Author Topic: Learning business penmanship  (Read 1336 times)

Offline Trazo

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Learning business penmanship
« on: November 20, 2020, 01:59:56 PM »
Less than half a year ago I started my self-taught calligraphy journey mostly with Spencerian. That led me soon into what I think are the two main offsprings of the Spencerian tradition: ornamental penmanship and business writing. In this short time I have read a lot and practice a bit. And I have become fascinated with business writing, because I think it means a complete revolution about how writing should be taught and practiced. I am trying myself to strictly follow the method (one could say the mantra) of all the BW old books: first speed, second touch and third form. In my apprenticeship I have been very inspired by the work of Marcus Carlini, Michel Gebhart and specially David DiGiovanni.

As David @daviddig has recently joined the forum (I don't know if the other two gentlemen are already part of this community) and he has kindly offer his expertise, I have decided to ask a question.

All the BW specimens and videos I have manage to find in the internet are executed by people who already master the system. I can't find anything showing the actual process of acquiring the skill and I am not sure if the masters got to that point through the three steps method I mentioned above. All the old method books say you have to keep writing at high speed with whole are movement until you get the accuracy in the the form of your letters. I have been working in this way for a couple of months and I have seen a big improvement in my whole arm movement but I don't think if I will ever get the accuracy. In short, I think I have quite good speed and touch, but good form seems to be almost unreachable. Will it come with time and practice? How much? Any advice about how to work further?



Offline daviddigi

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Re: Learning business penmanship
« Reply #1 on: November 20, 2020, 10:52:07 PM »
@Trazo -

First, let's get straight on the term "whole arm movement". This term specifically refers to writing with the whole arm lifted off the table (or sliding freely on top of the table). Whole arm movement was recommended in Spencerian/Ornamental books for writing capitals, but never recommended in any of the Business Penmanship books as far as I know.

I would assume that you are actually referring to "muscular movement", which is writing with the forearm planted on the edge of the table. Just want to get that straight so I know exactly how you are using your arm to write. A misconception here would be costly.

As far as "mastering" muscular movement, I've gained a certain level of control with the arm that you might be after, but I'm far from mastering it. It might be helpful to look at my movement from one of my earliest videos on Instagram vs something more recent.

From Aug 2017 (10 months into my practice): https://www.instagram.com/p/BXiQVWflfOb/

And from September 2020 (~4 years into my practice): https://www.instagram.com/p/CE9V5ULDk-w/

Hopefully you can see the differences between these two samples. Unfortunately, I don't have video from when I first started, but I can assure you it was very, very bad.

I do have this picture which features three samples of my work from early Feb 2017 (3 months into my practice), 2019, and 2020:



As you can see I was severely struggling, even after 3 months of pretty much daily practice. Also feel like I've made the most progress this past year since my first 1-1.5 years of writing.

The point is that it takes time. Everyone I know that has developed a high level of control with muscular movement has spent countless hours working on it. That said, I always reserve the possibility that there is a better, faster way to develop control that no one has figured out yet.

Overall, if you've only spent a few months of daily practice, I wouldn't expect to feel like you've accomplished much or like there is light at the end of the tunnel. I remember writing to Marcus Carlini with same general question that you are asking now and he basically said, "Keep working on developing your arm, keep studying the forms, and control will come eventually". That gave me confidence to keep going. Hopefully this does the same for you.
Sincerely, Dave aka @PerfectBiscuits
Specializing in Business Penmanship, Palmer Method, American Cursive.
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Offline Erica McPhee

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Re: Learning business penmanship
« Reply #2 on: November 21, 2020, 11:39:02 AM »
This is really encouraging to see. I would like to ask how much drills have played a role in developing your muscle memory and overall muscle development. I find them boring but so helpful in terms of solidifying my line strength. My business writing and Spencerian have a long way to go but I have only been concentrating on Engrosser's Script for the past three years. I'm looking forward to going back to Spencerian in due time.

I have found hints in some of the old text that the masters used to be fond of saying they used muscular movement but often you could see finger movement employed as well.

Thank you for asking this great question @Trazo .
Truly, Erica
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Offline Trazo

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Re: Learning business penmanship
« Reply #3 on: November 21, 2020, 04:58:47 PM »
@daviddig

Dear David,

Thank you very much for your answer. First of all, you are completely right: I am using the wrong terminology. I found quite a good definition of the different physical movements you can use for writing in pag.11 of Tamblyn's home instructor (however he doesn't include wrist movement, which I think is quite usual among calligraphers). I am working on what Tamblyn, Palmer and co. call "muscular movement" (which in fact implies writing with your arme instead of with your hand or your fingers).

