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Messages - K-2

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Coffee & Nib-bles / Re: Hilarious Ink Spill Question
« on: November 02, 2019, 07:42:12 PM »
@Katie Leavens - I hope your tattoo didn't hurt very much.

...But now I want to know - how common is this, that calligraphers accidentally tattoo themselves?

Perhaps it's ironic that I have sometimes designed tattoos for others.

Coffee & Nib-bles / Re: Calligraphy in the UK
« on: October 27, 2019, 01:05:15 AM »
@Erica McPhee - I spend a lot of time doing academic research and going to conferences in the UK, and I did a study abroad program at Cambridge back when I was in college.

Others will have recommendations for where to shop, but if you're traveling around the UK and Ireland, as a calligrapher, you might really enjoy seeing some of the medieval manuscripts on display (although this might not be the sort of thing you had in mind) or other historic documents.

For instance, if you'll be in Dublin, it's worth the price of admission and the line to see the 9th-century Book of Kells at Trinity College (  Not only is it one of the most beautiful manuscripts ever produced, but it's also kind of terrible!  As an actual text of the bible, it is shockingly full of errors and inaccuracies, misspellings and skipped words.  But who cares when it's so beautiful!  Let it be a lesson to all calligraphers who strive for perfection and accuracy.  Sometimes beautiful is enough.
* You also get to see the Old Library with your admission ticket.
** You have kids, yes?  There's a very cute animated movie called "The Secret of Kells" (total fiction/fantasy, of course) about monks and manuscripts that back in the day made my kids much more interested in going to look at this super old book.  Bonus round: it will also make them more interested to see a sight such as Clonmacnoise, one of the most important monasteries and centers of learning in medieval Europe (  The setting of "The Secret of Kells" film was based on Clonmacnoise.

I'm assuming that you'll spend at least a couple days in London....
So, if you have professional credentials (which, yes - you're a calligrapher!), you can request a reader pass at the British Library:  That will enable you to access their astounding collection and look at historic documents, manuscripts from all eras (lots of pointed pen work!), up close and personal:
* Note - this is an alone-time activity.  Not for the kids.  Or the spouse (well, not mine, at least).  You need to plan it out months in advance to peruse the catalog online and let them know what to prepare for you to look at, but if this is a once in a lifetime sort of trip for you, maybe it's not so unreasonable to take the time to feed your professional interest in this way.
**On the other hand, the British Museum has spectacular exhibits for everyone. And it's free (although it's good manners to leave a 5 donation).  You can see the manuscript of Beowulf, from around the year 1000!  It's kind of messed up, because it was in a fire.  They have the Lindisfarne Gospels on display as well - the pinnacle of Anglo-Saxon manuscript art.

As an academic specialist in medieval paleography, this is my world, and I can keep recommending things to go see all day and night (as well as how to finagle access).  Let me know if you want more - or more specific places to see pointed pen work.  But those are my top two picks of things calligraphers should do in the UK.  I'll be in Durham, UK, myself, in July, giving a presentation on my current work at the biennial congress of the New Chaucer Society.  I'd invite you to come see it, but it's on the opposite end of England from Devonshire, and alas, the program is for members only (and also probably kind of dull).

--yours, K

Show & Tell / Re: Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott
« on: October 22, 2019, 06:54:44 PM »
Thank you for your kind thoughts, everyone.

@gracefulgiftedhands - I specialize in medieval paleography & codicology and the ways that the various medieval scripts transmit the literary tradition.  I'm writing a textbook on paleography at the moment, introducing students to the three main forms of medieval scripts: Carolingian, Textura Quadrata, and Batarde.  And I've incorporated calligraphy worksheets into the text, because my theory is that you read them much better if you can write them.  I'll be giving a paper on it in Durham (UK) this summer!

As far as practical lettering goes: I've done calligraphy work in Insular Majuscule, Carolingian Minuscule, Proto-gothic, a number of variants of Textura Quadrata (cum and sine pedibus), English Secretary, and English & French Batarde.  I've also done work in humanist scripts and Italic.  I do a credible job at copperplate, but pointed pen isn't my primary expertise, and the slight hand tremor I still have since my concussion isn't making my flourishes any more beautiful.

