What I teach: Part 1 - Pointed Pen Calligraphy by Hoang Dao

Beginning Copperplate

Copperplate (common name of English Roundhand) is a beautiful letterform made with a flexible pointed pen nib. The pointed pen allows to thick downward strokes and hairline thin upward strokes, creating graceful, flowing letterforms in a script sequence. This class provides overview of foundational principals of Copperplate Script. Warm-ups, basic strokes, lowercases and uppercases, spacing, and understanding of the word 'roundhand' will be taught. 

The class will cover on how to distinguish original English Roundhand to other historical script, French Roundhand and Italian Roundhand; how to write American script, Engrosser's Script or Engraver Script. 


Intermediate/Advanced Copperplate:

Artistic Writing (Advanced Engraver’s Script): for decades Spencerian and Copperplate were considered to be opposing teams on the same football field.  For penmen and calligraphers, it was not common that a person would use either style, but not both. In the class, we will combine the best of both styles - the expressive flamboyance of Spencerian capitals, flourishes and use of Superscription, with emphatic lowercase of Copperplate. By using these styles together, a new appearance of script writing is achieved, resulting in a versatile hand that can be accented even further into a highly ornamental form of language.  

Copperplate Inverse Hand: Used widely in decoration and design, Italian inverse hand is a special Copperplate style, in which the straight holder is held as you are making flourishing, and the shade comes upward. This technique brings a new look to old classic Copperplate. 

Flourish monogram: A monogram is an effective and attractive arrangement of two or more letters, no longer separate, becoming a symbol or sign, which coneys personal significance. Today, monogram design remains popular as ever , from commercial use as trademarks, symbols, and as part of branding to personal use in stationary and wedding theme design. In this class, we will develop our own designs (from simple to more complex) using step-by-step instructions, we will explore the 'elasticity' of letters, learning how to bend, modify, repeat, stretch, overlap and interlock lines to create well balanced, useful and visually beautiful monograms with a pointed nib. From pencil sketch to finished inked design, and working with shapes such as spirals, cameos, shields, diamonds, and ovals. 

Cultural Roundhand: Italian and French style: Round Hand (also Roundhand) is a type of handwriting and calligraphy originating in England in the 1660s. Characterised by an open flowing hand and subtle contrast of thick and thin strokes deriving from metal pointed nibs, its popularity rapidly grew, becoming codified as a standard through the publication of printed writing manuals. Later in the 17th and 18th centuries, English writing masters including George Bickham, George Shelley and George Snell helped to propagate Round Hand's popularity, so that by the mid-18th century the Round Hand style had spread across Europe and crossed the Atlantic to North America. It bloomed as a high demanded art of penmanship in France and Italy, which reflected the culture in letterface. By changing the pen, and technique to write, Roundhand was brought back to life but in a whole new beautiful look. 

Pointed Pen Variation: In this class, we will study how to apply pointed pen technique to explore historical broad pen alphabets like Pointed Pen Uncial, Free hand Italic, and Angular Hand and Old School Hand. We will start with formal pointed pen calligraphy, then open different styles by changing letter angle and letterform. 

Beginning Spencerian

We will learn the fundamental principles of this script, start from principle strokes, working our way to the lowercase letters, then processing to the capitals. We will focus on curvature, movement, contrast, and variability of this script. No prior experience with the pointed pen is necessary for this class. 



Intermediate/Advanced Spencerian:

Ornamental Script

Prefer basic knowledge of Spencerian alphabet, the class will focus on how to write Spencerian with more ornate strokes, turn and shade to make attractive look of curvature structure. We will explore how to use muscular and whole arm movement to write step by step, from lowercases to tremendous beautiful capitals; how to arrange and space letters, words, sentences, and paragraphs. We will also learn how to master advanced technique to write like Needle Stitch, Double Stroke, Multi-pressure pointed pen… 

Signature writing

Considered as the highest level of Ornamental Script, Signature Writing is truly fine art penmanship applied to letter writing. The delicacy, once reaches substantial level, was such that no process of engraving and printing can do it justice. It is a graceful, harmonious and powerful combination of capitals, and a limited lowercases. The skill requires for such precision and freedom is second to that of no other. In this class, we will learn how to make it in simplified way: draw, trace and copy masters' writing and analyze their point of view, in which these graceful, free, full, and symmetrical loops have been produced. The we will be moving to design your own signatures, by training constructive forms of those analysis.  

Business Cursive/ Rapid Penmanship

Business Cursive is a flowing, joined form of handwriting that is intended to be written with common writing tools such as pencils, pens, rollerballs, gel writers, or fountain pens. It looks best when written with a extra fine or fine instrument. The aim of this class is to improve your handwriting by training a new style of writing system. You will learn how to truly write by your arm and shoulder, correct your position, distinguish good handwriting, develop good habits of using your hands, and know the term of rapid-handwriting. 

Off-hand Flourishing

This is an introductory course which will cover the dynamics of traditional off-hand flourishing. In this class we will learn principal elements as layout, strokes, contrast, sequence, variety and details. We will compose these individual elements into such traditional patterns as abstract lone flourishes, quills, birds, and swans. 

