Ink Review: McCaffery’s Penman’s Ink in Black

McCaffery's Ink Review via Happy Hands Project

My first impression of this ink was, how come it’s so watery? I’ve always used sumi ink, which is a thicker, darker kind of black than this one. Sumi has the perfect viscosity in my opinion. So the first time I dipped my Nikko G into McCaffery’s, I was surprised that not much ink stayed in the reservoir.

I didn’t give up, of course. It wrote quite smoothly, but I found myself in another situation. The ink wasn’t black enough! How can this be penman’s black if it’s a weak grey? I waited for the ink to dry, and realised that the ink actually gets darker as it dries. Problem solved! It still has slight gradients just like walnut ink, specially on the downstrokes, but I liked the effect nonetheless.

McCaffery's Ink Review via Happy Hands Project

Another good thing about this ink is that it’s super smooth to write with. It behaves like Higgins Eternal, but with a ‘silky’ flow. It gives super fine hairlines that you won’t get with sumi ink. Though I wouldn’t recommend this for artwork that you will scan eventually (your scanner might not be able to catch the hairlines), it’s a lovely ink to write with. It gives your calligraphy some character, and it dries beautifully.

McCaffery's Ink Review via Happy Hands Project

The only downside is that you need to wash your nibs with water right after use — which was a bit difficult for me because I leave my nibs to dry for hours. McCaffery’s ink would eat your nibs, so make sure you wash it after use.

The verdict? Smooth, silky, deep grey ink, that gives my calligraphy some character. I would definitely recommend this ink.

Modern Calligraphy: Finding Your Own Style

Find Your Own Calligraphy Style via Happy Hands Project

There are so many reasons why many would opt for modern calligraphy over the traditional styles. First reason would most probably be because there are ‘no rules’ in the modern style. Another reason would be its popularity all over the web and social media platforms. Modern calligraphy is everywhere nowadays, and a lot of people are doing it as a hobby. Third reason, and this is the reason I believe the most, is because the modern style can reflect the writer’s personality. It would display one’s individuality, and you can have a style you can call your very own.

Before I go on, I’d like to dispel the myth that modern calligraphy simply has no rules. It’s a myth. It’s false. Modern pointed pen calligraphy is based on traditional Copperplate, so we will still follow the basic rules that come with it — consistent slant, legibility, and uniform thicks and thins. I would prefer to write something that is actually readable.

Now, for the fun part. With so many calligraphers and enthusiasts out there, how can you make your work stand out? It took me 2 years to come up with my own style — and I’m still learning, everyday. For beginners who want to display your individuality, I’ve come up with a few pointers.

1. Learn your basic letter forms.

Once you have memorized how each letter would look like, your calligraphy will look more consistent. Try to write the same letter in that style every time. Once you’ve mastered it, make slight variations to make it a little more exciting. Which leads me to my next point.

2. Write your own exemplar.

To help you memorize your basic letter forms, why don’t you write the full alphabet in the same style? You can always refer to it whenever you’re writing. You can write your variations there, too.

3. Study calligraphy fonts.

Modern calligraphy fonts are different from each other, and observe why this is so. Some have thick downstrokes, some are very upright, while some are playful and carefree. While doing this, you can also gauge what style reflects your personality more.

4. Keep on practicing.

Even the expert calligraphers out there still practice and do their drills. Believe me, it helps! It builds muscle memory, so you’ll be able to do your letter forms right. Practicing also keeps your mojo going, and very relaxing, too. I can write drills for hours. Just remember to have your own exemplar around while practicing so you can be consistent with your slant and style.

Find Your Own Calligraphy Style via Happy Hands Project

Finally having a style you can call your own will take months, or even years of practice. I must admit I tend to jump from every style I can think of when I was starting out. It’s not bad, and it actually helped me come up with the style that I would actually stick to eventually. Good luck in finding your own pointed pen style! Remember — Practice Makes Pretty!

5 Tips: Is It Time To Replace My Calligraphy Nib?

Tips On When To Replace Nibs via Happy Hands Project

I’ve encountered this question a lot of times, and for beginners, it can be quite tricky. Some have asked me how long a pointed flex nib typically lasts. However, this question can’t be answered precisely — it would depend on how often a nib is used, or how much writing one has done with it.

