I’ve decided to do something a little different and start reviewing art and craft books as I try them out. First up: Nib + Ink by Chiara Perano.
Nib + Ink focuses on contemporary calligraphy — the kind which is really fashionable at the moment, usually done with a dip pen (or a brush marker), and with a much less rigid approach to proportions and letter shapes than conventional calligraphy. With traditional copperplate or Spencerian calligraphy, there is room for improvisation in swashes and decoration, but the letterforms themselves are extremely standardised. In modern calligraphy, the goal is still to achieve a beautiful result with a consistent look, but the details are very much up to the individual artist and there’s lots of room for improvisation. This can be both liberating and challenging — there’s less pressure to match a perfect standard letterform, but you have to make a lot more decisions yourself!
Perano starts with a clear explanation of the basics, including selecting your materials, and then moves on to the main body of the book: exercises and sample letters, with practice pages for you to fill in. There is one practice page, with guidelines printed, for each letter of the alphabet, and extra pages here and there. (Some people don’t like when a book like this has a lot of practice pages, preferring a shorter book with just instructional pages, but I like being able to work without having to switch back and forth between the text and an A4 pad. Also, the fact that it feels like I’m using a school workbook helps me to get into the right frame of mind.) For each letter, she gives several variant forms and encourages the reader to become familiar with all of them. I really like this, as it helps to keep practice sessions from getting too repetitive. As some of the letterforms are much more complicated than others, there’s scope for a learner to grow as they develop their skills, become more comfortable with the pen, and attempt more challenging letter styles.
There’s a short chapter on connecting letters into words, plus some sample motifs and phrases for different occasions. At the end are a few suggestions for craft projects using calligraphy: gift tags, wall art, place cards, and so on. They’re simple and straightforward, and there’s not too much space given to them, which is fine, as they aren’t really the focus of the book.
This is a well written book with very clear instructions and it’s definitely improved my calligraphy skills. But there’s one problem, which is probably the publisher’s fault rather than the author’s: ink feathers like crazy on the pages. This means that I wasn’t able to do the exercises actually on the practice pages, which is clearly what you’re intended to do (I bought my own copy rather than borrowing from the library, specifically so I could write in the book).
After trying every brand of ink I own and then moving onto paints, I found that gouache and watercolour didn’t soak into the page too badly, but I don’t know that those are great options for a beginner.
Looking at other people’s reviews online, nobody else has mentioned this problem, so I don’t know if they were all using a different ink (the book recommends Higgins Eternal, which I haven’t been able to find in Ireland) or if various printings of the book used different paper. Either way, it’s a pity. It’s a good book, but more ink-friendly paper would make it a great book.
This issue aside, Nib + Ink is an excellent introduction to modern calligraphy; it’s visually very appealing, the amount of detail is just right, and the instructions are thorough without being overwhelming. Definitely recommended; just bring your own paper!