Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Message, 2009

This was the message inside my Christmas card this year.  Written with a Kuretake Calligraphy marker, and reduced.  The ascender of the final d in ahead, as originally written, sloped too far to the right.  This was rectified in Photoshop — first, I selected that portion of the letter, then used Transform/Skew to bring it in line with the slope of the rest of the message.  Finally, I cleaned up the d by cloning and erasing parts of the letter.

Ballpoint Scribble (2009)

Some ballpoint scribble on a McDonald’s receipt — I find it useful to squeeze in a bit of practice whenever I can, on whatever paper I can lay my hands on!

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Universal Penman, 1741

One of my favourite calligraphic styles is the 18th-century English Round Hand, known more commonly these days as ‘Copperplate’.  It is notoriously difficult to write well, but I try to stay faithful to the original by studying the splendid resource, The Universal Penman (1741), a collection of engravings by George Bickham of the works of the best penmen of his day, including his own.  This extract is from Plate 90, written by Willington Clark and engraved by Bickham.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Poster for a Talk (2007)

The beautiful poster you see above, for a talk on the use of humour in teaching, was put together by Fiona Jeremiah, a teacher with a gift for design.  My contribution (below) was the title and subtitle, which I wrote in black, using a calligraphy marker.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Fund-Raiser Poster (2006)

On the left is a poster-sized mocktail menu for a fund-raising event organized by a student group (of which I was staff adviser).  As my students knew I practised calligraphy, they asked if I would supply the handwriting for the menu — I was, of course, delighted to, and so wrote out all the menu items using a black calligraphy marker.  On the right is one such sheet of writing, which the group leader, Adrian Tan, scanned, cropped and rearranged to form the poster on the left. 

Who says students don’t give their tutors homework? :-)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Wedding Calligraphy (2008)

I’m the laziest calligrapher when it comes to projects and commissions, so most of the work you see here was done a long time ago. 

This batch of wedding invitations and envelopes, however, was done fairly recently, in April 2008.  I almost invariably turn down such jobs because they are incredibly taxing on the mind and especially the eyes, and demand far more time than I can usually afford — but the person who commissioned these was very nice and extremely persuasive, so it was a pleasure to be able to do this for her and her husband-to-be.  It also helped that this was a very small job, just 22 or so sets of envelopes and invitations.

My greatest fear came true, however — the beautiful gold envelopes had their colour printed on them, not dyed in.  This meant I couldn’t write with my usual gouache and had to look for an alternative.  Fortunately I tried Daler Rowney Acrylic ink, and it worked beautifully for the most part, although the nature of the ink meant that I had to be careful to flush and wipe the pen every so often, and could not achieve the fine hairlines that good gouches like Talens produce so easily.

Two Italic Calligraphy Alphabets (2008)

Here are two Chancery Italic alphabets I used for the two calligraphy workshops I taught on 28 August 2008 and on the same date in 2009.  The first alphabet shows the order of strokes for each letter, the dot marking where the pen begins writing.  In hindsight the alphabets are far from perfect, but they are, in my view at least, clear enough for the beginning calligrapher.  I hope to revise them sometime and improve on the letterforms, and include some brief side notes on how to hold the pen.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Certificate (2007)

Here’s a certificate I wrote for an associate professor who was kind enough to give a talk to students on the use of humour in teaching.  The style is modified English Round Hand, popularly known as ‘Copperplate’.  I wrote this using a vintage (pre-WWII) Hunt 56 steel nib, and Talens gouache (silver and deep gold). 

Writing ‘Copperplate’ is a tactile experience — one has to know where to press the nib in order to get thick strokes and where to begin gradually easing off; and one needs to be gentle yet controlled on light, unpressed upstrokes.  With lots of practice this comes naturally — and it begins to feel like the rhythm of breathing.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Masthead Design (2009)

I designed this masthead for the Singapore Association for Applied Linguistics Quarterly, of which I’m co-editor.  The capitals SQ are in Trajan Pro, while SAAL Quarterly is in Arno Pro Display, both available on MS Word.

Q has always been one of my favourite letters — R being another — because of its graceful tail, in some typefaces at least.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


I’ve long thought there was something odd about the numeral 8 painted on this apartment block (in Jurong West in western Singapore; see picture on left).

Indeed there is: the 8 has its visual weight in the wrong place because the painters obviously held the template upside-down by mistake. 

In the picture on the right, you see the same numerals in the same typeface, i.e. Times New Roman italic.  Note that 8 has a heavy stroke going from right down to left, not left down to right.  The reason for this is simple: most calligraphically based typefaces were designed with the edged pen in mind, perhaps even drawn with one.  If you write the numeral 8 with an edged pen, you’ll find that the shade falls precisely where you see it in the image on the right.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Parker Duofold

I began collecting ‘serious’ fountain pens in 1995, starting with a brown lacquer Parker 75 with a medium Italic nib.  Very soon I progressed to the Duofold range, which was immediately attractive to me because of its traditional design (harking back to the Duofolds of the early 1920s), beautiful acrylic models, and most importantly the wide range of Italic nibs — a real bonus to Italic handwriting enthusiasts.

