Friday 10 November 2017

Modern Calligraphy Book Review

I don't do Calligraphy for the most part, always considered it to be too extravagant for the amount that I write.  That said, I do enjoy the act of writing, taking the time to put the words on the page neatly and well spaced, is always a calming activity to be engaged in.  With this in mind, I agreed to take a look at the latest book on how to do Calligraphy, and see if things have changed from when I started writing so many years ago.

This is Modern Calligraphy by Lucy Edmonds

The first thing to note is that it's a practical book, both in the instructions given, and the nature of the book as presented.  It doesn't just tell you to hold the pen a certain way, it shows you the correct way of doing it.  Whilst some will argue about the proper way to hold an oblique nib versus a straight nib, for those beginning on the journey, it's good to have the pointers laid out clearly for you to start with.

The second thing is that the book is designed to be used for the exercises that it asks you to complete, here are lots of spare pages and practise areas to work with.  This might not seem a bad thing, but there are some who might be concerned that of the 168 pages in the book, 45 of them are blank, 80 are examples of how the Calligraphy should look, and the remaining 43 actually contain instructions on how to make that Calligraphy happen.

As an example, a page of what to do, then four pages to practise
In a lot of ways, I'd have preferred a more concise book that had nothing but instructions in it, leaving me to use my own paper to practise on, rather than writing in the book itself.  The paper the book is printed on is good quality, but it doesn't react like the normal paper I write on, so the exercises were usually repeated on my paper of choice after doing them in the book.

How it should be, how a pro does it, how an amateur does it.
The instructions on how to hold the pen and how to place the nib were mostly superflous (Take pen, take nib, insert thus), but the instructions on technique and the understanding of how you use a dip pen, over how you would normally write, were excellent, and a real revelation to someone who'd never really given it much thought.

Advanced techniques
The book covered basic and more advanced techniques, not enough to give you mastery of the art, but easily enough to start you down the path.

Which may be something I spend far more time with...
In all, it's an interesting book, retails for around £12.99 and contains more than enough to get you started on the practise of Calligraphy.  I do think that there's a lot of padding in the way its been presented, and that a single page of practise paper would have been enough rather than four sides of blank in every instruction, but I understand that charging thirteen quid means that you would probably be expecting more than a forty page book.

Either way, it's well presented and easy to follow, I'd recommend it as a beginners guide.

As always, I didn't pay for the book, and nor did I receive any incentive for my opinion.

Cleo Skribent Classic Review

I'm not much for pens above a certain value, worked in too many places where they go missing, get broken, or generally just aren't safe to take there.  With this in mind, when I review pens above a certain value, I have several criteria to consider when I'm making my judgement on them.

Does it stack up against the cheaper pens I use?
Does it offer anything that those pens don't?
I'm from Yorkshire, is it worth the money they're asking for it...?

It's the last one that's usually a sticking point...

This is the Cleo Skribent Classic.

In advance, as always, I didn't pay for the pen, I'm just reviewing it, no incentives have been received in return for my opinion.  The Classic retails in the £70-£110 range depending on where you shop and the nib combination that you choose to go with it.  Now, to put that in perspective, my every day carry contains a Pilot MR with a custom Nib, a TWSBI 580, and a Kaweco sport, the cost of all three of which would be about the same.

It's a screw cap, resin for the threads, but there's no sticking to it, unlike other pens with a similar screwset that I've tried.  It's not heavy, but it's well constructed, the parts fit together seamlessly, and the finish is superb.

I chose to review the fine steel nib, which is a very rigid nib, almost no give in it at all, which is something that I tend towards when picking out things to write with. 

The version I tested came with a convertor, but they have both piston filling options and regular cartridge options to work to the individual taste.  In writing with it, it's comfortable, it's comparable in weight and feel to the Pilot MR, but the feel of it is closer to the TWSBI.  The nib is absolutely rigid, which allows for very easy writing, even when you're working as small as I do.  In the interests of seeing how well it works for others, my lovely wife was kind enough to do a little writing as well.

It's a comfortable pen that works well, the flow on it is excellent, it starts up without having to prime it, and the flow is fast enough for larger writing whilst not blobbing when working slower.  It's not ergonomically designed, but it feels agile in the hand, one of those pens that you find yourself turning over in your hand while you're waiting for the next works to materialise.


It easily stacks up against the cheaper pens I use.
It is more robustly constructed than the cheaper pens, and the nib is a work of art.
Is it worth the money they're asking...?

Now here's the thing, it is a lovely pen, but it's not cheap, and while I've enjoyed writing with it immensely, the price point is a little high for my tastes.  At the lower end, I'd certainly consider it (I just might not take it anywhere...), at the higher end, it might be too much expenditure.

But it'd be a very long thought before I could decide against it...

Manchester Stationery Show - Thoughts

So last week I went to the Inaugural Manchester Stationery Show, the northern counterpart to the London Stationery Show that was put in place a few years ago.  I volunteered to go along as part of United Inkdom to see if there was anything of interest.  It was being held at the Victoria Quays in Manchester, so if nothing else, the building was going to be interesting.

First Impressions?


