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By Handwriting Patron & Teacher

Manuscript page on vellum dated 800 AD from the Library of St. Gallen, Switzerland, exhibiting the Carolingian Hand of Alcuin of York. This is the foundation of Western handwriting and typography. Acknowledgments I express my thanks to all those who contributed to the realisation of this work. I would especially like to thank: Ethna Gallagher Carl Somers Simon Nicol-Smith Eric Victor Michael Lai Janice Mackey Martin Howard Chloe Simpson Kerrie Howie Publication details Copyright Š 2014 Barbara Nichol Published by The Pen Shoppe Pty Ltd. Shop 24 Brisbane Arcade Adelaide Street Brisbane 4000 Printed in Australia by Tennyson Printery

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Lesson 12: The Seven Families of Letters 25



Lesson 13: To Loop or To Cover?


Assess Your Handwriting


Lesson 14: The ‘f’ Join


Pen Manipulation & Letter Structure


Lesson 15: Horizontal Joins


The Writing Masters


Lesson 16: The ‘fortvw’ Family


The Intention Stroke


Lesson 17: Letter Joins to ‘e’


Ask Yourself


Lesson 18: Focus on ‘t s b p’


The Best Pen Hold


Lesson 19: Double Spacing Angles


The Geometry of Letter-forms


Lesson 20: Practice Grid


Forensic Handwriting Analysis


Lesson 21 Roman Capitals A-F


Lesson 1: The Grid Lines


Lesson 22 Roman Capitals G-L


Lesson 2: The Red Line


Lesson 23 Roman Capitals M-Q



Lesson 24 Roman Capitals R-W


Lesson 3: Mastering the Letter ‘u’


Lesson 25 Roman Capitals XYZ


Lesson 4: The ‘u’ Extended Family




Lesson 5: Mastering the Letter ‘a’


The Scriptorium of Fontenay


Lesson 6: The ‘a’ Family


Italic Hand 15th Century


Lesson 7: The Mountainous ‘m’


Copperplate Hand 18th Century


Lesson 8: The ‘m’ Family


Letter Writing Lines 10˚ Slope


Lesson 9: Separating Strokes


Letter Writing Lines 30˚ Slope


Lesson 10: Joining and Separating


“Dear Fellow Writers” Letter


Lesson 11: Writing in Expansion


About the Author


The Story of Writing

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Dedicated to my mother ‘Mrs Howard’ 1921 to

2011, who devoted the last 30 years of her working life to helping with the administration of The Pen Shoppe, retiring at the grand age of 86. Her penmanship was legendary and many customers still keep her handwritten correspondence.

Barbara Nichol & Barbara Howard

Mrs Howard’s Parker 51 fountain pen, pictured above, was a gift from my father in 1954. He purchased it in Boonah, Queensland where Mum worked as a journalist for The Fassifern Guardian newspaper.

Mrs Howard was from the age when good, clear, fast running handwrit-

ing was a prerequisite for a successful career in the commercial world. She followed in the footsteps of her father, Edward Dingle of whom it was said — “He rose through the ranks of the Civil Service on the strength of his Copperplate hand to become Chief of Naval Stores, carrying out a five year inspection of the Port of Sydney from his home on Garden Island.”

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The aim of this book is to improve your penmanship within two hours. After

reading these 40 pages, you will gain an understanding of the mechanics of cursive handwriting. These rules and insights apply regardless of the writing style you learnt at school. I guarantee your success.

This is not a calligraphy book. There is nothing to be gained from superimposing a calligraphic style upon a faulty foundation. After you gain an understanding of the fundamental principles of pen manipulation, it may not be necessary to abandon your current style of handwriting. As the old expression says, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” In my system you will discover that there is one dominant anticlockwise moving shape which is repeated over and over again to form writing which remains legible from start to finish. With a few additional hints on pen strokes, you will be amazed by what you can do.

Spend an afternoon working through these exercises to learn the logic embedded in the alphabet and the foolproof method for linking the letters together for maximum ease and legibility. As your teacher I want you to be comfortable with speed, fluency and daring in your movements with the pen.

Crashing on the paper does not break any bones. Have courage, dear student, and never look behind you to see if anyone notices your failures. Of course there may be a few false starts. Regard everything, success and failure, as adding to your penmanship skills.

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This exercise allows you to be scientific about examining your own handwriting. I use the word science

here to mean truth. The truth is that it is sometimes difficult for my students to remember how to write the letters individually. Small letters get mixed with capitals and even the alphabet sequence is forgotten when under the pressure of reviving memories of early class room instruction. Just give it a go. It is going to be great to compare this sample with your writing after reading my manual. WRITE YOUR FULL NAME HERE

WRITE THE LOWERCASE LETTERS OF THE ALPHABET Â a b c d e f etc one at a time.

