Keep Learning! Keep Practicing! Keep Going!

I know you’re eager to learn and master Copperplate and/or Spencerian script — we all are!

The truth is: learning takes time.

This applies to anything worth learning — may it be a musical instrument, knitting, Jiu-Jitsu.  Learning a script is no different.  We have to put in the time and the effort.


If you’ve just started, don’t be too hard on yourself.  “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” as they say.  Script is one of those things.  It isn’t mastered in a day… or a week… or a month (well, unless you hideout in a cave for a month and do nothing but study and practice all day long!)

Learning a script takes hours of study and practice.  And even those who are proficient in the script are continuously learning and finding ways to improve their existing script.


I once heard someone give a speech about how you shouldn’t aim to be the “best.”  Instead, aim to keep getting “better.” The speaker went on to say that by being the “best” means you’ve stopped trying to be better — what a great insight!

I’ve been at it (Copperplate Script) for over a year-and-a-half and I’m constantly learning new things.  New things to improve.  New things to try.  So many things!


My script at the beginning of my Copperplate journey (January 2015) and my script from a couple of months ago (June 2016). Still learning everyday!

My mentor and friend Ate Gail (@the_md_writes) always says, “The learning never stops.” She’s so right!

Though I feel like I’ve come a long way from January 2015, I know that I still have a ways to go and that’s ok.  I’m enjoying every bit of the process.

Even if you think you’ve got a handle on this script, don’t settle.  Keep at it.  Keep studying.  Keep practicing.  Keep learning.  Keep getting better.

Happy writing!

Your Pointed-Pen Companion,

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness


Understanding Hairlines and Shades in Copperplate Calligraphy

One characteristic of Copperplate script is the intricate relationship between hairlines and shades. To construct proper Copperplate letterforms, we must understand how hairline and shaded strokes are made.

Note: I use the terms “pen” and “nib” interchangeably; they mean the same thing.


Unlike broad pens and fountain pens, the pointed dip pens used for Copperplate script are designed to flex.  Because of the sharp point and flexible tines of pointed pens, we are able to achieve hairline strokes and thick, shaded strokes by controlling the amount of pressure we apply to the nib.



Relaxed (closed) tines create hairline strokes.

Hairlines, the thinnest strokes, are achieved when the tines of the nib are relaxed (no pressure applied). The nib simply glides on the surface of the paper. Hairlines can be drawn in any direction (up, down, sideways, loops, etc.)  Note, however, that all upstrokes are hairlines.



Flexed (opened) tines created shades on downstrokes.

Shades, sometimes called “swells”, can be achieved when the tines of the nib are flexed.  Applying pressure to the nib flexes (opens) the tines, allowing more ink to be released on to the paper.  Because pressure is required to flex the tines, shaded strokes can only be made on down strokes.  The sharpness of the pen will cause the nib to snag or puncture the paper if too much pressure is applied on up strokes.



Depending on the pressure applied, a single nib can produce a varying thickness in shade. (nib: Tachikawa G)

Dependening on how much pressure you apply on the downstroke, shades can vary in thickness.   Dr. Joe Vitolo refers to this as “heft”.  The more pressure you place on the nib, the wider the tines open, creating thicker the shades.  Consistency is key.


The hairline-to-shade and shade-to-hairline transitions of strokes are smooth, not abrupt.  To achieve smooth transitions, the pressure on the nib must be gradually applied or released on the down stroke.


Inconsistencies are noted by red arrows

A) Smooth transitions and equal heft on the shades

B) Smooth transitions, inconsistent shading

C) Smooth transitions, inconsistent shading

D) Abrupt transitions, inconsistent shading (note the pointy curves).


Try these basic strokes.  Draw them slowly and precisely.  Pay careful attention to:

1) The transitions of from hairline-to-shade and shade to hairline.
Does the shade gradually thicken and/or taper off?

2) The consistency of the heft of your shades.
Are your shades equal in thickness?


Basic strokes drill exercise to practice the transition of hairlines to shade, and shades to hairlines. Note that the shades are made only on downward strokes.

The harmonious relationship between hairlines and shades make Copperplate elegant and beautiful.  When practicing these strokes, be sure to focus on the consistency of your shades and the smoothness of the transitions.

Learning a new skill requires a lot of practice and patience.  It’s ok if you don’t get it exactly right the first time or the second time.  Keep practicing.  Keep going.

Happy writing!

Your Copperplate Companion,


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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.



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.


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



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.



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?



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.


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 and  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,



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