Flex and the Art Of Line Variation

WARNING: Unedited brain dump follows. Any feedback would be appreciated!

Line variation is something that new fountain pen users tend to expect. It’s a complicated thing, but the layman’s view of a fountain pen is intertwined with that of a dip pen – a similar-looking nib, and all the swirly, twirly handwriting. It’s not really a “fountain pen” that novice is looking for, but a “fancy pen”. While they might look similar at first glance, they’re completely different in reality.

Parker Vacumatic (c. 1934)

To get line variation, a fountain pen nib needs one of two things:

a) a shaped tip – a stub grind, or a more exotic shape – where the angle of the pen and/or the direction of the stroke determines the width of the stroke; or

b) a flexible nib with some other design features; a nib that flexes in itself will not necessarily provide line variation.

A nib with a shaped tip, such as a stub or italic nib, is easy to understand: like a wide paintbrush, a vertical stroke will yield a thicker line than a horizontal stroke. Some forms of script are suited to, and indeed require such a nib. I’m no historian, but I believe the achievable nib design from a medieval pen dictated the line width, and I guess that probably informed the style of the script written with it – the tail wagging the dog. A narrow tip made from a quill would be more fragile than a nice fat wedge that’ll produce big fat downstrokes.

I’ve never liked this “forced” style. I don’t particularly like “Italic” script, or Blackletter, or Uncial, or any of those. They’re just not my thing.

I prefer the more flowing style of cursive where the width of the stroke changes with direction, speed, acceleration and so on… where a downstroke will start thin, widen in the middle, and then taper as the pen decelerates. It’s harder to master, but it demonstrates that the writer has full control of the pen (when done properly!)

A flexible nib

For this, a flexible nib is needed: the pressure on the nib is the user’s mechanism for controlling line variation.

A dip pen nib is pretty much the gold standard, being able to spring from a hairline to a broad stroke many times as wide, and back again. However, in my experience (admittedly as a novice, with relatively cheap tools) it’s far too inconvenient. You need an open pot of ink, which, knowing me, will be in my lap and all over the floor within minutes; cleaning supplies; repeated dipping; and all that other stuff. I don’t claim to be a calligrapher, so I’m not going to go to all that trouble. For me, “fancy writing” is purely for pleasure, and all that mess and complication does not equal pleasure for me.

So, I want a fountain pen with a flexible nib. And so do a good chunk of other new fountain pen users.

In the modern fountain pen world, “flex” is really a misnomer. As I noted above, flexibility of a nib does not equate to line variation. The three-dimensional shape of the entire nib matters just as much. When we say “flex”, we don’t really mean “flexibility” (although this is a factor); we really mean deflection… the separation of the tines with pressure to widen the stroke.

If the tines of a nib have a flat cross-section (with respect to each other) then flexing the nib will just cause both tines to flex upwards in the same direction giving absolutely no line variation. If, however, the nib is semicircular in cross-section, then the tines should “hinge” at an angle to each other. This should cause the tines to separate with pressure, and give line variation.

That’s a very simplistic view of the mechanics, though. Firstly, the tines don’t bend along a single line; while it’s easiest to think of them each having a hinge from the base of the slit (where the tines start) to the edge of the nib, they actually “peel” or curl along the full length of the tine to the tip.

And, in general, while they will tend to hinge (or curl) along the shortest line from that split point to the edge (and parallel to that) that’s only for a nib with constant curvature along the length… in general, it’ll bend along the most flexible axis, which is usually the shortest, flattest line furthest from the tip; lever moments, and all that.

The curvature matters too. Imagine a drainpipe or other half-tube. A gracefully-curved semicircular pipe will flex, but a box-section tube will resist. And, flex nibs often have a longer slit, allowing a longer distance for the tines to flex.

Suffice to say, the shape of a nib matters as much as the material properties of the nib.

