Posts Tagged 'Handwriting'


When was the last time you received a letter that looked like this? (...If you're one of my pen readers, don't answer that.)

The clearest way to see through a culture is to attend to its tools for conversation.

–Neil Postman


When Neil Postman writes, “Each medium makes possible a unique mode of discourse by providing a new orientation for thought, for expression, for sensibility,” he means that each medium for sharing information (letter-writing, telephone, smoke signals, etc.) re-orients our brains—not in a neurological sense, necessarily, but in the way we communicate, and in what we communicate. More than that, the medium affects what we think in the first place.

For example, I would never think about tsunamis or earthquakes in other countries if it weren’t delivered to me as “the news of the day.” If letter-writing were our main means of communicating information, I wouldn’t find out until months afterward—and they probably wouldn’t even tell me unless I had a family member in the region.

Sometimes I like to imagine…

How different our constitution might be if  it had been composed on the computer. Would typing, instead of writing with dip pens, have altered the things that the Founding Fathers thought important enough to include? Would they have wikipedia’d other nations’ governments first in order to do a thorough comparison study?

But the medium affects more than the contents of the information-document. The difference in information-mediums between the 18th century and the 21st —that is, dip pens and written letters versus email, news web sites, and texting—affects the quality and the meaning of our individual (and national) character. Think about how different a meaning “patriotism” had when it didn’t involve bumper stickers or even military service, but rather it meant: sitting at a desk in a cold, cold house, way out in the boonies, reflecting on the things that you believed in. You wouldn’t have been affected by any media-hype; instead, you would read a bunch of pamphlets, written by other people in cold, dark houses. You would reflect on their thoughts, and respond to them. And each of those pamphlets would have been well thought out– you kind of have to be more thoughtful, when you’re writing more slowly. (Dip…5 words….dip…4 words…)

If we still defined patriotism this way, I think we’d have a healthier nation. How strange to think that we might actually reflect on our beliefs, instead of becoming a “fan” of ideology X on Facebook. Personally, I think we’re damn lucky that the Founding Fathers were writing with dip pens when they declared independence. We at least know that it wasn’t a rash decision (“Shit! I hit “send” on that email to King George too early!”).

Quite a few people have already written admirable essays on the benefits of letter writing–though I embarrassingly don’t have their links on hand–and I don’t need to repeat them. It’s also important to note that none of us are advocating for the demise of technology: emails and quick-composition on the computer serve an important function in today’s world. My point is that we must keep in mind the effect that each medium has on what we write, not just how we write. In other words, it’s not about using “omg” instead of “oh my god” –it’s about how our responses to surprising news have become limited to an automatic acronym—“omg!”—without any real, individual reflection.

So I received this great letter  (pictured at the top) along with my order for ten new dip nibs this past week. I appreciate knowing that this person took ten, fifteen minutes to focus on communicating with me. And it wasn’t multi-tasked with checking email or youtube (because distractions, trust me, are a killer when you’re using dip nibs. India ink dries fast. And the next thing you know, you’ve shellacked your fingers together).

Check back soon to see what projects I come up with for these new nibs. I’m currently working on a big artsy birthday present for a friend, so they might become a useful tool for that…

National Handwriting Day

According to Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association, “The purpose of National Handwriting Day is to alert the public to the importance of handwriting. According to WIMA, National Handwriting Day is a chance for all of us to re-explore the purity and power of handwriting.”

I’ll start with the critique before I move on to the good stuff: I hate that National Handwriting Day is created and sponsored by the writing instruments industry, not teachers and writers and schools. Like Valentine’s Day and most other random holidays, this one was created for economic reasons. Shame.

So, I don’t know if I like when industries stake claims “purity and power,” but I will tell you why I like handwriting.

