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Sull’s Manual of Advanced Penmanship

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Erica McPhee:
If you are at all interested in Spencerian Penmanship, you know the name Michael R. Sull, as the two are often spoken of hand-in-hand. The calligraphic community has just received the most incredible gift in Sull’s new book, Sull’s Manual of Advanced Penmanship in which he does a deep dive into his 40 years of experience to share all he has learned. Chapters include American Cursive Handwriting, Ornamental Penmanship, Flourishing, and an extended appendix. What sets it apart from other calligraphy books is the depth and breadth of the experience Sull shares which so few in modern times have encountered.

Sull admits right in the preface that from the beginning of his career, he chose to write with combination muscular movement rather than whole arm movement. This may cause many a modern-day calligrapher to sigh in relief knowing they can openly embrace finger, wrist, and muscular movement. He further explains his reason for writing the advanced book was to preserve all he has learned and created over his extensive career that was not published in any existing text. This includes his Spencerian-styled monogram designs, Masterpiece Flourishing (a technique Sull created to emulate the lavish pen-work seen in The Universal Penman), signature writing, and the complex capital letters affectionately named super twisters. He also includes novelty penmanship styles such as connected, relay, cross, backwards, and puzzle writing.

In Chapter 2: Ornamental Penmanship, Sull explains the foundational elements of advanced penmanship such as curvature, negative space, line quality, shading, balance, and spontaneity & movement. These are the secrets to advanced lettering and composition that so few books address in detail. He further drills it down to ink qualities and condition of the pen point. Every question you’d hope to have answered by a master penman has been captured by the kind gentleman who has shared his knowledge with eager students all over the world.

Perhaps the most delicious part of the book includes tips for flourishing, how to manipulate shaded strokes, and extensive instruction on twister capitals. Included are several examples of ornamental capital variations. Beyond that, Sull explains in-depth how to lay out finished pieces, line breaks, negative space, flourish density, and composition. These are perhaps the most important insights we could hope to have shared with us to study, absorb, and apply in our own work. Very few of the many, many classes I have taken over the years discussed details such as shade control, understanding the use of curves, and the balancing of letters and flourishing in depth. Sull has left no detail out of this generous master class.

Last, but certainly not least, is the section on off-hand and title flourishing which includes instruction for bird flourishing, artistic line work, filigree, and banners. The final pages cover Sull’s self-titled Masterpiece Flourishing which simplifies what appears as complex - the flourishing seen in George Bickham’s The Universal Penman. This is the only instruction of its kind and Sull leaves no stone unturned in sharing his legacy.

Not to be missed is the awe-inspiring story of the Master’s Pen: a pen made from 40-million-year-old amber Sull sourced from Russia and 5,000-year-old bog oak. I’ll save the rest of the story for enticed readers. The manual finishes with handouts, exercises, guide sheets, historical and modern work from many of today’s accomplished calligraphers (all students of Michael R. Sull), and Sull’s “Secret of the Ovals” which I won’t reveal. But I highly recommend you purchase the book to find out!

Erica McPhee
P.S. The images are my practice from the book.

Thanks for your review. I was wondering if I’d like it since I already have his “Learning to Write Spencerian Script”.

Erica McPhee:
@Mary_M  - It’s a very different kind of book than that one. This one includes all of his “secrets” if you will, about how he does things. It is the narrative that really shines in this book. Often when reading some of the old journals, I’m left asking, “but how did they do that?” This book answers those questions.  ;)

Thanks @Erica McPhee for the detailed review! I'd recently seen Michael announce it on his FaceBook page and had debated whether to purchase it.

Like @Mary_M I have and continue to use Michael and Debra Sull's "Learning to Write Spencerian Script," which was a huge game-changer for me! Until then, I'd only had the Mott's Spencerian Theory and copybook reprints for my first year of practice and very, very little input from anyone to inform my practice. Michael had also sent along a personal nameplate in the manner of penman masters/teachers of old and what appearted to be a quickly jotted off note. I was in awe!

As I've (often) mentioned on the forum my interest in Spencerian is its use for everyday handwriting and correspondence, with some definite OP flair but perhaps only conservatively flourished. "Learning to Write ..." definitely fit the bill for me as a most practical guide and manual.

While this new publication seems way too advanced for my own aspirations and current level of skill, I've always been one to be on the alert for, and open to, anything that appears on my radar when learning new things. I also very much like to support the arts and artists and anyone who works to advance the art and craft of handwriting ... SO I ORDERED IT!  ;D

I'm certain that if nothing it will be a great source of inspiration and interest. 

Erica McPhee:
Yay! You won’t regret it! Such a wealth of information!  :)


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