Saying that, the thickness and stiffness of the nib material is important. If you measure the thickness at the tines of a typical modern steel nib, like a Jinhao #6, it’s about 0.45mm. Compare this to the thickness of a Noodler’s Ahab or Fountain Pen Revolution (FPR) Flex nib – a commonly cited, yet not actually that flexible nib – you’ll notice they come in at about 0.25mm, almost half that of the harder nib.

Now, jumping ahead a little, it’s quite easy to reshape a typical nib to make it more flexible – and give more line variation for a given pressure, if it has certain properties. Some nibs, however, are a non-starter for flex modification; most notably, Lamy-style nibs with a boxy cross-section.

The best explanation of these factors is given in the excellent and comprehensive Fountain Pen Design site by Amadeus W.

Modern Nibs

Thing is, the cold hard truth of it is that most fountain pens have rigid, unyielding nibs, capable of writing with a single line width. Uncharitably, I personally reckon (when I’m in a bad mood!) that a fountain pen with a hard nib is little more use than a good rollerball or gel pen. It gives few advantages and many disadvantages, such as cleanliness and maintenance.

For me, having some line variation is a killer feature for a fountain pen. I do have one or two fountain pens in common use without flex nibs, for when I want to take quick notes, but almost all of the other pens I use have flex nibs of one sort or another. The majority of my fountain pens do have hard nibs, but they’re mostly the Jinhaos and other pens I bought for fun, and stay stored uninked most of the time. My everyday carry pens are predominantly flexy.

Right now (2018) modern “flex” nibs are a rarity. It seems manufacturers are dipping their toes in the idea of flexible nibs. Off the top of my head, I can think of a few notable examples:

  • Noodler’s Ahab, Konrad and other pens’ standard nibs. These #6 nibs have no breather hole, a long slit, and thin steel material. They can provide some variation (what would typically be called “semi-flex” in vintage terms), roughly a Fine to a Broad, but not further. However, it takes some pressure to make it happen, and this can be tiring. Unmodified Noodler's Ahab nib (in Conklin Duraflex body and feed) Modified Noodler's Ahab nib in a Noodler's Ahab

  • FPR Flex is a very similar nib to the Noodler’s nib, but also comes in #5.5 size. At less than $10 including an ebonite feed they’re a bargain.

  • FPR Ultra-Flex in #5.5 or in #6 is an FPR Flex that FPR modified (by hand) to have greater flexibility. I truly hope they can mass-produce these and that the idea will spread, because I really like these nibs. FPR Himalaya with #5.5 FPR Ultra-Flex nib

  • Conklin OmniFlex, debuted on the Duraflex Limited Edition. I have strong (negative) feelings about this nib, partly in design but primarily in execution. I was eager to see if this was the greatly-anticipated holy grail of a decent modern flex, but unfortunately not. It’s not even as good as an Ahab. And, even if I had a perfectly-manufactured OmniFlex rather than the two substandard/faulty ones I ended up with, I don’t believe the design is adequate for any more than Medium-to-Broad hard semi-flex.

  • Platinum 3776 Soft Fine. This isn’t sold as a “flex” nib, and really only given minor variation, but the cheap price of the pen, excellent quality, a gold nib at a low price, and a soft, bouncy feel that will give a little bit of line variation without making it difficult to use make this a notable inclusion. I wish they’d make the Soft Medium nib that was made available on the limited edition 3776 “Kumpoo” available on the whole range, as the Soft Fine is pretty fine, and really only flexes to Fine-Medium if that. Platinum 3776 Bourgogne Soft-Fine

  • Pilot Falcon. Not really a flexible nib – much like the 3776 Soft Fine, to some degree. However, it’s often cited as a flex nib, partly due to confusion with…

  • Pilot FA (a.k.a. “Folcan” in Japan) This is probably the best modern flex nib widely(ish) available. It comes in a few sizes; the #10 in the Pilot Custom 912 and 742, and the #15 in the Pilot Custom 743 and 823. Nibmeisters consider it the best modern nib to start with for regrinding into a Spencerian or Advanced Flex nib. The Pilot Custom 823 with an FA nib is apparently available from only one retailer, in Japan by special order, but is considered a grail pen for many, including myself (with a third-party ebonite feed for extra points!). Another approach may be to buy a Pilot Custom 743 with FA, and a standard 823, and switch the nibs. Pilot Custom Heritage 912 with FA nib

But none of these really compare to a good vintage flex nib, even on a relatively cheap vintage pen. Why?

