A trip to Art Bar PH should definitely be on your list when you’re visiting Manila, Philippines. First, you can immerse yourself in art books and hoard art supplies. Second, there are so many things to see, eat and do around the area. Did I say eat? Yup, but that’s another story.
I was in my hometown of Manila recently, and I’m telling you, every time I step foot in its familiar soil, I always find something new. One of them is Art Bar PH at Serendra, Bonifacio Global City (more commonly known to locals as simply ‘BGC’). It was boarded up the last time I was there, but in its place now stood a smallish yet eye-catching arts and crafts supply store.
There are quite a lot of pens to choose from, and they’re actually carrying Palomino Blackwing pencils! Near the staircase and one of the shelves on the first level are a few calligraphy supplies. It’s a modest selection, but still adequate for those starting out. There are different brush pens stacked in one of the shelves as well.
For those looking for different pads, be it for watercolour or calligraphy, there is a wide selection of local products. As far as I know, you won’t find these in Singapore.
The highlight is on the second level! Oh, I loved the sunlight streaming onto the book shelves. There are huge glass display cabinets with Winsor and Newton products. They also have Arches watercolour paper in blocks.
I saw quite a lot of art books here, from hand-lettering to interior design. They also carry locally-printed titles and books by Filipino artists. Surrounded by the arched bookshelf is a cozy work table meant for workshops. I imagine it to be a great venue for a calligraphy or brush lettering class.
I can stay up on the second level for hours, browsing through the books. Aside from that, I checked out the paint brushes and got myself my first Princeton brush. There are a few other paintbrush brands as well.
So I went home with a bunch of pads and a Princeton paint brush. I’ll let you in on the pads I got next time. Overall, I’d say Art Bar PH is worth your while when you’re in Manila. You don’t really need to hoard tons of supplies—I got myself a pretty decent haul even if it’s not much. The best part is I left feeling exhilarated and inspired and looking forward to start doing something creative again.
Here’s what happened during the latest Modern Calligraphy workshop for beginners here in Singapore.
Last September, The Happy Hour: Beginners’ Modern Calligraphy workshop is back! I love teaching this class because almost 99% of the time, the participants have not tried their hand at pointed pen calligraphy. Why do I love this, you may ask? Because they leave the class truly inspired by what they learned, and are able to write the alphabet using the beginners’ tools.
The special ‘Make Your Own Happy Hour‘ booklet is a wonderful workbook to get started, printed in premium, super smooth paper. It has stroke-by-stroke instructions on how to write the letters of the alphabet. This is the pad that we use in class and will be used for further practice when at home.
I always tell the story of how I started out in class. When I started modern calligraphy in 2012, there were no classes here in Singapore at all. The struggle was real, my friends. When I finally got the hang of it (after 2 years!), my friends convinced me to try to teach this craft. Needless to say, I felt very unsure. I finally took a shaky step and taught my first class—and I’m still having a wonderful time teaching modern calligraphy after almost 4 years!
It’s the first modern calligraphy class hosted by the awesome people at Fika Swedish Cafe, who prepared this delectable canapé spread for all of us. We had the cozy second level all to ourselves, and on a sunny day, the natural light is just perfect for writing with pen and ink.
My advice to beginners is still the same. Practice makes pretty! Here are some photos of our most recent modern calligraphy class. Upcoming classes are posted here. Enjoy!
It’s been a while since I’ve posted a nib review here on the Happy Hands blog. During the recent Modern Calligraphy workshop, I got asked several times how different the Leonardt 40 nib was from Nikko G. These 2 nibs are usually the ones included in my workshop kits. However, I always advise to use this blue nib only when they’re already used to the G nib. So how different are these 2 nibs, really?
MORE FLEXIBLE THAN THE NIKKO G NIB
The Leonardt 40 is also called Hiro 40, or Blue Pumpkin. Similar to the Brause Steno Blue Pumpkin in appearance, this is a large nib with an equally large ink reservoir. It’s very flexible, so the pressure needed to get a thick swell in a Nikko G is not necessary with the Leonardt 40. Because it’s softer, just a bit of pressure makes the tines open up—allowing the ink to flow and form thick swells.
