Succotash at the Studio
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.
From agendas to journals; and even wallets, Travelers Notebooks allow you to do this in the most flexible and stylish way. These leather notebooks from Japan are highly coveted and often imitated. They have been around for a dozen years. Simplicity and balance are key to their philosophy. The notebooks and various inserts have been designed for ones daily travels in life. Whether you use them for planning and organization, sketching, or journaling, you are free to customize them for your own needs. Created around the famous MD (Midori Diary) Paper. One is assured of the smoothest highest quality paper for most any medium. See more of the entire line from Travelers Company.
Here is how some of us use our notebooks, we hope you will be inspired and show us how you use yours.
Cowboy Alex uses his Travelers Notebook as an agenda:
"Sometime four or five years back, I decided that I liked having a paper trail of my weekly appointments. I am a visual learner and will always remember my schedule if I recall what the pages look like - either blank or with names and times scribbled on them. Putting things into my phone just didn't help me retain them to memory, and I prefer to have a general idea ahead of time of what my days or weeks are shaping up to look like.
Technology companies and their ecosystems are rushing toward the complete digitization of our society, with innovations like virtual reality and artificial intelligence, mobile shopping, and digital correspondence. Gadgets get smaller and less expensive with each iteration, and we are attached to our devices more than ever before.
As a child of the late 1980s and 1990s, it's alarming to see the iPad nannies we use to occupy young children of 2018. Rarely do they play outside unsupervised, learning and exploring and testing limits on their own.
And, the things we learned in school, which mostly happened away from pixelated screens, are being phased out too.
Many school curriculums have dropped handwriting and cursive instruction in favor of developing digital competencies, but handwriting will always be more authentic (a “signature”) and intentional (less editing ability) than typing on a keyboard or tapping on a screen.
Anyone else notice how terrible digital signatures look when written with your finger on a tablet?
Reverting back to analog methods presents a bevy of proven benefits, for both youngsters still early in their development, and adults who rarely put pen to paper in any serious way.
Psychological studies have linked handwriting to the positive development of fine motor skills. In learning to handwrite, the brain must locate each stroke relative to other stokes, learn and remember appropriate size, slant, and feature detail of each letter, and develop categorization skills.
Cursive writing is even more valuable because it is more demanding than standard printing, requiring a pre-plan on what will be written and how to connect the letters gracefully. Cursive is also faster and more likely to engage students to develop a personal style and ownership of their skill.
On a more spiritual, romantic level, handwriting is inherently human. From Master Penman Michael Sull, a cursive and handwriting instructor we have previously brought to Tampa for in-depth handwriting workshops:
"Handwriting is the intimate expression of emotions, wishes and dreams made visible on paper. Through this personal medium we have the privilege of sharing our humanity with everyone, or with no one at all. It is an intensely private occupation that can never be exactly duplicated, yet always reveals a glimpse of the writer’s soul.”
Some additional resources to read on pen writing vs. typing or tapping: