Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lettering and drawing with dip pens

There is so much beautiful calligraphy on the inter-webs these days. Beautiful lettering makes an envelope or a place card infinitely more charming, and in our age of Etsy, it's easy to find an artist who will embellish these items for you. But you can learn how to do it yourself, too.

Quill you join me? (You're welcome.)

Using a metal nib and India ink gives you a very different look, and much more flexibility, than a felt-tip pen. If you like your penmanship (either cursive or print), or you're willing to learn a few extra characters (a well-placed flourished capital will do the trick), then it's easy to learn how to do the same with a dip pen.

Where do you start? Order a holder and a few nibs. You can buy nibs individually at Dick Blick, making experimentation fairly inexpensive.

When I started trying nibs, I used a Speedball 99, 101, 102, and 103, and I found that the 103 - a mapping pen -worked best for me. I use Dr. Ph. Martin's Bombay ink - black mixed with brown.

Practice using the pen on very finely-textured sketch paper. You may notice that the pen's sharp point catches the paper and scratches audibly as you start, maybe even splattering your ink. As you practice, you'll learn how much pressure to give the pen, and how to sweep it across the paper without splattering. Make sure the paper you're practicing on is smooth, without much tooth, which will catch the pen.

Practice your own cursive or print, or look to a book or a professional calligrapher for lettering that you like (I like her and her!). The Ames Guide to Calligraphy is a great resource.

I used a mapping pen to address our wedding invitations, on Arturo paper, which took the ink really nicely. I also lettered a wedding document on Arches hot-press watercolor paper, which is really nice to write on.

Once you get the hang of the pen pressure, you can start experimenting with other media. Allen and I folded pieces of paper-backed walnut veneer (scored at the fold) for the reception place cards.

For the white lettering, I diluted Pelikan Graphic White with a little water. Then I coated the cards with spray polyurethane, to darken them a bit.

You can use your pens for more than just lettering, too. I've used it to give sketches a different look than I could get with a felt-tip. A steel-nibbed pen offers so much flexibility - you can adjust your pressure to get whatever kind of line you need.


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