Category Archives: The Learning Process

A Show of Hands 2016

North Carolina hospitality

I just spent a week at A Show of Hands, the 2016 International Calligraphy Conference, and I had one of the most fun calligraphy experiences ever.

This was my first time in North Carolina, and the town of Asheville was just so beautiful and green. I got an AirBnB off-campus with five other calligraphy friends, and we had the best time hanging out, attending classes, and learning in a wonderful atmosphere. The conference took place on the campus of Warren Wilson College which had beautiful grounds, with blooming flowers in the midst of summer.

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From Pointed Pen to Pointed Brush

Hello Chicago!

Disclaimer: Unlike many people, I’m not much of a traveler. Never have been. I’m mostly okay with road trips, but I really dislike flying where so many factors can throw things off, and everything is (literally) up in the air. To me, the “getting there” part is a huge hassle and a giant stress-inducer. And it’s worse when I’m without a travel companion.

But now I say: I will travel for calligraphy :-)

And this is where I found myself, a Southern California girl who had never experienced any temperature less than 40°F, in the middle of January, in the beautiful city of Chicago, where it was a balmy… 28°F. And now I can look back, smile and say: I went to Chicago to study with IAMPETH Master Penman Mike Kecseg for a weekend!

Ever since I was introduced to his Pointed Pen Variations (the exemplar is available in the Speedball Textbook), I’ve been wanting to learn from Mike himself. When an opportunity came up with the Chicago Calligraphy Collective, I just couldn’t pass up the chance. I joined the CCC and mailed in my check and registration form right on opening day back in September, and was lucky enough to get a seat!

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Folded Pen is Fun


March 8th is International Women’s Day!


I’m a little late to the party, but I am now in love with my new folded pen. I always found it very intimidating (“you’re supposed to make letters with THAT?!”) and never felt confident enough to try one until a few weeks ago.


“You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.” –Nietzsche

When I was at Letters California Style last month, I was so inspired by everything I saw – not just the pointed pen work in my class, but also the beauty of creating letterforms that was happening in all the classrooms.

Paper and Ink Arts was our official supply vendor, and I only purchased class supplies on the first day. On the last day, I decided to pick up a folded pen on a whim. I figured, why not? And when I finally got to try it, it was so much fun!


“I am no bird – and no net ensnares me.” -from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

"The Heart wants what it wants" –Emily Dickinson

“The Heart wants what it wants” –Emily Dickinson

The Emily Dickinson quote above was done using gouache – I tried to switch colors for the bottom half of the quote. Easier said than done!


I also tried folded pen with PearlEx pigment – this one is Solar Gold. The texture of the ink on black paper and the strokes of the folded pen is wonderful.

I have to say, the folded pen takes some getting used to. You kind of have to just dip it in ink and give it a go, to feel how to get thick and thin lines to produce variations, and just have fun with it. As with any kind of good lettering, the key is consistency – which is something I’m still struggling with / need working on. Some people may think using a folded pen is chaotic, but if you take a closer look at folded pen pieces done by the masters, there is always consistency, power and rhythm in the chaos.

I have so much love for the folded pen, and so much respect to those who use it masterfully.

If you’re on Instagram, join us for #FoldedPenFriday every week!



Letters California Style 2015

The welcome banner

Whenever I meet a local calligraphy friend online, I always tell them to join the Society for Calligraphy. Not only will they get to take wonderful workshops year-round, they are also eligible to attend Letters California Style, the member conference that takes place every year on Presidents’ Day weekend.

Last year, I got a small taste of it with a mini workshop, and this year I was so excited to be fully immersed in the Letters experience! I got into Jane Shibata’s “Pointed Pen Variations” class, which was exactly what I wanted. After taking Jane’s workshop on the same subject two years ago, I have been practicing on my own, but really wanted to further refine my script. I was more than happy to learn from Jane again for four days!

Jane shares her work with us

We were given her exemplars and meticulous notes which were so very helpful as she showed us how to achieve details that make each letter beautiful. Jane’s pointed pen work is exquisite, and as she was doing demos for us, she made it look so very easy! Of course it’s from years of study and practice, and I found it so inspiring.

