Last January marked my first modern calligraphy workshop in Manila, Philippines. It was a lovely Saturday with absolutely no traffic jam. It was sunny, and bright light was streaming down the floor-to-ceiling windows of The Picasso‘s function room. I’ve set up without a hitch, with fairy lights nicely hanging on the glass wall.
I brought all tools and workpads from Singapore, so the class in Manila was basically the same Happy Hour Workshop that we have in here. Thanks to my kids who have airline baggage allowance for themselves (even infants get 10kg!), I did not have to pay extra for more than 20 sets of workshop kits! Yay!
We were packed to the brim that day. These amazing ladies got to work, practicing their letter forms, as I went around to see how each of them were doing. It’s so satisfying to see them struggle during the first strokes of the drills, then start improving as they start filling the pages with more letters.
Of course, a workshop is not complete without coffee and pastries, so we stopped mid-way to refuel and mingle. It was great to get to know each and everyone of them, find out what they do for a living and how they stumbled upon this workshop (someone said Google, which was awesome).
Thanks to everyone who came to the Beginners’ Class — hopefully I’ll be back later this year for an intermediate one, or even brush lettering! We’ll never know. Hugs to the ladies who had to travel quite far just to get the workshop. Lastly, high fives to the amazing team at The Picasso Boutique & Serviced Residences for giving in to my requests and setting up so nicely. I can’t wait to be back! Now here are more photos of the class. To those who weren’t able to come, hope to see you guys next time!
The past two years have all been about vintage and rustic weddings, with white, blush and champagne. It’s a very pretty, pleasing theme and I always enjoyed designing invitations in such a warm colour palette.
Last year, I was approached by Wedrock Weddings and Ideal Weddings Magazine for an Industrial-themed wedding styled shoot. It would be mostly grey, with hints of magenta, copper and forest green. So it’s cool, with hints of warm tones to balance everything. Without a thought, I said I was in!
The venue was at a restaurant in the East, with raw grey walls and marble countertops — perfect for an industrial wedding, indeed. For this editorial shoot, I provided lettering and calligraphy for an invitation suite and envelopes, framed signage, and menu.
Hope you lovely couples who are planning a wedding would find inspiration from these stunning photos from the shoot!
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.
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.
“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!
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:
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!
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!).
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 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!
I was messing around with my guidelines and tracing paper, thinking of writing in another freehand style of modern calligraphy. Since I’ve become comfortable with my own style, it’s become difficult for me to try to come up with an entirely different way of writing the alphabet.
After a few tries, I came up with an entrance stroke that was pretty simple but all new to me. I wrote the uppercase letters in a similar style, but did not use my usual slant. Instead, I wrote this in a slightly upright manner, and that is how I came up with The Eloise Exemplar.
So why did I explore this other style? Well, I’m not planning on using this type of freehand in any of my calligraphy pieces, but it was a good exercise. I am very comfortable with my own calligraphy handwriting so coming up with a different way of writing letters (and eventually an entire alphabet!) was a challenge. But I’m telling ya, it was super fun.
So how about if I share this exemplar to my lovely readers? Yes? Modern calligraphy beginners, this will serve as a good alphabet guide that you can print out and copy. Having an alphabet guide in front of you while practicing will help you familiarise yourselves with the letter forms. This will also show you which stroke should be an upstroke (thin) and which should be a downstroke (thick). Once you are comfortable with writing each letter, then you can explore different styles and eventually come up with your own. How cool is that?
So get your dotted pad, ink, holder and Nikko G nib ready and print this exemplar on an A4 sized card stock. Happy writing! And remember — practice makes pretty!
My first couple of years writing calligraphy, I was always on the look out for the richest, most opaque white ink out there. I discovered PH Martins Pen White, which was fortunately available here in Singapore. It was great, but I had to mix it with water every time I had to use it.
When I had to make custom coloured inks for a project, I decided to be adventurous enough and mix it myself using gouache and water. For those who haven’t tried it yet, gouache is a actually a water-based paint similar to watercolours. But unlike watercolours, it’s opaque and will give you richer, fuller shades. That’s when I started using white gouache instead of the pre-mixed Pen White, and since then a pot of white gouache has been a mainstay on my desk.
Here’s a video of me writing in real time — I’m a slooooow writer, but hey, that’s the beauty of calligraphy! It’s pretty close to channeling your inner zen.
I’m planning to upload more demo videos in my Vimeo chnnel, so stay tuned for that! Enjoy!
Are you guys feelin’ the love? Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, so I thought it’s not too late to post a printable just in case you’d like to give your special someone a card that’s as special as them! I’ve always liked this line from this classic ‘More Today Than Yesterday’ because for people in love, it’s always true, right?
You can print the PDF file on a 250 or 300gsm card and just cut along the border. Fold where it is indicated, or cut the card in half and you got yourself an A6 sized print that’s perfect in a C6 envelope.
Spread the love, and have a wonderful Valentine’s Day!
It’s 2016 (woohoo!) and I’d like my first post of the year to be special. So here’s one special destination wedding I had the pleasure to work on last year – Tom and Simone’s big day in Phuket, Thailand.
It was a travel-themed wedding, so each table number featured the couple’s photos from different places. And not just that — either of them were holding a small chalkboard with a number on it! I thought it was a very cute idea.
I also did the calligraphy and lettering for the signs and stationery used at the venue. There were the menus for dinner, cocktails and cupcakes, photo booth sign, and wedding programme to name a few. My favourite has got to be the escort cards which weren’t cards at all, but little paper airplanes hanging in strings! The colour motif was grey and dusty blue, which were perfect for a classy beach wedding. I’m very happy for this sweet couple, and I’m pretty sure you’ll like the photos as much as I did. Scroll down to see more.
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.
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.
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.