@cejohnson - thank you so much for your good wishes on my head injury! (which my doctor still insists on calling a "traumatic brain injury" probably to keep me from playing hockey).  I recall there's a fantastic thread on Illuminated letters somewhere on the forum... with some how-to videos, maybe.  What I've got here doesn't have any gold leaf, so we wouldn't tend to call it "illuminated" (due to the gold or silver leaf reflecting the light) - merely "decorated"; if the decorations have people in them, they're "historiated"; if they have flowers, they're "floriated"!  I love my friend very dearly, but I don't put gold leaf on a work unless someone is paying me.

@Bianca M - Someday my spouse is going to stop treating my tattoo as if it might be a deer tick that needs to be slapped at and picked off.  When that happens, I might come to accept it as a part of me.  And yes - it would make a great teaching story, but it is not on a body-part that my students need to see.  :o

--yours sincerely, K

Show & Tell / Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott
« on: October 21, 2019, 11:12:06 PM »
This was my first really complicated piece of work after I had a terrible concussion late last winter.  I wouldn't post if it were a private commission, but I made it late this summer as a gift for a close friend who helped me through the brain injury, and working on the piece helped me regain a lot of my small motor functionality in preparation for my teaching gig this fall.  However, I also spilled a bottle of sumi ink, stabbing myself with a G nib and giving myself a tiny tattoo in the process, so maybe not all of my small motor functionality.  And I almost totally ruined a rug, mostly saved with the excellent Clorox2 stain removal advice @jeanwilson offered.  @gracefulgiftedhands asked about the piece in the "hilarious ink spill" thread that recounts that adventure.  So here it is.  Sorry the lighting isn't terrific; I snapped the photo with my phone when it was pinned up on the drying rack.

The text is Martin Luther's hymn, "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" (A mighty fortress is our God, ca.1529) - the banners contain an excerpt from Psalm 46 (in Latin), which the text paraphrases.  The script is a late-15th or early-16th century blackletter - the exemplar is from a very late 15thC German bible.  The decorative style is from the same period; the capitals derive from a 15th-16th century model book.  And the musical notation is 16th-century.

And I still have the tiny tattoo.

Tools & Supplies / Re: Eberhard Faber metal powders?
« on: October 20, 2019, 11:56:22 PM »
@Karl H - Make sure you wear a dust mask when you use that stuff.  Because they are actually powdered metal, the particulates are dangerous to breathe in.  Provided you use a dust mask, you can use them like mica pigments (which is what those Finetec's are made of).  You can mix them with ink or with water and binder, and apply them with a nib or a brush.  They are the non-precious metal versions of shell gold, which you can burnish!  I don't know if you can burnish these - it would depend on what kind of metal they are and how soft they are.

You can also dust/sprinkle them onto wet media for some beautiful, abstract effects (the Saint John's Bible uses this technique for some of its illuminations).  But seriously, please wear respiratory protection if you do that.

Tools & Supplies / Re: Osprey Scholar fountain pen
« on: October 20, 2019, 09:07:01 PM »
@GaryL - I've converted a number of Jinhao X750s and X450s into frankenflexers with a Zebra G nib (as @jrvalverde describes), and while it's cheap, it's not always easy to pull the nib & feed out after you've shoved them in.

Just tonight, I totally destroyed a feed (and maybe also the grip that houses it) trying to get a slightly rusty G nib out of one.  It's not a huge deal, since I bought a multi-pack of Jinhao X750s, which made them about $4 each, and I've used it well for several years now.  But that happens.  This is probably the third one I've destroyed while swapping nibs.

But you should know that it can take some elbow grease (especially if the rust is gumming up the works), and that the feeds are easily damaged (especially if you try to use pliers to pull them out).  The X450s seem to be very slightly easier to swap nibs with (and up to $1 cheaper), but I'm not as fond of the styles available.

Oh, and also - both the X750 and X450 have a metal body, so they are quite heavy, and kind of bulky, and your hand will get tired quickly if you're used to a wooden handle on a dip nib.

Anyway - I agree with jrvalverde says about them, with the caveat that if you break them often enough, they're no longer cheaper.  It's possible that because the Osprey was designed to fit a G nib, it'll be easier to disassemble for cleaning & nib replacement, and hence, you won't have to keep buying more of them.

