Succotash at the Studio

The Story of Spencerian Script

For years, it was the way almost all Americans wrote. Whether in a letter, or a business proposal, or a personal diary, Spencerian and written communication were one and the same. Spencerian writing was so far-reaching and pervasive in American culture, it even made its way into the iconic logos of Ford and Coca Cola. How did Spencerian handwriting become one of the most recognizable and important parts of American life?

A Spencerian Story

It was the year 1800, and America was now several decades into its newly declared existence as an independent nation. While the American spirit was still fresh and fueling change, something significant had still been pervading its culture: the way people wrote.

At the time, the standard for all written correspondence in America was English script. A strictly uniform and consistent order of writing, it required stiff muscular and emotional restriction, allowing for almost no individual expression, and very little room for either artistic or personal style. It almost seemed symptomatic of the grievances Americans felt before declaring their independence from Great Britain.

The Birth of Spencerian Writing

Enter a man named Platt Rogers Spencer. Born in a small village 70 miles north of New York City, his hometown of East Fishkill at the time had still not been officially established. Today it’s just a little under a 30 minute drive from Poughkeepsie, its closest city neighbor.

Hopewell Junction
East Fishkill’s friendly little depot at Hopewell Junction

Born at the turn of the century, on November 7th, 1800, Spencer’s time of birth almost seemed symbolic of the changes soon to take over America.

Growing up, even as a young boy, Spencer was fascinated with the dense forests and foliage that surrounded his tiny, sparsely populated village. At the same time, he had been developing another seemingly unrelated passion: a strong fondness for writing. 

 Paper was difficult to obtain at the time, so Spencer looked for anything he could write on, and wrote fervently on what he found. Sand, ice, snow, the fly-leaves of his mother’s Bible, bark from the surrounding trees, he even talked his way into getting permission from a local cobbler to write on the leather in his shop.

By the time he was just 15, Spencer taught his first writing class, and for years after, he immersed himself in the study of penmanship. His early fascination with nature continued to accompany him in his journey, and slowly he began developing a style of handwriting inspired by his love of nature.

The man himself, Mister Platt Rogers Spencer

Spencer narrowed down his admiration for nature to four distinct aspects -  a sense of movement, curvature, variety, and contrast. It was because of these features, he decided, that nature appeared to be beautiful wherever you looked. Spencer strongly believed that God created nature, and that God created people. Logically, he thought, if nature could express itself so beautifully with these four facets, why couldn’t people, another one of God’s creations, express itself in the same way?

He began developing the bones of what would soon become his namesake writing system, and his most memorable accomplishment. Born from the beauty of nature and the human desire for self-expression, the system developed by Spencer was nothing short of revolutionary.

A Writing Revolution

For the first time, instead of being confined to the rigid restrictions of English script - with no variance in letters and size, and no personal expression - writers were now free to explore on paper with a writing system built on motion and contrasting features. Words on paper were no longer just words: they were artistic impressions. Writing was beautiful to look at, and engaging for both the writer and the reader. Writers had a personal style they could impart in their words, that made the writing process all the more attractive. The heavy use of curves allowed ample opportunity for flourishing, opening the door to a whole other world of artistic penmanship. Writers were much more physically at ease, as it required vastly less muscle stiffness compared to English script. But perhaps the greatest accomplishment of Spencerian writing was its ability to make emotion come to life on paper.

It’s all part of what has made Spencerian so enduring, even 150 years later.

Michael Sull is not only an internationally recognized Master Penman, but he also considered the foremost expert on Spencerian script in America. He tells us at The Paper Seahorse why Spencerian was and still is one of the most powerful forms of communication. To him, it all comes down to the roots of human nature.

“People”, he says, “can shout when they're excited. People can jump up and down. They can speak in quiet whispers. Their eyes and their facial expression can show intent, and a certain amount of conviction.”

“Spencer felt that if a person was able to have an alphabet that was based on those characters of nature, then you should be able to create visible language on paper that has so much personal expression, whoever reads it could understand how you felt, what you meant, how much you wanted to emphasize certain points and certain aspects of the language that you write on paper.”