WRITE THE SENTENCE BELOW IN YOUR NORMAL SCRIPT Who would have thought that the simple act of buying a packet of nuts, would result in the development of a multi-million dollar industry?

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Handwriting instruction in primary schools puts the focus on the skill of copying a copybook model. There is little help with understanding the processes involved in the transition from being a young writer to being a successful mature writer. Lacking the teaching, you may not have thought about many of the questions on the following pages. Copying a model script favours the students who are gifted imitators with good eye hand co-ordination, however discovering the real skills of penmanship usually comes by chance.

In my own case, at the age of 20 and working as a teacher, I put my hands on a book on Humanist handwriting.

It was Alfred Fairbank’s A Handwriting Manual. I also found The Skills of Handwriting by R.C. Phillips and immediately wrote to him at his pen shop in the High Street, Oxford, England. He became my mentor and taught me his system for rapid handwriting improvement during my Churchill Fellowship in 1980. He had a reputation for successfully preparing university students for written exams in a single one-hour lesson. When I sat with him in these lessons it became clear that many students commended for good handwriting in their early years at school, became powerless to maintain a legible hand when speed was required.

This instruction book aims to build on the original ideas of R.C. Phillips. He didn’t teach a particular

style of writing. He taught his students the “how-to” of writing without changing their existing style. Step by step, with instruction, you will move from letter to letter with a feeling of invincibility. As speed increases you will adapt by reducing the size of the letters and increasing the length of the separating strokes. Instead of just imitating, you will be guided by thought processes, because I will give you the proper vocabulary to instruct yourself and become independent.

When you copy the letter shapes in this book you will see that letters are created by making anti-

clockwise and clockwise shapes. The letters are made by the small muscles and nerves in the fingers following instructions from the brain, which is also informed by the eyes. It is the same in sports involving a racquet, club or bat, because you need to feel the correct combination of actions with the pen. This feeling will be stored in the brain as muscle memory. Take every opportunity to doodle. Keep on curving – no sharp angles.

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The Writing Masters

When you look at your sample writing you

may notice an occasional initial upstroke occurring at the start of words. This stroke became obsolete when print script supplanted cursive writing in the late 20th century. In the 18th and 19th century it was called the cautionary stroke. See opposite.

The teacher of handwriting was called the Alfred Fairbank

Writing Master and he was second in status to the Head Master. Practice of handwriting lasted several hours a day. Students were taught to say ‘I am going up to make’, as they began writing with their quills or dipping nib pens.

Reginald C. Phillips

The Writing Masters produced a golden age of penmanship. They were correct in insisting on the use of this initial upstroke. This I intend to teach you from the outset dear student. Make a habit of using the “I am going up to make” upstroke.

Donald Jackson

describes the whole craft of illuminating and writing books by hand in The Story of Writing.

19th Century School Room

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Donald Jackson

The Universal Line of Beauty Frederick Marns

The Intention Stroke ‘I am going up to make’ initial ligature.

I MUST FIRST EXPLAIN TO YOU the use of the titles intention and cautionary stroke. It was well understood in days past that a person who exhibited the twin qualities of intentionality and caution was likely to proceed successfully.

The meaning of the word intention is derived from the Latin

‘intendere’ meaning to understand. It contains in itself the word ‘tend’ meaning to care; for example, to tend a garden. It also has the root of the word tension meaning to stretch. Putting this together in a simple way, intention means to stretch oneself to care to accomplish a purpose. The alternative word cautionary is very much about warning oneself to pay attention to prevent a failure of some kind.

For our study of handwriting, caution and intention, describe our The INITIAL UPSTROKE

thoughts and mental state immediately upon commencing to write. The letter itself is not begun until the intention stroke sweeps up in a graceful arc to the starting position. Its importance is to allow the brain time to prepare itself. The general rule is – start and finish on an upstroke.


yourself earnestly to this rule. Imagine the ceremony of a conductor lifting his baton before beginning the music, or a dancer, ice skater or runner swinging the body upwards to begin with power and gracefulness. No force is needed here.

Once the intention to write well is formed it will be at

the heart of all your efforts to maintain a good standard of penmanship. My mother had such reverence for handwriting that she could not even scribble her shopping list. At the end it is not about taking more time - it is about your intentionality.

Frederick Marns

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• Does your hand feel relaxed while you are writing? • Are you gripping and squeezing the pen while you are writing? • Is your pen resting deep in the web of your hand or correctly pinned against the long bone of the index finger by the thumb? • Is your thumb too close to the tip of the pen? Wrist and palm face down to the paper allowing the fingers to tense and release rhythmically.

• Is your middle finger under the pen barrel allowing you to flick strokes upwards to the right? • Is your middle finger sitting on top of the pen beside the index finger causing downward pressure and a squeezing action? • Is your thumb wrapped over the top of the index finger thereby dominating the action of the fine muscles in the fingertips? • Are you able to extend and compress your fingers while writing? • If you are left-handed, do you know to start words with your fingers compressed and extend them as you write words? • Can you tense and release the fingers easily pushing down with the index finger flicking up with the middle finger?