What happened?

Back when fountain pens were a Big Deal, the only practical way to duplicate a document was to use carbon-paper or a similar form of physical duplication. For this, a hard nib was usually needed to deliver the pressure needed to transfer the text. As a result, there was never really a heyday when every pen flexed like a contortionist.

When ballpoint pens took over, offering a much cleaner, simpler, more reliable experience, they delivered this hardness in spades, with the ability to push right through the paper without harming the nib. That was the death knell for the dominance of fountain pens, and unfortunately, the skills and resources needed to mass-produce flex fountain pens dwindled.

Nowadays, even with a perceived rennaissance of fountain pens, the customer base for those wanting flex is levels of magnitude lower than it was before, measured in thousands rather than millions. And, with the price of gold being so much higher than it was back then, it’s just not going to happen the same way – flex fountain pens are, and will remain, a niche item… it’s far cheaper to mass-produce a ballpoint, rollerball, gel pen, or even a mass-produced non-flex fountain pen nib than the exacting specification (and almost always manual skill) needed to produce a workable flex nib.

That’s not to say that a good flexible nib can’t be made out of stainless steel rather than gold. Material Science is so much more advanced than it was back then, so with computer modelling and modern production techniques it should be possible to make a flex nib that beats all the old nibs. It’s just that the expertise and the incentive to do so is just not there, so it really ends up being the domain of niche manufacturers like Noodlers and FPR.

Mabie-Todd Swan (c. 1931)

Mabie-Todd Swan (c. 1931) “T.R.Allerton”

While the assumption has always been that gold is the ideal material for nibs, there’s a lot of misinformation out there.

For a start, a gold nib isn’t necessarily smoother than steel. The point-of-contact isn’t gold anyway: that would wear away far too quickly! Both steel and gold nibs use a harder tipping material, often called “iridium”, but usually consisting of some sort of alloy that may or may not (and probably doesn’t) contain iridium.

The “softness” (ie. bounciness / lack-of-rigidity) of a nib would be better with gold, all things being equal, but there’s absolutely no reason a steel nib can’t be made thinner and bouncier, or heat treated to change the properties. After all, springs are made from steel.

One thing that gold could be argued as better than steel at is wetting of the ink; flow of ink between the nib and the feed may be improved with gold or another metal over steel, but then again, there’s no reason why steel can’t be plated with a very thin layer of gold to provide that wetting. In fact, many steel nibs are plated in part with gold.

The feed

The nib isn’t the only thing that matters, though. One requirement of good line variation is the ability of a pen to supply a variable amount of ink: less when a thin line is being laid down, and much more with a thick line. For a flex nib to work successfully, the feed and mechanism needs to be able to supply a constant high-volume flow of ink to the nib, and to not leak everywhere when it’s not needed.

This is easier said than done. And, in fact, many great nibs – such as the Pilot FA nib – are hampered by feeds that haven’t been optimised for flex usage. For Asian writing, such as Japanese, this is less of an issue as glyphs consist of many shorter strokes, rather than the long and often continuous varying strokes of cursive Western writing. So, a pen like the Pilot Custom 912 with an FA nib may disappoint someone expecting a good flex experience, as the pen may “railroad” (starve of ink) during a long swooping flourish.

Standard wisdom says that a feed made from ebonite (hard rubber) rather than plastic is a better material for flex feeds. This does contain an element of truth. Ebonite is more hydrophilic than typical plastics, so ink will wet the surface better. Water-based inks tend to bead up on plastic, so it won’t flow. This is partly a chemical property, but also a physical property – the roughness of the material.