I did splurge on a Desiderata pen ( - which is a hand-made fountain pen built around a Zebra G nib.  A deluxe version of the flex nib in a fountain pen idea.  It has a an ebonite feed, and an ebonite body, and it's really easy to disassemble, swap nibs, and clean; and it's so beautiful and light-weight and a pleasure to write and sketch with, and I do love that pen.  But it was embarrassingly expensive (like, add another zero to that Osprey, but I bought it after a big commission), and because it's an eyedropper-fill, it tends to "burp" when the ink is low, and doesn't travel all that well, because it can leak if not held upright.

Fountain Pen Revolution also sells flex nibs to go with their relatively inexpensive pens.  I tried one out, but the hairlines did not compare favorably with the hairlines a Zebra G can deliver.

Open Flourish | General Discussion / Re: Neck Pain
« on: October 19, 2019, 12:21:43 PM »
@Mike Schoeningh - it sounds like maybe you're lifting your arm from your shoulder.  Instead of shrugging your shoulder up to get your arm off the table, try keeping it down, while lifting up your elbow (think of lifting your elbow up and out to the side).  That will free up a wider range of motion for you too.  It could also be that flourishing with your whole arm is more physically demanding than you might expect, and you're still building the muscles to do it.
--best, K

Open Flourish | General Discussion / Re: K-2's mite story
« on: October 14, 2019, 06:16:32 PM »
@jeanwilson - the great winged migration is happening right now (raptors over the ridge, songbirds below), and we're in the last of peak fall color.

Sadly, the Pickwick changed owners & management a few years ago and hasn't really been the same ever since.  There's a Bridgeman's in the Fitger's complex now, but the Lakewalk is still under construction after last year's storms did it in again.

And we had a couple inches of snow this past weekend, so I guess I can hide things behind the lawnmower again. I moved to Duluth 20 years ago, but I wouldn't ever want to live anywhere else now.  Hope you get to visit at least from time to time.

Open Flourish | General Discussion / Re: K-2's mite story
« on: October 14, 2019, 01:40:36 PM »
@jeanwilson - best wishes getting the critters out of your attic.  We had a raccoon try to take up residence in ours once. But they are not endangered, so we chased it out armed with a snow shovel and a ski-helmet & goggles.  The skunk that tried to move into our crawl space under the sunroom was a more delicate situation, as we wanted to encourage her to leave on her own - the "bad neighbor" technique might be effective for bats too though.  It worked great for the skunk:
1. install a light source at the opening and turn it on after you think the nocturnal critters have gone out for the night (neither bats nor skunks like bright light, and will be reluctant to come back in)
2. put a radio or iPod or something in there and play music or talk radio continually (they also don't like loud noises, and will avoid)
3. stomp around when you're at home to make the place shake.

@RD5 Take that moral with a lot of salt - Winter in northern Minnesota means temperatures down to -40F (that's also -40C for those using metric measure) and extremely dry conditions (too cold to snow and the wrong side of the Great Lakes for lake effect moisture).  hmm. and now I'm wondering if the extreme cold might have done something to cure them too.

Also, those bare shafts probably spent another year in my basement drying out further, after the mites had stripped them, because I could not un-see the mites. Also, seriously. MITES.  Do you really want to invite a billion bird mites into your life?  didn't you read jeanwilson's commentary about critter-bugs?  Are you not married?

ps - spouse still does not know about the mites.

Open Flourish | General Discussion / Re: K-2's mite story
« on: October 12, 2019, 10:06:05 PM »
@jeanwilson - it was so gross.  I got a couple pounds of turkey feathers from the farm.  Mind you, it's a game farm, so those birds live good lives.


I made two key mistakes: 1. asking for "as many of them as I could get" (specifying that I could only use the first three primary flight feathers from each wing). and 2. asking for them right before Thanksgiving (but in my defense I was buying a free-range heritage turkey from them, and thought it would save a trip all the way out there).

Apparently they gave me ALL the feathers from ALL the turkeys they had processed for ALL their customers in Northern Minnesota.  For Thanksgiving.  So do you know how many feathers are in "a couple pounds"?  It's a lot of feathers.  An overwhelming number of feathers.  Way too many for me to deal with right away - especially since they were dirty, and especially as it was going to be Thanksgiving, and I had holiday things to do.

They were in a big plastic bag (but not clean, because they had shortly before been on living turkeys running free on a game farm).  So I put them down in my basement until I could deal with them after the holidays.  You know - one thing lead to another. My in-laws came for a long weekend; my kids were still really little; I was really busy at work....  So the feathers stayed in the bag in the basement, until one of my kids was down there looking for something a few weeks later and asked me if the birds in the bag were okay.  I told him they're just feathers, but he said, no, there are birds in there. because it. was. moving.

