Until a dozen years ago I wrote a lot of letters by hand. Even now I handwrite daily, scribbling in little writing books and sketchbooks with my beloved fountain pen. This autumn we spent a day in a 1920’s schoolhouse in the village museum, and I watched the children learn to write with nib pens dipped in ink. I came away determined to revisit the old fashioned pen & ink.
Like so many technologies, writing using a metal nib with a reservoir dipped in ink has progressed rapidly from exciting innovation through to common practice, finally retiring as an art form. Like stone lithography, turning wood on a pole-lathe, throwing pots on the wheel, composing on a typewriter, hand-stitched books and hand-spun wool, I am ever so fond of the obsolete art form.
No surprise then, that calligraphy took my heart. Practice, practice, when to dip the pen, touch it to the edge of the bottle to release excess ink, how to hold it, the pressure, the angle;
Remembering to clean the nib on a scrap bit of cloth, when life interrupts. I’ve used pen & ink as a drawing tool, but as a writing tool I am enraptured with it.
What elation. No, I will not cook dinner! No! I will not sweep the floor! I only want to write and write and write. The best sorts of materials result in beauty even in drips and splashes, scratches and mistakes. This ink is beautiful but takes an age to dry. I think of blotters, and I wear stains on my fingers. I love the idea of a person’s ‘hand’ and that one can recognise it. Forgeries, postcards, old documents, accounts. I gaze at the old things as on a painting. I deeply appreciate the digital age for its effortlessness, but oh, I adore the beauty of the handmade. Slow? Yes! Messy. Indeed! Can there be a balance?
I’ll devote a spot at my writing desk (first the poor desk must recover its legs, heartlessly broken off on its journey to Canada!) to the nib pen, its leather inlay was designed just for this. So were loveletters – though I fell in love with my sweetheart at the dawn of ubiquitous email, and most of our writing is digital. As my sweetheart is far away in England just now, I think the odd messy, handwritten, ink-splashed letter might be just the thing for us. And you?