Have you ever struggled getting your ink to stick to your nib when you get started? Or maybe after you use the nib for a while, you just can’t seem to get that nib to keep writing, especially on that upstroke. It sure would be nice if nibs came with instructions, wouldn’t it? Since they usually don’t, I’m here to give those to you.
If you’re new to pointed pen calligraphy, there are some insider secrets you may not realize you need to do in order to make that pen work. In this article I’m going to share some of those secrets with you, and then I’m going to tell you about a REALLY exciting announcement about a big thing coming up next week.
In our last article on the basics of dip pen calligraphy, we addressed the very first things you need to know to get started with pointed pen calligraphy. Among those were different types of nib holders, the anatomy of the pen, how the nib works, differences in nibs, and even my favorite pointed pen nib to recommend for beginners.
My recommendation met with some debate over on the ‘gram, and it spurred on the big thing I’m about to tell you about. But first let’s delve into those all-important secrets you absolutely must know to do pointed pen calligraphy.
You Must Prep Your Nib
All nibs come with a factory coating that protects them from the environment until you’re ready to use them. Ink will not stick to coated nibs. I repeat. Ink will NOT stick to coated nibs. This means you must remove the coating. You have several options of how to do this. Some are better than others.
Here are your options:
1. Wave the nib through a flame—2 seconds max. This is my favorite method. It is also the most dangerous. Heating your nibs can ruin the temper of the metal, so they will no longer retain their flexibility and other expected properties needed for your calligraphy. I do it anyway, because it’s quick, easy, and it hasn’t given me much fuss yet.
2. Wipe with an alcohol swab. I haven’t really tried this, but I hear it works.
3. Clean with your saliva. Though the old calligraphy masters used to suck on their nibs, I do not recommend ingesting unnecessary chemicals. But you can spit on a paper towel and soak the nib with it for a few seconds.
4. Cleanse with a bit of toothpaste on a cotton swab. This is the messiest option to me, but probably the safest.
5. Insert the nib into a potato for a few seconds, and then clean with water and a soft cloth. YES, you read that right. A potato. The acid in the potato breaks down that coating, and it also nicely forms around the nib to clean it in all its crevices when it gets gunked up with ink as well. There are TWO problems with using potatoes. First, they can bend your extra fine nibs if you’re not careful, rendering them useless. Second, they rot. And when they rot, they smell bad. And if you forgot you put a potato in your calligraphy desk, you could spend an entire week fretting over how to get the sickening odor out of your office, even though you cannot locate it. Ask me how I know.
Clean Your Nibs During and After Use
There is another, seemingly obvious thing you must do to keep your ink flowing on your nib. You need to keep it clean. After you write for a while, the nib will begin to build up a layer of inky gunk. This is most pronounced if you stop to check your messages or try to visit with someone periodically throughout your writing session.
Ink dries on the nib within seconds. So you must either keep it writing, or wipe it off when you lay it down. I keep a small glass of water near my inkwell and periodically dip the nib into the water and wipe it off with a cotton cloth or paper towel. If you use a paper towel, you must be diligent to get all of the fibers off of the nib, or else they will cause your ink to blob.
Baby wipes work really well for cleaning ink off of your nib, and for cleaning your hands as well. I highly recommend keeping a trash can handy and disposing of the wipe as soon as you finish using it, because if you lay it too close to your paper, it could ruin your paper and/or desk surface.
Even if you write non-stop, you will still need to clean your nib every so often. And the most important thing is that you also must clean your nib thoroughly after you complete your writing session for the day.
I always make the mistake of thinking I’ll come back and write some more, and then I get busy and don’t. So then my nibs sit there with ink residue on them. Ink residue can damage your nibs, and water will rust them within minutes. So get in the discipline early on to clean your nibs well as soon as you finish with them, and DRY THEM WELL too. If you don’t have baby wipes, take them to the kitchen sink and scrub with dish soap or toothpaste and an old toothbrush. And don’t just let them air dry.
So Let’s Review
1. Prep your nib
2. Keep your nib clean while you use it
3. Thoroughly clean your nib at the end of each writing session
Now that I’ve written this article, I realize this series needs way more than two parts. So rather than make this a super long post, I’m going to continue on with Part 3 in another blog article next week.
In the next installment of Dip Pen Basics, we will look at how to properly adjust and hold your dip pen, how to turn your paper, and what basic strokes to practice to begin your journey toward becoming a world-renowned calligrapher. In the meanwhile, hop over to my worksheets page to grab yourself a set of Copperplate worksheets so you can get started learning calligraphy!
Next Tuesday we have a super awesome, really exciting giveaway coming, compliments of Kallialitheia and John Neal Books. This is the big THING I mentioned earlier, and I can’t wait to announce what it’s all about, so be sure you’re subscribed to my newsletter so you know as soon as the giveaway opens. Hint: It’s going to involve your opinion, so you don’t want to miss the chance to give your two cents.