The Nikko G is stiff and somewhat tough, but the Leonardt is soft and more flexible.
Because it’s more flexible, putting a lot of pressure results in a very thick downstroke. This thickness cannot be achieved using a Nikko G nib. The only downside is that the upstrokes are not very thin, which is essential to Copperplate calligraphy.
THE BLUE PUMPKIN GIVES THICKER SWELLS
For those who love to write modern calligraphy and aim for super thick swells, then this is the nib for you.
For beginners, it’s always best to start with the stiff Nikko G nib (or Tachikawa G, which comes from the same manufacturer). Once you’ve mastered the concept of the pointed pen (pressure on the downstrokes, release on the upstrokes), then you can proceed with using the Leonardt 40.
I’ve also noticed that my ink lasts longer with the Nikko G. I get to write more letters with one dip of ink with the Nikko than the Leonardt. Again, this is due to the flexibility of the latter. Because it produces thick swells, the Leonardt 40 needs more ink. So I dip this nib more often in ink when I’m writing.
I’d say this nib is worth a try if you haven’t done so yet. Nibs behave very differently with every calligrapher, so a nib that works well for one may not do wonders for another. But the paper and ink used also play a part, so make sure all your tools work well together. All in all, this nib is still one of my favourites. Check out my other favourite nibs in this roundup.
So have you tried using the Leonardt Blue Pumpkin? Yay or nay?
Are you a beginner who wants to get better in calligraphy? I’ve a question for you. Since you began your sojourn, have you become better and more confident with your pen? Or do you think there are too many mistakes and you’re ready to give it up?
I’m telling you—don’t give up just yet.
In 2011, modern calligraphy was starting to infiltrate my Pinterest feed, and I was curious. I was lucky enough to receive replies from popular calligraphers, telling me what tools they used. I excitedly ordered them from the US (this was a time when there were no calligraphy tools here in Singapore; Straits Art didn’t even have Higgins Eternal!). When I started using those so-called awesome nibs and inks, I realised I couldn’t get them to work.
But I didn’t give up. I learned from my mistakes. And here I’m sharing with you how I’ve learned from the mistakes I’ve made so that you, too, would get better at calligraphy.
1:: Keep your first few calligraphy attempts
You’d think the first time you tried to write a few strokes was terrible, right? I did, too. There were no workshops at the time in Singapore so I had no choice but to self-study. My experience with dip pens were in college, but we used broad edge. That’s a different beast right there, so when I used the pointed pen, I was floored.
But I kept the pad I used at the time. That jotter pad that didn’t know anything else but feather everything I write on it. I even tried to write what nibs I used (which of course, didn’t help). It’s good to keep your first attempts at writing calligraphy, so you can go back and see how far you’ve come. That in itself, is enough to give you the inspiration to keep going.
Eeep! If I stopped here, I wouldn’t know that I wasn’t a hopeless case.
2:: Write the dates on your practice sheets
The good thing about writing the date is that you will look at it a few months later, and realise you have improved. And for those who don’t practice often, it’s a good reminder that you should DO YOUR DRILLS!
3:: Mark your mistakes
I have learned that writing continuously is pointless if you don’t refer to an exemplar. This Engrossers’ Script exemplar from IAMPETH is perfect. Always have your alphabet guide in front of you so you can compare it against your own. Then review your practice strokes or words, and make little notes on your sheet. This will help you remember which parts have to be improved. It can be as simple as a loop that’s too big, or a descender with a line variation that wasn’t done smooth enough. Mark it, and make it better.
4:: Join A Calligraphy Community
This is also called, ‘find your tribe’. Or form your own cheering squad. Join a local guild if there’s one, or socialize with like-minded enthusiasts on social media and take it to the next level and meet in person! Having friends who like the same things you do are priceless human beings who will contribute to your growth as a calligrapher. Heck, they will also help you grow as a person. Friends who support each other in sickness and in health, through group purchases and art jams, are the best kind of friends if you ask me.