  1. It makes me slow down my thoughts. This isn’t always a good thing, especially when it’s important to get all my thoughts on the page and my hand can’t keep up with where my mind was going… Nonetheless, it allows for the sort of visual brainstorming that aids the creative process.
  2. Patience is a dying virtue. It’s true– writing a letter to a friend demands more time than writing an email. But by writing a letter, I’m also saying that this friend is worth more of my time. I think our relationships today could use more of that attention.
  3. Handwriting helps process information better than typing. I don’t really have the time to find scientific studies backing this up, but I know I’ve seen them somewhere… At least in my experience, I get far more out of my classes by taking handwritten notes. Students who use laptops don’t process information in the same way.. and much of the time, they’re fucking around on youtube anyways.
  4. Writing instruments are sexy. Okay, yes, I’m a little biased here– but just take a look at the Nakaya website, or the images on Pencil Talk, and it’s pretty hard to deny that there’s something aesthetically fulfilling about pens and pencils.
  5. It takes discipline– in a good way! I know that I sound like an ornery old man with a shotgun when I rant about my generation being too privileged, “not knowing the value of manual labor,” etc., but in all seriousness, I do think this is connected to our mental, emotional, and social health. I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately about prescription drug abuse* on my campus, and wondering how any of us would have survived a hundred years ago, when we had nothing but discipline to get us through school. Having good handwriting takes practice and discipline– which are always good things (in moderation of course).
  6. It’s beautiful (duh).

Here’s a page from the Fountain Pen Network with handwriting links.

*…which is a whoooole ‘nother post.

Finishing My Second Exacompta Sketchbook

a filled Exacompta

*EDITED: I decided to include the images that I had previously posted, just to keep it all in one place. Enjoy!*

I purchased my first Exacompta sketchbook, and won my second from a Rhodia Drive raffle giveaway. (Remember how cute they were together?) I admit I had my doubts about using the same book twice… I tend to get a little claustrophobic with my art supplies if I’m not head-over-heels in love with them… and I did have few frustrations with the way that some of my more delicate nibs would catch on the Exacompta’s laid paper.

But now that I’ve finished that second book, I’d have to say it’s one of the best all-purpose books I’ve used thus far. In fact, I’m having a lot of trouble finding a replacement. I want many of the same characteristics: thick, unlined paper, a nondescript cover, and medium size. I’d like to have smoother paper this time around, though. And apparently, those requirements don’t come together too often in one book. I need to gather up the energy to bind one for myself again.

Here’s the visual summary:

ink therapy 🙂

testing Caran D'ache Museum leads

What is this Nonsense?

I used a charcoal Lamy Safari with a F nib for almost a year until it disappeared (!) a few months ago. I replaced it with a shiny black Lamy Safari with an EF nib, and suddenly my handwriting is so.. bubbly.

I’ve never had bubbly handwriting!  Also, this happened right about the time that I switched to Noodler’s Habanero. Funny how these things can affect your handwriting…

7 Love Letters

Sharing a link to 7 love letters, from various time periods and contexts. All beautiful: I love when love letters become ephemera and then resurface half a century later.

Frida Kahlo to Diego Rivera

Frida Kahlo to Diego Rivera

An Inky Return

I returned home to two packages. The first was an order from Jerry’s Artarama, on which I will provide a side note:


SIDE NOTE: I would much rather purchase art supplies from my local art store, because it’s dusty and trendy and it’s fun to get lost in there, but there’s no way I can afford to pay $33.00 for a block of nice watercolor paper, much less two blocks. So, my tactic is to purchase small and open stock items from them, and then I keep an eye for sales on art supply websites.

TANGENT TO SIDE NOTE: So, that’s one [more] reason to get rich: you have the power to funnel your money in good places, instead of being forced to feed corporations.

The other package was pretty much the antithesis to an internet order. That is, a super-generous gift from a fellow member over at the Fountain Pen Network, who had some ink samples and was looking to pass them on. I was expecting 4 or 5 ink samples, so let’s just pretend I didn’t make a cartoony eye-bulging face when I opened up the box and found twenty full samples of ink, none of which I’ve tried before.

Also generously included were twelve outstanding vintage nibs for dip pens. I’ve been using cheapo Speedball nibs to do my ink reviews (another financial compromise), so I got a little glow-y when I saw these. Almost all of them are flexible– the Joseph Gillott’s Public Pen has the most flex, I would say.

Okay, yeah, on to the sexy photos:

Dip Nibs3

Assorted Nibs

I love the Congressional’s cross-shaped vent hole, and the simplicity of the Joseph Gillott Public Pen. In fact, I just love the design of these in general.

Dip Nibs2

Nib Testing

I have clearly not mastered the art of flex nibs. But, now I have an excuse to practice 🙂

Art adventures, literary hangovers, rural politics and other songs worth sharing.

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