Wrist is rotated up anti-clockwise. Tension in the wrist results in a squeezing action in the hand restricting finger movements.

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• Are your down-strokes parallel? Do you have a preferred size and slope of writing?

Five minutes perfecting your pen hold will unlock

your penmanship potential. Work on improving your pen hold separately from the practice of letter forms. Make patterns of rotations only at first. It is too difficult to study two tasks together.

First rule: pens are held not gripped. Exchange a pen grip for a pen hold. If you have a squeezing action with the hand as you write, you will find writing tiring and even stressful. The pen hold that I recommend ensures that the fingers are free to flex and rotate.

Correct pen hold for ballpoints

Instead of allowing the pen to rest in the webbed soft area of the hand

between the index finger and the thumb, place the pen up against the long bone of the index finger. Softly pin it there with the tip of the thumb close to the nail. Don’t use the fleshy pad under the thumb as this will restrict the flexion in the thumb joint. Keep the thumb joint as relaxed as possible so that it can flex like a spring as the fingers flex. This is the trick: to write with the fingers and not with the hand.

Correct pen hold for fountain pens

The tip of the thumb must be high enough up the barrel of the pen to

prevent the pen from sliding back into the web. The thumb needs to rest one or two centimetres higher up the pen barrel than the tip of the index finger. Rest the pen on the middle finger close to the nail fold. The middle finger is our strongest finger and drives the joining stroke from under the pen barrel.

The wrist should not waggle, nor should the hand have to be squeezed.

Incorrect Pen too deep in the web of the hand

Finger-manipulated writing is better than hand-writing because little muscles and nerve endings like those found in the finger tips are more sensitive and skillful.

For some students changing the habit of an unconventional pen hold can

take a few days. For others it may take many months. If you have writers cramp adopt the Oxford Pen Hold for a few months, { see photo on page 11 } as a way of making the transition to finger writing. Let reaching your optimum pen hold be a work in progress and for now continue to the lessons on letter structure.

Correct finger tip position

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The best system for constructing the letters of the alphabet depends upon parallel down-strokes formed by following the 10 degree slope lines provided.

The slope here is 10 degrees forward of the vertical. A different slope

is acceptable as long as all down strokes are parallel. In order to get this 7 degree slope, the palm may need to be rolled down to face the page and the wrist tucked in rather than curved outwards. Point the pen cap towards the body.

Cursive forms of writing can slope very far forward of the vertical. To create this effect the pen clip end must be pointed to the centre of the chest–an uncomfortable posture if your desk is too high. Another option is to tilt the top corner of the page upwards, rest your forearm on the desk and keep it parallel to the sides of the paper.


Correct Right-handed pen hold with index finger extended for easy flexion

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he pen is best presented from below the Dotted Line not hooked around the Red Line. If the right hand is hooked above the writing lines, the slope of the down stroke will be more vertical. Left handers who hook their hand above the writing line, will often produce a pleasing forward slope. In summary: pen presentation determines the slope of writing.

• Do you leave space between letters or do they bunch up? • Do you leave big spaces between words when the convention is to leave only one letter of space? • Do your individually written letters look much better than your joined letters in the sentence sample?

Optional for left-handers Over-the-top position for forward sloped writing

• What do you need to improve most in your handwriting process — pen manipulation or letter structure? • Do you lift the pen when writing long words or do you tire your hand by writing continuously? • Do you write continuously until your wrist will not bend any more? • Do you aim to start on an upstroke and finish on an upstroke? • Can you expand the distance between letters? • Do you know the difference between letters and joining strokes?

Correct Oxford Pen Hold for reducing pain in the hand or for an injured thumb joint

• Do you emphasize or enlarge joining loops from descending letters? • Do you know the purpose of loops is to help you to return quickly to the next starting point? • Do you know the name of the style of handwriting you were taught: Copperplate, Italic, Print Script, Marion Richardson Script, Modified Cursive or Simple Modern Han Stressful white-knuckle pen hold with thumb and index finger compressed

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Lesson 1: The Grid Lines

Understanding the penmanship grid allows you to form your letters consistently. The sloping guidelines, guide your strokes, keeping your letters parallel and uniform, resulting in a harmonious visual effect. The guidelines divide into three equal sections —this is called Writing in the Thirds. Red Line Dotted Line

The Red Line is the line from which the lowercase letters hang. It’s also the line along which the eye

travels to decipher writing. The Dotted Line is the line upon which all letters sit. Take some time to see how this applies to each letter below. This is a spatial awareness exercise. It is not about your choice of a writing style.

The parallelogram boxes in the middle zone are two units wide to three units high. This ratio conforms to the Golden Mean or Phi 1:1.618.

