I took up calligraphy late in 1977 after being unhappy with my handwriting - slanted to the left and let me down in other ways too. See left example which is from The Gideons Bible presented to me when I left secondary school in the 1970s.
I wish I'd learnt Italic while at primary school rather than the bastard writing style forced on me. In the hands of an expert, the Italic style is the fastest and most eloquent script around which is not surprising as it evolved over many hundreds of years, reaching its zenith in the 1500 & 1600 centuries.
So I went to the library and took out a book by W M Aaron called Italic Writing A Concise Guide (1971).
I studied it religiously and slowly my handwriting improved. I’m self taught. And have never had a lesson in my life from an expert. My hand is not a good example of the italic style and contains errors and imperfections, but compared to my old hand the transformation was stunning. Jodie bought me the book as a Christmas present in 2013 (right hand picture).
I can write formal Italic with flourished ascenders and descenders, slowly written between parallel lines, but prefer to write on the wing and at speed. This gives rise to warts and all but does make for a more practical everyday handwriting style.
Today very few people write with a fountain pen and letter writing is a dead art due to emails, texting and Facebook. If people write at all they use the ubiquitous Bic Biro. You can of course write in the Italic style using a Biro but you need a square cut nib to achieve the thick and think strokes that make Italic handwriting come to life.
Choosing an Italic pen is difficult. There're many makes around but the trick is to find a pen that writes consistently well in your hand. I've tried most pen manufactures, including dip pens over the last 35 years (see right picture). I've even made a quill from a swan that hit some overhead cables and dropped down dead near my work in the 1980s. The quill from one of its wing feathers was just like they used in old times.
My two current favourite pens (2012) are Lamy and Italix. The Lamy is as cheap as chips (£15.00) and hardly ever lets me down by clogging. It does have a few minor snags like the top comes off too easily, but it's still a great pen.
The Italix is more expensive (£35) and has a 1950s design which I like. I've a couple of gripes with it, one being the nib at 1mm is a tad too narrow for a medium, but overall it's fantastic value and writes well to boot.
The choice of ink is something that I've neglected but it can make a big difference. In the past I've used most of the main brands of ink but have now settled on just one: J Herbin Perle Noire. This ink, in my opinion, is great. It rarely causes the nib to clog or stops writing and is the blackest ink around. I'm not a chemist but I believe that the pigment is natural and this may be the reason why it performs so well, although how durable it's in not fading remains to be seen.
The choice of paper is important too but I'm not going to cover it in any great detail. This is because often you cannot control what type of paper you write on. An example is exams at school, university or work when you have to write on the paper provided! If forced to name a good paper then I'd go for Three Candlesticks.
If you want the definite works on calligraphy then you cannot do better than Edward Johnston's book called Writing and Illuminating and Lettering. I still have a copy dated 25 August 1978.
Writing must be practical and I write both formal handwriting (see below) but also "normal" everyday handwriting with my trusty Italic fountain pen - see link for example
Written for Lee Joseph after his tragic road accident in 2008
Sea of Love, penned by yours truly, circa 1996
Poem, penned by yours truly, circa 1997 (originally written by Bruce Lee for his wife, Linda, circa 1963)
Poem, penned by me on the anniversary of Keven's death on 20-5-2006
Penned by me for Jodie circa 2013
Penned by me on 13-11-16 for Jodie
My late father also wrote with an italic pen although his handwriting was not in that style, but it still has an eloquence and beauty that belied its hand. One of the last things he sent me was a book on his return from his trip to the USA to visit his sister and inside he wrote...
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