Posts in Handwriting
Experiment 21: Beginner's Calligraphy with the Desiderata Icarus
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A few weeks before the Chicago pen show this year, I stumbled on the Instagram for The Desiderata Pen Company. The examples of calligraphy intrigued me, and as I read more closely, I realized the pens were dip nibs housed in a fountain pen type body. I had not previously heard of this possibility, but seeing that Pierre was from Chicago, I was hoping he would be at the show. 

It turns out, Pierre was at the show, and I got a chance to see his pens up close and chat with him Saturday morning of the show. It only took about five minutes of consideration after that conversation to decide to take a Desiderata pen home with me. I admittedly didn't know exactly what I was getting myself into. I did know that 1) I had an interest in learning more about calligraphy, 2) the Icarus pen was a beautiful hand crafted ebonite pen, and 3) I enjoyed writing with flex nibs, but was a little scared to do any serious calligraphy practice or to learn with vintage nibs.

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After taking Pierre's recommendation to read the User Manual carefully, I inked the Icarus up immediately in the hotel that night. At first, I was a little intimidated by the manual and the filling mechanism of the pen. However, after I got used to the pen, I can honestly say there was nothing to be intimidated by. The filling mechanism worked great and was easy to use once I watched Pierre's videos and tried it myself a few times.

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The replaceable G nib utilized in this pen is one of the biggest selling points for me. I never have to be concerned about breaking or ruining the nib in my practice, since the nib can be easily and cheaply replaced.   

What I didn't realize when I purchased the pen was that the replaceable nib meant that it was more susceptible to ink; meaning that it was recommended that you clean it after each use if you wanted to maximize the lifespan of the nib. I've tried several different cleaning regimens for the pen. At first, I cleaned it after every couple of uses (keeping in mind I was using it every day), and I did accidentally leave the pen inked for about two-three weeks once. The pen was fine, but the nib and feed were stuck pretty tightly with the dried ink, and of course, the nib needed to be replaced at that point. In general, I now prefer to clean the pen after each session. It's not difficult to clean, and I usually end up going through most of the ink capacity in a long practice session anyway. I like starting fresh, and I get the longest lifespan from my nibs using this method.

In that way, this pen is very different than my other fountain pens. I don't usually carry this pen to work or in my daily carry. This pen stays in my office, where I pull it out at least a few times a week to ink it up, practice my calligraphy, and then clean it and put it away. In-between sessions, it is a good looking addition to my desk. Even if this pen had a regular nib instead of the Zebra G nib, I would love it- although for different reasons. The ebonite body is both beautiful and a real joy to use in hand.

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For me, this pen is the perfect tool to use as I learn calligraphy. It allows me to get the real pointed pen experience in a more comfortable and portable method than a dip pen. I sometimes practice calligraphy at the kitchen table, or even on the couch in front of a movie. This just wouldn't be feasible with a dip pen set up. I also love that I can use the regular fountain pen inks I already have instead of buying specialized ink for my calligraphy practice. This gives me another great way to utilize my vast collection of ink, and it gives me a huge variety of colors and inks to use in my calligraphy.

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Regarding performance, I personally also find this set up easier to use and learn than dip pens. The feed keeps up with the ink flow nearly flawlessly, and I rarely have problems with skipping or railroading once I get the pen started. The Zebra G nib is particularly fun to use with sheening (Robert Oster Fire and Ice) and shading (Sailor Apricot) inks.

Writing sample with Sailor Sky High Ink.

Writing sample with Sailor Sky High Ink.

I enjoy using my Icarus pen, and if you are just getting started in calligraphy or if you are interested in trying a flex pen for writing or drawing I would recommend a Desiderata pen. Even more so, if you ever get a chance to meet Pierre in person, you should do it. He is kind, entertaining, and passionate about his work. I have also been testing out one of his new prototypes over the last few weeks, and if that prototype is any indication of where Desiderata is heading- I would keep an eye out on his website.

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Experiment 1: The Letter M

Let's start with the basics, shall we? 

One of my most vivid memories of elementary school involves a discussion with my third-grade teacher. I had just been sent to the hallway. And not because I was in trouble, but because I was crying. Even more embarrassing? The reason for the crying.

My dissatisfaction with one measly "S-" on my report card. 

The subject area? 

Handwriting.

I distinctly remember she told me intelligent individuals had horrible handwriting. It was nothing to be concerned about. I would probably end up being a doctor someday, and poor penmanship was part of the job description.

In fact, I didn't turn out to be a doctor. Instead, I joined the one profession of people whom particularly wish that doctors would invest more time honing the craft of letter forms. These days I am a pharmacist, and for all the frustration trying to read messy handwriting, you might think mine has improved over the years.

Truth be told, it hasn't. I could blame it on my quick whit or fast-moving thoughts or busyness. I could even defend myself by saying that at least I, myself, can read it. (Sadly, that's only true about half the time anyway!)

But in reality, it's just not something that I have taken the time to care about, practice, or improve. 

But ever since I started getting into pens, and more specifically fountain pens, I have been spending a lot more time writing. As I've spent more time writing, I've been thinking more about my handwriting. I've started caring more about my handwriting. I've even noticed some improvements. So I began to wonder how I could start to improve intentionally. The thought process continued when I listened to the Pen Addict Podcast Episode 136 (https://www.relay.fm/penaddict/136) which is one of the episodes where Myke and Brad spend some time giving advice on how to improve handwriting. 

Then I ran across an article full of writing resources and a fantastic TED talk about the importance of handwriting. (http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/quickly-improve-handwriting-fantastic-resources/).

The best way to improve any skill clearly involves practice. In a very popular book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argues that becoming "world class" in anything usually requires about 10,000 hours of practice. While this number is aspirational, it certainly has its skeptics. Interestingly, this conclusion is based on the work of scientist Anders Ericsson, who adamantly disagrees with the conclusion that Gladwell attributed to his work. For more on this, I highly suggest listening to an interview with Ericsson on the podcast Inquiring Minds: (https://soundcloud.com/inquiringminds/134-anders-ericsson-how-to-do-everything-better). Ericsson argues that his work is less about the amount of practice, and more about the quality of that practice. He calls this type of practice, deliberate practice. (Note: I consider both Gladwell's book Outliers and Ericsson's book Peak well worth the time to the read.)

With all these big thoughts in mind, I turned back to my little handwriting problem. Although only spending time writing was producing some improvement, being more deliberate about improving would likely be even more efficient. Based on the science of improvement, both focus and feedback are important to improve. So I decided to start by concentrating with one single letter. I landed on the letter M after analyzing some of my more sloppy handwriting samples. I noticed that my M's were particularly disheveled, and potentially had the most room for improvement.

After choosing the letter, I started analyzing different handwriting to find M's that I liked. Comparing my handwriting and practice to a standard seemed like an easy way to incorporate some intentional feedback into my practice. 

I spent several days writing M's. Before moving onto the next block of M's, I analyzed the previous one to see what errors were still present. I looked back at the original handwriting I was trying to replicate. 

I still have ways to go to achieve the perfect M, but I have noticed that even in my everyday handwriting where I am writing more quickly, M's look a little less sloppy. I've also found that the seemingly trivial task of repeatedly writing M on a page is both relaxing and empowering. 

Sometimes the smallest of changes are the ones that inspire you to tackle the monumental changes in life.

I think it's time to choose another letter. 

Practice, Practice, Practice

Practice, Practice, Practice