Rusty nibs! How the internet tells you to care for calligraphy nibs, and what I actually do!

I had an email from Sarah the other day – she’d been to one of my calligraphy workshops and kept her nib – but within a few months it had begun to rust. She asked me for advice: is there a best way to keep calligraphy nibs, to prevent rusting?

Now I go through nibs pretty fast – usually three or four Nikko Gs in a week. (They’re my fave nib of the moment, and suitable for almost everything I write!) But I do have a few little collections of older nibs, which have on occasion gone a little rusty… so I needed to find out tips for keeping nibs clean as much as Sarah did!

The internet says the secret of clean nibs is:

Drying them

We’re all guilty of throwing down a nib at the end of a practice session, perhaps giving it a quick dab on a cloth, and leaving it for a while.

THIS IS WHY NIBS GO RUSTY!

A dry nib is a happy nib. That’s basically it.

Rust on calligraphy nibs is caused by moisture. (Obvious from science class at school, and also unanimously agreed on the internet.)DRY YOUR NIBS really really really really well – and they should be fine!

Storing them in a really dry place

I have nibs in:

a) a wooden vintage tea chest box
b) a handmade mache box with a gorgeous fairy on top, who I call ‘the bloke’
c) a wooden matchbox-style box I got from a photographer friend
d) plastic boxes I get when I order nibs in their hundreds

The one thing they all have in common is the little sachet of silica gel inside. That baby keeps nibs super dry, even when they’re stored for a long long time.

Maybe…. oiling them?

So I have wondered about this in the past. And the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. If you’re going to store a nib for a long time, and want it to last, dry it really thoroughly then oil it.

If you’re a gardener, you’ll know you have to look after your secateurs, loppers and shears. Oh, and your trowel and fork and the rest of it. (Mine are all rusting in the garage!)

The same applies to calligraphy nibs! (says the internet) – and remember the potato trick? New nibs come with a lacquer / oil coating to stop them rusting? Potato starch somehow (magic) gets rid of the oil and lets the ink flow? Maybe, just maybe, oiling your nib before long term storage will prevent any rust.

If you try this, let me know how it goes!

Storing them separately

I’d never heard this, but apparently “rust begets rust”. (How old can that saying be? Do folks still say ‘begets’?!) Anyway – it seems to be true. Keep a happy nib next to a rusty one, and it will go rusty. So keep them apart!

Cleaning rust off your nibs before it’s too late!

There are two kinds of rust: surface rust, and ‘red rust’. Nibs are so tiny it can’t be easy to tell the difference, but if your nib is fairly new and has a spot of rust on it, it might just be salvageable. Get an old toothbrush and a pinch of bicarbonate of soda, and rub gently (with a drop of water). Surface rust will clean away, and your nib might be ok to use.

A word of caution:

vintage nibs with rust could be dangerous – if the metal has corroded all the way through, the nib could snap. Don’t risk trying to write with an old nib if it’s had years to rust away: the risk to your beautiful eyes isn’t worth it!

How I store my calligraphy nibs

I’m not a tidy person by any means, but calligraphy nibs live happily in the cutest little containers, so they’re easy to store.

Also, if you ever stand on one you’ll remember it for life. So mine go in boxes so I know they’re not on the carpet under my desk. Lesson learnt.

I have various little containers, and I use separate ones for broad-edged nibs (for italics and gothic lettering etc.) – these are the nibs I don’t use so often nowadays.

My pointed nibs go in the little wooden box if they’re used – and there’s always silica gel in there to keep them dry.

Brand new nibs stay in the original packaging. I keep them air-tight until I need one, and then in goes the silica gel straight away.

A last word on caring for your nibs

This is an interesting video if you’re really having trouble with rusty calligraphy nibs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_f3eVQgn0sU

It recommends opening a sachet of silica gel and sprinkling a few balls of it into a little test tube-like holder, then putting a teeny piece of toilet roll in, squidging it to the bottom of the tube with the end of a penholder, and lining up all your nibs before popping them inside. Ingenious, if you like that sort of thing!

