Tag Archives: pens

Teach Yourself Calligraphy

FullSizeRenderTeach Yourself Calligraphy was described by one reviewer as doing ‘exactly what it says’. It is, of course, always best to learn calligraphy from a good tutor, but for many people this isn’t possible. This book, then, could be the next best thing! It consists of the main four alphabets – Uncial, and minuscules and majuscules (capital letters) of the Foundational Hand or English Caroline Minuscule, Gothic Black Letter, and Italic. It starts by considering tools and materials, what to look for, and how to look after them.


IMG_2194But it isn’t just writing individual calligraphic letters, it is also putting those letters into words and the words into phrases. So there are clear explanations of how to space letters in words, the best spacing between words, and then between lines to get the most pleasing effects.





IMG_2195And then, most people don’t want simply to write out words, but to use their calligraphy in different ways. So there are ideas, and clear and precise instructions, on how to make bookmarks, cute little boxes, bags for gifts, wraps, folds and envelopes.






IMG_2198Some people like to use their calligraphy to make books. So there are also instructions on how to create simple single section books of various types, with lots of different ideas. And for those who want to produce a hard-backed book with covered card covers, Teach Yourself Calligraphy shows you how to set out the book’s text (page design), how to sew the pages together, and how to put those pages into a hard cover with a spine.




IMG_2196There are also lots of ideas for using calligraphy for invitations, menus, wrapping paper and matching gift tags, mementoes and cards.






IMG_2197And for those who want to write out poetry and prose as broadsheets, there are clear guidelines on how to start with the text, the best layouts, how to transfer a rough to a best piece of paper, how to use colour (with a clear colour chart for reference), how to lay a wash, use pastels and gouache, and so much more.

With 124 pages and a pleasing square format, chapter headings are: tools and materials; writing calligraphic letters; greetings cards and bookmarks; wraps, folds and boxes; celebrations; writing little books; poetry and prose; and a glossary.

To get your own signed copy for £10 + p+p with your name written calligraphically, please contact me via my website.



Children’s Handwriting

children's handwritingTo me, the value of teaching children to write is undisputed; it is a skill that everyone should acquire. Whether they do it well, and their handwriting is a thing of beauty, is not essential – as long as it’s legible – in the same way that most can sing or shuffle a bit but not everyone can be a singing star or a champion at dancing.

As Chief Judge of the National Schools’ Handwriting Competition, and as a practising scribe, I am often asked about how to help children with their handwriting, so here are my Top Ten Tips for parents and carers:

photo copy 71. Encourage children to write, it doesn’t matter what, as long as they get something on paper. Suggest they keep a holiday diary, draw and write captions perhaps instead of thank you letters (which can be rather a chore), write letters to Father Christmas, and let you know, in writing, what they want for birthdays and special events.


2. At the same time, let them see you writing a lot – making to-do lists, writing thank you cards and letters, adding a personal note to birthday cards rather than just ‘best wishes’, writing your own diary perhaps, writing shopping lists. And the worse thing adults can say to children? ‘My handwriting’s awful’ because the message of that is that you have got to where you are as an adult with rubbish writing, and so good handwriting doesn’t matter.

pens and pencils3. Get hold of a selection a pens and pencils and let them try them out to see what suits. Some prefer big chunky pens and pencils, others slim light ones. Insistance on using a fountain pen by carers or schools is, in my opinion, not fair. There are some children, often young boys, who manage to get themselves and their paper covered in ink just by taking the tops of their pens. For these never to achieve a nice piece of writing because wet ink and posh nibs are de rigeur isn’t going to help them feel good about writing.

photo copy 64. Ensure they have somewhere suitable to write. Adult-sized tables and chairs for young children can cause pain if they have to reach up, and they won’t want to write if that’s a consequence. So a chair of the height whereby they can sit comfortably with their feet firmly flat on the floor, and a table which isn’t so low that they have to crouch over, or too high so they have to stretch would be ideal.




5. Arrange an appropriate light. Much of the ‘mood lighting’ in houses nowadays means that children can find it difficult to write simply because they can’t see!

photo copy 5For right-handers, the light source should come from the left-hand side,

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and for left-handers, the light source should be on the right-hand side (the lamp would normally be a bit further away than shown on the right, but the picture looked a bit strange when I did that!).

In daylight, simply turn the table and chair around by the window so this happens. During the evening, a cheap table lamp will do the business.
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6. And on the subject of right- and left-handers, to avoid left-handers having an ‘over-the-top’ grip, simply ensure that for them the left-hand corner of the top of the paper is highest. This is so easy, not at all rocket science, and it makes all the difference! Left-handers often adopt the ‘over-the-top’ grip because when paper is placed in front of them with the top edge straight, they can’t see what they’re writing, and also smudge what they’ve written if using wet ink. Changing the paper angle by having the left-hand corner at the top resolves this.

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For right-handers the right-hand corner of the top of the paper should be highest.





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7. Although I don’t like to be didactic about this, a conventional grip does avoid pain. So the pad of the thumb and the part of the middle finger between the tip and first knuckle hold the pen,





photo copy 2and then the control is given by the forefinger, which should be relaxed and not tense.
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Left-handers might like to try to hold their pen or pencil a little further away from the tip, and rotate the hand slightly more to the left to help with seeing what they’ve written and to avoid smudging.




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$T2eC16hHJF0E9nmFTL6RBP8tTs1VCw~~60_35There are triangular grips which slide on to the pen or pencil, or even pencils that are themselves triangular, which help in maintaining this grip. I wouldn’t like to condemn grips which are like a claw, or where the wrist is high, but they can cause tension in the hand, arm, shoulder and back when writing and that can lead to pain. Once handwriting is associated with pain, then why continue writing?