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Lesson 2: The Red Line

Are you getting the ‘hang’ of the Red Line yet? As Forrest Gump was told: “The key to successful table tennis is — never take your eye off the ball”. In handwriting — never take your eye off the Red Line.

No letter starts any lower than the Red Line except for ‘e’ which was modified to start in the centre in the eighteenth century. Keep in mind, always start and finish with an upstroke to the Red Line.

Think of the Red Line as your washing line. Peg the bodies of the letters to it.

Heads – Ascenders Bodies – Middle Zone Tails – Descenders Trace over the examples. Start on the red dot and finish on the red dot.

Digression (handwriting psychology). Think of the zones as the floors of your house. The middle zone represents the daily activities of life. The upper zone is the attic where hopes, dreams and ambitions are found. The lower zone is the basement, the place of the past, inherited values from the family and items we can’t throw away are stored here. Take note of which zone you enlarge or compress. In the handwriting of a saint, the zones will all be equal.

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The Story of Writing

The 26 letter alphabet is one of humanity’s greatest ideas. It allowed human speech to be recorded in a

written form. Its genius lies in its simplicity and adaptability to all languages. The Romans standardized the forms of the letters to a degree that is still awe inspiring today. Each letter was imbued with a characteristic in its upper realm which defines it so clearly that it cannot be confused with an other.

It is satisfying to think about the way that the alphabet has helped bring about a fairer world. These 26 letters prompted the rise of literacy because regardless of social position and with only very few exceptions we can all learn how to write and recognise them to read.

The invention of the system known as the Alphabet or Alpha Beta is known to have taken place in an

area west of Thebes, Egypt’s ancient capital. The author John Man describes the possible scenario in his book Alpha Beta. He says, “Imagine a literate group of expatriates working in Egypt around 2,000 B.C., possibly prisoners of war who were grateful to serve scholarly masters who taught them about their high culture, able to write in Egyptian hieroglyphic and hieratic scripts and yet speaking Semitic and wanting to be able to write in their own language”. For these people, the Phoenicians, necessity became the mother of invention. They adopted some thirteen symbols from hieroglyphics to represent enough sounds to make their own records and messages. This was the beginning of the Alpha Beta system later perfected by the Romans.

The alphabet became more popular and replaced hieroglyphics because it was less elitist, and because it was easier to master. Just as in the modern world the Internet jumped from one university to another the Alpha Beta system spread in ancient times from culture to culture in the Mediterranean region and beyond.

The history of the world is full of examples of time saving inventions which have added to our freedoms

yet also resulted in the loss of old ways of working. Handwriting is facing this challenge today. Penmanship skills were once a way to make money in the commercial world. Now this is less the case. It is my hope that, although less popular the quality of penmanship will again improve as a new generation discovers its benefits. The story of writing will continue. Less writing may be done yet what is done may be more important for our personal reflection and peace of mind.

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Roman capitals always start at the top and proceed to the bottom. Straight lines move from left to right.

Curves can move clockwise or anti-clockwise from top to bottom. The scribe Alcuin of York was given the task of designing the lowercase alphabet for King Charlemagne around 800 A.D. in Aachen, Germany. He drew a horizontal Red Line through the Roman capitals dividing them in half. He used the lower half of the letters when possible. For others he made a half size version of the capital. In the case of ‘P’ he moved the letter down to have a tail. The end result was a faster more flowing letter without internal pen lifts. The capital A has three separate strokes and the small letter ‘a’ can be made in one sweep of the pen.

Below is my own very simplified explanation of how the capitals were modified to range over one, two

or three tiers. The capitals all hang from the top line. The small letters hang from the top line or the centre line. Most teaching instructs students to sit letters on a line. It is better to follow the example of the monks and emphasize the top and centre lines with only a hint of the base line. This the secret to success.

The pattern that emerged is one of a short letter followed by a tall letter up to the letter ‘i’. Then, after ‘l’ all the letters hang from the centre. The most distinguishing feature of each letter is placed on the centre line which has been coloured red in this teaching book. Alcuin’s design was so ingenious that it has remained the foundation of our present written alphabet ever since and even this typeface you are reading now is based on it.

The Birth of the Minuscule from the Majuscule Alphabet.

NOTE: The word lowercase came from the printing industry where the type blocks for small letters were stored in the drawer under the capital characters, they were accessed from the lower case.

