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.


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.



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

Lined Paper

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 and


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  Find a style that you like, print it out, study it, and use it as a reference.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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,


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My Favorite Nibs

I’m often asked about the tools I use and which ones I would recommend to someone who is just starting to practice Copperplate.  In a previous post, I wrote about what every beginner needs to get started.  Today, I’m going to share with you a list of my favorite nibs.

Now, I haven’t tried too many nibs.  But what I’ve listed below are the ones I love and use regularly.  Each one is unique in size, color, shape, flexibility, and sharpness.  As rule of thumb when determining the characteristics of a nib: the sharper the tip, the finer the hairlines; and the more flexible the tines, the thicker the shades.


My Favorite nibs


Left to right: Spencerian no. 1, Hunt 101, Zebra G, Nikko G, Tachikawa G, and Brause Steno 361

I’ve been a big fan of the medium flex G nibs for quite some time, but I’m warming up to the more flexible ones like the Hunt 101.  One of the requirements I have for choosing a nib involves how smooth it glides on the upstrokes because I seem to have rather heavy hands.  Hence, as of July 29, 2015, the nibs featured in this post are a little bit on the dull side, with the exception of the Hunt 101.

Top to bottom: Nikko G, Tachikawa G, Zebra G, Brause Steno 361, Hunt 101, Spencerian no. 1.

Top to bottom: Nikko G, Tachikawa G, Zebra G, Brause Steno 361, Hunt 101, Spencerian no. 1.

1.  Nikko G, Tachikawa G, and Zebra G

By default, the G nibs are my go-to pens.  The Nikko G, Tachikawa G, and Zebra G are medium flex and are stiffer than most of the nibs that I’ve tried.  However, I’ve found that with regular use, they become more flexible.  What I love about these nibs is their longevity and the smooth upstrokes.

The Zebra G is the sharpest and most flexible of the three.  I can see it becoming the go-to G nib.

2.  Brause Steno 361

The Brause Steno 361, aka “Blue Pumpkin”, is a beginner-friendly nib.  It’s more flexible than the G nibs, but it isn’t quite as sharp — which makes those upstrokes really smooth.  For this reason, it’s a great nib for those who are picking up a pointed pen for the first time.  Don’t count on this for fine hairlines though.

3.  Hunt 101

Unlike the G nibs and the Brause Steno 361, the Hunt 101 is sharp and has a softer flex, which can achieve fine hairlines and thick shades.  Because of its sharp tip, it is likely to snag on the paper fibers on upstrokes.

4.  Spencerian No. 1

The Spencerian No. 1 is an awesome vintage nib.  If I were Goldilocks, then this nib would probably belong to Baby Bear – it’s “just right”.  It’s incredibly smooth on the upstrokes and has the right level of flexibility — which, for me, would be between the G nibs and a Hunt 101.  Oh, how I love this nib!


Which nibs should you choose?

The nibs you choose will be the ones that achieve your style of copperplate script.  You may choose the ones that can draw the finest hairlines and thickest shades.  Or you may have an affinity for the medium-flex G nibs, or the sharper and more flexible Hunt nibs because you’ve had good experiences with them.  Maybe you have a deep love for the vintage nibs and prefer those over any other.  Only you know what nib you like and enjoy using.

The only way to find out which nibs are “right” for you is to test some out.  My review of these nibs may be completely different from yours.  So test out a few and get a feel for what characteristics you like in a nib.  You’ll naturally gravitate toward the ones that suit your skill level and your copperplate style.

Happy writing!

Your Copperplate Companion,


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What is a Nib?

In my previous post, I mentioned that nibs are one of the basic tools you need.  There are two main types of nibs: 1) broad, square-cut nibs; and 2) pointed nibs.  For Copperplate script, we use pointed nibs that vary in shape, size, and flexibility.

Pointed Nibs


A nib is the removable, sharp-pointed steel part of a dip pen.  Nibs, sometimes also referred to as pens, vary in shape, size, color, and flexibility.

Nib Anatomy

Anatomy of a Hunt 22 Nib

Tip – The sharpest part of the nib is the tip.  This is the point that comes in contact with the paper.

Slit – The slit divides the two tines in half from the vent hole to the tip.  The slit allows for ink to flow down to the paper via capillary action.

Tines – Tines are the two prongs that split open (flex) when pressure is applied to the tip of the nib.  When relaxed, the points of the tines make up the tip of the nib.  The flexibility of the tines and the amount of pressure you apply to the tip of your nib will determine the thickness of your shades.

Shoulder – The shape and characteristic of the shoulders affect the flexibility of the tines.  You may have noticed the slits on some of the the shoulders of your nibs.  Sometimes it’s a thin, barely-visible slit and other times it’s an obvious cut; these add to the flexibility factor of the nibs.  The width of the shoulders may also be something to not (or not).  Wide shoulders may be indicative of a stiff nibs (e.g. Tachikawa Manuscript nib).  Some of the more flexible nibs may be quite narrow (e.g. Brause EF66).

Vent Hole – The vent hole is a small hole that terminates the slit, which help prolong the life of the nib by acting as a sort of shock-absorber to the tension created when tines are flexed.  Without it, nibs would have a higher probability of splitting in half lengthwise.  Here’s more good news about the vent hole: it also acts as a reservoir for ink.

Body – The stiff body is inserted securely into the penholder.  This is the main support of the nib — supporting the tines as they flex and relax.

Nib ID – These imprinted words and numbers on the body of the nib help you to identify which nib is which.  In time, you’ll come to recognize and identify the nibs by their shape, color, and size; however, if you’re new to the world of nibs or if you own nibs that look identical (e.g. Nikko G and Tachikawa G, Hunt 22 and Hunt 99, etc.), this bit of information comes in handy.

Base – I’ve got nothin’ on the base except for it’s the end of the nib that’s inserted into the penholder ;).


Different Kinds of Nibs

You may be wondering why there are so many different kinds of nibs.  Not all nibs are created equal.  Different nibs accomplish different tasks.  For instance, more flexible nibs can create thicker shades and the sharper ones can achieve finer hairlines.  What nib you use solely depends on your script style and what you’re trying to achieve.

If you’re new to Copperplate or don’t know much about nibs, try out a few different kinds. A couple of nibs that I recommend to my students are the Nikko G and the Brause Steno 361 – which are medium in sharpness and flexibility.  They also seem to glide across the paper on the upstrokes.  I also like the Hunt 22 and the Hunt 101 – which are sharper, more flexible, and create thinner hairlines.  If you’re looking for super sharp and super flexible, the Brause EF66* is your nib.  Perhaps the Gillot 303 is the sharpest and most flexible of them all.

*The Brause EF66 does not fit into the plastic Speedball penholders because its size.

In time, you’ll develop your own Copperplate style.  You’ll have your own preference in slant angle, thickness of the shades, letterform ratios, etc.  You’ll naturally start to gravitate toward specific nibs that can accomplish your script style.

Thanks for reading.  Happy writing!


Your Copperplate Companion,