I am very thankful for your videos and samples. This is exactly what I was looking for. I assume that getting accuracy using muscular movement is a long journey, as it means learning to write in a completely different way and using larger muscles that are much more difficult to control than your fingers. You explain it very well in your series of videos about "Why is so difficult to write or draw with your arm". But I reformulate my question, because perhaps I didn't put it very clear in my former post. What I would like to know is if you (and other people who master the technique) worked in the strict way the old methods presents, ie. developing first a high speed and a light touch and only after that concentrate in the form (without compromising the other two aspects). The video where you write the word "Onion" is very instructive. It is very short to have a proper sense of your speed, but I have timed it and I guess you write about 6-7 word per minute. For that same exercise Tamblyn establish 15-18 words per minute, which is almost triple the speed. The question is if one can get your accuracy (which is very good even at that stage of your aprenticeship) working always at Tamblyn's speed.

Concerning my feeling of improve, perhaps I didn't explain myself either. My actual muscular writing looks pretty similar to your first sample. But I was not talking about the result (the actual imprint of the pen on the paper) but of the feeling that I have found a completely different way to write, which I find very exciting which opens a lot of possibilities beyond the proper business writing. It is not about learning a script, but about (re)learning to write. Regardless the actual look of my letters, I am writing in a complete different way than I have written all my life and this is a for me a big improvement, no matters how far is the light at the end of the tunnel.

Thank you once again for your time and your instructive answer.


Offline jeanwilson

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Re: Learning business penmanship
« Reply #4 on: November 22, 2020, 08:54:23 AM »
My interest in penmanship goes back 25+ years and I had numerous conversations with people who were taught the Palmer method. They are all dead now, but they were consistent in describing a few things that I, too, observed in my many years of teaching.
1
Very few people have the patience to master the muscular movement. The push-pulls and ovals are super boring and it alienated a lot of school children. A few people loved it and their penmanship did not deteriorate as they aged. Many people did *OK* and then their penmanship deteriorated.
There is no way to make those exercises *fun* today.

2
There has never been a method that guarantees that every student will excel. No matter what style you teach, a few people will *get it.* Many people will do OK. And a few people will think it is all torture.
This is exactly what happened in every single beginner class that I taught.

Just because you are attracted to beautiful penmanship does not mean you have the *secret ingredient* to master a style or just get the hang of it
It is really hard to explain what that *secret ingredient* is - but I will give you three things that I have observed over the years that I think are essential.

1
You have to be able to *see* the shapes/spaces/geometry/angles.
Guidelines are helpful, but at a certain point, you have to see all kinds of details and you have to discern ON YOUR OWN where you are missing the exact
shapes, spaces, geometry and angles.
There are a variety of methods to learn this skill, and the secret is to find the one that gives you an Ah-ha moment.
Or an epiphany is even better.

2
You have to ignore the ornery little devil that sits on one shoulder and listen to the angel on the other shoulder.
People who are running a constant stream of whining and complaining will never get there.
If you are thinking, "I hate capital D's. I always mess them up. They are so hard I'll never do a good one,"
then you will never make a pretty D. If you stop that negative chatter and do what you need to do to SEE the components -
then you CAN and you WILL build a perfect D - because you can SEE the exact shapes, spaces, geometry and angles.

I never did this, but I know calligraphy instructors who would wear t-shirts or aprons that stated clearly, NO WHINING.
That illustrates how detrimental a bad attitude is. I'm not the only one who feels this way.

3
You have to obliterate parts of your muscle memory. You probably picked up a pencil or crayon when you were 2 or 3 and you settled on a grip when you were 5 or 6 and you have many years of moving your hand/wrist/arm, using your own natural grip -- and it is so embedded in your muscle memory that you may have a very difficult time changing your grip or your natural movement.

It is impossible to tell how well a person will do if they decide to change their grip or switch to muscle movement. You won't know until you try it.
With some people, it comes very easy - with others, they have zero aptitude at changing and they have to figure out a work-around.

My 2-cents.
It's nice to see this topic on the forum.

P.S. Keep an open mind about *the right way.* There are many conflicting opinions on how to rehabilitate your penmanship.
Don't expect to find one easy recipe.
It is like learning how to bake bread. Yeast, flour, water, salt. How hard is that?
Well -- for some people, it never works out. They make a couple bricks and give up.
Other people are more determined -- do their research -- and actually enjoy learning how to make 20 different kinds of bread.


