How to Prepare for Drill Exercises

Learning copperplate requires careful study and practice.  Drill exercises are a great way to put your studies into practice.

In my previous blog, I told you what drills were and gave you 3 reasons why you should do them.   In this post, I’ll help you prepare for the drill exercises that we’ll be doing together over the next few posts.

Let’s get ready!

To prepare for drills, here’s what you’ll need:

1. Focus Time

To get the most out of your practice sessions, you need to be 100% focused on the task at hand.  To do this, you’ll need to dedicate a set amount of time to practice.

Think about how much time you’d like to set aside for practice and how often you want to do it.  Maybe 15-20 minutes Monday to Friday or 30 minutes 3-4 times a week?  Whatever you decide,  stick with it.  Mark your calendar.

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This was my schedule over the summer.  Nowadays, I practice for 20-30 minutes every other day or so — or when I can.

Designate a workspace in your home where you can practice comfortably, free from distractions.  If you can, try to schedule your practice time around the same time for each session.

Even if you only have 10-15 minutes to practice, make every minute count!

Read more about how to optimize your practice time.

2. the right MATERIALS

Practicing with the right materials is really important.

Can you imagine training for 10k marathon wearing combat boots, a business suit, and a beach hat?  Sure, it’s doable; but it probably would yield the same results as training in proper gear.

Most of the frustration I had when I was just starting to learn calligraphy was because I was using the wrong materials — I’ll save that story for another day!

Here are some things that I recommend for drill exercises:

Beginner-Friendly NiBs

My favorites are the Brause 361 (“Blue Pumpkin”) and the Zebra G nib.  They’re smooth on upstrokes and make squaring tops and bottoms of stems easy.  Once you get the hang of your strokes, you can try using sharper and more flexible nibs.

Read more about my favorite nibs.

Penholder

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I highly recommend using an oblique penholder.  If you’re a lefty, a straight penholder would probably work best for you.

Sharisse De Leon, a fellow pointed pen and brush calligrapher, has some great tips for lefties on her blog.

Black Ink

Black ink is ideal for drill exercises because it’s easy to see.  My favorite black ink is the Kuretake Sumi Ink from PaperInkArts.com.

Lined Paper
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Two kinds of lined paper (top) and 2 kinds of guide sheets that I use (bottom).

I highly recommend practicing your drills on white lined paper so you have definitive lines for reference.  I suggest practicing drills with 7-10mm x-heights, at least in the beginning.  If you use the Rhodia bloc paper like I do, double the blocks to create an x-height of 10mm.

Guide Sheet

If your paper doesn’t already have the 52-55° slant lines, you’ll definitely need a guide sheet with the appropriate slant to slip under your practice paper.  This will help you to practice your strokes at the correct angle.  You can find printable guide sheets at IAMPETH.com and BiancaMascorro.com.

Exemplar

You’ll absolutely need an exemplar for reference.  How else will you know how to draw something if you don’t know what it looks like?

There are many resources available online.  I love the exemplars from Dr. Joe Vitolo’s website zanerian.com.  Find a style that you like, print it out, study it, and use it as a reference.

3. DELIBERATE PRACTICE

Alright.  So you’re all set.  You’ve set aside some quiet time and you’ve got all of your supplies.  Now what?

Start with the basics.  Study your exemplar and practice one stroke at a time.

And I mean really study them.  Take notes.

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Here’s what my printed exemplar looks like.

Study the exemplar.  What do the individual strokes look like?  How do they curve and when does it curve?  When does the shade begin to taper off?  When does it straighten out? etc.

When you practice, draw each stroke slowly and carefully.  Try your best to draw them as close to your example as you can.

After a couple of lines.  Stop and examine your work.  Critique it.  Make note of how you can improve.  Continue on to the next line of drills, implementing the critiques you made on the previous lines.

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Critique your own work. Make note of the things that went well and things you need improvement.

Take it slow.  Start with the basic strokes.

Study the basic strokes one at a time — which is what we’ll be doing over the next few weeks.  Afterwards, we’ll work our way to joining the individual strokes to form letterforms.

4. TRACK Your PROGRESS

Be sure to hang on to some of your practice sheets so you can keep track of your progress.  Put a date on them.  Aim for progress with each practice.

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A comparison of one of my very first drill exercises from February 2015 and a more recent one from this month.