The Duofold was never the best writer, however: inkflow was always on the dry side, and the capacity of the piston convertor (bottom right in picture) was quite limited.  However, to a certain extent I got round the first problem by widening the channel in the feed (top right) using a box cutter — not for the faint of heart!  Still, my Duofolds never wrote as effortlessly as my Lamys and Pelikans: big-capacity German piston-fillers which lay a very wet line, perfect for rapid everyday Italic handwriting.

NUS FASS Matriculation T-Shirt (1991)

This is one of the earliest commissions I ever did — the 1991 intake matriculation T-shirt for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore.  I was responsible for the dark, heavy writing (not the inset square), and the pen used was a black Zig Kuretake calligraphy marker. 

It was one of my early attempts at gothicized Italic.  I did this a mere four years or so after picking up calligraphy by myself, and even at this distance in time, I think the writing is pretty good — in fact I’m not sure I could write as well today!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Nib Grinding

One of my writing-related activities is grinding nibs from round-pointed to something squarer.  The above is a friend’s Pelikan M800 fountain pen whose nib I reshaped from double-broad monoline to stub, so that it would give the pleasing thicks and thins that characterize Italic handwriting (which you see in the background).

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Confucius Quote (2007)

One of the rare times you’ll catch me quoting Confucius!  This is one of my favourite quotes, written (if I recall correctly) for the 2007 calendar of the UK-based Copperplate Special Interest Group. The nib was a vintage (pre-WWII) Hunt 56, and the colour, Daler-Rowney Velvet Black with gum arabic added.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pointed Italic (2008)

The above was written in about early September 2008, a few days after I taught my first-ever calligraphy workshop.  As you’ll probably have noticed, this was calligraphic doodling on newspaper (using a Zig Kuretake Calligraphy marker).  I was experimenting with pointed Italic, and wrote whatever words I was hearing on BBC news.

Italic Handwriting (2005)

This is a fairly honest example of my everyday Italic hand c. 2005.  My chief influences have been Tom Gourdie and Alfred Fairbank, but I suspect the Fairbankian influence is more in evidence here. 

This specimen was written with a dip pen, on Japanese layout paper.  The ‘ink’ was a gouache, and the nib a flexible, fine-pointed Goode 82 past its usefulness as a tool for Copperplate — hence ground down to a fine stub for quick handwriting.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Lord's Prayer (2006)

This was written for a dear colleague, who was very ill with cancer and has since sadly passed away.  She had, in a dream, seen me writing out the Lord’s Prayer for her, in these very colours — which happen to be my favourite. She mentioned her dream to another colleague, and the latter and I decided to make it come true.  The style is modified English Round Hand (Copperplate).

Saturday, November 21, 2009

More Ballpoint Spencerian (2009)

... this time on the paper wrapper that comes with my copy of Time magazine every week.  Real Spencerian is done using a flexible, pointed steel nib such as the Hunt Imperial, and with iron gall ink.  This, however, was scribbled with a ballpoint, scanned, and colour-reversed.

Sweetness of Friendship (2008)

This quote was written for the 2008 calendar of the Copperplate Special Interest Group (CSIG), a UK-based society I joined in 1998.  The style is Copperplate.  In hindsight, I realize the writing is too light, so it looks monoline: applying greater pressure on the nib while writing would have produced a more pleasing contrast between thick and thin strokes.

My 2008 Christmas Card

For my Christmas card last year I decided to take a group photograph of some of my writing instruments — so, trying their best to look cheerful are a Pelikan M600 and a Parker Frontier fountain pen, and several steel nibs, for instance vintage Hunt 22 and 56, Wm. Mitchell Copperplate pen.  The beautiful wooden penholder (top left) was a kind graduation gift from a calligrapher friend in Australia (a much better scribe than myself).  It has an adjustable flange, allowing it to take most nibs.

This was the brief message inside the card, written in Italic with a humble Zig Kuretake Calligraphy marker, and reduced.  I’ve learnt that almost everything looks better in reduction, and when colour-reversed (as above).

Friday, November 20, 2009

Calligraphic Doodling (2009)

While bored in meetings, I often engage in calligraphic doodling.  This, however, was done in between marking a veritable mountain of examination scripts.  The style is something of a hybrid between the Spencerian and Copperplate styles: it is more rounded than the very flat, pointed Spencerian, yet not as oval-round as Copperplate (18th-century English Round Hand).  This was written with a cheap ballpoint pen, on rough paper.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Welcome to My Calligraphy Blog!

Welcome to my calligraphy blog! I hope you will enjoy your visit and the examples of calligraphy and handwriting that I shall be posting.

First off, a few quick words about myself: I teach undergraduate and postgraduate courses in English grammar and phonetics at Singapore’s sole teacher-training institute, and have been interested in English grammar and usage since my early teens.  My main blogging activity has until now been a blog on English.

My other great passion is Western calligraphy and handwriting, which I stumbled upon in December 1986.  I shall be writing soon about how I came to calligraphy, but for now I’ll just say I’m a self-taught amateur who has had the good fortune of meeting and knowing some of the best calligraphers in the Western world.

The above example — the first of many I shall be posting — is a copy of a piece I’ve written for several close friends.  It is in formal Italic style, and was written in 2007 with a Hughes calligraphy nib and (the incomparable) Talens gouache.  I hope you like it.