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Lesson 3: Mastering the Letter ‘u’

The letter ‘u’ is known as the mother of the lowercase alphabet. Mastery of this letter is important as more than 90% of all letters and their ligatures are made with this formation. Ligatures are strokes connecting two letters. Time invested in understanding the shape of the lowercase ‘u’ will greatly simplify writing the rest of the alphabet.


are spacing strokes. Dotted Line

The letter itself sits inside the parallelogram

Dotted Line

egin with an entry stroke from the Dotted Line up to the 11 o’clock corner of the parallelogram. Imagine it as a clock face. Pause on the Red Line (at eleven o’clock) to change direction from up to down. Next, draw a down-stroke to the 7 o’clock corner becoming slower on the way down, before making a directional change, to an upstroke to the 1 o’clock position. This upstroke is anti-clockwise and travels across as a diagonal line roughly parallel to the entry stroke. Repeat the process from 1 o’clock to 5 o’clock, then swing up to the Red Line to finish with a flick. Stopping the stroke half way will cause problems later.

Pen manipulation tip: Move the hand along one space after each letter ‘u’ is completed above. Trace over example above — start and finish on the red dots.

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Lesson 4: The ‘u’ Extended Family

Think of this story, all the letters of the alphabet are in the ink bottle just waiting for the spaces. Upstrokes should not be covered by down-strokes — allow wedges of space within letters.


Step 1 — Carry the

entry stroke up high to Red Line.


Step 2 — Drop down to the Dotted Line.

Trace examples below to feel the action of the anti-clockwise letter ‘u’.


Step 3 — Swing up to 1 o’clock.


These words have no clockwise rotations except for the loop on ‘y’.

Step 4 — Complete

the ‘u’ and exit with a flick up to Red Line. Start and finish on the red dots.

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Lesson 5: Mastering the Letter ‘a’

This letter differs only slightly from the letter ‘u’. As with all the let-

ters it begins with a diagonal upstroke, after which the pen is lifted to the one o’clock corner on the Red Line to commence the right to left horizontal bar from 1 o’clock towards 11 o’clock.



Step 1 — Carry the entry


stroke up high to Red Line. 2

Step 2 — Lift the pen one

space away and begin the ‘a’ with a right to left curve on the Red Line.


Step 3 — Drop down to

1. Imagine the box as a carriage clock and mark the corners accordingly. 2. Curve the entry stroke up to cut across the 11 o’clock corner. Stop here. This initial curve is not part of the letter. It is the mechanical starting stroke for all letters. Lift the pen one space away.

3. Now begin the ‘a’. Place the pen at the 1 o’clock corner and begin with a horizontal anti-clockwise ‘head’ stroke, followed by an acute angle across the corner at 11 o’clock and then proceed vertically down to 7 o’clock. Slow into the corner and then swing up to 1 o’clock.

4. Stop to change direction to a down-stroke to 5 o’clock and exit up to Red Line. ‘a’ should not be too round. Be sure to touch the seven o’clock corner. Downstrokes are slower than upstrokes.

5. The down-strokes are both parallel.

6. The up-strokes rise at the same angle.

7. Negative shapes do not match correct one above.

the Dotted Line.


Step 4 — Swing up to 1 o’clock.


Incorrect: The initial upstroke should be anti-clockwise or straight as in 5.

Step 5 — Complete

the ‘a’ and exit with a flick up to Red Line.

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Lesson 6: The ‘a’ Family

There is no rocking over to one o’clock and back from one o’clock. The exercise is more like joined printing.

Remember after the entry stroke always lift the pen one space away

and begin on the Red Dot. Anticipate the lift before letters ‘a’, ‘c’, ‘d’, ‘g’, ‘q’. Imagine you are an engraver. After each letter move the writing hand along one space.

After reaching the top of the ascending stroke, retrace the vertical down stroke to the Red Line then continue vertically to the dotted line.

Cross on the Dotted Line not above or below. (Mother said she was rapped across the knuckles if this was wrong!)

Once the shape of ‘a’ is mastered you can start all of its family in the same way. These letters ALL begin with a horizontal bar on the Red Line. Think of the capital ‘A’ cross bar. The difference is that this bar moves right to left. This part of the letter is often neglected. It may be modified in fast writing, however, it should always be a closed letter. Trace over example above — start on the red dots.

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Lesson 7: The Mountainous ‘m’

The ‘m’ is like a series of

mountains. The highest point of each peak is on the Red Line at the 1 o’clock corner of the clock face. 1

Step 1 — Carry the entry

stroke up high to Red Line.


Step 2 — Drop down to the Dotted Line.

B e generous with the clockwise entry stroke.

Rotation in the The three arches must enclose the same amount Clockwise Direction of space and cover three parallelograms.

Not like this


Step 3 — Retrace the

down-stroke a little way up and then make a clockwise arch exactly like the first one. 4

or this

Note: Look for upside down ‘u’ shapes inside the ‘m’ and two wedges of negative space above.

Entry strokes for the “m” family rotate clockwise.

Step 4 — Repeat the

arch. Then the challenge is to change back to an anticlockwise rotation before reaching the Dotted Line in preparation for the exit stoke to the Red Line.

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Practise in the blank grid below.

