Sen Mendiola

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My online journal filled with random musings on motherhood, life and my creative journey as an artist.

Calligraphy Nibs

Now that we have covered the essentials things to know about calligraphy penholders let’s shift our focus on the next fundamental tool - Calligraphy Pointed Pen Nibs.

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01 | Nib Anatomy

First, let’s get to know the parts - like an artist-scientist! Nah, I just made it up. ;)

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  1. Tip - this is the part that touches the material you’re going to write to.

  2. Slit - the centre space between tines where the ink flows down to the tip.

  3. Tines - as you put pressure on the tip, these split apart and produced thick lines on downstrokes. The width of the opening when they split apart depends on how flexible the nib, and how much pressure you put into.

  4. Shoulder - also adds flexibility to the nib by effectively narrowing the shoulders of the nib.

  5. Vent Hole - this is a tiny hole in the centre of the nib, designed for air and ink flow.

  6. Shank - this is the part that you attach and secure in the pen holder. This is also where you can see the nib identification or the name of the nib.

02 | Modern vs Vintage

Modern nibs are more accessible and highly available in the market, and cost between Php 80 to Php 100 per piece. The most common ones are called G nibs like Nikko, Tachikawa and Zebra - which are perfect for beginners because they are not too flexible and can handle the pressure of a hand that is still early in learning. Other lovely modern nibs are Hunt 22B and Hunt 56 which are a bit more flexible compared to G nibs.

And like any couture clothes, calligraphy nibs have its own vintage line. Vintage nibs started to become famous in the calligraphy world around two years ago, suddenly it becomes visible or a must in every calligrapher’s arsenal. Even I joined the buzz, and my fave one up until now is Henry’s Gilbert & Blanzy-Poure No. 605. Vintage nibs look prettier than the modern nibs, have a fancy-sounding name, and it certainly captured our attention. However, do you really need those vintage nibs? Or for that matter, do they really help improve your work?

Vintage nibs are created by laboured workers, and the quality is better because every single nib is touched and scrutinised by a human. This kind of nibs is usually sold by box in the early days and in quite an affordable price. So take this as an early warning, don’t jump on the item you see in eBay that causes an arm and leg (and whatever part of your body, just for emphasis for the ridiculously high price). Yes, the quality and performance of vintage nibs are or can be better compared to modern nibs, but they are still replaceable. The point is, though vintage nibs are desirable to have, it is merely a tool and should not cost more than Php 200 per piece.

Allow yourself to try several modern and vintage nibs, and see which ones are the most comfortable to use for you and with the type of job you usually do. Just remember that your calligraphy skill and output will depend on how you practice and train yourself, and not by what kind of nib you are using.

03 | Preparing New Nib for Use

It is easy to think that nibs arrive as ready to write with; however, this is not the case. Most manufacturers put oil or wax coating to finish nibs to protect them from rusting while in storage. Now, this protective coating prevents any ink to stick well to your nib. Therefore when you immediately use the nib fresh out of the box, the ink will just slide off and cause ink blobs (yucks!).

There are many known ways to prep your nib, and different calligraphers have a different preference. But the most trusty and economical for me is - my very own saliva. Yes, you read that right! The acidity of our saliva is powerful enough to remove the protective coating. I simply suck the nib for a couple of seconds then wipe it off with a paper towel. I know it sounds gross, but it is what it is - and it works all the time.

If you prefer not to use your natural cleanser, you can do any of the following:

  • Windex - yes, the window cleaner. Spray some on your nib then wipe it off with a paper towel

  • Pen Cleaner - a solution specifically made to take care of your calligraphy nibs. An example of this is The Craft Central Pen Cleaner and Dr. Ph. Martin's Bombay Pen Cleaner

  • Potato - I’m not kidding! Though I haven’t tried this yet (‘coz we always cook everything at home, no waste here!), the thing is, you stick your nib halfway into the potato very carefully, slowly and making sure the tines are close together. Let it sit there for at least 15 minutes then pull it out and wipe it off.

  • Toothpaste - uh-huh! Just squeeze a tiny amount on your old toothbrush, then give your nib an excellent but gentle scrubbing for at least 30 seconds. Rinse with water and wipe off to dry.

Whichever method you feel comfortable with, be very careful not to damage the tines! You don’t want to waste that precious little steel, right?

04 | Nib TLC

First off, steel nibs are not and won’t last forever. I’m sorry to break your heart, my dear, they are disposable. But there are ways to prolong their life and have a long relationship with you creating beautiful calligraphy.

  • Make it a habit of cleaning your nibs before storing them. Remove any ink from it using either a pen cleaner or clean water, then use a non-fibrous cloth to wipe it dry. Make sure that there’s no moisture remains in the nib; otherwise, it will rust.

  • Remove the nib from the pen holder and store it in a separate container. You can put a non-toxic silica gel inside the case to help out with eliminating the moisture.

05 | When To Retire Your Calligraphy Nib

It is crucial to know when to say goodbye and thank you to your nib, to avoid further frustrations and messing up your work or practice. But how can you tell, aside from the apparent rust? First, you will notice that no matter how you try, you can’t seem to produce clean hairlines. A hairline is a thin stroke you create when writing upward / upstroke without any pressure on your nib.

And secondly, when you start noticing that your nib becomes more scratchy and uncomfortable to use. You’re entirely sure that the nib is placed correctly to your penholder, but still, the nib is not performing like it used to two days ago. It keeps on snagging on paper and writing, making you feel more frustrated. If this is the case, then it’s time for you to say, “Thank you next!”

Now steel nibs have no definite or specific life span and can depend on different factors - like paper, type of ink, and how heavy-handed you are while writing. But the point is, when the nib starts performing differently and not producing good lines anymore, let it rest and call it a day.