Victorian Flourishing

Victorian flourishing is different from off-hand flourishing that it is designed in pencil before inkling, and it appears more appealing with letters. There are many examples to be found in George Bickham's Universal Penman. It lends itself to a variety of uses such as border, title flourishing, cartouches and decorated initials. Starting with simple techniques and drawing basics, the class will work toward a better understanding of principles of masterpiece flourishing, how to apply flourishing in letter design. 

Story of Lacquer Pen by Hoang Dao

I turn two pens from different wood. Gold Flower is made of red Padauk, a very famous tree in my country and Peony is made of black Rosewood, way more precious than Padauk. I always use best wood material for unique pens, and never repeat a design twice. I turn with chisels and sand till it gets very thin tail and the shape I need. It takes hours to do in this step, which is called 'making pen bone'.

Next I paint the pen with brown lacquer, layer by layer, and store in into a humid box. Lacquer needs humid environment to dry. The pen will turn to dark color. I sand it by very smooth sandpaper, 2500 or 3000 grids, to get rid of error on the pen surface (usually dust in the lacquer) and apply the last brown lacquer layer (mixed from lacquer and oil) and let it dry in humid box. This step is called 'making pen flesh'.

The most complicated step is 'making pen skin', which I apply real gold and other decoration on the pen. I apply gold and lacquer color in many layers and it with smooth sandpaper reappear the gold underneath lacquer. I repeat this twice or three times, as long as everything is flat perfectly. Then I paint with diluted lacquer lastly, let it dry in humid box and polish by bare hand. The heat from bare hand will make gold brilliantly shine and colors penetrate together. After about one month, when the last layer of lacquer turns transparent, the pen is incomparably beautiful.

Peony is much more expensive than any other pens I have ever made because of 2 reasons. First, it is very complicated thin tail that I must work carefully on the lathe, little by little until it comes to expect shape of 3mm diameter. Second, white color in lacquer is extremely hard (white on flower). The lacquer itself is brown so quite easy to make other color but for white, I have to mix with silver, and a special stone. I also have to paint very thin layer each time because if I paint to much, white color would turn to yellow as the reaction of lacquer with the air, about 7 layers to get the image you see on the pen now. 

Pointed Nibs Review by Hoang Dao

Here are some nibs I have used since I started practicing calligraphy.

1. Gillott

Gillott is my first start in calligraphy, and also my first choice for beginner. Gillott is cheap and has various flexibility. However, Gillott nib is not long lasting and can be rubbed very fast by even normal carbon ink, iron gal or walnut ink or sumi may rub it even faster. 

Gillott 303: my favorite to write Copperplate, very flexible and fine. This nib is quite sharp, and easy to be bended by hard pressure. I usually use this for 3-7mm x-height, and smooth paper. 

Gillott 404: nearly stiff as Nikko G, this nib is very smooth and easy to use. This nibs makes not so fine line but good for final retouched commission work. I use this for 3-5mm x-height, light weighted Copperplate. 

Gillott 170: flexible and smooth, this nib cannot make fine line. This nib is very good to write on texture paper like watercolor paper. 

2. Leonardt EF Principal

Super flexible, high contrast and very fine, this is my best favorite nib of all time. I use this nib for any kind of pointed pen calligraphy (Copperplate, Spencerian, Flourishing, Business Cursive), both daily practicing and teaching. I also provide LP for my students as a standard nib.

3. G nibs

Nikko G: smooth, long lasting but very stiff. Nikko G works well with even acidic ink like iron gal. However, this nib doesn’t hold ink very well and needs to be prepared carefully before use. Some kinds of ink may blob, or flow unevenly through the nib. I would recommend you to use it with pigment based ink like white ink, goache, or gold ink which are quite thick liquid.

Zebra G: the same to Nikko G but more flexible, good for beginner who wants to try Copperplate with a smooth nib.

4. Hunt

Most Hunt nibs are quite good for medium or small writing. I love Hunt crow quill nib, it makes very thin smooth hairline.

Hunt 101: as flex as Leonard Principal but sharper and sometimes more scratchy!

Hunt 22: as flex as Gillott 404, same smoothness and stiffness

Hunt 22B: vintage nib I love most in Hunt series, a little more flexible than Hunt 22, and sharp like 

Leonardt Principal. I use this nib for Spencerian.

Hunt 56: stiffer like Nikko G, flows ink very well, my favorite for small flourishing details

Hunt 99: very flexible but easy to blob

5. Easterbrook

I use Easterbrook for small writing, because the nib is quite smaller than common standard, flexibility: Easterbrook 354>355>356>357>358
Easterbrook 357 is the best nib for daily practice, however, really hard to find nowadays.

6. Vintage nibs

I really LOVE Gillott Principality, smooth and super flex and super expensive. This nib is not for beginner, for penmen who master the style only.

Spencerian No.1 and No. 2: good for Spencerian, but again hard to find and very expensive.


Dao Huy Hoang

Calligraphy & Penmanship