Spencerian script caught like wildfire in America. It resonated with so many Americans because it was not just a rejection of English tradition, but an embrace of the ideals of their nation. Spencerian allowed for expression, for freedom, for individual thought, and it took off almost immediately.

A classic example of Spencerian flourishing, pulling inspiration from nature in true Spencerian fashion

For close to a century, the fever surrounding Spencerian script persisted in every written aspect of American culture. If you were writing a letter, you wrote in Spencerian. If you were corresponding in business, you wrote in Spencerian. Even logos pulled inspiration from the Spencerian system, and some you can recognize today, including the Coca Cola logo, and the logo for Ford cars.

Going Through Changes

One thing that has held true, whether in the 19th century, or today, is that change is always inevitable. The onslaught of advancing technologies took its toll in America, and Spencerian was no exception. By the time typewriters had succeeded handwriting as the de facto form of written communication, in the early to mid 1900s, Spencerian had become obsolete in the mainstream.

We don’t know what new technologies will pave the path forward in the coming years, but there’s one thing we do know: We as human beings will always need to express ourselves. We feel emotion, and have ideas, and want to tell others how we feel about them, and how we feel about ourselves. It’s the reason Spencerian script has still endured through all these years, and continues to fascinate people to this day - because there’s no other form of written communication that speaks to the inner creative spirit quite like Spencerian script.

“When you speak, you can't see the words, and as soon as you stop speaking, no one can hear what you said,” says Michael Sull, paying his tribute to the importance of Spencerian script. “No one can think about what you said because it's pretty much gone. It's disappeared. No one can see body language that isn’t animated anymore, so you kind of lose that.”

“But handwriting, handwriting is forever. It's visible language and all the expression that goes into it. All of the communication and information that goes into it exists forever.”

 

Make your mark with Master Penman Michael Sull this fall! Mister Sull, expert on Spencerian, cursive, calligraphy, and artistic penmanship, is teaching a workshop series in a rare visit to the Southeast US. From November 30th to December 2nd, Michael Sull will be in the Tampa Bay FL area to teach American Cursive HandwritingArtistic SignaturesDecorative Flourishing, and Spencerian Script. You can attend one workshop, or up all four workshops. We encourage those interested to sign up soon, as class sizes are limited! Each offers a singular opportunity to work in an intimate setting with one of the world’s last living master penmen.

Visit www.paperseahorse.com/spencerian for more information. We hope to see you at the end of November!

Celebrating The Beauty of Fountain Pens on National Fountain Pen Day

It’s hard to imagine our world without the addition of fountain pens. It’s worth giving a little gratitude to the nifty tool that revolutionized handwriting.

History in the Making

For centuries, handwriting was, and still is, one of the most important forms of communication. But before fountain pens, handwriting was a messy, time-consuming process, with a quill that repeatedly had to be dipped in an inkwell. In the 19th century, when widespread use of fountain pens began to emerge, people now had access to a functional tool that encased its own ink, could travel easily, wrote uniformly, and could be refilled as many times as they wanted. It was nothing short of revolutionary.

Things have changed a bit since the 19th century. But what has stood true through all the years is the lasting beauty and technical artistry of fountain pens.

Marking the Occasion

Since 2012, pen enthusiasts around the world have dedicated every first Friday of November to celebrate the beauty and importance of fountain pens on a day officially dubbed “Fountain Pen Day”.

The holiday began as an appreciation, not only for day-to-day use of fountain pens, but for the practice of handwriting and handwritten communication as well. It’s since grown in the past 6 years as a powerful testament to the impact that fountain pens still have on people.

Fountain Pen Day © , the official organizers and promoters of the holiday, want to see fountain pen lovers join in the celebration in any way they feel called to. They have thoughtfully put together a list of ways anyone can enjoy and celebrate the beauty of fountain pens. Here are some of their suggestions to light up your fountain pen inspiration.

Ways to Celebrate Fountain Pen Day

Write a letter to someone with your favorite fountain pen and ink.

