It's nearly been four years since I picked up my first ever pen holder and tried modern calligraphy for the very first time!
Back in 2016, I bought my beginners calligraphy set from Quill which included a booklet, a pot of black ink, a tin of nibs, a practice pad and the usual black plastic pen holder. These are still available but the sets have all evolved a bit now and they're offering all sorts now, check out their online store if you're looking to try calligraphy! Quill have also just opened a new store recently in Central, which I've not been able to brave the tube to get to yet...moving onto my favourite tools!
Let's start with pen holders, I've probably only tried around five or six different pen holders in my four years, both wooden and plastic, both straight and oblique. Firstly, I'm an oblique girl, I'm right-handed and I find it so helpful to see how I'm writing, I started with a straight pen holder because that's what my beginner kit came with. However, personally, I feel like the oblique is so much easier to use.
So I quickly gave up the standard black plastic pen holder especially after I started seeing pretty pastel coloured ones popping up on Instagram and the dreamy bespoke resin ones from Tom's Studio. The two that I use the most often are the Luis Creations Moblique 2-in-1 Pen Holders and the Tom's Studio Black Flourish Oblique Calligraphy Pen which I invested in recently.
The Luis Creations Moblique 2-in-1 Pen Holder is as the name suggests an oblique pen holder which comes in a whole range of colours from pale pink to green to copper! They are clever as you can actually use it as a straight pen holder if you remove the flange (which I can't say or type without thinking of phalange...the way Phoebe says it, also this won't be the last Friends reference just FYI)...As well as the dual use, if you twist the pen holder, it has a chamber in the middle that can hold another nib which may come in useful when travelling (well not right now) or just to hold a spare. Because they can be taken apart, you can also mix and match! Now I know that's not really a deal breaker if your pen holder can't mix and match with another, but it's still a fun feature. My favourite duo is the English Rose and Copper with the Copper at the top so that I can grip the pen better at the base, plus it’s on brand!
It's probably worth noting that the website does say that the flange (ahem) is designed to take a Nikko G nib, however I have shoved other nibs in before, you just have to 'ease' them out when you want to switch them. Though to be honest, as they are quite affordable, I've invested in a few of them, each with different nibs for different occasions! The pastel coloured ones are made from a sort of silicone-y plastic so make them super easy to grip whereas the chrome collection are smooth so I prefer the pastels, visually too. They are easy to write with and I love the colour offering, the only downside of the silicone is that they're not the easiest to clean once you get black ink all over the body of the pen holder. To be fair, I'm not the best for cleaning my tools straightaway and I've found either some washing up liquid or nail polish remover gets the ink off relatively well.
On the other hand, the Tom's Studio Black Flourish is such a beautifully crafted tool, so sleek and a stunning addition to my pen pot! The body of the pen holder is a matte black with a solid brass flange (third time, still hear Pheebs) and it comes in a lovely box with an instruction manual. Now, this is because this is no ordinary pen holder, this Black Flourish comes with a teeny tiny pencil lead which means you can practice your calligraphy using pencil first, also the flange takes all sorts of nib sizes.
There has obviously been a lot of thought put into the design of the pen holder as it's got a certain weight to it too, compared to the typical plastic pen holders. This is because Tom has designed them so that 'the centre of gravity sits between your forefinger and your thumb joint, making it feel neither top nor bottom heavy'. I mean...thoughtful!! And as if that wasn't enough, each pen is also individually dip dyed by hand. This gives the pen holder such a premium feel and it was a present to myself when I reached one of my targets, as it was just under £60. However with all of the handcrafted elements, I'd say it's definitely worth that price tag.
I use this pen holder often but not quite as often as the Mobliques, partly because I still haven't nailed the nib insertion process. The nib is inserted by untwisting a screw on the side of the pen holder and placing it into some grooves on the base, you have to be careful not to tighten it too much or you'll squish the nib but also not leave it too loose or the nib will pop out. Which is what keeps happening to me, often I can go for days and it'll be fine then other days, I just can't get it right and it'll pop out whilst I'm writing at the worst time. There's multiple raving reviews for this pen holder online so do read and do your research before investing, I'm still glad I purchased it, I feel like I need to invest the time and practice with the replacement of the nib...