My nib boxes are from:

(handmade) – Vintage Twee
(wooden box) – Amanda Karen Photography

 

Further reading:

Storing nibs in cut up straws?

When it’s time to change your nib

Finally! A use for that horrible Arm & Hammer toothpaste!

Essential supplies for modern calligraphy – day 7 and beyond

Once you know you’ll keep practising, it’s worth getting a few extra supplies – so I recommend making learning calligraphy fun with:

  1. coloured inks
  2. coloured papers – especially dark
  3. different nibs
  4. a book – try my Introduction to Modern Calligraphy, or Nib & Ink, or Modern Calligraphy Workshop

Read my article about making practice fun, where I explain a little more about all of these – and don’t be afraid to experiment!

Modern calligraphy isn’t about making the perfect shapes on your page. It’s about exploring an art form, trying something new and finding your own personality through your writing.

So if you’re a rose-gold on black kind of person, this is how you should practise… be a little flamboyant, spoil yourself, and pop to the shops with gold ink all over your hands and face! You’re a calligrapher now…

All images by Jenny Jones Photography

Natalie’s calligraphy journey

Keeping in touch with students from my calligraphy workshops is the loveliest thing. Natalie has been to two of my calligraphy classes in Manchester, and seeing her beautiful lettering style develop is just brilliant for me. I wanted to share her progress to show you just how much you can achieve with modern lettering, in a short time!

Natalie’s first workshop was in 2016. She’d never written modern calligraphy before, and learned quickly in those first couple of hours. I remember her pen strokes were a little hesitant at first, but she soon learned how to put pressure on the nib and was creating really strong strokes and characterful letters in that first class. Her enthusiasm was infectious 🙂 and the class was one of my favourites.

Calligraphy by Natalie

Having a busy life does tend to get in the way of our hobbies, and Natalie is a busy mum, so finding time to write wasn’t easy! Understandably, after that first workshop she tucked her pen away safely in a drawer and promised herself to come back to it some day…

… back in May of this year I had a message from Natalie, happy she’d been able to book a space at another workshop! It was lovely to catch up, and Natalie surprised herself at how quickly she took to lettering again.

I’ve learned from Natalie that modern calligraphy adheres to the old ‘it’s like riding a bicycle’ cliché – once you’ve had a go, the movements stick in your mind and picking up a dip pen feels natural. Natalie’s lettering in that class was gorgeous, and the flowing words and quotes she wrote at the end were fabulous!

I wanted to show you the work of a real calligraphy student, someone who’s spent 2 hours total learning in classes, and a few hours practising at home. Natalie – I love how you write and I hope calligraphy brings you so much pleasure over the years to come! (I’m still working out a way to run that ‘extra’ session for projects, problem solving and calligraphy chat… it WILL happen and I really hope I’ll see you there!)

Calligraphy by Natalie
Calligraphy by Natalie (experimenting with different styles)
Calligraphy by Natalie – experimental, exaggerated joining strokes

Join me for calligraphy summer school – a 90 minute informal class at Ziferblat Edge St – on August 18th at 2pm (tickets £35)

Or come to Manchester Craft & Design Centre for a full (2+ hour) workshop with personalised calligraphy kits for every student to take home – on September 7th at 1pm (tickets £65)

Realistic expectations – what will you learn at a modern calligraphy workshop?

Modern calligraphy is harder than it looks.

But I’m confident at least 90% of people can do it – and I really do believe that you only need 2 hours of teaching before you can continue your calligraphy journey to success!

The secret is to practice – have your first practice session at home (if you drink, a bottle of wine is a lovely accompaniment and will help your lettering along beautifully!) within a week of doing a calligraphy workshop.

Calligraphy workshops are different for everyone. Imagine asking 15 of your friends to draw their very best picture of a lion. The results would be soooo varied, wouldn’t they?