There’s nothing quite like letter-writing that combines both the intimacy of personal expression in solitude, and the excitement of communicating with someone special. It’s a moment we can treat ourselves to any time, but it’s all the more special on Fountain Pen Day. You can mark the occasion in your letter by writing the name of both the pen and the ink you used under your signature.

 

Make up a Fountain Pen Day “Intro to Fountain Pens” pack for a friend

A struggle for any enthusiast, not just those passionate about fountain pens but those passionate about anything, is knowing people who just don’t quite grasp their appreciation. Maybe they’re aware of the concept, but they don’t fully understand the complexity, the history, or the fun of it! One of the greatest services you can dedicate yourself to on Fountain Pen Day is introducing fountain pens to more people. You can put together a brief history of fountain pens, and why they revolutionized handwriting, and create a list of reasons, or a few paragraphs, on why fountain pens are important to you. Any friend will appreciate being introduced to the world of fountain pens in such a thoughtful way.


Post on your favorite forum or blog by writing it out with your fountain pen.

Nothing breaks the mold of repetitive, uniform text on screen quite like the stark contrast of a handwritten note. How often do you get to see someone’s handwriting, a very personal expression of an individual, in our digital landscape? A great way to celebrate Fountain Pen Day is writing out your thoughts, feeling, ideas, or anything else that speaks to you, then taking a picture of it, and posting it to a blog or forum of your choice. Again, you can write under your signature what pen and ink you used.


Instead of typing Facebook status updates and tweets on Twitter, write them and upload a picture of them

This is a fun way to celebrate because of the interaction it gets. It will certainly leave a lasting impact on friends and family on social media. Throughout your day, instead of typing, spend a little time with pen to paper and write out what you would normally post. It’s a great way to create a long lasting memory for both you and others on how you spent Fountain Pen Day this year. Just be sure to mention in your posts the reason you’re doing it as well!


Take one of the pens you don’t use anymore and send it off to a friend with a handwritten note.

One person’s trash is another person’s treasure, not that we would ever call fountain pens “trash”. Nonetheless, gifting an old pen is one of the most thoughtful ways to celebrate fountain pen day. Can’t find a pen you’re willing to part with? We have a collection you can pick from.


Make this the weekend of your pen club meet-up.

You and your pen loving buddies with love spending this time together to celebrate a day made for appreciating fountain pens. If you have a regular meet-up for pens, or a pen club, this is a great opportunity to mark the occasion with a special meet-up party.



Turn off your computer, put down the phone, and spend some time writing.

It’s the easiest way to celebrate Fountain Pen Day, and it’s tried and true. Spending a little time in an analog experience is de-stressing, recentering, and vital for a more mindful state. Fountain pens can make the experience all the more mindful and enjoyable.


Like with any holiday, you never have to wait to celebrate what’s important in our lives. Holidays are meant to remind us of something, and in this case, we’re reminded of fountain pens. Whenever you’re feeling the urge to express your gratitude to the beauty of fountain pens, you can refer to this list any time. We hope you enjoy your handwritten adventures, and have a very happy Fountain Pen Day.

For more information about Fountain Pen Day, visit www.fountainpenday.org

 

 

 

 

Remembering our Individuality in the Digital World

When I first learned how to write my name at the ripe age of three, I wrote it on everything: books, furniture, walls, VHS cases, anything that my tiny three-year-old hands could find.

Any of us who remember our earliest years can likely recall an almost innate attraction to scribbling with pens. Despite our writing often being illegible, and the nuisance it caused for our poor parents, scribbling might have indicated something much more profound in us: a need to express ourselves.

Finding Ourselves in an Age of Automation

As kids, tapping into our creative roots was as instinctive as breathing. But as we grew up and entered a modern, technology-centric world, losing touch with our expressive side has become all too easy. Screens glow at us, urging us to click and swipe, and we are constantly bombarded with information from all around. Slowly, we can become more and more detached from ourselves. Automation and efficiency are at an unprecedented peak, and when so much can get done in such little time, we can easily obsess over doing more, and doing it faster.