There are some nibs in my stash that I only use from time to time, so therefore they have a longer life span. I have favourite ones, and I replace them more often. The key indication of a nib that needs to be chucked is when it starts ‘misbehaving’ (yup, sometimes I treat them like they’re my kids). Here I broke it down to 5 signs:

1. The nib is snagging the paper

This works specially when you’re used to how a certain nib behaves. Most often than not, I use a Nikko G, and I know that it glides onto my paper and doesn’t give me a hard time. When all of a sudden the tip starts scratching the surface of the paper during upstrokes, I know it needs to be replaced.

2. The upstrokes start skipping

Oh, that occasional ink splatter still catches me by surprise. Sometimes, I might be using a different kind of paper. But a splatter of ink on an upstroke? On my Rhodia?? That is totally unheard of. I would probably write a few more lines and see if the ink continues to skip and/or splatter. If it continues, the best thing to do is start again using a freshly prepared nib. Trust me, it works.

3. The ink flow is somehow different

If the ink just stays on the reservoir (that tiny hole in your nib that holds the nik) and wouldn’t flow, it can mean a few things. The ink may be too thick (or old, even), your nib needs washing, or it needs to be thrown into the bin. Combine this indication with any of the 2 above, and it means a new nib is the way to go.

4. The pointed tip is deformed

I had a Brause EF66 once, and it used to be my favourite nib. I used it all the time. Sadly, it was the last piece I had and obviously, I was holding on to it for as long is humanly possible. It did all those things above but I turned a blind eye. When I couldn’t take it anymore and my writing was a mess anyway, I took a closer look at the tip and realized that the tines were misaligned. The tines are the two parts of the nib that separates on the downstroke. Sometimes, it can still be repaired. I’d say retire the nib and use a new one.

5. The nib has rusted
Well, I have to say I’ve used some nibs that have slightly rusted and they still worked well. Given Singapore’s humidity, nibs always have this risk of rusting. I’d recommend placing packs of silica gel in your nib boxes. Slight rusting on the nib that is far from the tip is fine, but if the tips are corroding, it needs to be retired.

There you go! I hope these tips have given insight to this issue of nib replacement. If you have any other tips just let me know in the comments and I’ll update this post to add it!

Lettering Without Thinking: Part II

Last year I wrote something called Lettering Without Thinking. With all the calligraphy commission works I’ve been doing lately, I didn’t have much time to use my brushes and just play with them. With calligraphy, I’m always concerned about legibility and balance, and whether the thickness of my strokes are consistent. I do play around with my pointed pen, but it’s not as carefree as no-nonsense writing with a brush.

Brush Lettering via Happy Hands Project

Let me share with you a couple of pieces I’ve done a week ago, using a round #8 brush and black Ecoline watercolour. The only thing I wanted to do here is to centralise all the words, write them big and small, make a mess, and have fun. And I was able to do all those — I just made sure I had a lot of paper that’s ready to use. I didn’t do these all in one go! I did a few different styles and chose these two as my favourites.

Brush Lettering via Happy Hands Project

Here are a few suggestions on how to experiment. You’ll get different results every time!

  • Try different brushes
  • Use watercolours, and don’t wash your brush when changing colours
  • Tear your papers’ edges for a rustic look
  • Splatter some ink when you’re done, just resist the urge to overdo it!
  • Don’t think — just go crazy!

Have fun lettering, everyone!

Brush Lettering via Happy Hands Project

Calligraphy Drills: Why They’re Important (Albeit Boring)

Calligraphy Drills via Happy Hands Project

Most of you might not know this, but I’m a self-taught calligrapher. I was able to take a course with Eleanor Winters (all hail), but that was after I struggled for a couple of years to teach myself. I must admit that I had experience in Italic and Blackletter when I studied Art in college, but those two styles really did not strike my fancy. Fast forward to 2010, this was the time when I became very much influenced by the beautiful scripts I saw on wedding stationery.

I told myself — you can do this! Remember your Typography class? Piece of cake!

Um, no. The flexible pen used to write scripts is difficult to control, ink was splattering everywhere, a bazillion sheets of paper was wasted. So I did my research and taught myself. During that time, there was no abundance of workshops like what we have now, so I guess ‘struggled’ is an understatement. I went straight to writing letters and sentences, flourishing here and there as I went along. I told myself, you can do this! Write longer words and everything will all fall into place!

