Tag Archives: handwriting

The beginning of the fountain pen adventure

I now have fountain pens. Two of them. I wasn’t expecting this. I do like pens, and I’ll buy fancy ones—well, the inexpensive end of fancy, anyway—but my main interest is ballpoint pens. Fine point, no blopping, and if it’s comfortable in the hand, we’re good. And I’ll get the occasional rollerball, because, let’s be honest, black ballpoint ink is more like gray compared to a black rollerball, and rollerballs can have finer points. But that’s about as wildly exciting as I get.

I have owned a fountain pen before. It was back when I was in high school, and I bought it because the barrel was bright yellow, my favorite color. I remember it had cartridges, and that sometimes it leaked, and the leaking was enough for me to eventually get rid of it. And then years of increasingly better ballpoints followed, and I forgot about it. It certainly hadn’t been enough of a wonderful writing experience for me to want to pursue it.

Fountain pen lying on a page of writing

Someone else’s pen.

I did not set out to get the first of my two “modern” fountain pens. Last year, I ordered a ballpoint pen from a vendor, and when I opened the package, there were two pens inside. The fountain pen was a freebie, complete with a sampler-sized vial of green ink and a little device that I now know is called a converter, but with no instructions. I left it warily alone for months before curiosity got the better of me and I tried filling it.

(I should perhaps reassure everyone at this point that no permanent damage was done. The ink wore off my fingers in a few days and I didn’t get any on my clothes. No lasting damage. Also, after my first attempt to fill the pen failed, I came to my senses, went online, and found instructions.)

The writing experience was interesting. Look, I know ballpoint pens aren’t universally loved. They’re readily available and long-lasting, but a lot of people don’t like the amount of effort it takes to push them across the paper. But since they’re what I’ve written with for most of my adult life, they’re my standard for “normal.” And to me, rollerballs aren’t that different from ballpoints, although many of mine have points so fine that they feel scratchy when I write in cursive, and I save them for printing. This first fountain pen came with a fine nib, and was a bit on the scratchy side itself, but not unbearably. But the pen itself isn’t all that comfortable to hold. It has a triangular grip and it’s plastic, without a lot of weight to it. So I decided to buy another one. All in the spirit of experimentation, you understand.

I really like holding Pen #2. It’s metal, it weighs more, the grip is round. But the nib is wider than that of the freebie, and it’s annoying. Despite that reputation ballpoint pens have for requiring a lot of pressure to write with, I must be a light writer. I’m apparently not pressing the pen firmly enough to the paper, and Pen #2 is unforgiving of light writing—it just skips. My writing with this pen looks hideous. When it’s not skipping, the pen is putting out so much ink that only my heaviest paper stands a chance of keeping it from bleeding through, and even then it’s ghosting. Yes, I’ve started the search for a finer nib that will fit this pen, which means I’m going to be learning about fountain pens, and that wasn’t on the agenda for this year. Buuuut…I have purple ink. When I bought the second fountain pen, I bought purple ink cartridges to go with it. I love the colors that are available. I’m thinking to buy more green ink and refill the freebie pen. This is going to be what keeps me playing with fountain pens: all the pretty ink.

photo credit: insEyedout Studio via photopin (license)

My (pencil) cup runneth over

I like to write. I mean this in the physical sense: I enjoy pushing and pulling a pen across paper and leaving words in my wake. It must be something about writing itself, because moving a pen around on paper could describe drawing, and yet I’ve never really felt like making pictures with a pen. Just words.

Now to write, you need something to write on and something to write with. My paper supplies are almost reasonable, if you don’t look too closely at my stationery reserves or count how many blank books I’ve got stockpiled. I assure you, I’m working to deplete both. But then, there are the pens.

[pauses, sighs]


Rest assured, about 60% of these pens were passed along to others after the picture was taken.

It’s the color. Well, it was the color, back in college when I started writing my papers in every color of pen I could buy: a different color for each idea. (Because before personal computers, writing a paper meant first writing it out by hand and then typing up the final version.) But that doesn’t matter much anymore. Over the years I’ve moved from many colors to blue and from blue to black. I’m delighted to report that I’m still capable of writing and creativity. Really, if this is a sign of maturity, it hasn’t been documented all that well.

Now it’s the feel of the pen that matters. A great pen has a near-perfect combination of width, weight, and texture. It writes without either skipping or blurping. It doesn’t magically come up with words, of course, but I figure, if I’m frequently picking it up it because it’s so pleasant to hold, there’s always a chance the Muse will consider this an invitation and drop by for a visit. The major drawback is acquiring enough pens to open my own office supply store—like my yarn stash, I suspect my pen stash will grow throughout my life. At least it doesn’t take up half a closet!


Done properly, looped cursive is a lovely form of handwriting. Let me do it slowly enough, and my looped cursive is pretty darn proper, with Ls that arc gracefully into the upper regions before dipping below the baseline, ms and ns that bounce happily across the page, and ts that are (almost) always crossed. Unfortunately, when I write in cursive, it’s because I’m writing for speed (else I print). And when I write cursive quickly, “looped” isn’t the best descriptor of what my pen produces. Or rather, the wrong things are looped. My t and d stems develop loops they were never intended to have, while my supposedly-looped letters like f, h, and y pinch closed so tightly that they become like the women in Flatland: dangerously needle-sharp. It’s probably not a good sign when 80% of the time you write r, it can be mistaken for an undotted i. (I’ve never seen that particular characteristic mentioned in any graphology book I’ve ever read. Maybe I’ve developed an entirely original psychological quirk?)

My analogy is this: I wouldn’t willingly wear an outfit I didn’t like, even if it fit me perfectly. I would wear it grudgingly, and only if I had no better options, and the minute I had the chance to send it to charity and get it out of my closet, I would do so. Well, I don’t like my cursive, I’m using it only because I have no better options for quick writing, and if it’s a perfect graphological description of my personality, I’m in deep doo-doo. It is time to find a handwriting that I like.

See, this isn’t a brand-new realization on my part. I first figured this out a few years ago, during a journaling phase.* I even took steps back then to change things, starting with some online research. (You know, looped cursive is really ingrained in our culture; there aren’t that many alternatives out there). Out of all that, I managed to change A and S. I’m not thrilled that over time, they’ve gotten the same pinched look as the rest of my writing, but at least the foundation is good. And then my journaling craving faded and I never tackled a third letter. Obviously it’s time to resurrect this project. Even if I don’t do much with the lower-case letters, I want to change a lot of the capitals. I mean, really. Even when done carefully, the cursive Q looks like a 2. G bears hardly any resemblance to its printed form. X is made in some completely unintuitive way of sticking a 9 and a 6 back-to-back, and F is just plain odd.

It did occur to me that this is not just a private decision. Say I stick with the program this time. Say I make major changes. At some point, I’m going to have to change my legal signature. Imagine the paperwork. Admittedly, seeing the reactions might be interesting. (“Hi. I’d like to change my signature. No, I don’t have a problem with my writing hand. No, I’m not sick. No, I’m not a victim of identity theft. No, I’m not committing identity theft…”). Although given that no store or bank has ever complained about the illegible scribbles that credit card readers turn my current signature into, I don’t know why I’m worrying.

The graphological implications of all this interest me no end. But one major project at a time…

*I can ignore my cursive a good deal of the time. I print almost everything that other people see, and in the era of the computer, that’s mostly just forms and sticky notes anyway. But any time I go through a journaling phase, I end up seeing a lot of my cursive. Bleah.