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New Lighting Setup for Winter

As a hobby photographer and online vendor for many years, whenever anyone asks me for photography tips, I always say natural light is best. But when you have a day job like me – leave the house at sunrise and come home after dark – natural light isn’t really an option. So I’ve been making do with my desktop lighting as soon as Daylight Saving Time ended here in California. It’s fine for sharing on social media, but not good enough for my online shop updates.

My husband photographs many vintage housewares for his resale business and depends on natural light for his product photos. It doesn’t rain much here, but sometimes the lighting is just not exactly right. This year, he had a “beginner’s photography light kit” on his Christmas wish list and I guess Santa obliged (thanks to my awesome in-laws)! We set it up over the weekend to test it out.


Such a “professional” setting in our dining room. LOL.

If anyone comes over for dinner, I promise you won’t be interrogated by us! The kit sets up and breaks down quite easily and doesn’t take up too much space.

And of course I had to try it out for my calligraphy work! :)


I picked a particular difficult one to photograph – Antique Gold star dream envelope from Paper Source, lettered in Sumi ink. The gold shimmer is tough to capture, and sometimes Sumi ink ends up reflecting the light. I usually lay the envelopes flat on a white surface when photographing with natural light, but in this case, it just looked a little too flat and harsh. I ended up propping the envelope on a stand, and with our pale blue-gray wall in the background, it was exactly what I wanted.


I will still choose natural light over artificial light, but this is the next best thing until Spring comes again.

There are many kits available on amazon that fit all budgets and item sizes. It’s great for us since we will be using it for both our business ventures.

A Quickstart Guide to Calligraphy


Let’s get started!

I often get asked on Instagram/Tumblr/Twitter/Facebook about how to get started in calligraphy, and I’m always so happy to hear that! After answering a few messages, I thought it’d be helpful to just put together a “quickstart” guide for anyone who’s thinking of trying calligraphy but not sure where to start.

First of all, you’ll need to decide which type of calligraphy you’d like to try. Different styles require different supplies. A script is also referred to as a “hand,” but please don’t call them fonts! Fonts are for typesetting on the printing press or on the computer, and we are not learning fonts but beautiful scripts, or hands.


Blackletter – written in Fraktur, using a Pilot Parallel 3.8mm pen and walnut ink

If you’d like to learn Gothic/Blackletter, Roman Capitals, Foundational Hand, Italic Hand – you’d want to use a broad-edge pen (using a nib that’s shaped like a chisel). Your best bet is a Pilot Parallel Pen to start (I recommend the 3.8mm), and if you’re more serious about it, a straight pen holder and a set of Manuscript nibs.

Books I’d recommend: Sheila Waters’ Foundations of Calligraphy. Sheila Waters is a master calligrapher and her book has very thorough step-by-step instructions on the most popular broad pen scripts. I also really like Calligraphy: A Complete Guide by Julien Chazal, and Contemporary Calligraphy by Gillian Hazeldine. These books have everything you need to know to get started: choosing quality tools, understanding the structure of letters, and learning the basic strokes.

If you’re interested in pointed pen calligraphy (using a pointed, flexible nib – which is the majority of what I do), there are two styles that are generally referred to – modern calligraphy and traditional calligraphy.


My modern calligraphy script. Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bleedproof White ink, oblique penholder made by Michael Sull, Zebra G nib.

Modern calligraphy doesn’t really have a set of rules – you’re basically taking the pointed pen and making it into your own style of handwriting that looks fancy. You use a Straight Pen Holder (it also comes in pretty Sapphire and Garnet colors!) and a pointed nib (I recommend Nikko G for the beginner), and the best beginner’s ink in my opinion is Higgins Eternal Black Ink. Paper to use – Rhodia Grid Pad or Dot Pad, and if you’re like me who also loves going to craft stores – Michael’s Arts & Crafts has Canson Marker Pads (9”x12”) that I stock up on when I get their 40% off coupons. It’s semi-translucent so you can slip a sheet of line paper (guide sheet) underneath.

Book I’d recommend: Molly Suber-Thorpe’s Modern Calligraphy: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started in Script Calligraphy. There are also many classes and workshops available online via Skillshare, as well as Melissa Esplin’s I Still Love Calligraphy class.