They will tell you when your letter form just ain’t right, the logo you made looked funny, or convince you that yes, the Blanzy nib works well on handmade paper.
If a local community is non-existent, connect with other calligraphers online instead. Flourish Forum is an amazing online community where everybody lends a helping hand.
So there you have it. Challenges in the world of calligraphy is never ending, that’s why learning is contiuous, too. If you’re just starting out, keep on practicing and don’t give up. Use the mistakes to your advantage and trust me, after a months of serious practice, you’ll laugh at how your first attempts looked like. I sure did. And it felt good.
A couple of months ago, I introduced a new workshop—painting leaves and wreaths using watercolour. I’ve been teaching calligraphy and brush lettering classes for a few years now, and I use foliage to frame my lettering pieces. I was super excited to be able to share how I paint my green tea, fern, eucalyptus and olive leaves to make lettering prettier!
It was a beautiful bright morning at Fika Swedish Cafe. You’re gonna love the Nordic feel of this place—it’s cozy and well-lit—which makes it perfect for classes like this. They also serve us delicious Swedish canapés so nobody goes hungry.
What’s so special about this class is the instructional booklet that the participants get to take home (on top of all the tools and materials for painting). It contained instructions on how I paint different kinds of leaves and how to form them into a wreath.
Oh, there were a lot of familiar faces as well. A lot of those who come to the modern calligraphy classes come back for the intermediate classes I introduce, so it felt like seeing old friends once again. Looking at everyone’s works, the olive leaves were most popular. And the Swedish meatballs from the canapé boards were a hit, too. I was soooo proud of how these ladies began the class with no painting experience at all, and finished with a beautiful wreath to take home!
Here are some more photos from the Leaves & Wreaths Workshop’s ‘maiden voyage’. Let me know in the comments if you’d like to join the next one!
Hey everyone! I’ve been busy last month setting up shop over at Creative Market, and it’s still an ongoing process. CM is a great source of design inspiration, and a very busy marketplace for creatives. There are tons of graphic design elements that one can use for a myriad of design projects. Oh, and did I say that thay have a bazillion calligraphy fonts (like this one right here) available as well?
As a designer and artist, I was thinking of ways to make other designers’ lives easier—and that is by supplying digital artworks that they can use for their own designs. Finally, I found the time to open up a shop and paint and paint and paint, and turn those watercolours into digital backgrounds (not easy!).
Insider Tip: You get 6 free product downloads every week. That’s where I get most of my free fonts and patterns. You need to be a member to access the free goodies, and signing up is easy peasy. Just click the Sign Up button on the top right.
I know my shop is still quite sparse, and I’ve got a looooong way to go before I can fill it to the brim. But let me share with you 3 quality products that I have so far—hope you like ‘em!
Give your website a dose of personality with these custom illustrated brush lettering elements. Build your brand by using these hand-lettered goodies on your marketing collateral. Use these as buttons and headers on your blog, or as overlays on your photos.
All hand-painted in rich watercolour which is perfect for your marketing, stationery, branding and personal projects. Use each background on its own, or put 2 or 3 together for a different effect — the possibilities are endless and it’s all up to you!
Two afternoons. Brush lettering with some of my favourite brush pens. Happy place. Happy people. Well, that’s the best description I can come up with as I recall the brush lettering weekend I had with my friends from Pentel Singapore at Tokyu Hands Orchard Road.
Saying it was a busy weekend would be an understatement. Pentel arranged 30-minute brush lettering workshops for free, and we had about 80 attendees in all workshops! I met 80 wonderful people who want to learn brush lettering! I think that makes the event so awesome.
During the classes, we used the Pentel Fude brush sign pen. This pen is one of my absolute favourites, and is perfect for beginners. It has a durable felt tip which gives good control, so the user can easily create thick and thin strokes that are essential in cursive brush lettering. At the end of each class, the attendees get one free pen in their choice of colour.
