Signed.. .Copperplateless

Dear Arrighi,

I’ve been trying to do copperplate but am very discouraged. I’m able to do most hands in calligraphy but this one is a struggle! My nib picks up paper fibers or the nib sticks into the paper. My up strokes are shaky and hairlines seem like an impossible drea. Is there something I can do to make this process work or should I just leave well enough alone?



Dear Copperplateless,

I maintain that anyone who can do calligraphy or wants to do calligraphy can do copperplate. I think it’s a matter of using the right nibs with the particular paper and the right fluid, whether it is ink or gouache, or watercolor. It’s important that you learn about many different nibs and which one is best suited for the paper.

Take, for instance, the Gillot 303 is rather flexible and sharp, so it will give a nice hairline on smooth surfaces. But on a pebbled surface or soft paper with lots of loose fibers, it can be impossible.

On a rough surface of watercolor paper, the Hiro 41is good because it’s dull and not very flexible so it doesn’t stick into the paper and pick up fibers.

The Hiro 40 and the Brause Steno nibs are very similar looking but the Hiro 40 (blue pumpkin) is sharper. This is good if you are working on smooth paper because it makes great hairlines, but if the paper has texture or is soft it will stick the Steno nib works better because it’s a little bit duller. Some nibs work well for writing small and some are better for large. It is important to try many different nibs on different papers and make notes on all the nibs. I have xeroxed the nibs and made notes under the pictures of each nib.

The other factor is the paint or ink that you use. I add gum arabic to the Higgins Eternal ink. I find it very helpful to rub gum arabic onto each new nib until it’s thoroughly broken in. The object is to get the ink to stick to the nib and not flood out so fast. So if you only get a couple of strokes out of the dip then this will help. This also works with new chisel point nibs. If ink doesn’t hold the bridge during a pressure stroke then a little more gum arabic in the ink will help.

If your up strokes are shaky, it can help to put your left hand onto the writing surface and put your body weight on it. This relieves any pressure on the right hand which should have as little pressure as possible. (Of course, the opposite hand for a left-hander). Keep a guard sheet under your hand. You can also use a brush or pencil in your left hand to hold down the paper and relieve pressure on the nib.