Some of you may know I dabble in calligraphy now and again, and while I’m mostly just messing around, I really enjoy the physical act of putting pen to paper, the sound of the pen, seeing the trailing line of ink behind my nib, and so of course I’m always looking to see how I can improve or challenge myself. I sometimes practise at night after the baby’s away, and it’s the absolute worst when Jon picks up some of my random scraps of paper and says “what’s this?” and then he reads aloud my writing “banana pants banana pants banana pants” before I can grab it.
While our shop mostly sells fountain pens and ink and paper for “everyday” use, pens that you could bring to the office or use for journalling or letter writing, and while there is a lot of cross-over between fountain pens and calligraphy tools, there are some specialized calligraphy tools or supplies that we haven’t yet branched into.
We have a few calligraphers who visit the shop, and I love to chat with them about not only the tools and materials they use (you know, so I can glean off as much market research as possible!), but also about the process they have when they create their beautiful work. As a side note, I’m hoping to do some interview type blog posts on calligraphers and their work and the process of creating, and I’m excited to start on that soon! Too many balls in the air!
With calligraphy classes up and running, and hopefully more to be put on the schedule soon, we’ve already started to navigate the murky waters of a new branch of supplies. I was pretty excited to receive our first shipment of Higgins Eternal Ink, not only because it’s one of the most requested calligraphy-related items we’ve had, but also to give it a go myself. I’ve heard so much about this great ink, and how it is “absolutely necessary” for any calligraphy, beginner or advanced. New ink?? How could I resist.
After we received this shipment of ink, which was actually a few weeks ago, I spent about 40 minutes digging out my copy of Learning to Write Spencerian Script by Michael R. Sull & Debra E Sull, along with a few others – we’re hoping to begin carrying a few calligraphy books in the shop, and really, if I’m going to be doing some writing samples with this ink, I’m going to need a little guidance.
Interestingly enough, the ink recommended in this book is Higgins Eternal Ink! The stars align:
The ink recommended for ornamental penmanship is Higgins Eternal Ink. It is a black, carbon-based ink that has been used for this type of writing for over a century. Higgins Eternal has just the right viscosity, or thickness, to produce thin hairlines and broad shades of excellent smoothness and clarity… – page 5.
Now that you’ve read this, I hope you’ll forget that I have this book for guidance, as the following writing samples are done by me and reflect very little of the discipline and precision necessary for truly mastering a beautiful Spencerian Script. I’m working on it!
For these writing samples, I used Rhodia paper, a Brause wooden nib holder, and the Brause Blue Pumpkin nib. This is my favourite nib to use, mainly because I think it’s the most foolproof – it gives you some good flex and variation without being too fragile. I didn’t do anything to prep the nib for writing – just dipped in with a brand new nib. There are a few things you can do to prepare your nibs, but I’m hoping to get into that in a later blog post.
This ink is exactly as it is described by almost all of the calligraphers I’ve spoken with. It’s smooth and flows with your nib, just that perfect balance between thick (so it doesn’t railroad or blob on you) and thin (so you can get nice hairlines for line variation).
Fountain pen ink does sometimes work with dip pens – one good fountain pen ink for dip pens is J. Herbin Perle Noire – but sometimes you can get less regulated flow: the ink can sometimes go onto the paper very thick and wet at the beginning strokes, but thin out as the nib runs closer to empty. One calligrapher mentioned he prefers fountain pen inks for when he needs to do very fine, precise work, as its very thin consistency helps with fine hairline, so I think it also depends a bit on the type of work you’re doing and of course if you need a certain colour.
You can see the ink sitting behind the nib here (glistening!) but it’s not pooling into a drop at the tip of the nib, which can result in a blob.
This Higgins Eternal Ink has a consistency that ensures your writing is evenly “wet” and black – it flows smoothly and has very even output from the nib, if that makes sense. You won’t be able to tell when you’ve just dipped your nib. This also means there is almost no shading, it’s just a dark, rich, almost opaque black ink. You do have to check your nib to make sure you’ve still got ink in the tank – I’m sure for calligraphers this just becomes second nature to re-dip every few words.
You can see from the close-ups of the writing samples that there are no “wetter” and “drier” words or letters, the flow is evenly thick throughout.
Writing with a dip pen is much, much different from writing with a fountain pen. Fountain pens are smooth, and mostly seem to disappear as you’re writing. You don’t need to apply pressure, or think about dipping, ink doesn’t just run out every couple of words or lines. Writing with a dip pen you can really feel and hear the nib scratching against the paper. I think the word “scratching” sometimes has negative connotations with fountain pen users, but I really do mean it in the best possible way. You can feel the nib making contact with the paper, and I think the natural tendency of a soft nib like this being a bit scratchier lends itself well to cursive or some sort of flowing and swooping script as you press and release with the nib.
If you’re an experienced calligrapher, no doubt you have already heard of (and may already own a bottle or two!) of this ink, but if you’re just thinking about it, I highly recommend this ink, and even more so because it’s so inexpensive. There’s a black and a sepia – you know me and brown inks – but this ink is great for no nonsense, even flow with dip pens, so you can focus on your technique and your beautiful calligraphy.