So in conclusion...my favourite pen holder has to be the Luis Creations Pen Holder in English Rose! Even if it does mean I should clean it more often...you just can't go wrong with a pastel coloured beauty under £10
Now onto my favourite nib, I know Nikko G is the standard nib and that was my first nib that I tried in 2017. As much as I love the ease of it, it doesn’t create the thinnest upstrokes that I like. On the other hand, you can push down pretty hard on the trusty Nikko G and it won’t budge. I remember when I first started calligraphy, I was a scaredy cat getting too thick a downstroke in case I snapped the nib but I needn’t have worried! That’s what I tell students now when I demonstrate the contrast between delicate thin upstrokes with the lovely thick downstrokes.
Also the good thing about this universal nib is that it fits pretty much every pen holder I’ve ever used so you won’t get any issues with incompatibility if you’ve just invested in an expensive pen holder. As it is probably the most commonly used, you can usually find a set of Nikko G nibs relatively cheaply online.
The next nib that I use the most often is the Hiro Leonardt Principal nib, mouthful and also hard to remember, which I call The Cactus nib. I nickname all of them as Gillott 290, Brause 511, Manuscript Drawing 256, Blah Blah 123 just aren't names that I'm going to remember. However cactus nib is easy as the nib has a cactus on it! Well, not really but to me it looks like a cactus and the code is only for me!
So Cactus nib is a tad smaller in width than the Nikko G but I love it! It has a sharp nib but also a fine point so it creates these delicately thin upstrokes but also has enough of a flex to create thicker strokes. The only thing I can't get on board with with this nib is the scratch, I know this is sort of a package deal with a nib on paper but when I use this on particularly textured paper, I have to half close my eyes when the goosebumps start. It's like fingernails on a blackboard for me which is ridiculous as it is my day job after all. I just don't get how some people love it with all these ASMR videos, still not sure I know what those are...I'm only 32 and needed my younger sister to explain it to me even after Googling it! Anyways, back on topic, the cactus is lovely.
Next, the Rose nib or the 'Brause 76B Rose' nib is the most beautiful nib that features a bevelled rose on the nib, reminds me of Beauty and the Beast, anyone else? This is a lovely, smooth nib to write with, the downstrokes are the best as you don't even have to push that hard for the tines to separate, creating such thick downstrokes, they almost look like brush calligraphy. This one is better for larger scale calligraphy so I wouldn't use this when designing a song lyric piece whereas it would be perfect for an impactful one word print.
I call these three nibs my Three Bears, the cactus gives the thinnest upstrokes, whereas the Nikko G is somewhere in the middle whilst the Rose creates the most amazing brushlike thick downstrokes.
In summary, the cactus nib has to be my favourite nib of all time! It really does create the most perfect hairline upstrokes with the flexibility to create contrasting thick downstrokes as I need them. I just have to get used to the scratching without getting goosebumps!
If you are a newbie to nibs, then make sure you ‘prepare’ your nibs as when they are produced, they are covered in a sort of film to prevent rust I believe. This can be removed relatively easily, I just pop them under a tap with a bit of washing up liquid on a sponge. Though I know fellow calligraphers who swear by a potato! Just stabbing it into a potato, something to do with the starch…?! But I never have potatoes in the house often, just sweet potatoes and it definitely doesn’t work with a sweet potato so do not try that at home! So potato or soap, the choice is yours and obviously be careful when drying them so not to stab yourself or damage the nib.
Just a disclaimer, these are all just my personal opinions from my own experiences after only trying a handful of tools, all paid for by myself.
Also, as a side note, my favourite places to find tools are Penman Direct and Scribblers, try to shop local or with independents! I will do another blog post at some point with my top 5 calligraphy supplies (aside from the nibs and penholders) soon.
Who knew I could ramble on for four pages (FRONT AND BACK, anyone get that reference?!) Anyways it wasn't front and back, just four pages but still for my first proper blog post, I'm quite pleased with that and shocked how much I have to say about nibs and pen holders but hey they are the key tools of the trade!
Have you guys tried the Mobliques and Black Flourish? Let me know what you thought and what your favourite nibs are. I love hearing about what other people use and their own techniques with different tools.
Leave your comments below :)