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Penmanship & Calligraphy: Reader Spotlight! + Swashes & Flourishes

12 Jan

Hopefully, Library Hand was a bit of a challenge for you. (Read the 4th post in the series all about Library Hand here.) Sure, it looks simple, but it can be difficult to actually put the components of Library Hand into practice.

In this final installment, I’m going to share two reader submissions, make a few suggestions and introduce you to the wonderful world of swashes and flourishes.

The first sample comes to us from reader Stephanie and she did an excellent job. I only have one suggestion here and this is actually the most common tweak practitioners may need to make in their own writing: angle!

Click to enlarge.

Hopefully you can see my red lines; do you see the variation? We have straight up and down, leaning to the right and a few characters that lean to the left. Take note of the angle you are writing at and make sure it is consistent throughout.

This next submission comes from Sandra of Life Imitates Doodles. An excellent submission – see her original post here. The suggestion I have here is to slow down in the print form. Printing will likely take this user a little longer than cursive as I’m guessing that might come more natural to her.

If you still have something for me to look at, please just leave a comment with a link to your sample and I’ll take a look!

Now, on to the fun stuff. Swashes and flourishes!  (Click on any image to enlarge it; then you can use it for practice.)

Most use the terms interchangeably, but the main difference is that a swash is an embellishment on a letter (like an exaggerated serif) while a flourish can be totally separate from a letter or word.

Let’s take the letter N to start with. You’ll see I take it through the basic letterform, add a swash and then add a flourish. You can do the same!

The J got a flourish up top:

We are not limited to just letters. You can embellish shapes too and use them in your letter writing or journaling.

One of my most-used flourishes is extremely simple to learn. This is a great place to start.

You can tweak the ‘bubbles’ in the simple flourish to get this effect:

And then you can take this flourish and use it! I almost always turn it on its side and shimmy it up against my addresses on outgoing mail.

Another easy flourish comes from the curlique:

There are no rules in swashes or flourishes. There are more traditional designs, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be more modern ones! Take a look at my ‘flourish girl’ and my ‘flourish fish.’

One quick note to help you get the most out of swashes and flourishes: use the right tools! A flex nib or calligraphy tip works wonders. In the samples above, I used a Kaweco Sport with a Medium nib (purple ink) and I used a Kaweco Calligraphy Sport with a 1.1 nib (blue ink). You can see subtle differences in the line work.

Finally, stay aware of the angle you hold your writing utensil at. Try changing it to create different effects.

Thanks to everyone for reading (and participating) in this 6 part series. I’ve really enjoyed writing it and I hope it’s been useful!


Meet the Writer: Cole Imperi is a business owner and a proponent of the handwritten word. When not at Doth Brands, a Branding & Identity firm catering to the health, wellness & deathcare professions where Cole works as Owner and Creative Director, you might find her on her yoga mat teaching yoga or behind a laptop writing for Simplicity Embellished, a letter-writing and lifestyle blog.


Editor’s Note: This is Article #6 in a series of 6 on the topic of penmanship & calligraphy by Cole Imperi. Read the others here:
Article #1 “Where to Start
Article  #2″Where it all Started & Where it is Today
Article #3 “A Look at Several Calligraphic Styles
Article #4 “
Library Hand + Call for Submissions
Article #5 “Tips & Resources



National Letter Writing Week 2012

11 Jan

Happy National Letter Writing Week! We’re jazzed that so many people choose to celebrate this “holiday” of sorts. Here’s a short round-up from the blogging community:

Dana on Save Snail Mail has a lovely post explaining a bit more about this week. See her post here.

Many bloggers have short posts mentioning this week, like Scribbling Glue, Pen Thief, and 365 Letters.

Create Write Now has a few letter writing prompts if you need them.

Honey and Cheese has a great round-up of letter writing posts of hers in her shout-out for the National Letter Writing Week.

And Lucas Writes looks like he’s rolling in it with letters and packages from other bloggers. Read his post here.


We love reading through all the blog posts and keeping up with the community, but to tell you the truth, we want more. We want to be a part of this amazing community instead of just looking in. And what better way than to write a few letters this week.