OMG you could see the feathers shaking in there as billions of microscopic bird mites proliferated and feasted on them. So I did what any self-respecting person would do. I snuck them out to the garage before my spouse could see and hid them behind the lawn mower. And then I took a very hot shower while screaming inwardly.

When I went to pull the lawn mower out in the spring, there weren't any more feathers on the feathers.  Just bare shafts and some...dust.  So I put them in a bucket in my basement, and tried not to think about them too much, as I tried to work up the nerve to deal with them.  Okay, maybe a reasonable person would have thrown them away. But I paid money for them, and I didn't want to believe that they were a total loss.

Later, much later, I discovered that the shafts were clear and hard, because they had been sitting there, drying out and curing.  I cut one without tempering it, and it turned out great.  We strip off the feathers for writing anyway, so silver lining, I guess.

And that is my bird mite story.  Moral of the story: Wash those feathers as soon as you get them.

I'll take a stab at this - but while I've studied quill making historically (as part of my academic research on medieval paleography) and practically (at the Minnesota Book Arts Center), I won't claim that my answers here are authoritative or exhaustive.

Also, feathers are an organic compound with a lot of variability - I've worked with goose, turkey, pheasant, and crow quills, and they all behave a little differently in the curing process, and all need slightly different times and temperatures to get the desired results.  Even individual feathers from the same species can behave differently.

1. Alum: Chemically speaking the alum raises the acidity of the water. Whether or not people use it might have something to do with the ph of their local water supply.  Most people probably know what alum does to something soaked in it, in the context of pickling - alum keeps the pickles crispy.  I'm sure it could also help de-grease the feathers, but the hot sand curing should scour them enough that the ink doesn't blob off (like with a fresh, oily, new metal nib).

2. Soaking: I don't think you absolutely have to soak the feathers, but a bit of a soak in the alum solution does clean them up a bit, and makes sure that if you're going to store them before curing them, they don't have a bunch of bird mites infesting them.  Ask me how I know about the mites.  I've cured fresh turkey feathers without soaking them, and they've turned out fine.  You're probably right that soaking cuts down some of the variables.

3. Curing: Heating is the fastest way to cure the feathers.  It dries them out and denatures the proteins in the shaft so that the material is harder and more flexible -- It's called "tempering" because of that.  However, given enough time and dry conditions, feathers will cure on their own too (but practically speaking, who wants to hoard feathers in their attic/basement for months and months and months, waiting for them to cure themselves).

4. Heating: the traditional manner of tempering quills is to heat a deep pail of fine, dry sand, and then insert the quills into the sand and let them sit until the sand cools down.  How hot? opinions differ, but I've had good results with sand heated to around 275-300F.  Just make sure it's thoroughly heated and that it bakes on its own long enough to drive out any residual moisture. (It takes a long time, and it smells kind of bad, if you start with fresh sand from the hardware or garden store. My spouse does not appreciate it when I do this, which led to a batch of feathers in my basement curing themselves that one time.  Now, when I want to temper feathers, I heat up the sand outside, on the barbecue, which makes it harder to regulate the temperature, but easier to stay married)

RE: "Can you dry them too much?" -- I don't know if the "dry" is the problem, but if you apply too much heat, the shafts will bubble up and split like popcorn (it will also smell like popcorn, which may put you off wanting to eat popcorn for a while).  This may make your heat gun idea inadvisable.

5. Pre-cutting: Huh, I didn't know that modern quill cutters open the shaft before tempering.  I haven't read about that in medieval sources, so I haven't done it before.  Maybe I'll give it a try next time I cure a batch.

Best wishes making all the quills for your kid's science class, @AAAndrew!  Also, kudos on being such an involved parent.  I'm sure all the kids in your son's science class will be energized and inspired by your participation and your intellectual curiosity!  I hope you also get to share with them your process of discovery in making the quills for them.
--yours, K

Tools & Supplies / Re: Worst Papers??
« on: October 09, 2019, 09:43:42 PM »
Okay - I'll share.  I've had a little pressure from my local public library to serve on its board of directors, which I do not have time for.  Nonetheless, it was a very flattering and kind invitation, so I wanted to make them a little token of my appreciation in the form of some custom book plates for the executive committee.

