THE HAPPY HANDS CALLIGRAPHY OBLIQUE HOLDER

The Happy Hands Calligraphy Oblique Holder | happy hands project

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.

The Happy Hands Oblique Holder | Happy Hands Project

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.

The Happy Hands Oblique Holder | Happy Hands Project

“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.

The Happy Hands Oblique Holder | Happy Hands Project

“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!

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 :: ObliquePen.ru, 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 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 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 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!

FREE PRINTABLE MODERN CALLIGRAPHY ALPHABET

Modern Calligraphy Exemplar via Happy Hands Project

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.

Modern Calligraphy Exemplar via Happy Hands Project

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!

 

USING WHITE GOUACHE IN CALLIGRAPHY

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!

FREE PRINTABLE VALENTINE’S DAY CARD

Calligraphy Valentine Card via Happy Hands Project

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!

A Travel-Themed Wedding in Phuket: Tom & Simone

Phuket Wedding Calligraphy via Happy Hands Project

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.

Phuket Wedding Calligraphy via Happy Hands Project

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.

Phuket Wedding Calligraphy via Happy Hands Project

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.

All photos used with consent from the couple.
Photography: Julian Abram Wainwright
Venue: Grand Villa Satis, Aleenta Phuket Resort

Phuket Wedding Calligraphy via Happy Hands Project

Phuket Wedding Calligraphy via Happy Hands Project

Phuket Wedding Calligraphy via Happy Hands Project

Phuket Wedding Calligraphy via Happy Hands Project

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!