Why Do We Need to Know the Best Calligraphy Nib?
Beginner calligraphers are often faced with uncertainty when deciding which supplies to purchase as they get started with the craft. In particular, nib selection seems to bring about quite a bit of apprehension. This decision is often made more difficult by the fact that different calligraphy teachers and experts often recommend different nibs.
Nibs vary in their different properties, such as flexibility, size, and smoothness of writing. All of these variations combine with variations in ink, paper, and individual calligrapher pen hold and writing style to create a veritable plethora of nib-ink-paper combinations.
Because of the complex nature of these interactions, beginner calligraphers often seek to have one singular nib recommendation to simplify the learning process. In mid-January, after some interesting dialogue on the subject in the comment feed of a related post on Instagram, I decided to launch a formal worldwide opinion poll to see what the most widely recommended nib truly is, so that I could then recommend this nib to my community.
The Nib Opinion Poll Survey and Giveaway
Since John Neal Bookseller, one of the leading international calligraphy suppliers, was part of this dialogue on Instagram, they heartily agreed to participate in promoting this opinion poll, and together with my husband Bill @mckelveywoodworks we all joined in to offer a giveaway of some pretty awesome goodies to entice calligraphers to come cast their votes.
And that they did! In the nine days the poll was running, 363 calligraphers responded to the survey from 35 different countries. This makes the results a truly international opinion. Out of the 225 survey respondents located in the United States of America, 38 different states were represented. The vast reach of this survey was both humbling and exciting, and I believe it speaks to both the universal significance of the written word and the innate desire of the human race to create beauty.
Every culture, every tongue. Every nation, every race. (Well, at least 35 of them…) We all long to express ourselves and convey our human experience in a way that inspires and enlightens. Yet I digress.
So I know you’re dying to get down to the results of the poll. And I want to delve into that shortly. But after you read these results, I want you to keep reading my comments about them, because I think that although there was a clear winner on the nib circuit, the ambiguity of the results demands a second perspective.
What did the people say???
The Results of the Nib Opinion Poll
We had a single nib that collected more votes than any other nib in a multiple-choice format, and I don’t think anyone will be surprised to find out that it is the…
Nikko G-with 51% of the vote!
So all you Nikko G fans out there can celebrate, because your nib is the world-wide favorite!
The next runners up were…
2. Zebra G–21%
3. Blue Pumpkin–14%
5. Tachikawa G–6%
It is important to note that the “Other” option was provided to give opportunity for people with no opinion to still participate in the giveaway. A free response area was provided to enter either a different nib that was not included in the multiple choice or to simply state “I don’t know.” Of the 363 survey respondents, 36 responded “I don’t know” in this free response area and were therefore removed from the calculation of the results. Therefore, the calculations of the favorite nib results were based on the 327 survey respondents who had an actual opinion.
The free response question resulted in a handful of other nibs, with the Hunt 101 collecting as much popularity as the Tachikawa G, and the Hunt 22 and Leonardt Principal EF also being well-represented. However, these results of the “other” nibs were deemed invalid due to the nature of those being entered in a free-response area, which allowed the potential for a survey respondent to vote for one nib in the multiple-choice, yet enter a different nib in the free response. Therefore, the results are only being reported for the multiple-choice field.
So even though these results point to a clear preference of the Nikko G over any others as the “favorite” nib for beginners, I want to suggest that these results are actually quite ambiguous. Here’s why. The Nikko G only got BARELY a majority. 51%. Practically speaking, this is about half.
Which means, that about half of the world does NOT prefer the Nikko G for beginner calligraphers. So when you look at it this way, is it really safe to say that we should just recommend the Nikko G for all beginners and move on with things? I think not.
Discussion of the Nib Opinion Poll Results
I think these numbers tell a different story. I think they tell the story that different people will prefer different nibs, even as beginners. That nib preference is highly personal and individualized. That maybe, instead of suggesting that all beginners just blindly get the Nikko G (or any other one nib) and learn on that alone, maybe we suggest that they get a handful of different nibs. And try them all out.
In my research for writing this article I came across several wonderful opinion pieces on the internet and in books, and I thought I would share them with you here as well.
What Nib Calligraphy Teachers Recommend for Beginners
In his free, downloadable PDF book Learn to Write Script in the Copperplate Style, Dr. Joseph M Vitolo suggests a list of the following nibs: Leonardt Principal (my current favorite), Gillott 303 (sharp), Gillott 1068A (stiff), Hunt 22b, and Hunt 56. Further, he recommends specific vintage nibs that are more highly regarded than these modern nibs.