Lesson 8: The ‘m’ Family

Clockwise letters begin with entry strokes starting on the Dotted Line.

OPTIONAL TECHNIQUES Some skillful writers don’t change to the clockwise rotation at all if they can help it.

They create pointed tops to these letters. This reduces legibility, however it can work if the letters are well spaced. e n u m e r a t e Queen Victoria’s handwriting had this feature and a word like ‘enumerate’ could take up a full line in her bold and legible script. See above. Letter separation allows ‘m’,’n’ and ‘u’ to be deciphered in context.

Trace over example above — start on the red dots.

Queen Victoria’s handwriting, 1891

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SPATIAL AWARENESS The grid has now been reduced in size to one quarter of the original size. Note the letters are still taller than they are wide. In fact the middle zone conforms to the classical proportions of 1:1.618. During the Renaissance geometry was a passion especially after the discovery of Euclid’s text on mathematics. Hence the fascination with parallel lines. Plato was translated into Latin in 1400 by Marsilio Ficino. At the same time Poggio Bracciolini played a crucial role transitioning from Gothic handwriting to Italic. It was faster for copying and preserving the classics from the ancient world such as On the Nature of Things by Lucretius.

Poggio Bracciolini 1380-1459 is the hero of this book by Stephen Greenblatt which won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize.

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Lesson 9: Separating Strokes Diagonal

All letters finishing on the Dotted Line have anti-clockwise exit strokes.

The exit stroke swings up or out anti-clockwise to finish on the Red Line.


The letters ‘f, o, r, t, v, w, b’ all finish on the Red Line and have anticlockwise exit strokes moving one space away as a horizontal garland.

Lesson 10: Joining and Separating

Imagine ‘m’ is like marching up and over and down hills.

Diverge from the down-stroke about one third of the way up.

Check that the entry of the letter ‘m’ runs straight to the Red Line,

from the dotted line. It has a clockwise arc even if it is not as rounded as the examples below.

Create pronounced letter separation by running the joining stroke out at a lower and lower angle for legibility at speed even if the letters deteriorate. Regardless of the length of the separating stroke, keep the letters themselves narrow.

PREPARE FOR ADVANCED SKILLS The grid lines are now able to be reduced further. After your practice they will enter your thinking mind and you can see them even if they are not materialized. The only line that needs to remain is the Red Line. The Dotted Line will go soon and you will not miss it. The exercise overleaf cannot be done with many lines. It is designed to develop your ability to write in expansion– so necessary for note taking to reduce stress in the hand and heart. Make up a template of the lines overleaf and test your coordination for stopping the hand and starting the fingers to make the narrow letters widely spaced.

45 degree angle spacing stroke

35 degree angle spacing stroke

30 degree angle spacing stroke

Find out more online at

20 degree angle spacing stroke

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Lesson 11: Writing in Expansion

Separate letters with long joining strokes. Make very narrow letters using the fingers. Separate them with long joining strokes made by sliding the hand to the right, finishing with an upward flick. Reduce line by line to the normal expansion, as illustrated. The lesson is to separate letters from joins. NOTE: Spacing is always more important for legibility than style.

Copy or trace. Page 24

Lesson 12: Seven Family Groups

Observe the smaller groups and variations of ‘x’ and ‘z’. ‘S’ can be modified after a diagonal for speed and ‘e’ has two options.

Trace and ‘clock-in’ the seven groups.






Optional Letters


DOTTING AND CROSSING – THE DIACRITIC STROKE T is the only letter of the alphabet which is called a half-ascender. It is often mistakenly made the same height as the other ascenders. Check the type here to see how it should cross on the Red Line. In Copperplate a looping technique was developed to ease the ‘t’ to ‘e’ join. If the cross bar of the ‘t’ is not a joining stroke, cross at the end of the word. The same rule applies to the dotting of ‘i’. Stopping to dot and cross as you go disrupts the rhythm of the anticlockwise curving shapes. Dot, jot, iota, tittle are all words to describe dotting and crossing. The phrases ‘It suits him to a tee’ or ‘Dot your i’s and cross your t’s’ both mean – perfect down to the last detail.


Lowercase i and j with tittles in red. J did not join the alphabet until the 15th century.

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HISTORY OF THE LOOP Palatino published his manual in 1544 and stressed three movements in the alphabet: testa, traverso and taglio. Testa is the horizontal stroke at the head of ‘a’ and ‘f’. Traverso is the down stroke and taglio is the thin upstroke. His script was narrow and compacted, hardly giving room for the pen to turn around between letters. His script had a gothic angularity. The ‘head’ stroke was also applied to the glyph of b d f h k l

In typography the word glyph is a synonym for letterform. These beautiful headstrokes were called swashes as in the word swashbuckling, which described the sound when the sword smashed against a shield. The swash then means to flourish heroically. The Roman capitals were also given the swash treatment by Palatino. When the Copperplate engravers of the eighteenth century wanted to separate the letters for greater legibility they engraved fine wire-like links from the end of one letter to the beginning of the swash thereby making a loop.

