Succotash at the Studio
For many years after America had declared its independence, English script was still the standard for all written correspondence. Strictly uniform and consistent, it allowed for almost no individual expression or style.
Enter a man named Platt Rogers Spencer - when he introduced his "Spencerian" system of handwriting, it revolutionized American correspondence and communication in ways that still pervade our culture today. Click below to keep reading.Read more
So much of the joy in handwriting is the personal touch we get to express when putting pen to paper - not just line by line, or word by word, but even down to every letter.
When you see a work of writing made up with pretty frills and decorative swirls, and think “Wow, that looks so fancy!”, the secret ingredient to their lettering is surprisingly simple yet completely essential: the proper use of flourishes.
A Flourished History
Also occasionally referred to as “swashes”, flourishes developed out of the free-flowing nature of calligraphy, with known appearances in writing dating back as far as the 16th century. They reached their greatest creative potential when Spencerian script began its all-encompassing dominance over written correspondence in America. Not that many Americans were complaining back when the transition began in the 1800s.
At that time, English script was the standard for writing, and although it wasn’t the complete opposite of Spencerian, looking back, it was a lot like its strict, no-nonsense cousin: While pleasing to the eye, it was also rigidly uniform and consistent, required stiff muscular restriction, and had little room for freedom of expression or personal touch. In short, it made the writing process a bit dull (and a bit painful!).
When the father and namesake of Spencerian script, Mister Platt Rogers Spencer, was developing his revolutionary new handwriting system, much of his inspiration was pulled from the beauty he saw in nature, and the sense of movement and curvature it exhibited all around him. These characteristics began showing up in his handwriting in the form of flourishes.
Personality on Paper
Flourishing was the element that took writing on paper from didactic to artful expression. Now, you weren’t just getting your words on paper - you were adding your own personal touch with every sentence.
Any process, when given the right tools, has the underlying potential to become a fun activity that invokes enjoyment rather than obligation. Writing is no different. Flourishing added a flair to writing that didn’t just alter the experience for the writer, but affected the reader as well.
Writing with flourishes involved the excitement of exploring with pen on paper and adventuring into new forms of decoration. Reading the finished product meant having a personal invitation into the emotions of the writer. You could understand, in a vivid and visual way, what feeling was guiding them as they wrote. Plus, reading with flourishes added the enjoyment reading with aesthetically pleasing decorations on every line.
Practicing the act of flourishing consistently meant writers could eventually craft their own unique styles and tastes, and even discover which individual letters they enjoyed writing over others.
Michael Sull, Master Penman and renowned teacher of calligraphy, cursive, and handwriting, told us his favorite letters all come down to the very nature of flourishes themselves.
“Flourishes”, he says, “are made of curves. When you have curves in a letter, those are opportunities for flourishing. The more curves a letter presents to you, the fancier it can become.”
“So, I like letters like B and E. The letter M is a really good one. There's a few other letters. The letter R, the letter R is just like the letter B except that it has a leg on the bottom right instead of another loop, but that leg can turn into more flourishing. The letter K, but the first letters I mentioned are probably the nicest ones I like. They can be pretty fancy.”
Me, My Pen, and I
Maybe the greatest part of writing flourishes is its strong relationship with thoughtfulness. Writing with flourishes means your present self is occupied with nothing else but the words on your paper. Your mind, feelings, and muscles are focused purely on your pen and its path. Flourishing captures your whole attention to craft beautiful flairs with personality, and this effort doesn’t go unnoticed.
Flourishes leave a powerful impression when intended for someone else. Receiving anything handwritten is flattering for anyone, but when that writing is accompanied with flourishes, the experience gets taken to a whole level. You took the time to not only write on paper, but also artfully constructed it the whole way through. It makes flourishing one of the most impactful gestures a person can do to show others how much they care.
Starting a Flourishing Journey
A great treat when it comes to flourishing is that, rather than learning an entirely new handwriting system, flourishes can instead be incorporated into your current writing practice. Having a base of fundamentals to learn and work from can both simplify the learning process and immerse anyone in the addicting world of flourished writing.
If you are in Florida, or near the Tampa Bay area, a great opportunity is approaching at the end of November into December. The Master Penman himself, Michael Sull, is bringing his practice to South Tampa to teach his expertise in the field of penmanship.
As well as teaching workshops on Spencerian Script, artistic signatures, and cursive handwriting, Mr. Sull will be instructing a immersive workshop focused on Decorative Flourishing. Michael Sull’s flourishing workshops not only arm students with the essential rules of flourishing, but also help students develop their own unique flourishing style. People walk out of his workshops with newfound knowledge of their own personal tastes, and often with a skill set they didn’t realize they were capable of.
Michael Sull brings his unique teaching style all over the world, and rarely to the Southeast. His visit to the Tampa area is a singular opportunity to work one-on-one with one of the foremost experts on Spencerian script.