All said, advancements in technology aren’t necessarily a bad thing, and by no means are we destined towards a path of complete detachment. One basic ingredient for getting back to center is a simple reminder to ourselves: take a break! No matter how many screens are around us, or even where technology takes off to next, spending a little time away from our devices so we can express ourselves will always be one of the most gratifying experiences for a healthy, self-aware state of mind.  

One Small Step for Self-Discovery

When we communicate, we’re not just communicating with others – we’re communicating our thoughts and feelings. Having a chance to communicate freely without a screen in front of us, and exploring creatively in any way that we feel called to, can lead to unexpected discoveries within ourselves. Doodling, journaling, and yes, even scribbling – these are all seeds that can blossom into new passions, interests, and abilities that we may have never realized were inside of us. 

Michael Sull, a master penman and recognized authority on Spencerian calligraphy, tells us that no matter where we are at in our life, “there should always be time in a person’s schedule, and even more than that, the desire of a person for their personal schedule to stop, get away from the digital world, and express yourself personally, individually, like nobody else can, because it’s you.”

A Future for Self Expression 

Michael Sull has had the opportunity to see firsthand the massive shift from analog to digital overtime - he has been teaching his mastery at penmanship for over 40 years. Today, his lifework has a focus on reigniting the creative spirit, and he tours the world teaching transformative workshops on handwriting. But his hope for others is by no means limited to penmanship. “My hope,” he says, “is that more and more people will learn the joy of expressing themselves personally and physically through the act of handwriting, of painting, of calligraphy, of all sorts of hobbies that involve human activity.”

Sometimes we can get lost in the non-stop motion of the modern world. While we're swept up in the stream of social media and instant communication, and our attention is grabbed from all corners, we can easily lose track of ourselves. Never forget to take time to look within, find your sense of self-expression, and remember that you are an individual, like no one else. You are you.

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

Your Signature: The Most Personal Form of Self Expression

For Michael Sull, handwriting is much more than just putting words on paper.

“It’s a personal way of communicating,” he says. “It’s a way for any person to individually express themselves, their thoughts, their emotions.”

In the modern age, more often than not, we find ourselves communicating with the world by typing on keys and swiping screens. Seldom do we have the chance to express ourselves, not just through our words, but in how we write those words. 

With handwriting, there is no barrier between you and your words. Every word is an intimate and personal moment, and whatever you’re feeling, whether happy or sad or angry or excited, can be reflected in the way you write.

Michael Sull, an IAMPETH-recognized Master Penman who has been teaching his mastery at handwriting for over 30 years, urges people to express themselves in any way they can, to have their own personal sense of identification, and to not lose themselves in the commotion of modern automation and instant communication.

One personal keepsake we can carry with us, no matter how digitized and computerized our world becomes, is our signature. “Your signature”, he says, “is your most personal sense of identification.”

When John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence, “he signed his name so boldly so the King of England could know that it wasn’t just ‘John Hancock…President of the Continental Congress…’, but it was ‘JOHN HANCOCK! President of the Continental Congress and this is what we believe, and we really mean it!’”

“He was the first American who expressed himself forcefully through his signature, and that’s what your signature and your handwriting can do for you.”

“So cherish it,” he says. “It’s very important. It’s part of who you are are, it’s part of who other people will recognize as you, and it's the most personal form of self-expression.” 

Mr. Sull, who has taught calligraphy, cursive, and penmanship around the world, will be bringing his practice to The Paper Seahorse to teach an immersive workshop on "Creating Your Artistic Signatures", November 30th.

It is just one opportunity in a four-workshop series to learn in an intimate and creative setting from a person many consider to be America’s most significant living Master Penmen.

He will also be teaching "American Cursive Handwriting" (November 30th and December 2nd), an "Intro to Spencerian Script" (December 1st), and "Decorative Flourishing" (December 2nd).

 

More information and details on the full weekend workshop series can be found here. Class sizes are limited, so those interested are encouraged to sign up as soon as they can!