Calligraphy Drills via Happy Hands Project

Again, no. I realised after a bit more reading and practicing that I need to start at the very beginning. I need to start with the basics, and basics meant drills. Those boring, repetitive loops and strokes that I tried to avoid for as long as I possibly could. There was no escaping it. So I got myself the best book in my possession (after my Harry Potter collection, I suppose) — Eleanor Winters’ Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy. I drew my grids, prepared my workspace, took a deep breath and started writing. And you know what? A few years later, I’m still practicing with drills and have become really fascinated with the rhythm and consistency of the letters I make. These exercises made me write better.

My simple advice? Practice with drills before you actually start writing. Throw in some fun coloured inks to make it more enjoyable (I usually practice with walnut ink). Think of it as a warm up, and would give you the momentum when you finally start writing your project for the day. I’m always looking forward to finishing calligraphy commission works because that means I’d have more time to practice. Have fun writing!

Finding Inspiration The Analog Way

Find Your Inspiration via Happy Hands Project

I’m sure a lot of you are big fans of Pinterest, and other social media. If you’re stuck in a rut, it’s so easy to look something up through good ol’ Google and voila — you’ve got your momentum back again. When designing, it’s obviously so much easier to ‘find inspiration’ online than detach yourself from your computer (or smartphone) to overcome the block.

I’ve been in this stage more than a few times. I see designs, lettering, calligraphy, in the same styles. I can tell when a certain font is overly popular, and I can tell when everyone’s trying to imitate a certain calligraphy or watercolour style. We can’t help it. We see the same style all the time!

Sometimes (and when we have the luxury of time), it’s pretty cool to get out there to get our creative juices flowing. One thing to remember is that we need to keep our eyes open because you’ll never know when inspiration will hit you in the face. Here are a few simple things I do (stressing on ‘simple’) to get inspired and be able to come up with new things for my art:

GO OUT FOR A WALK

Find Your Inspiration via Happy Hands Project
Found this wall while walking along Chinatown.

Singapore is a tiny city with lots of nice restored architecture. There are cafes with wall art worth looking at, little indie shops that have interesting nooks and crannies. There are a number of hidden gems where you can get your creative juices flowing.

VISIT YOUR LIBRARY

Find Your Inspiration via Happy Hands Project
Above: Calligraphy on display by Dr Ludwig Tan. Bottom: A scene from library@orchard.

If there is no library nearby, why not read some magazines at a local cafe? You can even browse magazines at some bookstores. The only good thing about the library and cafe is that you get to bring your notepad and be able to write down or sketch ideas instantly.

SPEND TIME WITH LIKE-MINDED PEOPLE
Spending a couple of hours with fellow artists is enough of an inspiration for me. A great conversation would leave you with good vibes to last you a while, and this helps. A couple of weeks ago I was at library@orchard, listening to a talk about Western Calligraphy (because there’s also Chinese Calligraphy here) by local calligrapher Ludwig Tan. Listening to an expert talk about the history of calligraphy was awesome and made me appreciate this art even more.

ATTEND A WORKSHOP

Eleanor Winters Singapore via Happy Hands ProjectI’ve been to one modern calligraphy class with Maybelle Imasa-Stukuls, and one on Copperplate by Eleanor Winters. These were important parts of my journey in calligraphy and wouldn’t trade it for anything else. If there’s a class in your area, go and participate! It’s perfectly alright to be self-taught, but having your heroes teach you and tell you that what you’re doing is right absolutely inspires to keep going.

Well, these aren’t so bad, weren’t they? Hope we’ll always be inspired to make beautiful things, and always find inspiration when we need it.

Calligraphy & Lettering Inspiration: Rustic and Dreamy

Rustic Calligraphy Inspiration via Happy Hands Project

Gosh, it’s Friday already? I hope you’ll all forgive me for the lack of posts the last couple of weeks. The thing is, I was on holiday with my family in Manila, Philippines (which is also my hometown) where I was invited to teach a beginners’ calligraphy workshop as well. It was a pretty big deal for me because it was the first time that I ever brought The Happy Hour Workshop outside of Singapore!

So now that I’m back at the Little Red Dot, I’m on Pinterest looking for some calligraphy inspiration. There’s this style that I’m recently falling in love with, and it’s this playful, no holds barred style of freehand. Each calligrapher has his or her own way of doing this, and I’ve selected four of my favourites from all over the web.

This style works so well on a rustic setting, surrounded by wild flowers and timber and early morning sunlight. For those of you looking for inspiration for your next calligraphy project, check out these truly amazing works. Too beautiful for words, really.

WildField Paper Co. (top row)
The first one on the left was written in watercolour by Annie Mertlich. For some reason, the lettering on wood that I stumbled upon was again done by Annie Mertlich. So I guess I can say I’m a fan! You can see the full blog post on Green Wedding Shoes here.

Shannon Kirsten (bottom left)
This white lettering on black is up on Etsy, and was written by Florida-based calligrapher Shannon Kirsten.

Sam Dubeau (bottom right)
Oh, this hand-lettered piece was an instant favourite of mine! By Toronto-based Sam Dubeau, this piece is a lovely example of hand-painted lettering.

Words To Live By + New Calligraphy Prints

Make Time for the Things You Love via Happy Hands Project

Hey you guys! I’m still on a high from weeks ago where I had the first ever Calligraphy In Colour Advanced Workshop. I kept thinking about how immensely talented each of the participants were, and when I saw them writing all I could say was, ‘Wow, you have been all practicing, weren’t you?’

And they were! Some were present in my beginners’ class from months ago, and they have been practicing diligently and have improved their calligraphy by doing so. I’ve probably said this before, but it took me 2 years to find my own style. Calligraphy is not easy, but it’s a continuous learning experience for me. I never stop learning, and I never stop practicing. That’s what’s great about this craft. There’s always room to grow.

Calligraphy Prints via Happy Hands Project

In calligraphy, practice is something that you cannot be without — that’s why I came up with this calligraphy quote. Making time for the things you love is important, because simply put, it makes you happy. If you like to read, set aside even a few minutes to have time for yourself. With calligraphy, it’s not easy to be able to practice daily specially with everything that’s going on around us. Why not set aside an hour every Saturday? It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing!

Oh, I currently have a bunch of downloadable calligraphy over at the shop, the ones above included… go get ’em! It’s been a while since I’ve put new items for sale and this is the start of a new batch of downloadable calligraphy. I hope one of these will adorn your walls someday.

Non-Script Font Combos For Your Wedding

I adore script fonts, which may probably be another reason why I took up the art of modern calligraphy. However, there are some couples who might want to go a different route with their wedding invitations – which means having non-script fonts. I’m a font addict myself, and I can attest to the fact that designing for your own wedding may be a gruelling task. Finding the right font may take hours – even days!

If you’re one of those couples who decide to have a non-script font for your wedding stationery, here are my current favourites. Do take note, though, that my current ‘favourites’ change rather regularly. I’m into serif and sans serif combinations right now, go take a look!

 

Non-Script Wedding Font Combos via Happy Hands Project

Direct font downloads:

Abraham Lincoln & Open Sans Light / Prata Regular & Source Sans Pro Extra Light / Abril Fatface & Bebas Neue Light

The Beauty of Vintage Handwriting

Pre-Civil War Handwriting via Happy Hands Project

I have an Aunt who’s very dear to me. She’s a teacher, and has the loveliest penmanship I’ve ever known. I admire all her letters and swirls on paper, and even on the blackboard. You wouldn’t believe that her handwriting remains consistent no matter what writing instrument she uses! Writing on the board using chalk was still lovely.

I have long-overdue penpal letters (I know! I’m writing soon!) and I was thinking of printing my own greeting cards. While scouring the web for vintage ephemera, I came across this page from a pre-civil war autograph book – and the handwriting is to die for! I’ve always wondered how people before manage to have such beautiful handwriting. I believe that each of us should try to improve our own penmanship, and make good use of it by writing letters to loved ones. Who wouldn’t love to receive a handwritten surprise through snail mail once in a while?

Initially I just wanted to share where I got these vintage goodies so that we can all admire the beauty of earlier handwriting (they’re from Graphics Fairy, by the way). But I remembered that I came across some great advice on how to improve one’s handwriting. One of my favourite calligraphers has put together some tips on how to write better. I really love this list because I fully agree with every tip – you can almost see me nodding in agreement right now. As I always say, Practice Makes Pretty! Check out Melissa’s tips here.