♥ Becka Bravo • Locale: Bari Zaki Studio • Photography: Laura Escobar
So, you've been working through your Beginner's kit, or you're an experienced calligrapher who has been at it for a while now with a straight pen + you're looking at new tools to expand your practice. Yea! The expansive world of calligraphy supplies can be inspiring... and sometimes a little daunting. If you decide that an oblique pen is for you, investing in an upgraded holder would be your first step, as the plastic Speedball provided in most starter kits, in my humble opinion, can be quite limiting + what's the point in limiting yourself out of the gate? While you'll find that some professional calligraphers use this basic plastic holder, many want more control of their oblique pens, or more precisely, over the angle of their flangs. Oblique holders with adjustable metal flangs allow you to customize how your nib fits + is angled, providing you a more accurate + individualized use of the pen. We spend so much time going over the importance of pen/nib angle throughout the Beginner's course, it would be a shame to loose control over that simply because you want to "upgrade."
When your metal flanged holder comes from the factory, it is set to neutral (much like the plastic Speedball, which is, by nature, permanently set there). To properly adjust your oblique pen, insert your nib into the flang, which should be on the left side of the pen staff (if you are a righty - if you are a lefty, there are left-handed oblique holders + you will have to purchase one specifically). With the vent hole facing upward, the point of the nib should be in line with the long axis of the staff, as shown here.
Most oblique pen holders aren’t perfectly positioned right from the factory + will likely require adjusting. This can be done by gently bending the metal flang itself into correct position using your fingers or flang benders, which can be found through specialty art vendors, like Paper Ink Arts.
Just remember, once you begin writing, you will be holding your oblique pen EXACTLY THE SAME as your straight pen! Imagine the flang is not there + allow the pen to relate to your paper as though it were your basic straight holder - the flang does the work of slanting your nib for you, not your hand. So check in with yourself to make sure you are adopting the correct posturing before you start:
SIT STRAIGHT UP IN YOUR CHAIR - NO SLOUCHING!
TILT YOUR PAPER APPROXIMATELY 45° COUNTER-CLOCKWISE
YOUR ARM IS RESTING COMFORTABLY AT YOUR SIDE, ELBOW BENT TO 90°
THE STAFF OF YOUR PEN SHOULD BE PARALLEL TO THE SIDES OF YOUR PAPER
YOUR NIB SHOULD NOT BE ROLLING (AKA. MAKE SURE THE VENT HOLE IS FACING UP)
+ IT SHOULD BE AT A 45° TO THE PAPER.
So, will an oblique pen work for you? Well, let’s discuss why you would even want to use one. In my experience, once you understand the why behind these strange pens, it becomes much easier to wrap your head (+ hand) around them. It is the oblique pen holder that actually inspired the modern day Copperplate style + for good reason. The oblique calligraphy pen was originally developed for right-handed calligraphers to more easily achieve the proper 45° angle/slant that is indicative of formal calligraphy.
If you’re right-handed, you may notice that when you try to write with any sort of slant using a straight calligraphy pen, it becomes difficult to put even pressure on both tines. In general, your right tine will drag + cause a ragged edge on the right side of your downstrokes. You may even notice your nib snagging the paper. That’s where an oblique pen comes in handy. Because of its angled position, it ensures an even distribution of pressure through the tines + allows for cleaner angled lines.
Once you get the hang of these fun + funky holders, you'll realize fairly quickly there is a wide-ranging world of styles
from which to choose. Like most calligraphy supplies, what you choose is entirely your preference,
though you will find that some work better for certain purposes.
I have listed a few of my favorites below + included my why behind them.
Enjoy + salud!
Obliques tend to be more of an investment from the get-go when compared to your straight pen options. The Peerless Oblique is a well constructed + very well priced holder for your beginner's needs. The plastic body makes it easy to upkeep while still providing the adjustable metal flang element you will want in order to customize your pen to your hand. For this reason, these are the oblique holders offered in our Más+Millie Intermediate Modern Calligraphy Kits.
Those of you who know me well, know my love for Paper Ink Arts, who does carry this particular holder, but John Neal Bookseller actually carries it with flang size options - always a plus! For beginners, I recommend the "NIKK" flang to get you started, as many beginning calligraphers tend to have a Nikko or some version of a G nib in their arsenal.
ASHLEY BUSH CUSTOM OBLIQUES
It was a moment of validation the day I received my very own Ashley Bush calligraphy pen. Hand-turned by her husband, Ashley custom paints each holder so it's unique to you. Super light + beautifully balanced, I adore all of her beauties (my collection now includes 4!), but I have a particular affinity for ivory + gold carrot oblique.
A carrot is essentially a shorter holder with a thicker grip. They can be found both straight + oblique. The thick grip helps alleviate hand cramping + works to train your hand to have a light grip and more controlled pressure. For these reasons, I tend to use my carrot for longer, more involved projects like envelope addressing for weddings - the oblique is ideal in this regard as most wedding scripts tend to be highly flourished + slanted. The angled nib helps create an instantly smoother + more balanced look to my calligraphy.
POCKET SCRIBBLER OBLIQUE
Um, can we just talk about how adorable these little guys are for a moment? They fit in the palm of your hand + still deliver on functionality. Don't even get me started on the color selection - I will own them all, I'm sure.
Honestly, this is really more of a "travel" pen for me. Because of it's cute size, I can slip it into my hand bag for a wedding - What? Don't tell me you attend large events without bringing your emergency calligraphy kit for just such a situation as a last-minute guest or missing escort card. In any case, you will always feel like a pro when you know you can whip this little guy out in an emergency. Just don't forget your emergency mini jar of Sumi ink, you know, just in case...
MITCHELL ELBOW NIB
Ok, so we're cheating here a little bit. But if you are indecisive about which type you want to invest your money in, a quick shortcut to getting the oblique feel is the Mitchell Elbow Nib. Because of this nib's clever little bend in its base, the Mitchell/Rexel Copperplate Elbow Nib can be used with a straight holder to write slanted copperplate calligraphy. Your straight pen magically transforms into an oblique!
Now, as much as I love this little guy, it's important to remember that the Mitchell comes with it's own limitations. If this is the only way you aclimate yourself to working on the angle, you'll want to keep in mind that unless you invest in an actual oblique holder, you will be limited to this one rather inflexible nib. That said, I love this nib for delicate lettering like my Nanette Script, but I would not want to use it for a script that requires more contrasts in my shades + hairlines.
♥ A partial excerpt from An Introduction to Modern Calligraphy • Illustrations + Photography: Becka Bravo