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Lesson 13: To Loop or To Cover?

A loop is the trace line left as we move from the end of one letter to the next. It is more likely to be found in Copperplate cursive.

Loops added to

ascenders should be formed above the Red Line.

Not this way Never loop d, t, p

To keep a loop above the Red Line, continue the joining stroke to the top. Start at a 45° angle, increasing the angle more steeply as you approach the top. Then descend at the slope of these examples.

Looping strokes

Covering strokes

The loop to ‘f ’ is part of its structure. It indicates the top horizontal

bar of the capital ‘F’. Always use a loop for ‘f ’. The covering stroke join rises to the top line at a sharper angle so that no loop is formed when descending with a retrace of the upstroke.

Keep the loops as small as possible — as they tend to enlarge with speed. Mixing loops and covering strokes is acceptable.

Palatino swash strokes.

Lesson 14: The ‘f’ Join

The letter ‘f ’ joins from its cross-bar. This is called the horizontal

garland join. The letter ‘f ’ does not join to ‘e’ easily. There are several ways. Lift the pen and drop ‘e’ in place starting at 9 o’clock. Adjust the ‘f ’ crossbar by increasing the dip of the horizontal garland or crossbar. Lower this crossbar. The variations shown below are all acceptable because the ‘e’ is well spaced away from the ‘f ’.


When joining to ‘f ’ create a loop in the upper third of the grid.

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Lesson 15: Horizontal Joins

The small letters of the alphabet which finish at the top on the Red Line are

These letters are joined by an anti-clockwise shallow garland.

Practise the triple ‘o’ pattern staying close to the Red Line with the spacing strokes and no loops into the ‘o’.

H W Longfellow

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Lesson 16: The ‘fortvw’ Family

Memorise the names of letters which join horizontally. The ‘t’ can also join off the crossbar to increase speed.


Draw joining stokes well out to the right. They must run forward in the direction of communication, left to right. Good letter spacing is the key to fast legible writing. This way

Not this way

There is no need for a large loop in ‘o’ when the exit is horizontal. At high speed, a small loop may develop and is quite acceptable.

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TWO WAYS TO FORM ‘e’ The modified ‘e’ starting in the centre of the middle zone.

The three-stroke Italic ‘e’.

Lesson 17: Letter Joins to ‘e’

It must get be getting easier now. From the 18th century, the starting position for the letter ‘e’ was

moved from the Red Line to mid-way between the Red Line and Dotted Line. Notice ‘e’ is a narrow letter with a straight back.

Practise these joins on a smaller grid below.


1 2

Now try this using only the Red Line and Dotted Line as your guide. Apply a flourish

The ‘o’ is egg-shaped – an ovoid shape not an oval – wider across the top than the bottom.

Legibility requires you to focus your attention on the Red Line where essential details of each letter are displayed.

For these letters concentrate on an up-down movement. Dot ‘i’

last. Always dot ‘j’. Letter ‘k’ closes back to the down-stroke and kicks its foot out to the Dotted Line. Letters ‘k’ and ‘l’ can both be given entry loops.

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Lesson 18: Focus on ‘t s b p’


The only half-ascending letter in the alphabet is ‘t’. Height for ‘t’.

• Making letters round instead of oval. • Forming a break at the top of ‘a d g q’. • Making the loop of ‘e’ too small or too large. • Crossing the ‘f ’ too close to the Dotted Line.

Practise all the joins which move diagonally from bottom to top.

• Making descenders too long and ascenders too short • Lifting the pen between the arches of the ‘m’. • Making ‘r’ and ‘v’ look the same. • Crossing ‘t’ to high. • Stopping letters without an exit to the Red Line. • Making some letters like ‘r’ and ‘k’ as capitals within words.


These letters have a horizontal finishing stroke on the dotted line. This can be modified when followed by a diagonal join.

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Lesson 19: Double Spacing Angles

Carry the joining stroke of the letter ‘a’ all the way to the Red Line and pause a moment before making ‘u’. Don’t rush. Try to FEEL the repetition of the down-up movements. To prevent your letters from being cramped together, first trace the 30 degree spacing stoke. Then trace the 45 degree example. Double Spacing

Single Spacing

Long spacing strokes allow for more legible writing because the

alternating rotation between letters are separated, allowing the brain time to coordinate quick directional changes.

Trace over these letters. Frederick Marns said he learned to draw from tracing. He had no formal instructions yet he became an expert in drawing and calligraphy, specialising in lettering the names on pianos. Page 32

Lesson 20: Practice Grid

Use this as a master and make some photocopies for your practice.

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Lesson 21: Roman Capitals & Swash Variations A–F 1.





3. A









1. 2.


