I was recently interviewed via email by Tanya Basu of MIT Technology Review for a story on letter-writing during the lockdown and about the upcoming election. The article is wonderful, and I really hope it will inspire others to pick up their pens, paper, and smartphones to get the vote out!
Like what happens with most published stories, I thoughtfully wrote my response, but only a small part was published. I figured it would be good to share my entire Q&A here for those who are interested.
I love this quote by acclaimed American dancer Martha Graham (1894-1991). It not only applies to performance and dance, but to me, it also applies to calligraphy. Why do we keep practicing over and over again? It’s the desire to progress and invite perfection. We may never reach perfection, but to quote Sheila Waters, “the journey is more interesting than getting there.”
For this piece, before putting ink on paper, I took a close look at the quote to see how it will fit, did a quick sketch on scrap paper, then lightly penciled in my guidelines (and that includes slant lines!) on the Bugra paper. I then inked this piece with a 1.5mm Brause nib, bleedproof white, and walnut ink for the attribution. After making sure the ink is dry, I lightly dabbed the penciled guidelines with a kneaded eraser to remove them. If you are trying a paper for the first time, it’s important to test your chosen ink on it, as well as testing to see how the paper takes pencil lines and the pressure of erasing. Some delicate papers may require a gentle touch. Putting it all together takes time, but each time we practice, each time we create a piece, we learn and progress a little bit more.
I hope you’ve all enjoyed following along this week as I shared a few things on the beautiful Italic hand. Thanks to Paper & Ink Arts for inviting me for this month’s Instagram takeover! You can see more of my calligraphy posts at @LindaYoshida – thanks for being on this journey with me!
One thing I don’t see too often on Instagram is blocks of text. A lot of beginners focus on copying single letters in an exemplar, rather than putting the letters together. Quoting Julian Waters: “When writing a block of text you have to deal with lettering/writing en masse, the effective distribution of space between strokes, words and lines of writing, developing writing texture.”
I really enjoy writing a block of text. You come across letter combinations that make you think, “how can I make these work together?” It’s a great exercise in creative problem-solving. Give yourself a quiet afternoon with a piece of long text – whether it’s from your favorite book or a passage from a calligraphy book, I know you will find it immensely enjoyable. You can even go one step further and challenge yourself by writing in another language, that way you won’t be reading the text but really looking at the letters and words and how they come together.
These are a few of my favorite books for studying Italic Hand. Of course, a must-have is “Foundations of Calligraphy” by Sheila Waters; “Contemporary Calligraphy” by Gillian Hazeldine has a wonderful chapter on Italic that shows basic forms and many modern variations; “More than fine writing: Irene Wellington, calligrapher (1904-84),” by Heather Child isn’t an instructional book, but showcases the brilliant work of Irene Wellington who was one of Edward Johnston’s students; “Art and Craft of Hand Lettering” by Annie Cicale has a great section on Italic with detailed instructions; “Masters of the Italic Letter: Twenty-Two Exemplars from the Sixteenth Century” by Kathryn A. Atkins isn’t an instructional book, but it is a must for those who love to study historic letterforms; and last but not least, the Speedball Textbook, which has a beautiful Italic exemplar by Julian Waters.
Most of these books are available at Paper & Ink Arts; a few are out of print, so you’ll have to check your favorite online resources for used books. In any calligraphy script, it’s so important to study from good exemplars so you will start off right rather than trying to correct bad letterforms later.
Do you have a favorite paper for practicing broad edge? I like using Borden & Riley Cotton Comp. It’s semi-translucent, so you can lay a printed guideline sheet underneath. I also like using watercolor paper for when I use watercolor or gouache as ink. For finished pieces, my go-to paper is Arches Hot Press.
It’s a good idea to try different types of paper as you get more comfortable with your letter forms. I recently tried a few fine art papers such as Bugra (used above) and Arches Text Wove, and although they are a little more challenging, they have wonderful textures, which can make a good piece into a great piece.
What is your preferred nib when writing broad edge scripts? When I practice Italic, my favorite nibs are Brause C and Tape – Brause is a little more stiff. Both have top reservoirs, and they are easy to clean and maintain. I use a soft-bristle toothbrush and water to clean my nibs. Make sure you keep the reservoir in a safe place when you are cleaning your nib, so it doesn’t get flushed down the drain. For practice inks, I like using no-fuss bottle inks such as Norton’s walnut ink or Higgins Eternal.
Pen holders, I find, are really up to each person’s personal preference. Some go the DIY route and make their own with dowels and some tubing, while others like the bright colors of the Manuscript holders, marbled holders by Speedball, or even holders made by talented pen artisans. As I have small hands, I prefer shorter holders, and have found the round double wooden pen holder to be my favorite.
Italic Hand is probably what most people think of when they hear the word “calligraphy.” I think it’s one of the scripts that look easy but is actually quite challenging to do well.
When I first started to learn Italic Hand, I found it very challenging because not only do you have to keep in mind the angle of the pen, but also the letter slant. For those who are beginners to Italic Hand, I strongly recommend using guidelines as you practice. You can use an online guideline generator, draw your own guidelines, or a practice pad that already has lines drawn in.
A good exercise for beginner practice is to draw your own guidelines by creating a nib ladder. When learning a broad edge script such as Italic, it’s a good idea to start with a larger nib like 3mm to 2mm, so it is easier to see where you may need improvement. A recommend proportion for Italic is 4:5:4, meaning 4 nib-widths for the ascender, 5 for the x-height, and 4 for the descender. Even if you don’t have a metric ruler, you can use your nib size and its ladder as a guide. Do use a protractor to measure out the letter slant and draw them in, especially if you’re used to writing pointed pen scripts that are heavily slanted, such as Copperplate or Spencerian. This prep work of drawing guidelines may feel tedious at first, but will prove to be invaluable for a beginner to really get a feel of the proportions of the script, develop muscle memory, gain confidence in finding your own rhythm, and to get the right feel for the pen angle and letter slant.
Hi everyone! I was asked by Paper & Ink Arts to do a fun Instagram takeover on the topic of Italic Hand. This and following posts mirror what I shared on their social media.
Hi calligraphy and letter-loving friends – my name is Linda Yoshida, and I am honored to be asked by Paper & Ink Arts for this week’s Instagram takeover. My focus this week will be on the beautiful Italic Hand!
A little about me – I’m from Los Angeles, and work full-time as a graphic designer. I have been doing calligraphy for fun since I was 12, but really started my formal training 2011 when I came across the website of my local calligraphy guild, Society for Calligraphy, and found my first calligraphy teacher, Yukimi Annand. I became a member of the guild in 2013, and since then I have been fortunate enough to not only learn from Yukimi, but also from some of the best calligraphers in the world. I see myself as a “perpetual student” and always strive for progress.
Like many of you, I started my calligraphy journey with pointed pen. But I soon became interested in broad edge calligraphy scripts such as Roman Capitals, Foundational Hand, Blackletter, Uncial, and Italic Hand. When I first started to learn Italic Hand, I found it very challenging. I had such a tough time that I stopped working on it for years. Last summer, after attending Sheila Waters’ and Julian Waters’ masterclass, I got motivated to study Italic again. I took an Italic class with Carrie Imai a few weeks after I got back, and this time it felt less daunting. Maybe having done other scripts during my break helped me understand better. I still very much consider myself a student, but I am happy to share my love of Italic Hand with you this week. Thanks for following along as I share a few basics of one of my favorite scripts!