8. Encourage, encourage and encourage. Find one or two good letters well written and praise to the heavens on these, then suggest that if they can write those letters as well as that, then they can try to write others in the same letter families well, using the same or very similar strokes.

photo copy 8Letter families are: Letters that start with a straight stroke and usually have a joining stroke or curve at the base – i,l,t,u,y,j. Letters that start with a downstroke and then arch (and beyond) – r,n,m,h,b,p,k (if using a looped, closed bowl style). Letters (most of – e is the exception) which start with a curve to the left –  c,e,a,d,g,q,o. Diagonal letters (although depending on the lettering style, some of these may be more curved and fit in with the first letter family) – v,w,x,z. And then odds of f and s, and the letter k if the bowl isn’t closed as a loop.

photo copy 99. People don’t expect to play a musical instrument well, or be able to do ballet without practising. It may be a chore but it gets results. Some good exercises, on lined paper, once children have started to join up are repetitions of letters are i l and t, to get the heights right, then the letters r n and u to help with arches and joins; o c and e to help again with joins. And while encouraging children to do this, why not sit down and do it yourself at the same time to show that it’s important, as this will improve your writing too!

10. And the last isn’t a tip as such but a fact. Of course we all know that learning to write helps hand-eye co-ordination and encourages concentration and the ability to sit still for a period of time. In addition to this, research at Washington University concluded that children who are taught to write at a young age are better at composition and reading and also have better memories. They also found that children ‘wrote’ more quickly when hand-writing their compositions than when ‘writing’ them on a computer, even for those who had learned to touch type. Many authors, too, find that handwriting allows ideas to flow more easily as the brain keeps up with the speed of the handwriter. What better proof then to emphasise the importance of everyone learning to handwrite and how much it helps children’s learning in so many other ways.

So write letters to children (many children have never received a letter, let alone a hand-written one) and handwrite to thank people – everyone, not just children, likes to receive a letter and do e-mail thanks or phone calls really cut the mustard? Write every time you can – especially when children are around – and why not encourage your local school to enter the National Schools’ Handwriting Competition which is completely free and every child and adult (yes including caretakers, cooks, auxiliaries, TAs, helpers etc) in the school can enter? What better way to encourage everyone to value the importance and significance of handwriting?

Many thanks to my hand model; she knows who she is!

St Vitale, Ravenna – secret pens and ink pots

16436-san-vitale-basilica-ravenna-view-northRavenna is one of the most amazing places I have been fortunate enough to visit. I was so bowled over the first time we went there that this year we went again, and if you haven’t been yet, don’t leave it too long before you go! For me one of the best places was the Church of St Vitale, the patron saint of Ravenna. The building was begun in 526 and finished in 547 – an amazing feat of craftsmanship in just over 20 years.

It is octagonal in shape and is a mix between Roman styles (dome, shape of the doorways, etc) and Byzantine styles (the capitals to the columns and narrow bricks).

San Vitale RIt is the mosaics that are the most spectacular though to me, and perhaps the most famous is that of the Emperor Justinian and his court to the left of the high altar, and his Empress Theodora opposite him. Justinian is wearing a deep Tyrian-purple robe, dyed from a liquid which comes from the murex brandaris mollusc. Each sea creature gives only one or two drops and it’s been estimated that 12,000 molluscs were required to dye a single robe. It’s easy to see why the colour was restricted to the most important people and even Roman Senators had only a broad purple stripe on their white togas!

San VitThe Empress Theodora with her court is depicted on the wall opposite her husband, and she is dressed in a rich purple cloak, but this time hers is embellished with a gold pattern and figures processing at the base. As her hand reaches out to hold the gold and jewelled bowl, it pushes her robe aside to reveal a white dress with a magnificent gold thread and coloured border. Of course, all this decoration, the expressions on the faces, and the richly patterned dresses and headdresses are not painted, but are mosaics. The workmanship is simply incredible! Look particularly at the patterns on the clothes of the woman on the right in this picture.


Ravenna mosaicIt is interesting in such an old church to see within the mosaics, if you look closely, examples of writing equipment – perhaps an indication of the importance of the written word to Christians. The man to the right of Maximianus in the Justinian mosaic above is holding a jewelled book (more on Golden Books), but there are also images of writing paraphanalia. Here is John the Evangelist holding an open codex, and beside him on a little pedestal table is his quill, quill knife, ink pot, and probably an ink horn. Note the red tabs on the book which are just dropping down. These were used to secure the bouncy animal-skin pages when the book was closed. Quite a few manuscript books had hasps and clasps, though not all have survived still attached to the binding.


29205-san-vitale-basilica-ravennaIn this mosaic the Evangelist Luke is pointing to his symbol, the calf (though looking more like a full grown bull here!), and holding his Gospel. You can make out the hasps and clasps a bit better here. At his feet is what looks a bit like a hat box with a strap to carry it. In fact this was a container in which to keep scrolls, as you can see they are tightly wound and stacked vertically inside – and remember that all of this is made up of tiny pieces of tile.




San VitaleThe Evangelist Mark indicates a very ferocious lion as his symbol, and again, on a pedestal table, are his quill, quill knife, ink horn and ink pot.






San VitaleAnd lastly, here is Matthew with his winged man symbol. Perhaps rightly so as the first Evangelist he has both writing equipment and a box of scrolls. Note the lock on the front of his scroll box.