Traditional pointed pen calligraphy is what I love the most. The most referred to scripts are Copperplate and Spencerian. They require an oblique pen holder which offsets the nib to the side to help achieve a 52- to 55-degree slant that makes the letterforms so beautiful and elegant. Both Copperplate and Spencerian are very different, and have rules you must follow. It will be frustrating for a beginner at first, but who said calligraphy was easy? :)

For a beginner, I’d recommend a Speedball Oblique Pen Holder. Nib/Ink/Paper are same as above.

Books I’d recommend for Copperplate: Eleanor Winters’ Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy: A Step-by-Step ManualDick Jackson‘s Copperplate Calligraphy, and Gordon Turner’s The Technique of Copperplate Calligraphy.


Cole Porter lyrics in Copperplate. Bleedproof White ink, vintage Hunt 22 nib in a Jake Weidemann oblique pen holder.

For Spencerian Script, which is American in origin, and more based on handwriting: Master Penman Michael Sull‘s “Learning to write Spencerian script.” I love the combination of simplicity and grandeur in Spencerian, with its nature-inspired shapes and letterforms.


Basic Spencerian script. Bleedproof White, Zebra G nib, aluminium oblique holder made by Artem Scribendi on Instagram.

Another wonderful book which covers both broad pen and pointed pen scripts is Mastering Calligraphy: The Complete Guide to Hand Lettering by Gaye Godfrey-Nicholls. It not only has instructions that cover the basics of many of the most populuar calligraphy scripts, it also has biographies and works of many well-known calligraphers throughout the world. My calligraphy teacher is in it! :)

Most the supplies/books mentioned above can be found at Amazon (links provided above), Paper & Ink Arts or John Neal Bookseller.

I also recommend visiting the Flourish Forum to join a great online community of calligraphers new and seasoned to share tips, ideas and inspirations.

Last but not least, if you try calligraphy and absolutely LOVE it and can’t imagine a day without it, join your local calligraphy guild!! I cannot stress enough how much the Society for Calligraphy has helped me get started and gave me the opportunity to take classes from world-class calligraphers. Just Google “calligraphy guild [your city]” and see what comes up! Calligraphers are some of the most generous, welcoming, and awesome people I know.

Happy writing!

One Oval At A Time


I’m getting ready for Master Penman Harvest Crittenden’s online Spencerian class starting in a few days.

I have to say although it may *look* easy, this oval drill is pretty tough. The goal, according to Master C.P. Zaner’s Lessons in Ornamental Penmanship, is to have all the ovals in uniform slant, height, and spacing.

Obviously I have a long way to go – but it can only get better from here!

Roman Capitals with Alisara Tareekes


Many calligraphers, whether seasoned or just starting out, will agree that Roman Capitals is one of the most beautiful yet difficult hands to master. Its beauty is in its simplicity of form and structure, yet understanding the form and structure and applying them skillfully can take years of mindful practice.

One of the mini classes offered at Letters California Style 2014, “Hacking Roman Capitals: Defeat the divine proportion and rule the flat brush” taught by Alisara Tareekes, explores a new way of learning Roman Capitals by using a special template that she has developed.



Alisara started the class with a brief introduction of the history of Roman Capitals and also showed us a large sheet of rubbing from the Trajan’s Column (113 AD) where some of the finest examples of Roman Capitals were chiseled into its base. Alisara’s template consists of the same proportions, using die-cut straight and curved lines that make up all 26 alphabets. Each alphabet will be 6” tall. Using Alisara’s handout as a reference, we followed the template to lay down light pencil lines on a large sheet of rice paper. We then took a ¾” flat brush and followed the pencil lines to construct each letter in watercolor. Alisara recommended David Harris’ The Art of Calligraphy: A Practical Guide to the Skills and Techniques for its thorough yet concise brush-lettering instructions for each letter, and walked around giving each of us individual attention.



The class concluded on a high note, with very nice Roman Capital samples we created to take home on a rice paper scroll! With Alisara’s wonderful template, Roman Capitals now seem a little less daunting and perhaps one day, I too will become a Roman (Capitals) conqueror.

[This class recap was published in the 2014 issue of Calligraph journal, published by the Society for Calligraphy.]