I thought I'd take some Avery labels, spray them with matte fixative (my go-to for substandard paper), and make some fancy name plates for them.

People - they absorbed all that matte spray, curled up, and still bled and bled and bled - even with sumi ink, even with India ink. even with gouache.  Hard Fail.  the. worst. paper. ever.

Tools & Supplies / Re: Cleaning your nib...cloth Vs paper towel.
« on: September 25, 2019, 05:09:15 PM »
I'm team cloth: wash and reuse!  But it doesn't have to be linen - just as long as it is lint-free, tightly woven, and absorbent.  I actually like using pieces of old, worn-out cotton sheets/pillowcases or um. worn-out boxers.

Broad Edge Pen Calligraphy / Re: Mitchell Nib Question
« on: September 21, 2019, 01:46:06 PM »
Thanks for that addendum @jeanwilson!

It's funny though -- When I cut my quills, I definitely bevel the underside as a natural consequence of the scoop cut that forms the nib and determines the width.  I also shape the top of it a bit to tidy it up, but most of the cutting comes from underneath.  So that's how I sharpen my Mitchells too, because nobody ever told me otherwise.  I hadn't realized that was so unorthodox.  (I'm old enough to know that if it's been working for me for the number of decades I've been doing it that way, I don't need to call it "wrong" - but maybe I'll try it the other way when I prep a new tiny nib)

At any rate, whichever way you do it, it still ends up sharp -- like the difference between a santoku knife (like your sushi knife, which is only sharpened on one side) and a French chef's knife (sharpened on both).  I have a sushi knife from Aritsugu in Kyoto (forging knives since the 16th century - before then, they made swords) They stamped my name into the blade.  My children lightly bicker about who gets to inherit it when I die.

I should note that I work on a tilted writing desk, so that changes the relative angle of the nib - and probably the bevel on the underside makes more sense that way, as the desk falls away from it at a steeper angle.  Manuscript evidence attests that medieval scribes always wrote on a slanted surface, and indeed, I find it difficult to use a quill on a flat surface.

Broad Edge Pen Calligraphy / Re: Mitchell Nib Question
« on: September 20, 2019, 10:41:51 PM »
@Karl H. Gansai are Japanese watercolors, but the pigment particulates are smaller than gouache and larger than Western style transparent watercolors.  JetPens (where I get a lot of art supplies) has a basic explainer on the differences between watercolor, gansai, gouache, and poster color:

They come in little pans like watercolors, so you just paint them on a nib straight from the pan.  They're a lot like those Finetecs that way.  They make them in metallic colors too, but I prefer the Finetecs for metallics.  Gansai are opaque and I prefer them to gouache because they dry with a glossy finish.  I think the particle size of the pigments must be similar to sumi ink - it's formulated to paint on washi paper, just like sumi.

That R&K Auszeihtusche Sepia is billed as a type of India ink for drawing (the make it in 3 colors; and they make a lot of other drawing inks); I don't find that it needs any gum arabic for broad edge - it's not great for pointed pen though.  It is NOT for fountain pens (and don't get it confused with the regular R&K fountain pen Sepia).  Of the R&K fountain pen inks, I find the iron gall inks pretty friendly to broad edge calligraphy, and surprisingly good for pointed pen with a drop of gum arabic in a dinky dip - but then, I don't mind fussing with the inks that give me excellent shading, sheen and shimmer options (witness my irrational devotion to the utterly frustrating J.Herbin Emeraude de Chivor in this thread:  EdC, why can't I quit you?)

As for those tiny Mitchells.  Once they're sharpened, I get very nice crisp contrast with them on that ultra-smooth hot press watercolor paper - as long as the tiny writing is a scaled down version of the normal sized, just as precise.  It's one of the times I prefer a very smooth paper for broad edge.

(Fellow knife sharpener! I sharpen all my knives when I need to chill out.  I like them sharp enough to cleanly slice a leaf of basil floating in a pan of water.  Of course, then my across the street neighbor lady almost cut her thumb off with one of them - I tried to warn her it was much sharper than she was used to)

* Oh, and hey, I use those 5-Star Mead pads WITH THE LINES (I keep some college ruled and wide ruled pads around).  because, you know, mostly for practice, I'm going to use guidelines anyway.

--yours, K

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