Learning To Underwrite

I have written hook handed all my handwriting life. As a wee lass in kindergarten it felt most natural to basically write upside down or from the side. Learning to write with a pencil or even a crayon definitely frees someone to hold their instrument however they need to. When I got into fountain pens, I did adapt my grip from a bipod wraparound to something resembling a tripod grip.

After learning more about grip styles, and how they can effect fountain pen writing, I’ve taken notice of other left handed people’s writing style. I had somehow never noticed that my mother, who is left handed, underwrites. She started school in the late 1960’s, and was trained to underwrite. I started school in the late 1990’s, and by that point the public school system had stopped making kids write a certain way. We learned cursive in (I think) 4th grade, and were only allowed to write in cursive in 5th grade.

In the last few weeks, I’ve decided to try and train my hand to be able to underwrite. I decided to do this because I recently tried a Narwhal Schuykill, and their fine nib writes significantly wetter when I underwrite with it. I also want to reduce hand fatigue and not worry about smudging.

Here is how this process is going, along with some observations:

This is from August 17th, written with a Sailor 14k fine nib and Montblanc Lavender Purple, on Doane paper.
This is also from August 17th, written with a Sailor 14k zoom nib, with Sailor Haha, on Doane paper.
This is from August 29th, written with a Narwhal fine nib, with Colorverse Extra Dimension, on Tomoe River paper.
Also from August 29th on Tomoe River paper, but written with a Nemosine medium nib with BPC Boiler Steam.
This is from August 31st, written with a Nemosine 0.6mm stub nib, with Noodler’s Borealis black, on Tomoe River paper.

It’s a lot easier to underwrite legibly with a broader nib. The first sample, done with a Sailor fine nib, has pretty shaky lines. My lettering is especially shaky on the two bottom lines where I tried writing a sentence in print letters and block letters. I generally prefer to write in block letters, so that’s what I’m trying to improve most.

I also noticed that I don’t need to grip the pen as tightly as I do while over-writing. I know that fountain pens generally reduce hand fatigue compared to other types of pens and pencils, and my grip has definitely relaxed since switching to fountain pens. When I write a lot in one sitting though, my hand does get sore. It feels a lot better to not have hand and wrist pain, and I can focus more on lettering.

I am interested in hearing about your experiences of learning to write in school, so I made a short survey. While this blog is generally geared towards the left handed writing experience, anyone can take this survey by clicking the button below. In a few weeks, I’ll share the results.


6 responses to “Learning To Underwrite”

  1. I don’t try to write like a right handed person. I underwrite with a pronounced back slant. All letters are consistent and perfectly formed, but slanted the other way. It promotes faster writing speed, more writing time with less pain and fatigue. I can naturally mirror write, but that is less practical.
    The other thing, I don’t care if I smudge my writing, I regard it as part of me being forced to write from right to left. Smudging, is a feature of my writing style.


  2. Interesting. I just came across your blog and website a few minutes ago, and this is one of the first blog posts I have come across. By strange coincidence, I happen to be undergoing the very same process right now. I have been an overwriter ever since I learned how to write in cursive almost exactly 60 years ago. I was originally taught to underwrite, but that was a disaster; I had much better results when I switched to overwriting. But now I am retraining myself to do it. My motivation? I want to start using fountain pens with flexible nibs. I have one vintage pen now with one, and have figured out that it will not write unless the the nib is held with the upper side facing straight up and is held perpendicular to the line from below the line. I have had this pen for several years (it was a an anonymous gift from a Secret Santa) and it came with zero information. For all of this time I thought that the nib was damaged because it just scratched the paper and would not deliver any ink when I tried use my usual method to write with it. I discovered that the hooded nib was flexible at the same time that I discovered how to hold it so that it would write. My initial attempts at underwriting look remarkably like yours!


  3. I grew up in West Texas in the ’50s, and was lucky enough to have a third grade teacher who taught me left-handed underwriting. I won handwriting awards all through elementary school, much to the dismay of my right-handed classmates, who apparently had been told by someone that left-handed kids couldn’t write well. I never stopped using fountain pens. I am bothered by a slight tremor caused by my medications, but a wee dram of single malt Scotch settles it down just fine.


  4. I started school in the mid-70’s. I’m left-handed and was naturally an over-writer with my hand hooked way around. Around the second grade, teachers tried to get me to write right-handed, which didn’t work. They then brought in an older student with good left-handed penmanship to tutor me. She was an under-writer. I just could never get comfortable writing like that and settled into side-writing. I feel like side-writing is probably the worse for fountain pens so I end up mostly using broad nibs to keep from digging into the paper.


  5. I was taught “print” writing in first or second grade in California. This was in the early 1950’s and our classes were huge because we were the first wave of the Baby Boomers so I always assumed my habit of overwriting developed because the teachers didn’t have the time to be super-attentive to kids who tilted their paper like everybody else (who was right-handed) but held the pencil in the other hand. But it may have already been an established habit, since I started drawing years before that. When we moved back to Texas in the mid-50’s it was just in time for me to start learning cursive. My recollection is that the teachers cared more about legible, consistent results than which hand held the pencil or how we held it, even though the classes weren’t quite as huge as in CA. By the 4th grade we could use ballpoints instead of pencils, but the first cheap cartridge fountain pens I ever saw came out when I was in the 6th or 7th grade and I liked those. But I had smearing issues no matter what I wrote with, and writing on the blackboard was humiliating.

    I tried to get used to underwriting a few years ago but couldn’t keep up with it.

    Liked by 1 person

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