My point is that we’re all creatively different. Some of us are arty; others are more careful with writing – but we can all learn lettering even if we’re starting from completely different places.

Most of my calligraphy classes have about 15 students. They’re of all ages, from all kinds of backgrounds and working in all kinds of jobs. Some are graphic designers; others are planning their weddings. Often people are crafty-creative – but that can be anything from felting to making tissue paper pom-poms or being a designer.

One constant is that my calligraphy workshops are a place where people learn.  You’ll genuinely go home with a new skill – you’ll have learned how to manipulate a brand new tool (the dip pen and nib) and I hope you’ll be excited and confident about practicing more at home and getting even better!

At the end of my modern calligraphy class, you’ll be happily using your calligraphy dip pen to create smooth and characterful swells and hairline strokes with your nib.

You’ll have learned the shapes of key letters – while we don’t concentrate too much on mastering every individual letter of the alphabet, you’ll have plenty of time to experiment with each one and discover your favourites!

By the end of the class you will:

  • be writing a pretty alphabet with thick and thin strokes, but you will need a little practice to perfect your curves and curls
  • be confident with the calligraphy pen and nib, and ready to experiment with different papers, nibs and colourful inks!
  • be ready to practice at home – and I hope you’ll be excited to keep writing!

 

My next calligraphy workshops are –
Ziferblat Edge st, Manchester – 18th August at 2pm
Tickets £35 (click to buy)

Manchester Craft & Design Centre – 7th September at 1pm
Tickets £59 (includes your own calligraphy kit to take home!)

 


Photography credits: Zen Photo

Now available in my online shop – calligraphy cheat sheets!

Cheating in calligraphy isn’t really cheating. Learning modern calligraphy can be tricky, and – as with anything in life – all of us learn in different ways.

If you’re one of those people who can watch someone paint or draw, and copy it perfectly straight away, then you’re lucky!

I’m not one of those people.

I actually think it’s why I enjoy modern calligraphy so much. You do have to learn to copy, but at your own pace and with plenty of leeway for writing in your very own style.

It’s liberating.

My modern calligraphy workshops include practice sheets where we copy shapes and letters. Some people find it really easy, and others take a little longer. Getting shapes exactly right can take a lot longer than you’d expect! Master calligraphers spend years perfecting their arm movements to create delicious shapes with an instinctive rhythm, but that’s not what modern calligraphy is about.

My workshops are all about introducing you to the art of modern calligraphy. My aim is to show you that everyone can write in their own modern lettering style – the trick is to understand the flexibility and angles of a dip pen and nib.

Every now and then I bring a cheat sheet along to my classes as a confidence builder, and I think they’re a lovely way to really feel how your arm and hand need to move to form letters.

Having to concentrate on your pen angle, pressure and copy letter shapes all at once is a lot to take in. If you’re more comfortable learning one step at a time, then I really recommend calligraphy cheat sheets!

I’ve put a series of 9 calligraphy cheat sheets in my Etsy shop. Basically, they’re for tracing shapes, letters and joining strokes / words. You get to really focus on how your nib needs to move to form beautiful letters, and learn the rhythm of calligraphy lettering without having to worry too much about the shape (or spelling!) of words.

My cheat sheets are only £2.70 each, and instantly downloadable from my Etsy shop. We cover upper and lower case alphabets and words, joining letters and forming quotes and layouts, and making swearing beautiful. (Because who doesn’t love a calligraphy swear on insta?!)

I’d love to know how you get on with them! Do they help your calligraphy practice?

Often students tell me they’re a nice way to relax and look at letters a little differently, or just a lovely break from copying and ‘alphabet drills’! And for others, if a particular letter is proving to be a hurdle to master (r, anyone?!) tracing a cheat sheet brings on that eureka moment where the shape clicks and you just ‘get it’!

Have a go – the cheat sheets are here: https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/byMoonandTide?section_id=24254046

Claire xx


Modern calligraphy – what’s next when you’ve learned all the letters?