So if you’d like a letter from the European Paper Company, send an email with the subject line “NLWW 2012″ to leah[at]europeanpaper[dot]com and don’t forget to include your address. You can also send us a letter first at the address below and we’ll pop a response in the post as soon as we can.

European Paper Company
4775 Walnut Street Suite C
Boulder, CO 80301

We can’t guarantee they’ll be the most exquisite letters you’ll receive (or the neatest sometimes), but they’ll be real and in the spirit of the National Letter Writing Week for 2012. Cheers!


Penmanship & Calligraphy: Library Hand + Call for Submissions

15 Dec

Do you feel like your handwriting is sloppy? Uneven? Erratic? You’re not alone. With a little practice, and a bit of guidance right here, right now, it will get better.

Library Hand is a style of handwriting that was once taught in library schools and now, I’m teaching it you via the internet. Library Hand will teach you to write letterforms that are even and open, and it will teach you to slow down when writing. Have you ever seen a card from a library catalogue that was handwritten? Take a look by clicking here. These are all written in Library Hand and we’re going to adapt this style into our own handwriting.

All Library Hand styles feature rounded letters and uniformity between the letterforms. The most popular was probably the style by Melvil Dewey (of the Dewey Decimal System). However, once the typewriter came on the scene, Library Hand started to fade away. And today, with computers and texting, handwriting just really isn’t a priority unless you put it at the top of your list.

Before We Start

As with any style of writing, whether it is Spencerian or Gothic, you will have a much higher success rate if you understand the foundation of the letters. Trying to produce a thick Gothic letter really won’t work with a ballpoint pen, for example. Every style of writing has its own rules and sometimes its own tools.

The Foundation of Library Hand:

  1. There is no shading. That means the thickness of the line should be the same at all times. Use a simple ballpoint pen to guarantee this effect.
  2. Dot your i’s and cross your t’s with care. Make all your dots on all your i’s the same and all the crosses on all your t’s the same.
  3. Keep your letters and numbers at the same angle. Straight up and down is best.
  4. No flourishes! No fancy stuff!
  5. Write slower at first, and with purpose. Pay attention to each letter as you write it.

Tools of Library Hand:

Ruled paper (a.k.a. paper with lines)
A ballpoint pen, pencil or fine-nibbed fountain pen with no flex

Library Hand: Beginning to Write

I’ve included two printable pages for you. One features the ‘cursive’ Library Hand alphabet and one features the ‘print’ Library Hand alphabet. (Click on the links to open the PDF’s.)



The first step is to print the included documents and simply trace over the letters and the sample sentence. Now, trace over it again.

The second step is to grab some lined paper. Use whatever lined paper you are used to writing on. When learning a new style of writing, don’t start by choosing a paper with a width of line you are not accustomed to. Now write the sample sentence without tracing the original document.

Click to enlarge.

To the left is a page from my Moleskine focusing on the Letter ‘O’ back when I was beginning with Library Hand. With the ‘O,’ most of the guidebooks tell you to write the capital ‘O’ right to left. Alternately, the Capital ‘Q’ would be written left to right.

No matter how close you get to the letterforms shown in the alphabet diagram, you will end up with your own style of Library Hand. That is totally normal, and encouraged. If that ‘O’ is just not working for you and you want to make a complete circle, then by all means, go for it.

Click to enlarge

The image to the right shows me writing ‘Personal Style’ with a ballpoint pen on a piece of cardstock. I held the pen at a different angle each time I wrote the words and you can probably spot a few tiny embellishments I added or took away. Pay attention to the differences in the Capital ‘S’ in style, the ‘yle’ in style and the Capital ‘P’ in Personal. Do you see slight adjustments in each one?

When it comes to Library Hand, the goal is to apply a simple structure to letterforms. A simple structure anyone can apply to their own handwriting.

Library Hand: Where and When to Use it

Library Hand was developed for use in places where information needed to be presented legibly to all who read it. Today, you can use this style of writing whenever you like. It’s wonderful for taking school or meeting notes for reference later, leaving sweet messages to your significant other, or labeling anything and everything. In a world where handwriting just kind of happens, Library Hand is a style you can use that will instantly make what you write a little more special (and readable).

>>> Call for Reader Submissions!