It is possible (and practical) to make plastic feeds that are just as hydrophilic as ebonite, by surface chemical treatments and machining. At this point, I’ll defer again to Fountain Pen Design which covers this subject in amazing detail.

Suffice to say, the vast majority of modern feeds are plastic of one sort or another. It can be injection moulded in quantity very cheaply and reliably, whereas ebonite must be carved, often by hand. Such ebonite feeds can be extremely variable in quality, depending on the skill of the worker doing the carving. They’re also less intricate: based purely around simple cuts made into a cylinder, whereas an injection-moulded plastic feed can contain myriad details… in fact, some feeds such as that in the Pilot Custom 912 are two-part, with an inner section that can be popped out and modified for greater flow; it took me a while to find that out!

An ebonite feed does have one big advantage over typical plastic injection-moulded feeds… the better ability to heat-set it. When mildly heated to, say, 100ºC, it becomes malleable and will hold the new shape as it cools. As a result, by dipping the assembled nib and feed together in recently-boiled water for a minute, the feed can mould itself to the internal shape of the nib, providing an even, close surface fit, massively improving capillary ink flow.

This can be done for plastic too, but it never works anywhere near as well, and won’t conform closely. To get typical feed plastic to conform the same way as ebonite would require heating the plastic to such a point that it would also lose any imparted surface roughness, and become hydrophobic again. That’s not to say that heat-setting plastic doesn’t help; it just doesn’t help as much as ebonite. Heat-setting an ebonite feed pen can turn a lousy pen into an incredibly good pen, and solve all manner of ills.

Others, far more expert than I, say that heat-setting a plastic feed is pointless and will result in a ruined feed. With the kind of heat you’d apply to an ebonite feed for a “dry” heat-set, that’s definitely correct as a heat gun or flame will easily reach the melting point of the plastic in places before the overall mass of the plastic is warm enough to have any effect. However, with a “wet” heat-set – submersion in boiling water – it can only get as hot as 100°C. It’s just questionably whether it’ll make any difference. Anecdotally, I think it can make a little difference, but probably not enough to make it worth doing.

More likely, the “heat-set” is doing something else: doing a deep clean of the feed, or removing some oil hidden in a crevice. It’s difficult to say if the heat-set is actually more than just a good bath.


As good modern flex nibs are in relatively short supply or limited distribution, choice is limited. Even then, the nibs currently available are barely “semi-flex” in vintage terms. The best, as I’ve mentioned, is the Pilot FA, but that’s only available on a few models of pen, and isn’t available as a separate part. The most practical option is the Noodlers’ and FPR Flex nibs, which are relatively hard steel.

Fortunately, it’s very simple to make modifications to these nibs to make them easier to flex; line variation may not be significantly or even any more improved, but the effort required to achieve that variation can be reduced. This isn’t just laziness: for good, flowing curves, a delicate, steady hand is needed, and that’s difficult to achieve while forcing the nib into the paper.

Modified and unmodified Noodler's Flex nibs

An unmodified nib, and my first nib modification… a Noodler’s Ahab, with long scallops. If I remember correctly, I also slimmed the tip down a little closer to a Fine.

The most common modification is achieved by cutting “scallops” into the sides of the nib behind the shoulders of the nib (but usually in front of the breather hole or slit end) This has the effect of removing the amount of curved material that needs to be bent to flex the tines. This geometry is used on the Conklin OmniFlex and Pilot FA nibs. It can be added to the Noodlers and FPR nibs with a simple DIY power tool – a rotary tool, commonly known as a “Dremel”. It’s been called the “Ease My Flex” modification after a thread on Fountain Pen Network.