Words are made of letters. Make the right shapes, put them in the right order and you’re all done, right?

Wrong.

In modern calligraphy, letters are the easy bit (apart form x. I hate x.) Letter drills are a fairly simple way to practice – write m 50 times and you’ll be brilliant at it. But there’s so much more to calligraphy – it’s about joining letters creatively.

No one really teaches how to do it – either because it’s assumed once you know the basics of letters you can work out how to join them, or because it’s bloody hard to teach! So how do you learn?

I’ve made a series of ‘Learn Calligraphy Cheat Sheets‘ which are on sale in my Etsy shop as printable, instant downloads. Sometimes the only way to learn is by doing: the easiest way to do is by cheating – at least at first!

There are 4 things to consider when joining letters:

  • the lightness of your pen stroke
  • the distance between your letters
  • the curve
  • the overall pattern of your joins

I love to teach an exaggerated spacing exercise in my calligraphy workshops, where students write the word ‘moon’ with increasingly longer spaces between the letters, eventually filling an A4 page with the word while still keeping letters small. It’s all about focusing on the joins and the patterns they make.

Next time you practice your modern calligraphy, write out full words and really focus on the gaps. Make joining strokes twice as wide as letters, creating really long gaps. Practice writing words in pencil, then rubbing out the letters, leaving only the joining strokes. Do they form a pattern? Are they smooth? Curvy? Pretty?

Giving a little extra attention to your joins will make your calligraphy all the more beautiful – and it’s the logical next step after learning all the letters.

Photo credit: Melissa Beattie Photography

When modern calligraphy gets challenging – a pep talk

There are days when I begin to write and just don’t feel happy with my calligraphy. Does this happen to you too? I think as creatives we can find it all too easy to be overly critical of our work – I know I can.

Those days where I begin a poetry commission four times only for it to end up in the recycling, when I start a piece of calligraphy at 8am and after many false starts put my pens down at 10pm… it can be such an uphill battle!

But you know what? The harder I find it to write, the more time I spend overanalysing my letters, adjusting my nibs or watering down my inks, the more I learn.

And no matter how many false starts I make on a commission, it is ALWAYS worth the time and effort.

Because modern calligraphy is a pleasure to write and learn. It’s therapeutic; you get lost in letters. And it’s all about finding your rhythm – once you have that, you’ve won.

Photo credit Jo Bradbury / illustration Amy Swann

The lost art of lettering – for business!

We are so lucky to live in the online age. We type more often than we write.

Calligraphy now is an art, a skill which takes years of practice to develop to a professional level.

But did you know that writing a beautiful calligraphy script was once as important to building a career – any career – as computer skills are today?

I have a small collection of antique calligraphy books; I love exploring old bookshops and discovering 20th century calligraphy instruction books.

In the early 1900s many books were written on the subject of penmanship for business. They are fascinating to read now, not just because we no longer write this way in our daily lives, but because the scripts and examples they include are so intricate and graceful to see.

I can’t begin to imagine how much a solicitor would have charged, a hundred or so years ago, to notably represent his clients in court but also to present written documents in the most exquisite hand calligraphy.

And imagine, if you wanted to apply for a job as a solicitor – how beautifully you’d have to write your CV and covering letter?!

I smile to think of a 21st century bank manager trying to write letters in Spencerian calligraphy. I’d love to see a 1900s businessman compare his handwriting with that of, say, Mark Zuckerberg…

More than anything, I’m proud to be part of a new calligraphy era; young men and women all over the world are picking up pens and creating art for pleasure; lettering is no longer the province of rich businessmen, but a craft enjoyed by tens of thousands of artists all over the world.

Images by lovely Jenny Heyworth Photography

You can see examples of rare calligraphy books at www.Iampeth.com

Join me for a calligraphy workshop in Manchester: online booking & info – modern calligraphy workshops

Buy a modern calligraphy starter kit and begin your calligraphy adventures today!