If you are giving Library Hand a shot, please email in a snapshot or scan of a writing sample by 12/22/11 to Include your name and a link to your blog or website if you like. We’ll post up your entries in the last installment of this series. <<<


Meet the WriterCole Imperi is a business owner and a proponent of the handwritten word. When not at Doth Brands, a Branding & Identity firm catering to the health, wellness & deathcare professions where Cole works as Owner and Creative Director, you might find her on her yoga mat teaching yoga or behind a laptop writing for Simplicity Embellished, a letter-writing and lifestyle blog.


Editor’s Note: This is Article #4 in a series of 6 on the topic of penmanship & calligraphy by Cole Imperi. Read the others so far here:
Article #1 “Where to Start
Article  #2″Where it all Started & Where it is Today
Article #3 “A Look at Several Calligraphic Styles“ 


Bad News Round-up for the USPS

5 Dec

By now, we’re sure everyone’s heard the news. As the links below show us the problems of USPS are still big news it seems, the comments by readers are pretty laissez-faire about the whole issue. Some people are focusing only on the economic hit of a massive layoff by USPS; others are positing that communication and transactions are naturally all online now, so it doesn’t matter if USPS slows 1st class mail; and honestly, if you skim the number of comments on these articles, you just don’t see many people talking about it.

CNN Money: Postal plan: Slower delivery, 28,000 jobs lost … “As a part of the cost-savings plan, Postal Service proposed in September to cut 252 mail processing plants. Generally, they’d like to bring the number of mail processing facilities down to under 200 from the 463 that exist today.”

BBC article: US Postal Service facing 28,000 job losses article #1: Planned Postal Service Cuts to Slow First-Class Mail article #2: U.S. Postal Service Seeks to End Next-Day Mail

Mashable: Could Postal Service Budget Cuts Affect Netflix?

Washington Post: Facing bankruptcy, US Postal Service plans unprecedented cuts to first-class mail next spring … “The agency already has announced a 1-cent increase in first-class mail to 45 cents beginning Jan. 22.”

Time Magazine: USPS to Slow Delivery of First-Class Mail

Do you think you’ll be affected by the changes come next spring?


Penmanship & Calligraphy: A Look at Several Calligraphic Styles

1 Dec

Penmanship & Calligraphy Series by Cole Imperi on
Before we venture into the land of calligraphy ourselves, let’s first take a look at some calligraphic styles. I’m going to show several of the most common and traditional, but be aware; there are literally hundreds of styles and variations.

Italic Hand

Image courtesy of Cole Imperi.

Fun Fact: This is the script where the two-story ‘a’ became the one-story ‘a’ we most often use in handwriting today. (Click to enlarge image.)

This is often one of the first styles taught to budding calligraphists and I know a few calligraphers that would say it is the most used. The creator of this handwriting style is Niccolo Niccoli of Italy(get it? Italy… Italic?). His goal in developing this script was to improve efficiency and write faster. He basically reduced the number of strokes found in most of the letters (thereby reducing the amount of time it takes to write them) and set it on an angle, which made writing a bit more comfortable and faster.

Blackletter Script or Gothic Script

Image courtesy of Cole Imperi.

Fun Fact: German-speaking countries loved this script. (Click to enlarge image.)

This style of writing is dark, angular and heavy. It was mostly used in pre-17th century times, but it’s still requested for special occasions today. Many educational books of the time (like books on law or business) were written in this script because it was less expensive (in terms of time it took to write and in how much space on the page it took up). I tend to see it used today on things like certificates and in logos.

Bookhand Script

Image courtesy of Cole Imperi.

Fun Fact: You really can’t go wrong with Bookhand. This style can be used for both formal and informal applications in modern times. (Click to enlarge image.)

Bookhand is pretty much a go-to everyday style of writing. It came about as a way to quickly and neatly write out text from bound books. Now, there are actually lots of Bookhand styles, but the one pictured should give you a pretty good idea. Many agree that Bookhand is the most readable of all calligraphic styles, likely due to its roundness and the rounded ascenders and descenders. This style can actually be written with a ballpoint pen or pencil, making it super accessible and a great place to start if you don’t have a fountain pen or dip pen. The image I’m using to illustrate this style of writing comes from James Pickering. He has a really great web page that covers all the ins and outs of this style.