Offline Erica McPhee

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Re: Learning business penmanship
« Reply #5 on: November 22, 2020, 04:46:09 PM »
Brilliant advice / knowledge from Jean! And the “vision” piece is so important. It’s like learning to draw. Anyone can learn how to draw but only a small percentage can really *see* what they are looking at in order to capture the details, have the muscle/ arm/ hand movements, and illustrate something beyond the rudimentary.

That is one reason I love modern calligraphy as well - because you can develop a style that doesn’t have to capture the rigorous details of say a Spencerian or Engrosser’s Script. Even with that though, line strength/confidence will make such a big difference. But that is a topic for a whole other post. LOL.  ;D
Truly, Erica
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Offline InkyFingers

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Re: Learning business penmanship
« Reply #6 on: November 23, 2020, 05:15:12 AM »
+Jean
+Erica

If you have persisted this far, it is your testament of perseverance.  I have tried to strive for better speed and have not been able to attain the speed as specified in Ziller's Business Penmanship.  In fact, I have traded speed for form.  I noticed that my speed had increased and continuing to increase as the years roll bye.  With my continued daily practiced, I wrote with much more confident and energy.

My micro muscular movement control have gotten better.  I suspect that yours too will improve in form while keeping the same speed or even increase in speed.  Your persistence will payoff as your perseverance keeps on ticking

Offline Trazo

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Re: Learning business penmanship
« Reply #7 on: November 23, 2020, 06:59:25 AM »
Thank you for all your answers. I just want to try to learn BP in the way it is taught in the old methods. The first part worked very fine: through the first exercises (all kind of ovals and push and pulls, overspaced words, letter in a chain and so on) in quite a little time I have managed  to write with my arm while my fingers and wrist are locked (don't worry, David, I have my forearm on the table :-). Maybe this technique is not for every body, but for me it has opened a lot of possibilities (for example, I execute the Spencerian capitals and their ornamental variations in a completely new way). Perhaps this is something that everybody knows in the calligraphy world, but I am new to this craft and I haven't had the chance to take an "in person" course yet. Most of the videos I can find shows just the end of the hand and one can't see what happens above that. More than that, there seem to be no consensus about how you should write in physical terms (in any script)

Back into BP, I found quite easy to acquire the arm movement, the speed and even the light touch, but the question is if I can acquire the form without slowing down, as this is what the old time business penmen advocated for.

@InkyFingers Curiously the Ziller's method is the only one I know that makes emphasis in form from the very beginning: it shows the exemplars of "ideal letters" even before the usual ovals exercises and then it goes letter by letter and it even recommends to trace the letter before you start practicing on it. Palmer, Tamblyn an other are more fundamentalistic in this point.

My question, to put it in the most simple way, is this: I can write "Onion" 18 times in a minute using my arm (in fact, I think this is something anybody can do with a bit of practice). But will I be ever able to write this word beautifully (like the one in the exemplar) if I keep practicing at this speed?

@daviddigi I am sure this way of writing is difficult to acquire and all the old methods start with a disclaimer about that, but I don't think we should look at it as an arcane science, because it was intended to a wide public. BW was conceived for a large class of clerks, secretaries and bookkeepers, who would spend the whole day writing. The needed a system to write quickly, elegantly and not tiresome. One can play decently the piano in -let's say- four years with one hour of daily practice. And I don't think any kind of writing should be more difficult than that.

Well, I will keep practicing. I have nothing to loose and not very much to win, as one can spend all life happily writing with the fingers :-)

Offline InkyFingers

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Re: Learning business penmanship
« Reply #8 on: November 23, 2020, 09:37:32 AM »
I really like Ziller's BP teaching as each exercise is accompanied with time signature (tempo) and the drills that is needed before the exercise.  Drills that help to develope the principals of forming the letters of that exercise.

Perhaps this will help you to gage as to when you will improve your form?  I am sure you will succeed.

Offline daviddigi

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Re: Learning business penmanship
« Reply #9 on: November 23, 2020, 09:59:40 AM »
@Trazo -

Good to know we are talking about the same thing (muscular movement).

In general, I did pretty much follow the old BP books and focus on developing arm movement and a light touch before I really began to study the letter forms at a high level. That said, all of the drills are also designed to teach you form, but it's always in the context of movement. I believe it is important to spend time studying form specifically, especially if you do not have a background in drawing or some other type of art that develops perception (I didn't). What really helped for me was drawing the letters slowly and comparing my drawings to the exemplar. I also spent a lot of time breaking down letters into their more basic components, which I think is helpful because it takes the meaning out of the letters and makes it easier to see the shapes for what they are.