If you’re up an an extra challenge, write the pangram “Sphinx of black quartz, judge my vow”  (or any pangram you like) and date it.  Once a month or so, rewrite the same pangram and compare it to the previous ones that you’ve written.  Admire your progress and check for areas that need improvement.  Again, take notes

SUMMARY

In my next post, we’ll start our first set of drill exercises.  Be sure to have all of these things ready so you can have successful drill session.

Remember: drills are integral to your success with copperplate calligraphy.  Let’s make the most of our practice time.  Set a focus time for deliberate practice and be prepared with the “right” tools.  And don’t forget to track your progress.

You’ll be amazed at how quickly and easily you progress when you make time to practice these drills properly.

 

Happy Writing!

Your Copperplate Companion,

Nina

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5 Ways to Optimize Your Copperplate Practice

Copperplate script is not something to be learned in few days day or a few weeks.  It’s an ongoing learning experience.  Mastering copperplate could take months, years, or decades.

How you choose to practice copperplate (or really anything in general) depends mainly on two things: how important it is to you and your willingness to make time for it.  The amount of time you spend practicing is not as important as the quality of time you spend practicing.

Today I’ll be sharing 5 tips to help you optimize your practice  sessions — especially if you’re strapped for time.

How to Optimize YOUR PRACTICE TIME

1. DESIGNATE A SPACE FOR YOUR SUPPLIES

If you don’t have a studio or an office, you may be working from the dining table like I do.  Claim a section of a bookshelf or a drawer by your workspace and keep all of your supplies in one place and keep it organized.  You want to spend as little time as possible looking for your supplies and setting up for practice.  Set up and clean up shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.

For practicing, you don’t need a whole lot.  I like to keep all of my daily practice materials inside a little plastic bin, which I can easily transfer from my shelf to my table.

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Inside my portable calligraphy bin: 1) oblique penholders; 2) metal container for my frequently-used nibs; 3) Dinky Dip ink containers; 4) Bleed Proof White Ink; 5) Kuretake Sumi Ink; and 6) Norton’s Walnut Ink.  I purchased this bin from Daiso.

Here’s a list of a few other items that I keep in the shelf by my workspace:

OttLite lamp
Paper pads
Roll of paper towels
Calligraphy books

2. SCHEDULE A TIME FOR PRACTICE AND LET EVERYONE KNOW

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Schedule your practice and stick with it.

I study and practice copperplate everyday for 30 minutes to 1 hour – except on weekends.  I’ve designated a time slot for my practice right before bedtime.  Everyone in my household knows this and is on board with my schedule.  During this time, I am not to be disturbed. 

Oh, and I also put my phone on airplane mode.

3. PRACTICE WITH INTENTION

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One evening, I spent 45 minutes studying and practicing this compound curve loop — which is an entrance stroke to several majuscules.

During this segment of my day, I’m fully immersed in practice. I’m fully focused at the task at hand.  I’m not doing or thinking about anything but Copperplate.

When I practice, I usually pick one or two things that I want to learn or improve on. For instance, maybe today I want to work on the consistency of my oval forms and/or my hairline-to-shade transitions on the overturn strokes.  The key to learning copperplate is to take it slow. Learn the fundamental concepts, start with the basic strokes, and be mindful of them with each practice.

Ask yourself: what are my goals for today’s practice?  What am I trying to achieve?

4. AIM FOR PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION

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A comparison of drills exercises.

The early stages of our copperplate study can be a frustrating one. If you practice regularly and with intention, you will see great improvement in a matter of days or weeks.

We can easily feel discouraged or inadequate when we see the work of others.  The best advice I’ve heard is: only compare your work to your own — unless you’re learning and copying from an exemplar, of course.

Critique your work and make notes of where you can improve.  Remind yourself of the goals you’ve set and what you’re trying to accomplish.

5. KEEP LEARNING

Studying is just as important as practicing.  Studying the fundamental concepts and how each letterform is constructed will make the practice of drawing them a lot easier.

Study the work of past masters and fellow copperplate calligraphers.  What advice do they give? How do they practice? What materials are they using?  How do they hold their pen?  Take notes and learn from them.

You can find the work and lessons of the past masters at zanerian.com and IAMPETH.com.  If you’re looking for a community of calligraphers, you’ve got to check out the one on Instagram.

 

There’s so much to learning copperplate script.  Implementing these 5 habits have helped me to make the most of the limited amount of time that I dedicate to practice.  If I’m only able to practice for 10 minutes, then I’m going to make every minute count.

Brace yourself.  Pace yourself.  Take it slow.  Take it one stroke at a time — literally.

Happy writing!

 

Your Copperplate Companion,

Nina

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