Off-brand “Dremel”-style rotary tool from Lidl, with an abrasive burr tool

Off-brand “Dremel”-style rotary tool from Lidl, with an abrasive burr tool

I’ve done this modification twenty or more times on FPR and Noodlers nibs, and I’ve only had one proper failure, when I overdid it and tried to add a breather hole too.. oddly, it wasn’t the grinding that was the problem; I think I ended up ruining the surface of the bottom side of the nib, and prevented good ink flow. At only a few dollars per nib, it wasn’t a big deal.

Unmodified and Modified FPR Flex #5.5 nibs

Unmodified and modified FPR Flex #5.5 nibs. I was a bit too ambitious with this modification, adding an unnecessary breather-hole.

I have overdone the scallops occasionally, making for an over-flexible nib that’s difficult to control and railroads quickly. Obviously, it’s better to start conservative and then chop out some more later.

Slightly modified Noodler's Neponset Music nib

Slightly modified Noodler’s Neponset Music nib.

I did try to modify a Noodler’s Neponset Music nib to make it softer. As I had no spare nib, I was fairly conservative, and just removed the main shoulders. It didn’t make much difference, and now I realise that modifying a three-tine / two-slit music nib in this way is a little futile: even if you get some more flexibility in the outside tines, you’ll still have a hard, pointy, inside tine getting in the way.

One thing that may be impractical for a casual hobbyist to try is to reduce the thickness of the nib material: as I mentioned earlier, a hard Jinhao steel nib is almost twice the thickness of a Noodlers Flex nib. It is possible to use sandpaper/emery cloth/wet-and-dry or another abrasive to grind down the upper surface of a nib, but we’re talking about hundredths of a millimetre, and a complex non-flat profile. It’s also in very close proximity – less than a millimetre – from the tipping material that really needs careful handling. There’s also the matter of metallurgy: work hardening, tempering, and so forth that may or may not have been done to the nib, and will be extremely hard to control without the correct equipment, knowledge and experience.

Frankly, it would be easier to make a new nib from scratch…

So, I wouldn’t bother trying. Nibmeisters may do similar thinning on gold nibs, and as I understand it it’s the hardest bit of a nib tuning job. I don’t think they’d even bother on steel.

Update, December 2018: Okay, I have managed to make a passable semi-flex from a Jinhao #6 steel nib, just by sanding the top-side down and cutting in some mild scallops. I’ve detailed my experiments in a later post.

Again, I’ll defer to Fountain Pen Design’s page on flex modification for details rather than re-invent the wheel.

Suffice to say:

  • Modifying a nib with certain features of geometry or material won’t achieve much. Box-cross-section nibs like those used by Lamy in particular are unsuitable for modification, as their flat-tops seem almost designed to eliminate any possibility of flex… they use corners and short tines to provide rigidity, rather than the kind of steady curvature (conical section) that can be modified and exploited to give deflection. For a mass-market rigid fountain pen with low cost, it’s a good design; it’s just not amenable to flex.

  • Modifying some (cheap) nibs to provide deflection is very possible and simple, but that’s not the whole story. With a flex nib, you need a flex-optimised feed to be able to supply the nib with enough ink, or it might not be as rewarding as you might expect.

  • You might have to spend some time tuning the nib and feed, especially after you’ve rough-handled it with power tools. Learn to use brass shims to adjust the tine levels and slit; use a loupe to optimise the slit/tine spacing (a wider gap near the base of the nib, narrowing gracefully to the point where the tines should touch. You might even want to preload the tines slightly so they spring together. And the biggest optimisation: heat-setting. Heat-setting a nib and ebonite feed is probably the most significant easy improvement you can make to a pen’s behaviour, especially with flex.

  • Writing with a flex nib is not as easy or quick as writing with a hard nib. If you just want to take notes, or quickly hack out a letter, flex is not ideal. If, however, you’re writing for pleasure or for art, it’s worth the effort. Nowadays, I’m specifically using modern steel semi-flex as an everyday writer, as a good compromise between an impractical unwieldy flex and an insipid nail.

