The Happy Hands Calligraphy Oblique Holder


Happy Hands Project Oblique Holder by Keiichi Sato

I finally have the date for the next intermediate calligraphy class, and it’s the most special one I’ll have in my almost 3 years of teaching. When I started with modern calligraphy, I’ve been using a straight holder. After getting Copperplate lessons from Eleanor Winters, I became more comfortable with an oblique pen and now I use an oblique 99% of the time.

Now what makes the upcoming workshop so special, you might ask?

Well… (drum roll please), introducing — the custom wooden calligraphy set specially customized for the Happy Hour Workshops! It’s a collaboration between yours truly and wood worker Keiichi Sato of @garagewoodworkingjp in Japan. I’ve worked closely with Mr Sato with regards to the grip, flange, size and finishing for this beautiful set, and I’m blown away with how amazing everything turned out. I have been using the oblique holder for a couple of months now, and it’s been my go-to pen ever since.

Happy Hands Project Oblique Holder by Keiichi Sato

Participants to the workshop will each receive a wooden oblique made of Hinoki, or Japanese Cypress with a flange to fit most nibs. It’s handy and lightweight, which is one of the first things I look for in a holder. The set also includes a matching base for ink jars and a pen rest made of Douglas Fir. The wooden base for inks is specially designed to stabilize those jars — I’ve been known to spill inks all over my desk (which also happens to be white) so this made my life easier.

Mr Sato opts for natural, old-fashioned finishes like shellac and beeswax. A traditional woodworker, he uses hand tools made in the late 18th century. When asked about his choice of wood, he explained that he likes using Japanese Cypress for the holders because it is a softwood that’s lightweight and gives a good feel. “Weight is very important to make hours of writing comfortable”, he noted. “Japanese Cypress is also waterproof. As a matter of fact, many high end Japanese ryokans use Japanese Cypress to make bathtubs because of its nice smell and water repellency”.

Making calligraphy holders is also different from other wooden pieces because according to Mr Sato, holders are not art pieces but practical tools. Some calligraphers like his daughter for instance, don’t like staining their pens with ink (quite contrary to me, because I stain mine all the time). Liquid can be trapped in the slots for flanges which may result in problems only a woodworker may understand. “It’s a huge challenge for me, and I am learning new things everyday”, he mused, and I can only nod in response.

Happy Hands Project Oblique Holder by Keiichi Sato

“I used to travel 100,00 miles a year when I was a sports photographer in the US”, he told me. “Now I stay in my garage with a Siberian Husky.” When asked how he got started making wooden pieces for calligraphy, he said, “I love woodworking because I love to use my hands. My daughter is a wonderful calligrapher, and I started making calligraphy supplies with wood to support her.”

When it comes to aesthetic, Mr Sato is a mad snake when it comes to details (my words, not his). “I don’t mind spending hours perfecting details while keeping the design as simple as possible”, he replied. He values good relationships with calligraphers, many of them asking for custom pieces like boxes, pen trays, coffee scoops and chopping boards, to name a few.

“If I were living in Singapore, I’d love to make my shop open to calligraphers to stop by. Fix their holders, change their grips, or anything I can do to help them”, he offered. I’m sure I won’t be the only one hanging out in his shop everyday if that happens!

Now that I’ve shown you all this beautiful set, I’d love to have you at my Intermediate Workshop! Interested in advancing your skills in modern calligraphy, and the same time snagging your own custom oblique set? More details can be found here. Hope you’re as excited as I am!

8 Lettering Artists To Follow On Instagram


Lettering Artists to Follow on Instagram via Happy Hands Project

Instagram has been an important part of my journey in calligraphy and lettering. I’d say I’m quite a visual person — I get inspired by the things I see. The lettering and calligraphy community on Insta is like one big happy family, and when one is stuck in a rut, there’s always someone out there who’s ready to help. I’ve personally met some really inspiring people over there (if you’re reading this, hi!) and it was awesome.

For those of you looking for inspiration on social media, look no further. Here, I’ve compiled 8 up-and-coming lettering artists from different parts of the globe to inspire the handlettering lover in you!

@anggiiveeLettering Artist Anggiivee via Happy Hands Project

Lettering Artist gartz_ via Happy Hands Project

Lettering Artist oh_letters via Happy Hands Project

Lettering Artist letterhstudio via Happy Hands Project

Lettering Artist jaekimdesigns via Happy Hands Project

Lettering Artist artbyhal via Happy Hands Project

Lettering Artist dimaphew via Happy Hands Project

United Kingdom
Lettering Artist yourgrayce via Happy Hands Project


My Calligraphy Oblique Holder Collection (so far)


Calligraphy Oblique Holders via Happy Hands Project

When I started with calligraphy, I was writing with a straight wooden holder. I became familiar with the oblique when I learned Copperplate with Eleanor Winters, and I never used a straight one since then. Because Copperplate needs to strictly follow the 55-degree angle, the oblique pen holder has helped me maintain a consistent angle.

