Follow the directions

I mentioned before that one of my projects for the year is to improve my handwriting. I’ll write a longer, more detailed post about the process at some point. The first step was to work through the last book in the Getty-Dubay Italic Handwriting Series, which we’ve used to teach all our kids. That was quite enjoyable, and cleaned up my handwriting quite a bit.

Then I moved on to The Italic Way to Beautiful Handwriting: Cursive and Calligraphic by Fred Eager, who is quite adamant in his book that you follow his instructions to the … uh, letter! I was skeptical of his insistence, but was in no hurry to get the job done either, so I determined that I would do just as he said.

The first section uses a broad round-nib pen to teach the letter shapes, tracing and then copying them. The grid is huge, three lines on wide-ruled paper for ascender/body/descender, and my hand is unsteady enough that I found this part very frustrating. The results were shaky and ugly to my eye. But I kept at it, eventually copying about twenty sheets worth of examples twice. What I could do at the end was much improved over where I started, but still shaky and ugly.

The second section of Eager’s book moves on to using an edged pen on a smaller grid. I had bought a suitable fountain pen awhile back, so this evening I assembled it and filled it with ink. I made a few strokes, then on a whim wrote the letter a. That turned out nicer than I expected, so I wrote the rest of the alphabet.


Wow, was I surprised! Written at proper scale with an edged pen, the results were majorly better. And as I formed each letter I could literally feel the payoff of all the frustrating work I’d done with the broad round-nib pen making letters 5 times the size.

5 thoughts on “Follow the directions

  1. This is encouraging, my handwriting needs some improvement as well. I felt silly at my age using my kids penmanship books, now I realize I’m in good company.

  2. Annie,

    My own writing was lively and personal enough, but pretty degraded because I had literally forgotten how to write most characters properly. So the Getty-Dubay was a good refresher course—it didn’t take long, and at the end I could write legibly again without much extra effort.

    I’m continuing on with the Fred Eager book because writing with an edged pen intrigues me. And it’s the right sort of hobby for me, a happy mixture of analytic and aesthetic and rote and meditative.

  3. This is an ignorant question, but are you saying that the first part of the book was important and necessary, even though the results were not pleasing in order to accomplish the second part of the book which you are much happier with?

  4. Heather,

    Not ignorant at all. You could say that the first part of Eager’s book is focused on the specific movements needed to shape the letters—where exactly to start, what sort of curves and straights to make at various points—something I’d never thought about before when writing.

    It was a good thing to practice those movements using larger-than-normal letters. It was also good to use a conventional round-tip pen (he recommends nylon tip, e.g Flair) because the edged pen introduces challenges of its own (tip must be held at a 45 degree angle perfectly flat on the writing surface) that are independent of the movements which make up the letters.

    It’s not so much that I was unhappy with my writing during the first part. That was mostly due to having to write unnaturally large, and painstakingly form the letters until I became comfortable with the movements. I now use those letter shapes in my everyday writing, with ballpoint or round-nib fountain pens, and at normal size it looks fine—and way better than my old writing. I was just ecstatic when I picked up an edged pen, used those movements at normal size, et voilà!—respectable italic lettering flowed out the end!

  5. Thank you for such a detailed reply, Rick. As our lesson times wind down, I’m beginning to plan how I will spend my free summer time. Working on my handwriting is something that I am interested in, but I am much more careful these days about starting projects that I do not maintain. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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