From thin to thick (creating shades)

I have just emerged from my metaphorical jungle of Youtube videos. For the sake of humanity, I have watched countless videos on "how to use a pointed pen".

While most of these videos are comprehensive and well thought of, they all seem to fly over one point that I think is quite important—when it comes to creating shades, they instruct the viewer to "push down" or "add pressure". 

That is technically correct. However, we have to take into account that most calligraphy beginners would be used to writing with ball point pens.

You see, ballpoint pens work best when the pen is held perpendicular to the paper, and as the angle of the pen to paper is decreased, there will be a point where ink stops flowing. In addition, pressure is usually required for proper ink flow. This results in most beginners being used to holding pens upright, and adding pressure when writing.

Now, when a beginner holds a pointed pen for the first time, the chances of using a ballpoint pen grip is extremely high. 

Oh, how many times have I seen beginners holding a pointed pen like this:

The angle between the pen and paper is too great

The angle between the pen and paper is too great

For self learners, they would then apply a downward force to open the tines, as instructed by the Youtube video. 


The tines would not open easily and the shades would be thin. They would then proceed to add more pressure. Combined with the rigidity of a G nib, it is no wonder beginners always complain of sore arms after a bit of writing!

Instead, the pen should be lowered such that the tail does not point to the sky, but approximately to your shoulder. 

With this angle, the point of the nib should be resting on the paper at a low angle.

The angle between the pen and paper is smaller. This is preferred.

The angle between the pen and paper is smaller. This is preferred.

With this low angle, a force should be applied onto the pen point by using your index finger to press the top of the pen downwards, allowing the tines to open without much effort. 

When pressure is added properly, the nib should actually bend slightly. Remember we mentioned in our previous post that nibs are cut with shoulders to allow flexibility? Here's where the flexibility allows the nib to bend, and you should notice that the tines are opening as a result.

Try adding pressure to open the pen while the pen is in an upright position, and while the pen is as flat to the paper as possible. You should notice that the flatter the pen is to the paper, the easier it is to open the tines. In fact, some ornamental penman would change the angle of their flanges such that the nib touches the paper at an angle as low as possible so that the slightest pressure will force the tines wide open. 

Another benefit of writing this with a low angle is that the nib will not catch onto the fibers as often during upstrokes.

Take note on how the grip angle changes when you hold a Calligraphy dip pen (at 0:00) vs. a Ballpoint Pen (at 0:13)

Footnote on different nibs

I have often written a sample on a piece of paper and others would remark:"Oh how elegant this is, how do you make your hairlines so thin?" I would then hear someone else proclaim:"It's the nib he uses."

The width of hairlines are indeed affected by the kind of nibs we use. However, even using a G nib can yield beautiful thin hairlines. More importantly than clamouring over the rarest nibs, we have to train our arms and minds so that we write with the lightest touch. When writing upstrokes, no pressure should be added whatsoever. The weight of the nib should be sufficient to ensure contact is made with the paper for capillary action to work its magic.

Using a Gillot 303 does not make one write better than someone who uses a G nib. But frankly, that's only my opinion. Go buy Gillot 303's and wonder why you are dragging pieces of paper fiber around if you so wish. Love

@YakiuJohn the wallflower