In my first two articles on dip pen basics, we covered the very introductory material necessary to get started with pointed pen calligraphy. Some of these topics included pen anatomy, how the pen works, and how to prep and clean your nibs. Once you know these basics, you might think you’re ready to start writing.
But don’t get ahead of yourself! There are three more things you absolutely must do BEFORE you get started writing with that dip pen. You need to know 1. how to adjust your flange; 2. proper positioning of your pen, your paper, and your hand and body; and 3. the first thing you should write.
I know these things sound boring, but believe you me, learning some of these things before you get started will save you a ton of headaches in the future. If you’re new to pointed pen calligraphy, chances are you’re already written with your pen and become frustrated, so hopefully if that is the case this article can shed some light on your struggles.
This article will address the first of those three items: how to adjust your flange, and the next two articles will explore the other two.
How to Adjust the Flange of an Oblique Nib Holder
When you purchase an oblique nib holder, it does not ordinarily come with the flange adjusted for the best writing angle. Not every flange can be adjusted, and this adjustment is very important. For that reason I always suggest using a holder with a bendable metal flange. My husband makes all of my holders for me, and from time to time he makes a batch to sell in my Etsy shop.
The Roll Adjustment
The flange has 3 potential adjustments, but in my opinion, only 2 of them usually need adjusting—the roll and the pitch. The roll is a rotational adjustment in which the flange rotates in a clockwise direction toward the holder.
Without a roll adjustment, often times the nib will not align squarely with the paper when you begin to write. The tines of the nib should be parallel to the plane of the paper, rather than rotated in such a way that one tine of the nib touches the paper before the other. If your pen does not already position your nib squarely with the paper, then you need to make this roll adjustment.
The Pitch Adjustment
The second adjustment I always make is to adjust the pitch. Pitch refers to the angle the nib/flange makes in relation to the paper. To understand the pitch, think of your roof. The steepness of your roof is referred to as the pitch.
Envision laying your nib holder down on the paper. The flange is likely to be pointing straight out, at 180 degrees. Now envision the nib being in that flange. Ideally you want to bend the flange upward so that the nib is now pointing upward a little bit, instead of straight out. This way when you begin to write, you will be able to have a comfortable hold on the pen while still having a desirable nib-to-paper angle. I prefer to adjust my flange to a pitch of 10-20 degrees. The one pictured is about 20 degrees.
The nib-to-paper angle is very important in achieving good ink flow. If the angle is too steep, the nib will be very scratchy and will catch on the paper a lot. My ideal angle seems to be around 45 degrees, but an even smaller angle will allow for smoother writing. Adjusting the pitch a very small amount makes a world of difference for me, and keeps me from having to hold the pen at a funny angle to write.
How to Perform These Flange Adjustments
It’s one thing to know how to make these adjustments, but it is another to have the confidence to actually do them. The way I do it is to first put an old nib in the flange. Then I grip the pen tightly in my right hand, with my thumb and forefinger tightly squeezing the end of the pen next to the flange. (I never want to assert so much pressure as to break the flange or the wood holding it.) Then I grip the flange with my left thumb and forefinger and apply just enough pressure to make it bend a little. Note: you are only adjusting one thing at a time–either the roll or the pitch. I aim for as small an adjustment as possible. Then I check out the pen, put it to paper to see if the angle is how I like it, and adjust again as needed until I get it how I want it.
If you’ve never done this before, it can feel a little nerve-wracking, especially if it is an expensive pen. I have adjusted at least a dozen pens, and I’ve never cracked one doing this. The key is very small adjustments at a time. And there is only so far you can go, especially if there isn’t much space between the arched part of the flange and it’s insertion into the pen. Also keep in mind the flange must be made of metal in order for you to bend it. You cannot bend a typical plastic flange without breaking it.
Also note I cannot be held responsible if you break your pen while doing this. Just sayin’.
Resource for Understanding Flange Adjustment
In his book Script in the Copperplate Style, Dr. Joseph M. Vitolo discusses how to manipulate your flange to get the perfect angle, and he gives advice to use a dental pick to shove down into the center of the nib holder to hold your flange in place. As I have my husband permanently fix my flanges with glue, I never have need for this, but if your flange is removable, it might be helpful for you.
One More Thing You Need for Writing
Now that we have looked at how to properly adjust your flange, you are ready to put that pen to the paper so you can start writing. In our next article, we will discover the perfect positioning to achieve the best possible results with your dip pen. In order to learn this positioning, you will need to have some guidelines to use as you read that article. I have a set of free guidelines available for instant download. When you join my mailing list, you get access to these guidelines, along with a whole library of free worksheets.