Eleanor Winters in her well-known book Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy recommends that beginners start with the Gillott 404 or 303. Tonya at scratchmadejournal.com agrees that the 404 be recommended over the 303, because it is less scratchy and better disguises an unsteady hand that a beginner often possesses. Winters has since been said to update her preference to the Nikko G, which was not available at the time she wrote her book. I was unable to verify that with a valid reference.
Lindsey Bugbee in her wonderfully written article on her blog The Postman’s Knock also recommends the Nikko G exclusively, which is a nib I find recommended by many calligraphy teachers across the internet and in workshops. This alone could be the reason people prefer it over all others-it’s the one they are told to use the most!
Tonya gave a thoughtful comparison of the 3 main G nibs from a beginner’s perspective in her blog article that you should definitely read, and she cites the Tachikawa G as her personal favorite due to its thin upstrokes, softness of flexibility similar to the Nikko G, and smoothness similar to the Zebra G. She spoke so highly of it that I ordered some to try myself!
I myself have always recommended the Zebra G, because I like that it tends to write more smoothly than the Nikko G, but I’ve never tried the Tachikawa G. So maybe I would have been recommending that if I had tried it. Do you see how availability and recommendations of others have influenced even my own opinion?
As you can see, there is a vast expanse of opinions about what nib is best for beginners, even among calligraphy experts and instructors who teach the world over. Those opinions are multi-faceted and developed through the interaction of many factors. I would like to share with you the thoughts from two calligraphy instructors that I feel succinctly and eloquently describe the nib situation.
Looking at Calligraphy Nibs From a Different Perspective
Jane Matsumoto shared with me in a comment on Instagram that she refers to the Nikko G as the “telling” nib, kind of like the “Sorting Hat” from Harry Potter. She says,
“I can tell from how a student uses the Nikko G if they are heavy-handed or light-handed and recommend other nibs, with the clarification that as they progress, they will be able to use just about most nibs out there. Its’ all about finding the one that is the most comfortable and reliable for you. One nib might work for one calligrapher, but it might be the most frustrating nib for another. Just because it’s popular does not mean that it’s for you, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with you if you find it frustrating. Also, don’t give up on a nib after the first few tries. Give it time. Get to really know what it can do.”
When I reached out to David Grimes, who teaches the Dreaming in Script course online, to ask for his favorite nib, he surprised me a bit, as most instructors do have at least one nib they recommend. You know what David said?
“Unfortunately, I don’t have a favorite nib. I think it is reductive to try and say that there’s a nib that fits beginners as though they are some kind of class of calligrapher.
Nib preference is shaped by everything from the surface that is being written upon, to the limits of the flange or ferrule that it is inserted into and many considerations in-between. Nibs are graded on a number of characteristics other than point quality and flexibility, but those are the two attributes that people tend to latch onto: ‘Look at these hairlines/shades!’
The right nib for a beginner is what is accessible to them, within their budget for materials, and allows them to get the job at hand done.”
I could not have said that better myself, and I was appreciative of the ONE survey respondent who answered the free response question of the best nib for beginners with: “The one they USE.”
After all, we would never recommend one running shoe for every new runner. Or one car for every new driver. Or even one food for every new toddler. No! Our first recommendation in those scenarios, would be to use whatever you have available, whether it is a crowd favorite or not.
It’s more important to run or to drive or to eat, than it is to pick out a shoe or a car or meal. In fact, it is a luxury if you ever even have the option to select your preference on one of these things. So, with that in mind, let’s consider our nib selection as a luxury that comes secondary to the act of learning calligraphy.
Conclusion of the Best Nib for Beginners
So, in conclusion to the international opinion poll on the “World’s Favorite Nib for Beginners“, there was a clear winner. More people prefer the Nikko G over any other single nib. But only about half of them. Since there are only 51:49 odds that you will prefer the Nikko G, I now recommend that you first use whatever you have available.
If you have the luxury of choosing, get a sampling of each of the following favorites: Nikko G, Zebra G, Blue Pumpkin, Tachikawa G, Hunt 101, Leonardt Principal EF, Hunt 22, and Gillott 404 (as well as any other nib you can afford to try). You would probably love the Pointed Pen Sampler sold by John Neal Bookseller–and they ship worldwide.
Then decide for yourself what is the best nib for YOU as a beginner.