Author Topic: Workspace & Practice Setup... Share yours?  (Read 1852 times)

Offline ron_pro

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Workspace & Practice Setup... Share yours?
« on: October 15, 2015, 03:26:16 PM »

I've been practicing Spencerian for about a month and a half.  Progressing steadily I'm now half way through the second of the copy books from Mott Media.  I've been working pretty much in isolation on this but I'm really curious about other people's setup, techniques, etc.  I thought perhaps if we share our own techniques, lessons learned, etc. they might be helpful to others.  I'm pretty sure I would benefit from this as I'm just making it up as I go along.

I'll start by describing my own setup and hope that you share your own.

I've been trying to be fairly disciplined about sticking to the "proper" way of doing things according to the Theory Book:  I use the prescribed sitting position (I assume the "Right-Side Position"), posture, pen grip and arm movements as best as I can decipher them from the theory book.  While initially I felt like a contortionist I'm now quite comfortable and relaxed in this position and my letters are starting to no longer look shaky.  So I'm pleased with my progress.

My setup is pretty simple.  Not the best ergonomics but I'm making due with what I have at home.  I practice at the dining room table.  I don't actually write in my copy books.  I do the exercises on paper.  I've tried several setups for doing this:  college ruled lined notebook paper, engineering graph paper (this is green and thicker than usual graph paper),  engineering graph paper with pencil lines indicating the primary slant, and most recently two sheets of engineering graph paper where the bottom sheet has the primary slant drawn on with a sharpie and an upper sheet on which I write.  With the overhead lamp on I can see the slant lines through the paper quite well.

I made my slant lines on the graph paper as follows:  To get a 52 degree slant I count across 7 boxes, and down 9 boxes.  A little Trig tells me that this produces an actual slant of 52.125 degrees.  I made a second sheet for the connective slant (30 degrees) by counting 12 boxes over and 7 boxes down resulting in an actual slant of 30.2564 degrees.

Here's a picture of the sheets I made with the primary and connective slants.
(I've tried to insert images of my sheets here but not sure how to make it work)

This picture shows a black piece of graph paper with my primary slant sheet under it.

It's a bit of a pain in that it's sometimes difficult to keep the two sheets aligned.  I've considered options such as an acrylic clipboard however I'm not sure that the hand grip would work as well because the writing surface would now be raised a bit.  For this same reason I've considered but not purchased something like one of theses:

I'm really quite interested in developing muscle memory to form the letters.  I've experimented with several different techniques.  I started by having several fountain pens inked up and constantly rotating them (I would practice for a few lines with one pen, then swap to the next pen, and so on.)  I thought different weight and shape pens would both develop my muscle memory and get me accustomed to writing with different pens.  I think I was a mistake as I wasn't developing any muscle memory.  After trying several different things I settled upon just one pen a Charcoal Lamy Safari.  It's the lightest pen I have and hence the easiest to control (perhaps because it has the smallest momentum?).  Fortunately the tripod grip facets on the pen haven't gotten in my way at all.  Since I've switched to this pen my muscle memory has begun to develop and I'm progressing through the copy books more quickly.  Occasionally I "test" myself by picking up a different (random) pen and seeing if I can still form letters and words correctly; happily I can.

Initially I thought that counting wasn't really important.  So I didn't bother.  However, I slowly realized that counting helps me with several things:  It gets me to form my strokes at a constant consistent pace, which also improves consistency in the sizes of my letters.  I also came to realize that practicing is actually "drilling".  And I remember well from typing class in high school that drilling, when done right, helps to cement in the mind muscle memory with concept.  For me this means counting rhythmically while performing a physical action at each count, repeated MANY times.  I usually begin by filling about a quarter to a half of my page not counting but naming each stroke as I write them (e.g. "over-back-under-down" for the small 'a').  After that I switch to counting ("one-two-three-four") for the rest of the page and the back side as well.

Music:  I'm torn.  Sometimes I find music to be too distracting.  This is particularly the case when I'm starting a page and just naming strokes and not yet established a good rhythm.  Once I switch to straight counting sometimes I like to have music, but sometimes I like quiet.  When I do play music it's almost always the Amazon prime Classical music channel at a very low volume.  It has to be something that's in the background as I'm REALLY easily distracted.  If my mind starts to wander I'm not so sure that the drills are effective for me.

Practice drills:  I do LOTS of these.  It's only because of doing drills that I'm able to write in the position prescribed in the Theory book.  I have found a good number of practice drills online and have made up many of my own as well.  For example, there's the one where you just draw a row of overlapping circles across a page (I use lined paper and my circles span two lines trying to keep them consistent size and overlapping always at the same rate).  I have also modified this exercise to create a similar drill where I draw ellipses slanted at 30 degrees.  Since the two halves of the ellipse are the 2nd and 3rd principals, I hope that this practice drill will help me to develop the muscle memory for these two strokes.