We encourage you to keep writing, explore your own style on paper, and if you want to expand your abilities with the powerful joy of decorative flourishing, reserve your seat in Michael Sull’s workshop on December 2nd. Stay creative, and we hope to see you in December.
The Paper Seahorse will be bringing Master Penman Michael Sull to the Tampa area for a weekend-long workshop series. From November 30th to December 2nd, Mr. Sull will be teaching intimate, creative classes on handwriting, flourishing, artistic signatures, and Spencerian script. Class sizes will be limited, so those interested are encouraged to sign up early. More details and class descriptions can be found here.
Fountain pens revolutionized writing in the 19th century. Before fountain pens people used quills and inkwells. The writing process was messy and time consuming. Having a refillable chamber or cartridge meant one could easily travel and change inks on the go. Writing expanded to more people and the fun really began.
Why Write with a Fountain Pen
They look cool and write really smoothly. Simple. The experience is way nicer than ballpoint and smoother than a rollerball with more line variation. You can write in cursive, print or anything in between. Your writing will have depth and personality. The rainbow of colors available make anything possible and well with proper care and use, they can last a lifetime!
Writing with a fountain pen necessitates holding the pen a little differently, to have the ink flow from the pen to the paper. Each pen and person and the way they write are a little different. Testing a few is the best way to get familiar with them.
There are three basic parts of a fountain pen: nib, ink, and body.
Nibs are the most important as they control the ink flow and mark on the paper. These can be made from basic material like steel, to extra fancy, like gold.
Nibs most commonly come in these varying point sizes: extra fine - EF, fine - F, medium - M, broad – B, and double broad - BB. And in different parts of the world these sizes are even different. In the East the EF point sizes are finer than in Europe or the U.S. So knowing where your pen is made will help you know what point size you may want.
Almost any nib size can be customized by a nibmeister (trained people who are adept in modifying the most important part of the pen), not only into different shapes (like italic, cursive italic, and architect), but also can be adjusted for smoothness and flow to suit each user.
Here is a very handy comparison of strokes of varying fountain pen nibs: https://www.gouletpens.com/nib-comparison-tool
Filling Systems & Ink
There are many different filling systems available depending on the manufacturer and type of pen. Cartridge/converter pens are the most common, but there are also piston fillers, vacuum fillers, lever fillers, eyedroppers, and many others. Don't be afraid to try the different types. Ink can come in handy pre-filled cartridges or you can fill convertors with bottled inks of your choice.
Some fountain pens have proprietary pre-filled cartridges, like Lamy, but all can use bottled inks. Convertors are easy to fill and the range of bottled inks available is staggering! Just imagine the colors, moods, and sheens to express yourself.
Pen holders can be simple, like the clear plastic ones where you can see the ink color, to resin and metal, or even wood. Find what you like to hold in your hand and think about how you will use the pen.
Types of Fountain Pens
There is an incredible range of fountain pens on the market, from affordable, entry-level models to thousands of dollars which showcase fine craftsmanship and incredible materials.
Some are modern, classically designed and come in heavy or light weights. There are skinny ones and chunky ones, basic and high tech, you get the idea.
There are vintage models to that are rare and thrilling to find. You can find ones from low to high in price. It is best to try a few out and see which ones speak to you. Think of them like wands, they really are magic and powerful and truly become an extension of you.
Entry-level starter pens to try: Pilot Metropolitan, Lamy Safari, Platinum Preppy and TWSBI.
At first any fountain pen can seem stratchy or the ink won’t flow right away. Just keep writing and you will feel the ink start to flow, sometimes its like the pen breaks you in.
Writing on the appropriate paper will also ensure a pleasant writing experience. Smooth paper is best. At first, try writing on notebook paper, a post it note, a piece of junk mail, any paper near you. You will soon see and feel the difference proper paper can make.
- Clairefontaine - French, the only European company to mill their own paper
- Tomoe River - Japanese technical paper, extremely thin and strong, can use both sides of the paper
- Maruman Mnemosyne - Japanese silky smooth
- G. Lalo - French laid in fun colors
- LIFE - Japanese velvety touch
- Rhodia - a cult French paper from Lyon
The Difference between Rollerball, Ballpoint, and Fountain Pen: https://www.paperseahorse.com/blogs/news/what-the-ink-learn-the-difference-between-a-rollerball-ballpoint-and-fountain-pen
- The Best Fountain Pen Paper: https://www.jetpens.com/blog/the-best-fountain-pen-paper/pt/730
- Troubleshooting: https://www.gouletpens.com/fountain-pen-101
We hope you go for a “test write” and try one, any one, and see how your letters and everyday writing will change for the better. Be warned, the world of fountain pens can be addicting and it’s a rabbit hole that invites you in. Next thing you know, you will be attending pen shows and looking for that special pen case to hold your new friends in style.
It National Letter Writing & Poetry Month! While we celebrate penmanship all year long, its nice to really dive in and enjoy all that letters and handwriting offer us. Handwritten letters are heartfelt, make you smarter and more mindful, we could all use more of that.