Copperplate Script

Image courtesy of Cole Imperi.

Fun Fact: The Declaration of Independence is written in this style.(Click to enlarge image.)

Believe it or not, this is actually a pretty simple and straightforward script (aside from all the flourishes and swashes). If you want to show off, then this might be the style of writing for you. Copperplate traditionally uses a really fine nib instead of say, a flat nib you might use in Blackletter. The actual name for this script comes from books students used to learn how to write in this style; they were printed from copper plates. You can actually make really great use of a finer-tipped flex nib fountain pen with this script because you can control the thickness of the stroke with variances in applied pressure.

Library Hand

Image courtesy of Cole Imperi.

Fun Fact: Click this image for a page full of wonderful examples of library cards written in Library Hand. You can see the similarities between the cards, but that each writer wrote the style slightly differently.

This is my current favorite and the script we’re actually going to learn together! Library Hand was once taught in library schools so cards in card catalogues would be easily readable as well as other library records. It’s a great place to start because you’ll learn how to write uniformly and legibly. Melvil Dewey (of the Dewey Decimal system) was a big developer and supporter of this hand.

Finally, I just want to note that this is by no means a quintessential guide to calligraphic styles. There are countless variations and lots of argument about what exactly makes a certain style a certain style. This is just meant to be a brief overview and a quick glance.


Meet the WriterCole Imperi is a business owner and a proponent of the handwritten word. When not at Doth Brands, a Branding & Identity firm catering to the health, wellness & deathcare professions where Cole works as Owner and Creative Director, you might find her on her yoga mat teaching yoga or behind a laptop writing for Simplicity Embellished, a letter-writing and lifestyle blog.


Editor’s Note: This is Article #3 in a series of 6 on the topic of penmanship & calligraphy by Cole Imperi. Read the others so far here:
Article #1 “Where to Start
Article  #2″Where it all Started & Where it is Today


Penmanship & Calligraphy: Where it all Started & Where it is Today

17 Nov

Penmanship & Calligraphy Series by Cole Imperi on
This post is not meant to be an in-depth look at the history of penmanship or calligraphy by any means, but it is meant to provide a little insight and maybe a new perspective.

At the root, writing is a way to both preserve and mark. It exists because humans communicate and writing is just one form of communication. We communicate all kinds of things through writing: things like recipes, an address, or notes in our kid’s lunch boxes. Because of writing, we have ancient texts like the Bible or the Rig Veda, for example. We have maps that show us names of places long gone and love letters and family trees. Hundreds of languages and dozens of alphabets exist. Communicating via the written word is rich and diverse and always has been.

To understand the actual act of writing, we need to be familiar with the tools: the 26 letters within the English alphabet. Did you know we have four cases that are taught in most schools here in the US today? We don’t even notice, but many people who have English as a second language definitely do notice. We have:

  • Capital print
  • Lowercase print
  • Capital cursive
  • Lowercase cursive

Granted, many of the letters (like ‘O’ for example) don’t have much variation between the cases, but some truly do (like Z or Q). By comparison, Hebrew has two cases, a print and a cursive. There is no capital/lowercase. Most languages use multiple cases and the purpose is generally to provide more clarity in writing and reading. Unicase refers to languages, like Hebrew, that don’t make a distinction between upper and lowercase. Arabic is also like this. (You can read up on letter case on Wikipedia and capitalization on’s Hot Word for more details we won’t go into here.)

Humans have been embellishing letterforms about as long as we’ve had them. In fact, initial forms of writing began with pictures (called ‘pictograms’). Pictograms turned into ideograms (A sun symbol might mean sun, but also day). Phonograms came next (symbols representing sound) and we made the jump from inscriptions on cave walls to stone, clay or wood. With the development of the reed brush, we made the jump to writing on papyrus, wax tablets, and animal skin. Fast forward through the last millennia and our alphabets developed quickly. Punctuation and spacing were added in as well as grammar rules. All the while, we kept extra embellishments in tow, whether that was images accompanying text or beautifully illuminated drop caps.

Sennelier Calligraphy Pad on

Sennelier Calligraphy Pad; specifically designed for calligraphers.

