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!

Font Fancy: Besom + Free Watercolour Printable

So I’m sure you all know that brush lettering is like a craze right now, and a lot of brush lettering fonts are popping up for sale. I’ve been looking for a high-quality free font to share here on the blog, and I’ve been looking for a long time! Finally (drum roll please)… I finally found Besom!

Take Chances Printable via Happy Hands Project

I love how the brush strokes look so natural, yet still readable. Look at the tips of those letters! It looks like it was written with a dry brush. The problem with some fonts out there is that some of them are quite difficult to read — and that’s one of the most important characteristic that I’m looking for.

This is definitely a steal, as we’re all paying zilch for personal use. You can find it in use on these posters if my description doesn’t convince you enough. Go get your font here, and that A4 printable up there that I’ve designed here. Print it on a 300gsm textured card and you’ll have a pretty realistic-looking watercolour artwork ready to be frames.

Much love, you guys!

Free Brush Lettering Photoshop Brushes

Brush Lettering Photoshop Brushes via Happy Hands Project

I’m back with free Photoshop brushes! The last time I gave away some was 2 years ago, I cannot believe this. This is a fun brush lettering  set that you can use for note cards and greeting cards. I saved it in a very raw setting — meaning it’s organic, and the different colour hues have been retained for a realistic hand-lettered look.

Here’s a quick way to load your Photoshop brushes. According to this tutorial :

Put the brush presets you have downloaded into the folder Photoshop\Presets\Brushes in the Adobe folder in Program Files if you use Windows or in Applications if you use Macintosh. The original brush presets that come with Adobe Photoshop are kept in this folder. The brush presets should have an .abr ending.

When you open a new file in Photoshop, select the brush tool and you will be able to view the new brushes from the fly-out panel. Just a tip on using these lettering brushes — the opacity is a bit light. One click of the brush and you’ll get a pretty translucent effect. If you want a richer, bolder colour, click 2-3 times to reach 100% opacity. That’s what I did in the sample above.

Download your brush lettering pack here and start creating! Looking for calligraphy brushes to add to your collection? The ‘hello’ set can be downloaded here.

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!

The ‘Manansala’ Wooden Oblique Holder

I don’t own a lot of custom-made wooden pens for calligraphy. I’ve gotten by with my century oblique holder for a loooong time. Well, I’ve been looking around for custom-made pens and I must admit they’re all extremely beautiful. I’ve ordered a few wooden pens for the last few months (I feel sorry for my credit card, but hey, I call it Investment), and I’m looking at ordering one or two more in the next few months.

Manansala Oblique Holder via Happy Hands Project

First off, this is not a sponsored post — I just fell in love with this pen! The latest one I’ve acquired (or more like invested on) is this beautifully-handcrafted wooden oblique from the Philippines. It’s called the Manansala, named after cubist painter and illustrator Vicente Silva Manansala (1910-1981).

This belongs to a family of pens which are the first oblique holders ever made in the Philippines, thanks to Lennie of The Curious Artisan. She describes the pen as ‘made from Kamagong (Ironwood) with Mother of Pearl shell body; Magnusson-inspired silver nickel flange; comfort curve pen foot and is approximately 8.5 inches long. The cube pattern shell inlay of the holder’s body using Mother of Pearl shell is inspired by Manansala’s signature cubism’.

Manansala Oblique Holder via Happy Hands Project

It’s my first time to try a Mag-inspired flange and I love it. It’s perfect for Copperplate, and I’ve been using it to practice lately. I think this has magic powers as well because somehow my writing looks prettier when I use it. Not kidding. Oh, and I haven’t even started on the packaging yet. Look at that typewritten note!

If you’re in Singapore — news flash — this pen and the rest of its siblings will be coming here! I’ll be updating on Facebook, and you can also contact @thecuriousartisan on Instagram for overseas orders.

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.

Lettering With Sharpies

Lettering With Sharpies via Happy Hands Project

I’ve been using selected colours of Sharpies in the past few years. Aside from black which I use almost every time I do script lettering for commission works, I also have silver, gold and bronze. As a graphic designer, I create all my lettering in black then colour them in my trusty laptop.

Everything totally changed last week when I received a full set of Sharpies for a class I will be teaching in a couple of weeks. I wanted to test the tools and see if the markers will work well with the paper. I made my sketch in pencil and started filling it with colour… and I was hooked! I just realised that it’s actually fun to go totally traditional and colour my artwork on paper.

I mean seriously, why would we rely on the computer when it’s all the more fun to fill in the colours by hand? I was thinking about why I didn’t do this before, and I could only think of a couple of things — first, colouring it in Illustrator is more convenient. I can do and redo as I please. Command Z. Trusty shortcuts. The works. Second, I wasn’t confident that I’ll be able to nail the colours in one go. There’s no ‘undo’ in the analog world. If I’m not pleased with my work in the end, there’s no other choice but to crumple the paper and do the whole thing all over again.

Well, obviously my lettering still needs a lot of improvement, but I’m quite happy that I did it anyway. I guess it never hurts to try a new tool, and if it doesn’t work the way you expected it to, don’t give up! I’ll probably be opening a Beginners’ Lettering Class here in Singapore in the near future so if you’re on this island, email me if you’re interested! In the meantime, here are a few more Sharpie DIYs around the web that I think might be fun to try:

  • If addressing envelopes in calligraphy seem intimidating for a beginner, here’s a way to use Sharpies instead. So pretty!
  • For coffee lovers like me (who can’t get enough of mugs), this is a fun DIY to try.
  • I’m in love with these black journals with gold Sharpie lettering! Gold on black never goes out of style, even if it’s not Christmas.

Have fun lettering with colours! xo