Now regarding the speed (words per minute) that these books recommend, I have always found them unobtainable. Writing Onion 18 times/minute is really fast and difficult to achieve with accuracy. Note that by 18 words/minute, they only mean time spent writing (not including breaks between words). The BP authors' primary goal was to teach students to write fast and legible, which is why they stress speed and movement so much. They were not concerned with developing students to become artistic penman and my guess is that they did not write so hastily when preparing the copies for their books. That said, they certainly wrote the copies with movement.

Another thing to remember here is that everyone going to school in 1900 was learning something like the Palmer Method. That's a lot of kids learning to write BP, some of which particularly excelled, and some were good enough to make penmanship a profession, and a tiny % of them achieved such a high level of writing that they were in the position to publish the books that we study from today. We're talking about the best of the best penman coming out of a very large pool. So when we look at Mills business penmanship, I think we are looking at Michael Jordan level BP.

Another factor is that all of the published BP authors also developed their OP/Spencerian hand to a fairly high level. Many of them probably learned Spencerian first as BP wasn't really around before the 1880s. It's very possible that spending time learning OP/Spencerian develops a higher level of control because it teaches you to combine finger and arm movement.

Overall, I like your final conclusion, which is that you have nothing to loose. My recommendation is to study the old books, learn from contemporaries like myself and the others out there (have you seen the Chinese penman? if not let me know), and do not be afraid to experiment with things that no one else is doing.
Sincerely, Dave aka @PerfectBiscuits
Specializing in Business Penmanship, Palmer Method, American Cursive.
Consistent Cursive (free course) | ThePalmerMethod.com

Offline Trazo

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Re: Learning business penmanship
« Reply #10 on: November 23, 2020, 11:18:56 AM »
Thank you again for your advice.

@InkyFingers I have a copy of Ziller's in my library (in fact, I think it is, beside Tamblyn's, the only old BP book still in print), but I find it very eclectic and I have decided to learn the thing in the wild way. Maybe I will come back to it if I fail in my attempt.

@daviddigi Definitely I don't expect to be the Michael Jordan of the BP, exactly as I didn't expect to be a concert player when I started to learn music. I will be more than happy if I can get a decent form at a considerable speed. What I mean is that I don't want to learn BP just as another calligraphy style. So far I will try to keep faithful to the spirit of the whole thing and keep working light and fast (and making virtually no break between words). Let's see what happen. I will let you know.

Concerning the terminology you are completely right that the common term was "muscular movement" (despite of the nonsense of the term, as every movement is muscular, I guess). However I took a look at the materials I have at my disposal and I came across The Zaner method of arm movement writing, where the the  technique is defined as arm movement (pag. 4), which I think is a much more explanatory expression. In any case, we are talking about the same thing. Now I just have to master as you have mastered. It can take quite a while...  :-)

Offline daviddigi

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Re: Learning business penmanship
« Reply #11 on: November 23, 2020, 12:51:59 PM »
@Trazo - I guess my whole point was that learning to write with your arm is really hard!

And yes, I like the term "arm movement" as well and use it sometimes. I avoid saying "whole arm movement" though unless I am specifically talking about writing with the whole arm free.
Sincerely, Dave aka @PerfectBiscuits
Specializing in Business Penmanship, Palmer Method, American Cursive.
Consistent Cursive (free course) | ThePalmerMethod.com

Offline Trazo

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Re: Learning business penmanship
« Reply #12 on: November 23, 2020, 04:45:27 PM »
@daviddigi Slightly of topic: I have just seen your running hand in Instagram and it is absolutely fantastic!!!  I am sure the rest of this community would like to see that. Thanks for sharing and for giving new live to these forgotten gems of the penmanship tradition. Would love to see a video of you writing in this hand.

Offline jeanwilson

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Re: Learning business penmanship
« Reply #13 on: November 24, 2020, 07:33:42 AM »
For what it's worth, I recall listening to IAMPETH Master Penman discussing speed and accuracy - and how it is not a one-size-fits all situation. It's like riding a bike. If you do not go fast enough, there is wobble on your bike, or wobble in your lettering. So, each person needs to find that balance on their own.

*Everyone* agrees that it is a waste of time to spend hours on practice where the letterforms are way off base. It can be very challenging to help students figure out - or even believe - that they can replicate the shapes on the exemplar. As David mentioned, tracing over the proper shapes can be very helpful. We've all seen the dotted line alphabets that are used to teach kids - but for some reason, it's not a popular way to introduce a new style to adults. Having said that, when I asked around, there was agreement that tracing was the logical solution if a person just can't see the invisible lines, ovals, angles, etc.