After using a Speedball for some time, I felt that I was ready to have a custom pen made. It was kind of like a coming-of-age moment (in calligraphy years). I had an ergonomic one made by Heber Miranda and it’s still by far one of my favourites because it’s lightweight and has a Bullock-style flange that’s perfect for someone who uses various kinds of nibs.

I received one comment on Instagram asking me why I have quite a number of holders when they all work the same way. Well… it’s kind of like shoes. You may have several strappy high heels, but they come in different colours and each pair fits your feet differently. They’re all strappy high heels but one pair is used for a particular dress style, and some of them won’t look nice with jeans. I could go on and on but well, you get the picture. So I guess it’s the same with my holders! I have ones with Bullock-style flanges, and I have a couple of ergonomic ones, so depending on the nib — and my mood — I would reach for one that would be best suited for the job. Oh, and I have a leather pen roll that fits 18 or so pens so I want to fill it to the brim.

If you’re curious, here are the oblique holders from my collection so far:

1 :: The Curious Artisan, Philippines (I wrote a review here)
2 :: MP Obliques, Turkey
3 :: Yoke Pen Co, USA
4 :: Heber Miranda, USA
5 ::, Russia
6 :: The Curious Artisan, Philippines
7 :: Huy Hoang Dao, Vietnam
8 :: Bukvawood, Russia
9 :: Unique Obliques, USA

I have one more pen that I have yet to reveal, and it deserves its very own blog post because it’s extremely special. I’ll update you all next month, but in the meantime, I hope you liked reading about my modest collection. If you have a pen maker in mind, let me know in the comments so I and the lovely readers can check their work out!

Mixing Your Own White Gouache


Mixing Your Own Gouache via Happy Hands Project

I remember the time when I was on my diligent quest for the perfect white ink. I wanted something opaque, yet thin enough to flow through a variety of nibs. At some point I thought I’ve found it — I was happy with the PH Martins Pen White. It could be the stuffy weather here in Singapore, or it could be the way I was storing my inks (like all over the place… oops), but every time I pick up the bottle and open it, I had to add a few drops of water to thin the ink out. If I have to add water every single time, then it’s not so perfect after all, isn’t it?

Then I had to mix some custom ink colours for a project. Before I used gouache, I was using pre-mixed inks in various colours (note: I wouldn’t recommend that at all). Aside from the fact that I had to buy a bottle of ink for every colour I need, the pre-mixed inks just can’t do the job. They’re too watery (yes, I’m talking about you, Daler Rowney Calli!).

Mixing Your Own Gouache via Happy Hands Project

During that time, I’ve heard about calligraphers mixing their own gouache. It was intimidating, and I thought I had to leave that to the pros. But I’m glad I experimented! As with all experiments, the first try wasn’t as good. But… BUT! I got better with it, and I realised it’s not that difficult at all.

So now I mix my own white ink using gouache. What you’ll need is pretty simple actually:

:: tube of white gouache (I use Daler Rowney Designer Gouache)
:: plastic pipette
:: gum arabic powder (optional, I use Jacquard)
:: tap water
:: ink jar

Ok, so what do we do now? Before we mix everything up, let me give you some background about gum arabic. There is liquid gum arabic, and there’s powder. I use powder and dissolve it in warm tap water — I usually mix 1 part powder to 3 parts water, stir it and keep it in a small plastic jar for multiple uses. Warm water dissolves the powder easily and does not result in a clumpy mess. Gum arabic is basically a binder that controls viscosity and does a great job in preventing feathering. It’s optional because mixing gouache and water alone produces great results as well, depending on the paper used.

Mixing Your Own Gouache via Happy Hands Project

Mixing your own gouache is trial-and-error, and you’ll get better the more often you do this (pretty much like calligraphy!). So fill your jar with some white gouache, add a few drops of your gum arabic mixture, and a few drops of water. Mix it well and add a few drops of water until you reach the right consistency. Test it with your nib to see if your ink flows. If not, then it’s still too thick. Just keep on adding drops of water and testing till you get the consistency that works well for you.

And there you have it — solid white ink that’s better than store-bought ones! What’s your favourite white ink? Let me know in the comments!


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