Tag Archives: book review

Modern Calligraphy book review

Modern Calligraphy, it appears, is an actual thing. Whether it is the sort of thing that it sounds like is possibly another matter.  Calligraphy (‘beautiful writing’, for all the classical etymology fans out there), can mean anything from zen masterworks to that nineteenth-century business hand which looks like copperplate but was seriously intended for everyday use. So a book featuring just those two words as its title could relate to any point within that wide spectrum – but we were pretty sure it was going to be something which would interest us.The author is owner of Quill London, a combined design studio and stationery shop. What becomes clear on an introductory perusal is that the definition of calligraphy in use here is very much at the ornamentally decorative end of the scale. Bluntly, if you’re looking for a calligraphic hand which you can practise, perfect, and incorporate into your daily note-taking to the amazement of colleagues this probably isn’t the book you need. But if you’re called on to label floral arrangements, wedding place settings and hipster chocolates, it might be exactly what you want – as long as the style suits you.Lucy refers to letter-forming, not writing, and that’s a useful indicator to the type of art-form expounded here, which perhaps owes as much to sign-writing as traditional pen calligraphy.  The advantage of this is that the approach recommended offers lots of scope for variety, from reminding readers that brush pens are a legitimate tool, to actively encouraging us to ‘fake it’ when large features such as drop-capitals are required and a two-inch ginormoflex nib isn’t readily to hand. The disadvantage is that the book’s main dependence upon dip pens overlooks the range of flex nibs available in modern fountain pens – indeed, the text gets this factually wrong by suggesting that the only flex FP is the Noodler’s Nib Creaper, but this is the only complete howler and we can hopefully help if there’s a reprint.

The book features a range of practice exercises and ample space to rehearse your moves. That may not be so comfortable for anyone raised to avoid ever writing in a text-book, and it also means paying full price for a book which is only half composed of actual text, but it also makes it is easy to get started. Importantly, the publishers have wisely chosen to use fountain-pen-friendly paper, so the exercises are accessible and give a quick feel for whether this is a hand which suits you. The verdict from our test panel was it may or may not be quite everyone’s favourite lettering style, but that it is at least fun finding out.

So, we’d perhaps like to see something like this book covering a hand which could be tackled with a flex fountain pen, but that’s for another day.  In the meantime this is a good example of how a lot of ideas and experience can be conveyed quickly by a well-designed manual, a great advert for Lucy’s in-house training courses, and a pretty good stocking filler for anyone you know who is more into the eye-catching end result than the rarefied details of ‘serious nibbage’.

This meta-review draws upon brief reviews by:

Thanks to Lucy and her publishers for sending a few review copies our way.

 

Nib&Ink book review

When we first heard about this book from the excellent All Things Stationery blog, we knew we had to take a look – and thankfully the publishers (part of Penguin) were kind enough to send some review copies our way.  Here’s what we made of it…

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New Year’s Resolutions can involve all sorts of horrid self-denying ordinances and temporary punishments, but a rather better promise to yourself is to take the time to develop handwriting that you’re happy with, and maybe even a little bit proud of!  Dipping a toe into the world of ‘modern calligraphy’ is not a bad way to get started, and Chiara Perano has been offering direct assistance through the day courses she runs at her base, mysteriously entitled ‘Lamplighter’, in London. This book sprang from those courses, apparently, and like them aims to offer a user-friendly and accessible way in to going beyond hasty squiggle to mastery of the mystic curve.

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Modern calligraphy is a little hard to define exactly, but broadly speaking it’s calligraphy which you can use in the here and now, without the hours and hours of tiresome exercises that stylistic dictators like Spencer would require, and with results that look a bit less like an obscure nineteenth-century legal text.  This book assumes that readers will attempt to follow Chiara’s letter-forms with a dip pen, and provides plenty of practical advice on how to do so.  Alternatively,  it’s perfectly possible to play along using a flex-nibbed fountain pen (as Sarah and Scribble did with their Heritage 912s),nibink-writing-sample

This is fun to work with, and the encouragement to write directly in the book feels nicely transgressive.  The number of letter-form options doesn’t become overwhelming, and the examples map out just what route the nib should take – it’s easy to follow, and there is lots of encouragement to practice, experiment, practice some more, and arrive at a style which is very much your own.sarahs

There are a few improvements which we’d like to see in the next edition including more FP-friendly paper (we’re told this is in hand already), a better proportion of content to filler (there are a rather cheeky number of practice pages), and perhaps a move to a loose-leaf format (maybe bound with Atoma discs?) so that it can properly fold-flat for writing in.  But these are relatively minor quibbles in what we felt was, overall, a…great-book

Getting hold of a copy for yourself is easy enough either straight from the author’s own website or via your book retailer of choice; the ‘street price’ is around £9, which looks like decent value to us.  You can download the handy guide sheets to print here.guidesheettop

For more detail see:

Thanks to Ebury Publishing for sending some review copies to us in time for Christmas experimentation!

 

The Missing Ink book review

While United Inkdom was having some down time in October, Nathan Weston suggested that we consider the occasional book review – and named our first review subject while he was at it.  There will be more in the pipeline, but we’re going to start with Nathan’s suggestion, The Missing Ink by Philip Hensher.  As usual with our meta-reviews, three of us have read and reviewed the book and compared notes – and they do vary, rather…the-curates-eggPunch cartoons pop up in many a history textbook, but the sketch above is probably the one that got most into everyday language.  Our readings of The Missing Ink suggest a similarly ‘balanced’ view; Daniel enjoyed it, John found it not much to his taste, and Scribble found it, well, a bit of a curate’s egg.

The opening premise of the book is an unfortunate one for us proper-pen users, in that Hensher posits that handwriting is on its way out.  In taxonomising the species before extinction, however, the book goes into considerable detail investigating the roots of handwriting teaching, from Spencer’s military-style pen drill sessions to Marion Richardson’s over-simplified ‘children’s hand’.  Although further detail is often sacrificed to what the author presumably sees as readability, there is a useful introduction to the evolution of handwriting which that could be a good launching-off point for a fuller study another day. Reassuringly, there is little pressure to conform to the strictures of Spencer or other nib authoritarians, which is just as well.  You wouldn’t want to have to go through exercises like this every day, would you?spencerSo where did it go wrong?  Well, the author is a professor of creative writing, and goodness do readers get to see all his craft in action.  The endless whimsical footnotes, and diversions into irrelevances like Hitler’s handwriting and the Bic ballpoint, will either be very much your cup of tea, or very much not.  In short, he goes on a bit – and not about pens and handwriting, much of the time.missing-ink-cover

There are a couple of saving graces.  The first is that this fairly jolly romp through handwriting history and various unrelated matters also concludes with a positive message about the benefits of continuing to write something by hand every day – so our old-fashioned habits aren’t perhaps about to die out after all.  The second is that pre-read copies of the book are now available for such trifling prices (£3 for a hardback, even) that the ‘excellent’ parts of the egg justify the very modest expense.

For further mullings-over over of the book, see: