:  Proportion is really important.

If it seems like you can’t get crisp thins, try making the angle of the pen higher. This is the angle of the pen point to the sheet of paper.

Be aware of the pen angle at which you’re writing. If you’re holding the pen at too high of an angle, then pressurizing the nib won’t give you good downstrokes. If you’re holding the pen at too low on an angle, your upstrokes may be too thick.

If the ink beads off and rolls right off the nib, rub more gum Arabic onto the nib. Really rub it in using your fingers. Don’t worry about getting gum Arabic on your hands, it’s non-toxic and will wash off.

Then DeAnn had us trace the handout that starts out “Forsaking monastic…” for practice. She gave us a see-through version so that when we put it under a sheet of paper, we could still see the guideline sheet underneath. Practice the larger lettering; we don’t have a guideline sheet for the smaller size lettering yet. Move the “Forsaking…” sheet down as you go so that the line you’re tracing lines up with the red guideline.

Making the #5 stroke: First write the stroke straight 3 times:  set – press – pull – stop – release, so that the top and bottom are square and it’s the same thickness throughout. This stroke is “waisted”, meaning it’s just a tiny bit thinner in the middle, so that it’s thick – thinner – thick. Now try writing the stroke as before, but slightly decreasing the pressure in the middle. Be slow and methodical. Beware of ending up with such a thin middle that it looks like two triangles. The letters with stroke #5 are:  b, h, k, p, q. (next week:  manipulation to make it bowed).

DeAnn brought out 7 different nibs for us to purchase as we wanted. They are:  Brause Steno, Hiro 40, Hiro 41, Hiro 30EF, Brause EF66, Gillot 1068, and Hunt 101.

This is just a small sampling of the nibs available out there. It’s important to try different nibs because the nib you choose for a piece will be determined by the paper and liquid you choose to work with. To help us beginners keep track of the different nibs introduced in class, DeAnn gave us the Nib Identification Chart.

Nib Identification Chart:  The two qualities that differentiate nibs are how flexible/stiff and sharp/dull it is. The Nib Identification Chart is for us to make note of these qualities for each nib. DeAnn gave us a great start by telling us what they are for the nibs on this chart. Also make any other notes that make a particular nib different from the others.

Notes on individual nibs:

Gillot 404:  medium sharp, medium flexible

Gillot 1068:  medium sharp, stiff

Hiro 40:  medium sharp, flexible. Known as the “blue pumpkin”. You may have to rub gum Arabic on this many times as it doesn’t want to hold on to ink. DeAnn has also heated it with a match and sanded it. It writes best on paper that isn’t textured.

Hiro 41:  dull, stiff. On smooth paper it doesn’t make thin hairlines or thick downstrokes, but it works very well on watercolor paper.

Brause Steno:  medium sharp, medium flexible. This is DeAnn’s favorite for most papers. Its tip is less square edged than the Gillot 404 so it doesn’t get hung up in the paper. It doesn’t make as thin hairlines, but works well in addressing envelopes.

Brause EF66:  sharp, very very flexible. This is best for big writing because its flexibility can create thick downstrokes.

Hunt 101:  sharp, medium flexible

Hunt 56:  medium shart, medium flexible; similar to Gillot 404

Hiro 30EF:  silver-colored; sharp, medium flexible

Gillot 303:  very sharp, flexible

Mitchell Copperplate:  sharp, stiff

For the nibs that aren’t pictured on the Nib Identification Chart (Hiro 30EF, Hunt 101), draw them in and add notes.

At first some of the nibs may look the same, but observe the differences carefully. Become familiar enough with your nibs that you can recognize them by sight. For example, the Gillot 404 has a ridge and the Gillot 303 is shorter than the Gillot 1068.  The Hiro 40 is slightly more flared than the Brause Steno. Learning your nibs is important because one nib doesn’t work for everything. Depending on the effect you want to achieve, different nibs will be able to do the job. For example, DeAnn prefers the Gillot 1068 or Brause Steno for envelope addressing because those are stiffer, duller nibs.

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.

Most of the nibs need only one gum Arabic treatment, BUT the Hunt 101 and Hiro 40 can be particularly stubborn and require more treatments. If you wash your nib and the ink beads up the next time you dip it into ink, you need to do another gum Arabic treatment – rub it in good.

Before treating the Hiro 40 or Hunt 101 nibs with gum Arabic, an alternative that DeAnn has done before is to stick it in your mouth and suck on it. Saliva tends to take off the resin coating a new nib. If you don’t want to stick a metal object into your mouth, consider rubbing the nib with your saliva.

A 2nd alternative:  If a nib is being particularly difficult, put the nib into the pen holder and then run it over a lit match once on each side.  This either burns off the resin coating or covers the nib with soot; DeAnn isn’t quite sure, but this method has worked for her in the past. DON’T hold it over the flame or the plastic pen holder will melt. And don’t hold the nib in your fingers to avoid getting burned.

Vermillion ink tends to rust your nib if left on it, so you should at least rub the ink off your nib after practicing. If you wash your nib, take it out of the pen holder (you might want to use a paper towel to grip it so you don’t cut your finger) and be careful not to drop it down the sink. Don’t be alarmed if the pen holder comes apart, the part that holds the nib is removable.

If your nib becomes stuck in the pen holder (because it’s rusted or stuck from dried gum Arabic), fill a small container with very  hot water and dip the pen holder in there to loosen the plastic. Once you pull out the nib, leave it out.

Don’t store the nib in the pen holder if you’re not going to be using it for a while. It’s safer to store it separately. See how Satomi labels and stores her nibs:

Practice with all nibs. If a particular nib isn’t working for you, try another one.  As DeAnn says “Work the problem.” The purpose of working with different nibs and inks and papers is to become aware of which nibs work better with which inks in certain situations.  Vermillion is great to work with, but not a very practical color to use for actual projects in real life. In a later class, DeAnn will bring in a variety of papers for us to try so we can see how different nibs and inks react to these papers.

Do a combination of tracing and writing, using the handout sheets that start “Forsaking monastic…” and “Quick zephys blow…”. For now, practice the larger size of “Forsaking…” and the top line of “Quick zephys …” You don’t have to go down in size or try the variations yet. Next week DeAnn will bring in a guideline with a smaller x-height (our current guideline has an x-height = ¼”). Try the different nibs and make any notes on the Nib Identification Chart. On your practice sheet, identify which nib you used (e.g. in the margin or at the bottom of the page).