Learn calligraphy online at calligraphy.org. You’ll learn the basics of pointed pen, flourishing, addressing envelopes and developing your own style. The course comes complete with a beginner kit of supplies and personal coaching from calligraphy experts Melissa Esplin and Erika Paulsen. Click here to find out more.
I was on Studio 5 last week! It’s hard to convey everything I want in a short segment, so in addition to the little video (below), I have great tips on how to improve your handwriting.
As I’ve mentioned before, it’s International Correspondence Month. I’ve made a dent with my box of envelopes, but I still have about 15 letters to go before the end of the month (totally doable, if you ask me!). I make goals like this for myself quite frequently, and I’m excited that this one is sticking! Ideally, I’d love to write this many letters all the time, but it’s a matter of carving out the time. It’s not as quick or convenient as sending an email, but it certainly means more to get something hand-written than a quick 2-liner in your inbox. At least, that’s how I feel.
With the rise of the digital age, good penmanship has gone down the crapper. If I had a quarter for every time I heard the whine “I wish my handwriting looked better”, I’d be living it up in my multi-million dollar dream home. It’s an epidemic of bad handwriting! Most schools aren’t teaching cursive, either! I’m glad to be in a state that still requires cursive as part of the third grade curriculum. Not only does it teach kids a slice of history, but it promotes better literacy (often times kids that don’t learn how to write cursive have issues reading script fonts), better fine-motor skills and concentration. It may be impractical to hand-write everything in this modern age. However, we should shift our perception of handwriting from an archaic means of communication to something meditative, meaningful and personal.
Calligraphy and penmanship have very similar foundations. So let’s talk about 5 ways to make your everyday handwriting better.
Handwriting, like any skill, won’t get better without practice. We’re all great at typing, right? It’s because we’re using it ALL the TIME. Why does our handwriting atrophy, you ask? Simply because we are not practicing. It’s not being used in the every day, so if you want to improve your handwriting chops you’re going to have to carve out purposeful practice.
Spend at least 15 minutes a day writing out the alphabet, or writing your to do lists.
2- Use the Right Tools
Handwriting isn’t as tool-intensive as calligraphy, but if you have crappy pens, you’ll have crappy results. You know those cheapie bic pens? Yeah, we don’t have those in our house. They’re awful. The gel-like ink doesn’t flow easily and smoothly off the paper, requiring you to apply more pressure when writing. Also the narrow shaft of the pen requires a tighter grip. Both aspects are a recipe for hand cramping and fatigue. I personally prefer the pilot precise v5. It’s a skinny pen, but the ink flows smoothly from the pen allowing for a light grip and a light touch.
If you want something a little more advanced, the Noodler’s Ahab Flex Pen (the green pen in the pictures) is really fun. It’s a fountain pen with a little bit of flex, but you have to know what you’re doing when it comes to inking the pen (more colors and great how-to videos here). Sometimes you can’t control the kind of paper that you use, but if you want to buy a nice paper, try Clairefontaine lined paper. It’s deliciously smooth. You can alternatively use a 90-100GSM high quality color laser paper.
3 – Slow Down
This is something that I tell my calligraphy students constantly. You can’t expect consistent results when you’re going too fast. The key is to go slow enough that you can anticipate the next move before it happens and so you can create consistent movements. I pick on Chris all the time for his handwriting. His handwriting is pretty hard to read because he’s usually rushing to write as fast as he types. Pretty penmanship will never be as convenient or as fast as typing. It’s a fact. So slow down!
I like the quote from Modern Family (“Old Wagon” episode from Season 2), “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” You’re less likely to mess up style or spelling if you’re taking the time to think about each movement. Therefore you’re going to be faster than if you rushed, messed up and had to start over.
4 – Proper Positioning
If you had respectable elementary school teachers, they should have stressed this fact a TON from kindergarten through 6th grade. Holding the pen properly is a big deal. Bigger than you may think. Hold the pen nicely between your thumb and index finger and rest the pen lightly on the spot between the knuckle and tip of your middle finger. This light grasp will keep your hand from cramping and fatiguing which leads to a deterioration in handwriting. See the above video for an example of how that looks.
5 – Consistency
Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent. You want to practice with guide sheets to maintain consistency. If you can hone in on your consistency, your handwriting will get so much better.
What does this mean exactly? Use guides. Practice with guides. Ruled paper is your best friend. You want your lowercase letters to stay within the same x-height (save for the ascender and descender strokes). You want your uppercase and ascending lowercase letters to be at consistent heights. You want your descenders to have a consistent height. Practicing with guides will help ingrain that consistency into muscle memory. Download cursive and print alphabet guide sheets below to help you practice.
Want to learn more about how to write in calligraphy? Calligraphy and penmanship are related, but different. You use the same basic principals above, however calligraphy is more like drawing than writing. If you’re new here, or in case you didn’t know: I can teach you entirely online. At your own pace. Read more and sign up for the online calligraphy class at calligraphy.org.