  • SLOW DOWN. YouTube and Facebook video are guilty of making us think that beautiful calligraphy can be written as fast as normal writing. The vast majority of handlettering and calligraphy videos online are sped up significantly. If your flex nib isn’t keeping up with flow, it might just be because you’re writing too fast. Slow down, and it might catch up. Paul Antonio Scribe is a master calligrapher – one of the handful of official scribes for the Parliament of the United Kingdom, tasked with writing out laws for crying out loud – and if you watch his videos he takes his time. Each letter can take 2-3 seconds or more. If you want to write fast, then a flex fountain pen might not be the right tool for the job.

  • If you can’t be bothered with modification, you have a few options:

    • Get a good vintage flex; it doesn’t have to be a wet noodle (and if it’s your first flex pen, probably shouldn’t be!) but it’s probably going to do better than anything you can buy off-the-shelf now. Visit the Flexy Fountain Pens Buy / Sell group on Facebook (look for Kasia or Myk!) or do what I did and take a gamble on eBay. With some canny sniping, I was lucky to pick up two good vintage flexers for great prices – the 1931 Swan and then the 1934 Vacumatic. Then I got a pretty good stainless steel semi-flex from the 1970s, a Faber-Castell Progress 55S (as far as I can tell).
    • Get a Noodlers Ahab, Konrad or similar, or an FPR Flex (steel) nib pen and settle for the “semi-flex”. It’s a good way to start, regardless. This is what I started with, ending up with seven or eight Noodlers Ahabs and Konrads, and some FPR pens, and fairly quickly modified them all with my rotary tool.
    • Get an FPR Ultra-Flex nibbed pen, an extra option of $7-$10 as the nib is tuned by hand. With the FPR pens, I currently recommend the FPR Himalaya; they do cheaper pens, but I’ve found them to be of disappointing quality. The writing experience is good, but the pen feels cheap and plasticky. The Himalaya feels like a quality pen. The original Himalaya’s nib is Size #5.5, but it’s very similar in experience to their #6. The Himalaya Version 2 is #6, and I’ve heard good things, but I haven’t tried it myself. The FPR Triveni and Darjeeling pens are available with the Ultra-Flex #6 nib, but as they use a plastic nib-unit and feed, I don’t feel they feed as well as the ebonite feeds as used in the Himalaya. Whether ebonite vs. plastic feed is important is debatable, but purely anecdotally and my understanding of the material properties makes me tend towards preferring ebonite.
    • It’s possible to get a #5.5 or #6 FPR Flex / Ultra-Flex, or #6 Noodler’s flex nib (modified or not) and fit it into another pen like a Jinhao or Yiren. This might seem strange, but the bodies of the cheaper pens available from FPR aren’t anywhere near as robust or pleasant as a very cheap Jinhao. The Jinhao X750 and 159 both use the same design feed as the FPR Triveni and the FPR #6 nib units, so they are interchangeable. It’s even possible to put one of these nibs into a TWSBI Vac 700 or ECO; however, TWSBI #6 nibs are slightly thinner – ~0.18mm-0.20mm compared to ~0.21mm-0.25mm – and slightly narrower, so the fit is much tighter, and may damage the section or unit. With a cheap Jinhao, that’s less of a risk than a TWSBI ten or twenty times the price. And, it will still suffer from the problem the FPR Triveni has: a plastic feed, which is not ideal, in my opinion.
    • Get a Pilot Custom 912 or 742 with #10 FA nib, or a Pilot Custom 743 or 823 with #15 FA nib. As noted earlier, the 823 FA is apparently only available by special order from Tokyo Pen Shop Quill with a lead time. To maximise the flex ink feed performance, upgrade to a third-party flex-optimised ebonite feed from Flexible Nib Factory. At the time of writing, these feeds are only available for the 743/823 (size #15) nib, but FNF say that the 912/742 #10 compatible feed is being worked on. I have a 912 FA that is undeniably great, but I do get railroading at times. I’ve been considering getting an 823 or a 743 for a while… the 743 isn’t as cool, but being a cartridge converter is easier to clean and maintain. As I can’t make up my mind, I’ve held off for the time being!
    • If you want really incredible flex, consider having the nib modified by a nibmeister. You could buy a Pilot Custom 823 with Flex modification, or even a Pilot Custom 912 FA with Spencerian modification if you’re skilled. I, for one, know I’m not skilled enough to use one of these!
    • Give up and use a dip pen. This is what a calligrapher will tell you.
    • Consider brush pens; Tombow and the like. If you’re into “modern calligraphy”, such as handlettering, brush pens are a common choice. Saying that, classical calligraphy can be done with good brush pens too.
    • DO NOT BUY A JINHAO X750 WITH A ZEBRA-G NIB STUFFED IN IT. These are very common on eBay and Facebook, and not only are they a rip-off – a $4 pen with a $0.50 disposable nib, sold for $20 – but they are usually very difficult to disassemble the nib/feed without damage, and these nibs need to be cleaned after every use to prevent rusting. The $20 pen will last weeks, if you’re lucky. Instead, consider a Desiderata pen designed to hold a Zebra-G in a replaceable way, but still know you’re going to have to replace the nib very regularly – probably as often as you re-ink, if not more. The nibs are cheap, though.