Way to go, Pentel! There were a lot of people asking about future events like this because the classes sold out so fast the first time. I’d love to have another go at this (it was that fun), so like the Pentel and HHP Facebook pages for future updates.
Thanks to Pentel Singapore, Tokyu Hands, and to everyone who dropped by to take the class or just say hi!
Have you always wanted to try hand lettering but have no idea where to start? Or are you trying your hand at it (no pun intended) but it’s not getting any better? I’ve heard so many say that they can’t do lettering or calligraphy because they have bad handwriting. My answer? That’s not true at all! If you feel like you’re stuck in a rut (believe me I know how it feels, I’ve been there), here are 8 tips and tricks to get your lettering mojo back. The bonus? You will get better at it!
1 :: Use the right tools
For the lettering wizard, any tool can be used to make beautiful letters. For a beginner, it’s not that easy. Try different tools and see what works best for you. What’s important is that you’re comfortable with it, and it brings out the effect that you’d like to have. Do you fancy having some thick and thin strokes in fluid script? Try a few brush pens and see which one brings out your lettering best. Do you want to draw each letter? Get yourself an HB pencil and a fine felt-tipped pen for inking. Make sure the paper you’re using does not make the ink on your pens feather and blot.
The tools for a beginner need not be expensive, nor should it be a lot. Stick to a basic set, and follow the next 7 tips.
2 :: Start small
This can apply to your collection of beginner’s tools, but I’m actually referring to the actual piece you will create. A few years back, I give A5 sized cards during the workshops I have. The participants are usually all beginners, hence, they found the A5 card too big! I cut it in half to A6, and everyone was more comfortable. A huge art piece would be intimidating, and the task would be daunting. Start with a small piece of artwork and trust me, it’ll be easier.
3 :: Use guidelines and sketch your piece
Pro lettering artists and calligraphers can create pieces without guidelines and pencil sketches. They can slant their letters consistently, and can compose their lettering perfectly without sketching it out first. Well, as a beginner, you can’t do that. If you feel that you can wing it without the use of a pencil, stop yourself and pick that pencil up. Lightly sketch the words and see how you can compose it to make it look cohesive. Your piece should look like one unit, not a group of individual words.
4 :: Focus on one style, then slowly diversify
Blackletter, italic, and a modern script style. They’re all so cool to look at, you can’t decide which one to try first! So you’ll put them all together in one lettering piece. I’d say nope—that ain’t gonna work. As a beginner, try one lettering style first (in my case, a hand-drawn cursive), then when you’re used to it, slowly try another style. When I got used to cursive lettering with a Sakura Micron, I then proceeded to learning how to use brush pens. Be patient! It’s better to master a style or two than be a jack of all trades and a master of none.
5 :: Slow down
Lettering, either with a brush pen, a ballpoint, or a pencil, is a therapeutic activity. It’s a great stress-reliever. My point is, lettering shouldn’t be rushed—it’s meant to be a slow process. When composing your art piece, sketch slowly. Study the composition and make improvements. If something looks odd, start over. Don’t try to make some quick fixes to balance the mistake out (this however, works, albeit rarely).
Are you practicing your letter forms? Fill your lined pages with drills. Write slowly.
Most beginners, myself included, thought that the faster we swish our pens, the better the flourish will be. A flourish is the swirly stroke you see in the beginning or end of a word, and it’s used to add character to your lettering. It also makes your composition look cohesive. I’ve learned that flourishes that were done with a slow, steady hand have better results than quick flicks.
So relax and slow down, and your lettering will be better. Which leads me to the next tip.
6 :: Breathe
I’ve taught quite a number of modern calligraphy and lettering classes and the participants all have one thing in common—they hold their breath when writing. Seriously. Are you guilty of this, too? Here’s a trick that will help your relax—breathe in during an upstroke, and slowly breathe out on the downstroke. Sounds like yoga for the hands, eh?