In the 20th century, shorthand was taught in school and in places like Secretarial college. (In high schools across the US, it was basically replaced with typing classes.) Writing shorthand is called stenography. It’s an abbreviated way of writing and it lets you write as fast as people speak. This has mostly disappeared today due to computers; however, it can be argued that texting has appeared as a new incarnation of shorthand.

Looking at things from a broad perspective, really not much has changed. Writing styles are still evolving (hello graffiti) and we still use different styles of writing for different purposes (like calling up Edwardian Script in Microsoft Word for party invitations or writing in large capital letters on your ‘GARAGE SALE’ sign). There are still people who have a career in penmanship (hello calligraphers) and exquisite writing is still highly prized.

I’d like to make the argument that we are pretty much in the same exact spot we’ve always been, it’s just we have new applications and tools. We have text messaging, email, thousands of typefaces to choose from, graphic design, and a multitude of other bits and bobs.

And we still have those brushes, pencils and ink, just like we always have.


Meet the Writer: Cole Imperi is a business owner and a proponent of the handwritten word. When not at Doth Brands, a Branding & Identity firm catering to the health, wellness & deathcare professions where Cole works as Owner and Creative Director, you might find her on her yoga mat teaching yoga or behind a laptop writing for Simplicity Embellished, a letter-writing and lifestyle blog.


Editor’s Note: This is Article #2 in a series of 6 on the topic of penmanship & calligraphy by Cole Imperi. Read the other article here:

Article #1Where to Start


Beautiful Paper, Perfect Pen … Now What?

10 Nov

The timing couldn’t be better. You have a free hour to spend as you please. On the desk in front of you is some of the most beautiful paper you have ever had. It might be a sheet of Amalfi watermark stationery or a tablet of G. Lalo Verge De France. In your hand is your tried and trusted fountain pen. You are ready to spend your hour writing.

G. Lalo Fine Stationery on

G. Lalo Fine Stationery

But—writing what?

Chances are you have some type of correspondence waiting to be written—most people do. Think about it for a moment. Perhaps you owe a few thank you notes to some people? Maybe a reply letter to a distant friend or relative? Perhaps you’d like to write a love letter to someone special? In these modern days of texting, instant messaging, emailing and Twittering, a handwritten letter is still a treasure many people appreciate.

The post office is struggling at the moment, but there are thousands of devoted people around the planet who are doing their best to keep it going, and you can be one of them. Many people sit down and spend an hour—or two or three—writing to someone in another city, state, or country. They share their thoughts and dreams, their daily activities, their opinions and philosophies, and much more—all just a sample of what you, too, can write. While many people pen letters to friends and family who have moved away, a number are also corresponding with friends they have only met through the mailbox.

Here are a few tips to help you put pen to paper:

Before you start composing, give your words some thought. What would you like to express to this person? If you are not sure how to phrase it, try jump starting those creative juices by taking a walk outside (nature can be amazingly inspirational!). As you walk or after you return, jot down a short list of points you want to cover in your letter so that you don’t get to the end and realize you forgot something important.

For a fairly brief letter, perhaps one to thank someone for doing something kind, consider drawing a swirl or border on your border to personalize it. You can also add a wax initial stamp to the bottom. Also, If you have trouble writing straight on unlined paper, you can often find a line guide in high-end paper, or you can create your own on the computer and place it behind your paper as a guide to follow.

G. Lalo Correspondence Sets on

Example of deckle-edged G. Lalo Correspondence Sets.

If you are using a fountain pen, make sure you have adequate amounts of ink on hand. If you have multiple pens with different types of ink, consider writing in one color and adding that swirl or border in another tone. Check that your ink has dried before carefully folding your letter into the envelope. You might want to embellish the envelope with the same swirl or border to create unity between container and contents.

Remember that while you want your correspondence to look lovely and delight whoever receives it, this is not English 101. You will not be graded on your perfect punctuation or vibrant vocabulary. Simply speak from your heart and let the words flow from your hand through the pen to the paper. After all, beautiful paper is like a sailing ship sitting in a harbor. It wasn’t meant to just sit there. Instead, add your words to it and then send it off on a journey.


 Meet the Writer: Tamra Orr is a full time writer and has written more than 300 books for readers of all ages. She is also mom to four and writes an average of 50 letters or more a month.