Finally, a flex pen won’t magically make your handwriting better. It happens to suit the handwriting “style” (ahem) I learned, and subsequently practiced, so it came to me very naturally. Others will never be comfortable with a flex pen, but do react well to using a Stub pen. Others are just happy with simple hard nibs.

A really top-end Spencerian-optimised flex nib by a nibmeister requires a great deal of skill to use. It’s like the difference between a Ford Ka and a Formula 1 car. To get the super-fine lines necessary for that kind of calligraphy requires a needle-point nib. As a result, writing normally without flexing will dig into the paper; it requires posture, control and dexterity just to be able to write as you would with a normal pen. You could even wreck the nib in a second. However, if you know how to “drive” it, it could be a world-class pen capable of being used for expert calligraphy. So, start small and get a semi-flex first. If you want to try “driving the Formula 1 car”, get a cheap nib holder like a Speedball (ie. a dip pen) and some nibs, like a Zebra G. It’ll feel scratchy and wrong – that’s what it’s meant to feel like. Good, smooth paper does help, but frankly, if you don’t get on with it don’t even think about getting a nibmeistered flex!

If you do want to learn the kind of cursive styles that benefit from flex, like Copperplate, Copperplate-influenced (as “Copperplate” is a rather specific style with particular rules and techniques, and it really pisses off people that can actually do Copperplate when that term is applied to any old scrawl), English Roundhand, or something like Spencerian, get a book and practice A LOT. As far as Copperplate is concerned, Paul Antonio Scribe has written an excellent and interesting manual on learning Copperplate, using his simplified and rational approach.

While I wish I could, I don’t do anything close to Copperplate; heck, I don’t really even aspire to do calligraphy – I have neither the skill, dexterity, patience or stamina to do it. To me, being an expert calligrapher is one of those ambitions like being an astronaut, or a billionaire, or a helicopter pilot… something that’d be really amazing, and that I could probably achieve if I’d dedicated a great deal of my life to the task, but let’s be realistic here!

Saying that, watching Paul Antonio’s YouTube and Instagram videos is incredibly relaxing and some of the notes in his manual have influenced my writing positively nonetheless. If he ever saw my “fancy” writing, he’d probably have to look away and dry heave a bit, but coupled with a pen that can do some decent line variation, his approach has improved my handwriting a great deal. I think my fancy writing is recognisably influenced by roundhand, copperplate or similar more than it’s influenced by uncial, blackletter, true italic or even Spencerian, but I wouldn’t claim any more than that.

Anyway, I hope that’s been of interest.

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