I have a picture of the drills I've made up but can't figure out how to upload them.

Sorry about the long message.  I do look forward to reading about other people's setups.  :-)

Offline Karl H

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Re: Workspace & Practice Setup... Share yours?
« Reply #1 on: October 26, 2015, 06:39:46 AM »
Hi ron_pro, and welcome to the forum.

Have you heard of IAMPETH?  They have a multitude of pre-printed guide sheets for free download; this might save you a load of work, and eliminate the distraction of the graph-paper grid.    They have online books, lessons, and other resources, all free.  I recommend joining, of course; the dues are quite reasonable and go to supporting the organization and the website.  It's a tremendous resource!  I can't recommend it highly enough.

I have one of those light pads you've been looking at; they're great for both practice and production work.  I bought the Huion A4 model    because it is the brightest pad they offer, enabling me to put a thick pad-paper beneath my writing sheet and guideline sheet, and still have plenty of light shine through.  It's sized for 8 1/2" x 11"; I can't speak for the larger format pads, as I have no experience with them.

You're using a fountain pen to do Spencerian?  Interesting... how are you doing the swells/shades?  Just drawing them in for now?  You should really be using a pointed dip-pen nib in an oblique holder (unless you're left handed, then you can dispense with the oblique holder, and use a straight holder) to do it properly.  You use downward pressure to create the shades and release slowly as you draw the line to produce the taper back to a normal hairline.  That's part of the muscle memory you'll need to develop at some point to do true Spencerian.  Having said that, I'll also say that I'm not familiar with your teaching source books; perhaps they recommend fountain pens at first to form a baseline and expand from there, in which case, never mind me!

I've always counted when I do letter drills, but I count when I do a lot of things... bit of OCD there.  The counting does help though, to make deliberate strokes which help to eliminate the wobbles to a degree.  I also visualize the strokes before I execute them a couple of times; this helps smooth over the transition points between counts, where the slight pause or slow-down could cause a wobble.

Has to be the right music.  The right music can really help to put you "in the zone," but the "that's not it" music is nothing more than a distraction and an irritant... better off with elevator music.  I listen to stuff by Liquid Mind, as it has a long, droning, almost hypnotic quality to it, not a lot of "action" going on; it's soothing without being soporific.  If there's any zip or bounce or real activity to the music, my mind gets distracted from the task at hand and starts manufacturing little mini-movies to go with the music like MTV in my head; can't have it if I'm trying to get something done, or learn something (I've got a wicked active imagination, easily gets out of hand), so my choices in background music tends to run to what others would probably find boring/monotonous.   I have an experiment for you: if/when your mind starts to wander while doing drills, let it wander for awhile.  Don't force it, just keep it on a really loose leash, and continue your drills.  Try to note *where* you were in your practice when you noticed your attention wandering... maybe make a mark on the page.  Let this go for awhile, then reel things back in and take a look at your page.  See if you can see any discernible difference between the "I'm paying close attention" lettering and the "my mind is really elsewhere" lettering.  Is one clearly better, or not much difference?  One have more 'errors' than the other?  One more attractive overall than the other?  And so on.  I'm just curious, because sometimes when you get the conscious mind out of the way, good things can happen.  The Japanese call thes "Mu Shin," which translates literally to "No Mind."  It's a state that serious martial artists strive to attain.  It's a state that any serious practitioner of any Japanese art or craft seeks to acquire, or any serious athlete, whether he's aware of it or not.  This isn't true Mu Shin, but it's leaning in that direction: removal of the conscious, controlling self from the picture.  If there's any improvement, *that's* your muscle memory coming out, along with unfiltered guidance from your deeper self.  A fun experiment you can run anytime as a "progress check" of sorts.

Yeah, drills; there's no substitute for repetition and drills are it!  Those drills you describe will help you to develop strong control of your pen; initially the loops won't be even, or the same size or height, or slant or spacing, but with repetition, all that will change.  With that kind of drill, I believe the muscle memory is strictly secondary to the control gained.  You then take that newfound control and apply it to forming your letters, and do letter drills, and now you're practicing forming letters with precision and burning that into 'muscle memory.'  I still do loops and such for warm-ups, and I usually pick a "letter of the day" and drill on that letter; write it five times, then critique it, then write it five more times, utilizing the corrections from my prior critique.  Re-examine the letters, more critique, another set of five, until I'm satisfied that I'm not making any further progress, and that the progress I *have* made is sticking.  Then I go the the Majiscule of that letter and repeat the process.

Hope this is of some small help,