I also remember discussions at IAMPETH about the difference between:
1
keeping your hand and wrist in a fixed position
keeping your arm on the desk
moving your arm to do the writing - you will feel the slight friction between the desk and your arm - as your arm is actually moving

and

2
keeping your hand and wrist in a fixed position
keeping your arm on the desk
but the skin does not move, and it is the bone inside the arm that moves

I know this sounds creepy, but if you put your arm on the desk, you can see that you can actually move your hand in the motions for writing
while keeping your skin in contact with the desk and the skin does not move.

I recall people comparing how much *play* they had in that movement - how far they could stretch the bone inside the arm.
When I do it, I can create perfect push pulls that fit comfortably between the lines of narrow ruled notebook paper.
They are much more accurate than sliding the arm, including the skin - up and down.

It is a weird little difference - but once I learned it, it's what comes more naturally to me.

Obviously, you have to slide your arm to the right as you fill up a line.

I do not recall what the IAMPETH people were calling the two different ways to move your arm - but it was an interesting conversation.

When Trazo asks:
"the question is if I can acquire the form without slowing down"
It's entirely up to you to find the balance.
When I start addressing envelopes - the first 15-20 are all warming up. They look fine - but the next 15-20 always look the best to me and they go faster- and then during the next 15-20 - I start losing it - and I take a break. To the client, they all look the same. But to me, I can see a subtle difference.

IMHO - the only way you can create 100% consistency is to put in a a consistent amount of time and keep it up every day.
In ballet, they say: If you skip practice for one day, you can feel it yourself. If you skip practice for two days, your partner will notice. And if you skip practice for 3 days, the audience will notice.

It is hard to quantify how much time every day is optimal. IMHO - penmanship compares to music. It's better to do a half hour a day and not miss a day than to skip 5 days and then think that you can practice for 2.5 hours and catch up. The consistency of your practice sessions will probably have a significant impact on your overall progress. So Trazo's suggestion of an hour a day for 4 years sounds like a good plan. Even a half hour, daily - would probably be fine. But, as I mentioned, some of us need some warm up time - so - if it takes 20 minutes to warm up, you probably want at least 20 minutes where you are in the zone.

Trazo's other question:
My question, to put it in the most simple way, is this: I can write "Onion" 18 times in a minute using my arm (in fact, I think this is something anybody can do with a bit of practice). But will I be ever able to write this word beautifully (like the one in the exemplar) if I keep practicing at this speed?

As you are integrating your skill at making the proper shapes, which speed, slow down enough to achieve accuracy and then speed up, maintaining that accuracy. But, you have to be really honest about how close you are getting to the exemplar. Also -- how close do you want to get?

If your purpose is to have pretty penmanship for your daily life, you don't really need to replicate the exemplar exactly.
It can be fun to have your own personal style sneak in here and there.
Personally, I do not care for the caps on any of the business hands - so, I have my own caps.

Feel free to post samples of your practice here - and get feedback.


Offline Trazo

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Re: Learning business penmanship
« Reply #14 on: November 24, 2020, 03:36:53 PM »
Dear Jean,

As always, I am very thankful for your wise advise. Concerning business writing, there is not something I would need for my everyday life, exactly as the other scripts and styles I am working on. I do a lot of handwriting in my everyday life, but most of it is in a situation where muscular movement (arm movement) is absolutely impossible due to the lack of a proper set up. I am happy with my handwriting: it can be floppy and almost illegible (for others) when I write for myself, but when I write with care it has a decent and presentable form. I may be wrong, but the way we approach handwriting in Europe is probably different than the way you do in the US. Here you can't go anywhere without a decent legible handwriting and of course it is not anything that would disappear from schools or even universities in a next future. In fact, we don't use (at least in Spanish or Czech) the term "cursive" in the way you do, as for us every handwriting is cursive (in the very strange case that somebody doesn't know how to write cursive, we say that she/he writes "in printing types").

Back into BW, my purpose is just to (try to) acquire a new skill just for the shake of it. It would be great to be able to write with my arm quickly in such an elegant style, but it won't change my life at all and I won't get frustrated if I can not get there. I just have decided to go on the wild side and try to learn the way the old books advocates for, i.e. not sacrificing speed for the form. I don't know anything about the topic, but I think there are people who decide to climb a mountain through the most difficult route. I was just wanted to know if anybody around had learned that way, as most of the videos I know don't seem to correspond to the speed established in the methods. In addition, I keep wondering why the apostles of the BW kept insisting on the north face if there were easiest ways to climb the mountain. That is all.