Not Mood Lighting

Very Dark

But at least you can see where the demo stalls are
There were a reasonable number of stands there, many of them from the larger manufacturers rather than small independents, and given that it's a new show, that's understandable.  I went around the stalls in no particular order, caught up with Penny from Manuscript and had a good long conversation about how the show had been going.


Very Quiet...

Now the thing here is that all those present said similar, but there wasn't a sense of despair about it, everyone got the notion that it's a new beginning, so they weren't expecting it to be loaded to the gunwales with people.  A few more wouldn't have gone amiss, but there was enough to recommend the idea of coming back the following year.

There wasn't much for the casual buyer, the show is mostly geared towards those in the trade, and I'll come to that in a moment.  What I did find is that those exhibiting had very different perspectives, from the independant shops

This is with the Camera flash on...
Lucy Hart ( produces a variety of her own artworks and adds them to notebooks, postcards, and the like.  A small operation, but with intentions on increasing her customer base, she was more looking to expand the interest in her range, but hadn't found many contacts that could help with that.

Still with the Flash on, range of less than two metres
Zebra was the next stand, and it was apparent from those present that they were only interested in increasing market share.  Nothing wrong with that from a business point of view, but as I'll come to in a moment.  They were only interested in things that would move a hundred thousand units at a time, they weren't interested in looking at the japanese markets or the less immediately marketable things, and they had no interest in the community beyond selling mass volume. Worse, they didn't know their whole range, and had no idea if there were other products in the pipeline.  It might have been because it's a small show and they weren't expecting much from those attending, but it didn't make a good impression.

But bring your own lights, and it looks like this
Lime Stationery and Art were next,, and I spent a while talking to Michael Owen, one of their team, about how he saw the future of pens and stationery.  While it was obvious that he needed to make a profit on things, he was stocking the entire range of writing implements, from individual pencils to £1000 fountain pens.  His interest was more in seeing how to keep what is essentially a dying industry from going under.

I know that it's heresy to discuss the nature of handwriting being a dying art, but lets address it momentarily.  There aren't the classes for it anymore, and the focus on how we teach children is in how to make it using computers, rather than learning how to write properly.  Michael's thought was that if you give people the joy of writing at an early age, they may carry it forwards, bring their creativity up, and that in turn will keep them around till they consider buying other pens, different papers, and all the things that keep the industry alive.

Polaroid, and as bright as you might expect

On to Polaroid, and the idea of three dimensional drawing, which was fascinating, but took a degree of artistry (and money) that I don't possess.  Loved the idea of being able to draw in three dimensions, but when you consider that the bus in the picture above would have cost the best part of £30 just in materials (if you were sparing with the pen), it's an idea too rich for me.

Draw, or build with your pens...

That brings me to Magnetips, a new series of coloured fibretips that have the additional use of being magnetic, allowing you to make sculptures of the pens.  Full review of the product to follow, but I spoke to Noam Yohai, the man behind the product, and this is just the first of many different things that he's intending on putting out there.

You cna even hang the pens up when you're done.

It's an interesting idea, and well presented, I'm not sure it has any place in the every day market, but Zebra are already there for that, so I suspect he's positioned well for those who can appreciate the pens.

Be proud that you're getting people to write.
And that brings me on to Stabilo, and the most enthusiastic of the larger resellers present.  Where Zebra were only interested if you were wanting an order for a Hundred thousand, the Stabilo team were happily talking about the programs they're running to get kids writing in schools, how they're trying to keep the prices of the handwriting pens down, how they're supplying free equipment for schools, and most of all, how they want to get others into writing.

Might well have been a spiel, but it didn't feel like one, and when you've got people on your stall that are clearly passionate about writing, that are cheerful that they're doing things to get kids to write, and know their products inside and out, it's going to leave a good impression.

My second to last meeting was with Penny Parkin from Manuscript, an excellent and lively debate on the way the world of pens is, we ended up swapping stories of inks and pens, and we'll be in touch with her in the new year to see all the new things they're planning going forwards.

Aside from the traders and storefronts that I spoke with at the show, there was an interesting encounter with Christina Strange, a Graphologist who had volunteered her time offering free examinations of peoples handwriting.  She'll be going along to the next shows, and I'd strongly recommend getting an appointment with her while she's there, fascinating to see how your handwriting matches up to your personality (certainly was for me), and excellent to see that there's a correlation to how we choose to write and who were are.  Those who are interested can find her at

My final meeting of the show was with the organisers of the show. As most know, I do organise a number of conventions and across a variety of disciplines, so found myself discussing what was good about the show (range of different stands and activities) and bad (lighting mostly...), with a view to how things could be improved.  The thing that struck me was that most of the stands didn't have a demonstration section where people could check out the wares first hand, and as most of writing is understanding what you like and wanting more of it, having a place to test the merchandise before deciding to buy it might well be a golden opportunity.  We talked about the layout of the show, the possibility of opening it to more traders who would be interested in engaging with the general public rather than keeping it primarily trade with nothing to engage with the people on the ground, and I've arranged to catch up with them in the new year to see if there's anything we can do to improve things all around.

It's been a good first show, little more light wouldn't have gone amiss, but the interest is there, not to the same level as London, but that was to be expected.  The next show is the same time next year, and I'll be going along to it.