7 :: Pick a style, and call it your own
As a beginner, you will be bombarded with different styles of lettering and calligraphy on social media. That’s fine! As beginners, you need all the inspiration you can get. After a while, however, it’s best to stick to one style that you’re most comfortable with. The one that you think is the prettiest. One that makes you proud, and would want to improve. Stick to it, and make it better.
8 :: Observe, study, practice
Ok, so I kind of cheated because the last tip is actually made up of 3 little tips. But these 3 words need to be done together. Look around you for signages and artworks and try to detect what makes them look good. How are the words written? How is the piece composed? Study your letter forms. Memorise how each letter looks like so your lettering will be consistent.
Last but certainly not the least, practice. We all gotta start somewhere. First attempts at lettering and composition will always be terrible, unless you were born with magical writing skills. Keep on practicing, and it will definitely get better, I promise!
So there you have it! Do you have any other tips on how to get better at lettering? Let us know in the comments!
So you’ve digitized your gorgeous calligraphy. It’s pretty. You can print as many pieces as you want to give to friends and family. But have you ever wondered what’s the next step to scanning your calligraphy and adjusting the contrast in Photoshop? Well, I got news for y’all, and it’s something I’ve only done recently. How about adding (digitally) some seamless patterns on your calligraphy?
This requires some basic knowledge in either Photoshop or Illustrator, but once you get the hang of it, this will make your calligraphy extra pretty. The digital version of the above calligraphy piece was all done in 10 minutes, tops, excluding the writing part which takes waaaaayyy longer.
This is really easy-peasy, take a look at the steps below. Please note that a working knowledge on Adobe Illustrator is required to be able to follow the tutorial. We will be using a pre-made vector pattern downloaded from the internet. I got mine from here. First thing you need to do is have your seamless pattern open in AI (this will be in either .eps or .ai format).
1 :: Copy and paste your vector pattern on a new file. I used an A4 sized art board. If the graphic’s too big, use the Free Transform tool from the left tool bar to scale to your desired size.
2 :: Make the vector graphic into a pattern. Click on the Object pull-down menu from the top, select Pattern, and click on Make.
3 :: Save your pattern. Click OK, and delete the existing graphics from your art board. This will give you a clean slate.
4 :: Create a full background using your newly-created pattern. Wee!
Now this background is ready for use! For the Elizabeth Gilbert quote I’ve written, I just placed a black rectangle over the background, pasted and live-traced the jpeg scan of my calligraphy, did a bit of clean up, and saved it as an A4-sized poster. There are so many possibilities with patterns and I cannot wait to try them out!
Hope you’ll have as much fun as I have! Here are some of my favourite premium patterns from Creative Market:
Full disclosure: I've recently become part of Creative Market's Partner Program, and I get commissions for purchases made through the links below.
I had my first watercolour brush lettering workshop here in Singapore! There were new and familiar faces in the class, and I’m so happy to say I had a blast sharing freehand brush lettering with such a creative bunch. It was a morning filled with lots of colour and laughter (and cake and blueberry pie).
Let’s Letter Together: Freehand Brush Lettering is a class that celebrates individuality and personal style. There are no strict letter forms to be followed, as long as the words are legible, strokes and slants are consistent. Hey, freehand doesn’t mean indecipherable writing after all—it’s bold and artistic, but easy to read.
After practicing with the basics, we moved on to writing words, then composing a piece and finally, ombre lettering! I demonstrated 2 ways to create those beautifully-blended colours in brush lettering. Putting all the basic lessons together to create a final piece is always the best part of any HHP workshop.
Brush lettering sure wasn’t easy when I first started out. I was too familiar with modern calligraphy using the pointed pen, and shifting to a different writing tool threw me off kilter. Brush lettering takes time and lots of patience, and that’s the same word of advice I give to anyone who’s just starting out. I’m extremely happy to have been able to share in this class the tips and tricks I learned along the way. Seeing these awesome ladies and gents gain confidence with a brush made me feel like a proud mama.
So guys, I’m planning for the next workshops for the next few months. I’m thinking of having another brush lettering class. Who’s with me? Let me know in the comments below!