1. 2.



1. 3.

4. E


2. 1.

2. 3.


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Lesson 22: Roman Capitals & Swash Variations G–L 1.








1. 3.

3. H




1. 1.


2. 1.




1. 2.



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Lesson 23: Roman Capitals & Swash Variations M–Q 1.







3. 3.


1. 2.

2. N






1. 2. P


1. 2.





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Lesson 24: Roman Capitals & Swash Variations R–W 1.


2. 3.












1. 1. U

1. 1. V

1. 1.


2. 3. W

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Lesson 25: Roman Capitals X Y Z 2.



1. X













Three of the greatest libraries for Palaeography: the study of handwriting of the past, including deciphering, reading, and dating historical manuscripts.

Medici Laurenziana Library, Florence, Italy

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St Gallen Abbey Library, Switzerland

Bodleian Library, Oxford, UK.

The Scriptorium of Fontenay

Founded by Saint Bernard in 1118, the Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay

is still virtually intact. It represents a fine example of the way of life advocated by Saint Benedict. The intellectual life of the monks was centred around the Scriptorium. The majestic arcades allowed the natural light into the interior to provide the ideal setting for the monks to create their manuscripts.

L’ Abbaye de Fontenay, France.

The monks were required to

live a completely self-sufficient existence, with absolutely no contact with the outside world. Some 300 monks made up the community of the Abbey of Fontenay. It dissolved during the French Revolution.

Handwritten manuscript from the 17th century written with a goose quill.

Roman lettering over a doorway at Fontenay.

The grand columns of the cloisters are

The Fontenay cloisters at the entry to the Scriptorium.

reminders of the architectural links with the Roman capital letters. Each column has a ‘serif ’ at the top and bottom. Page 39

Italic Hand 15th Century

Italic written with a 1.1 Italic nib fountain pen.

The Universal Line of Beauty.

This is the line which is found in everything that is beautiful, good Elizabeth I (1533-1604) applied flourishes to her signature and when it came to writing, she lived up to her nickname “Gloriana”.

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and true–some may say it is the signature of the Infinite Mind. Much adored by Renaissance artists it is not surprising that it is always found in the flourished capitals of the Italic Hand and its more cursive descendant Copperplate. This line is described as ‘universal’ because it is recognised by everyone as being beautiful regardless of education or training. In writing it usually begins anticlockwise and changes to clockwise. In a perfect specimen, the exact point where the direction changes should be hard to pinpoint. The long ‘f ’ of the Italic Hand is a classic example.

Copperplate Hand 18th Century

SWASH CAPITALS Up until the 15th century scribes copied the antique classic Roman inscriptional letters for capitals when writing their manuscripts. In 1522 a scribe called Ludovico degli Arrighi wrote a manual called La Operina. This was the first printed book to teach Italic. Arrighi made new versions of the capitals. They are known as swash capitals. The classic letter proportions of Roman letters are roughly followed but the letters are slightly sloped to match the minuscule style. Most writers enjoy adding a flourish and prefer swash capitals with cursive writing. The letters


are made a little narrower and are not as tall as the ascenders on the minuscules ‘b d h k l’. With a light touch, some of the Italic capitals can be done without a pen lift. The down stroke can begin above the body of the letters below. Restrain the amount of curvature when applying the swash. The final strokes of Q and K do not have curly tails.

Copperplate cursive written with a 1.1 Italic nib fountain pen.

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Letter Writing Lines 10Ëš Slope

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15mm Margin

Letter Writing Lines 30Ëš Slope

15mm Margin

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In 1976, Barbara Nichol, a teacher at New-

market State High School in Queensland, took the initiative to conduct research into methods of improving handwriting skills for high school students. In 1978, as a result of this work, she was awarded a Department of Education Professional Development Grant to study with Tom Gourdie in Scotland and Reginald Phillips in Oxford, England.

Barbara Nichol at Pen Ultimate – QVB Store, Sydney

I n 1980, this enthusiastic young teacher was awarded a Churchill Fellowship. On her return from the UK, Barbara Nichol began a movement to reform the teaching of handwriting in Australian Primary Schools.

I n 1981, Barbara was appointed to trial her methods of teaching handwriting

in Queensland primary schools. In the same year she became a consultant to the Victorian & New South Wales education departments. Barbara Nichol has made a study of the history of writing. Now one of the country’s well known calligraphers she has a knowledge of all forms of writing and is also an expert witness for students and t eachers through w orkshops and tutorials. She can b e contacted

Support Penmanship project

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Polishing your Penmanship Barbara Nichol

Penmanship Guidebook  

Discover the Secrets to Penmanship. The art of handwriting is both aesthetically pleasing and improves cognitive function and memory.

Penmanship Guidebook  

Discover the Secrets to Penmanship. The art of handwriting is both aesthetically pleasing and improves cognitive function and memory.