As well as bringing his expert knowledge of penmanship to classes around the world, Michael Sull has also written several works considered modern classics in the field of handwriting. You can explore The Paper Seahorse’s selection of books by Mr. Sull, and practice your Cursive Handwriting or Spencerian Script before his arrival in late November.

Tips for How to Use Your Travelers Notebook

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.

customize your travelers notebook

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.

Anyway, my first paper agenda was a year-specific one, and thus one I had to trash after the year was over. Then, I learned about Traveler's Notebooks, which combine beautiful leather covers with interchangeable inserts, one of which is a weekly calendar. I was hooked!

First I had a regular-size black one with a red binding cord, then I switched to a limited-edition olive, which has aged beautifully and still smells divine. 
Often, I get compliments on it, even though paper agendas are still (sorta) a thing of the past. Along with a Blackwing pencil, the writing from which I can erase if necessary, I keep all my most important dates and notes in my TN. I even decorated my weekly calendar pages with some custom tape I found in the studio that says: 'You are loved. You are awesome. You are enough. You are lovely. You are worthy.' "

how i use my travelers notebookmy travelers notebook

Regular attendee to the Midori-Travelers Notebook, Heather, uses her passport as a wallet:
I went to a Travelers meet-up at the Paper Seahorse.  A couple of the participants were using their Passport size Travelers as a wallet.  I decided to give it a try and purchased a dark brown color.  It has worn extremely well.  I really enjoy using it for my wallet.  It appears streamline and helps me feel organized.

travelers notebook wallet
Cowgirl Dani loves the smaller passport size for traveling:
"One of the new ways I've started using my Passport TN is to keep a mini travel journal with the 003 inserts.  When I travel with friends, I've started taking extra inserts so I can "collect" things for them.  On a recent trip to Yellowstone and other National Parks, I gathered the park stamps in these.  Then, I create travel journals for each of them.  They are just the right size and give each of my friends (who don't journal!!), a memory of their trip and our travel times together."

I personally have four notebooks and an insert helping my through life at all times. I am an analog gal and the digital calendar and agenda never ever worked for me. Pen to paper is faster, more tactile and fulfilling for me. I love that I can be colorful and creative and express myself through pen and paper:

Once a week, on Sundays, I use my Camel notebook with green cord for my reflective journaling practice. I "theme" my week and capture the highlights, often sketching or pasting in treasures along the way. I have been doing this for three years now. Each of the inserts I use hold six months at a time. I love it because they are small and yet hold so much. I cover the inserts with handmade paper or wrapping paper according to my mood of the season. I started out with the 019 inserts but now use the 003 inserts.

camel travelers notebook journaling
My daily planner is the limited edition Olive color (my favorite color of all time and I can't believe they made a notebook just for me!) I use the monthly insert (017), a kraft folder insert (020), the weekly insert (019) and sometimes a blank insert (003) for notes. It has all of my appointments, to dos, birthdays to remember, ideas and things I want to remember like gifts for people, movies or books I want to watch. Besides my iPhone, this is the item I have with me most of the time. I have a cute seahorse charm for my paper marker and I also cover my inserts with handmade paper.

olive travelers company notebook
 
My Brown regular size notebook was my first planner. I now use it for my self development in a kraft insert (014) I take notes of books I have read and quarterly I do a vision / mood board to check in with myself.

customized travelers notebook diary
 
I also use the kraft insert (014) for my travel vision board. I collect all the images and article of places I intend to visit. All the international places is in the front and all of the places in Florida is in the second half. I am inspired every time I open this book to add something. I am a big believer in creative visualization and positive affirmations. I used to collect inspirational images and saying and keep them in a folder, how silly is that? Now they are in my notebook and it is a living thing I use and look at all the time.



customize travelers notebook insert
And last but not least, I have Camel passport sized notebook that I use when I travel. It is small and yet holds alot. A zippered insert (004) makes sure loose items are safe. The kraft folder (010) keeps items organized. A lightweight bland insert (005) for taking notes and of course my actual passport! Right now I am tricking mine out for my trip to Japan. I am sure I will find some cool items to add to it. Stay tuned!