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.

A Lesson on Ink Hygiene

Back in December, I needed to refill a pen that had run out of ink. The ink (Diamine Wild Strawberry) had been in my pen (a Pilot Legno) for about three months. The nib had some ink dried on it, as well as the feed. I figured that since I was just refilling the pen that I didn’t need to clean it before dipping it in the ink bottle. Two months later, I would find out that I was wrong. Don’t leave dried ink on your nibs kids!

When I was making my chromatography, I decided to get out Wild Strawberry for my next strip. I shook the bottle a bit so that the ink would be mixed. I noticed some solid particles at the bottom of the bottle as well as some kind of floating mass, so I opened the bottle to smell the ink. It smelled like straight mold, but I did the chromatography anyway for some reason. I ended up throwing away the bottle, the chromatography strip, and the pen cleaning towel that the strip was drying on. I thoroughly cleaned the chopsticks, the bag clips, the glass of water, and the pen that had Wild Strawberry in it. My girlfriend and I then went though and smelled every bottle of ink that we own to see if there were any other moldy bottles, and threw away too many bottles. Besides Diamine Wild Strawberry, other effected bottles were: Diamine Polar Glow, Colorverse Extra Dimension, Organics Studio Copper Turquoise, Noodlers American Aristocracy, Lamy Benitoite, Herbin Emeraude de Chivor, and TWSBI Midnight Blue. I learned that many Noodlers Inks smell like almonds, and that all Iroshizuku inks smell like nothing and have great mold protection.

From now on, I won’t be dipping a nib into an ink bottle unless it’s been cleaned. If a piston or vacuum filler pen hasn’t been inked up for very long and it needs to be refilled, I will decant ink into a small jar and refill from there. For cartridge converter pens, I’ll fill the converter with a clean syringe. Eyedroppers are already easy to maintain, but I will pay more attention to making sure that the inside of the eyedropper bulb is clean and dry. If there’s a lot of ink left in a pen and I want to change colors or just clean the pen and put it away, I’ll dump the ink in a sample bottle or tiny jar.

This incident has helped me further appreciate pens and converters that can be easily and completely disassembled. If you stick a pencil (eraser side in) to a TWSBI cap and turn it counterclockwise, you can remove the inner cap and clean any ink out. I wish that Pilot would bring back the Con-50, because those can actually be taken apart without hassle. A Pilot nib and feed can be removed very easily after you’ve done it once. Any feed with a little indent for the nib makes it easier to remove without risk of damaging the nib. Most Pilot feeds are like this, as well as Kaweco. The Lamy nibs just slide onto the feed, but the feed needs to be reinserted just right or it gets stuck in the section.

I’ve now replaced the bottle of Wild Strawberry as well as Polar Glow. We already had a bottle of Extra Dimension that hadn’t been opened to save for later when the original bottle ran out. I feel ashamed about the pen practices (especially early on) that led to so much wasted ink, but the only thing to do is learn from any mistakes and be mindful of potential biohazards.

Fun With Chromatography

After watching some videos by Inky Rocks on YouTube, I really wanted to try doing some chromatography. Chromatography is “the separation of a mixture or solution through a medium in which the components move at different rates.” The medium in this case is water, and the mixture is fountain pen ink. There is special paper available for this on amazon and other sites where scientific equipment is sold, but I already had a bulk box of industrial grade paper towels. The special paper might yield richer results, but the paper towels work pretty darn well. I might try some tests with more absorbent bounty paper towels to see if there’s a difference.

My setup. In the foreground is Robert Oster Fire & Ice, and in the background is Diamine Wild Strawberry.

I cut up the paper towels into strips, swabbed a line of ink at the bottom with a q-tip, and let the towel soak until the ink reached the top. It’s very fun to see what your favorite inks are made of. I dipped the strips by hand at first, but then I clipped them to some plastic chopsticks with bag clips so they could rest on the rim of the glass and be able to soak for a longer period of time. Some inks yielded predictable results while some inks yielded results that blew me away. My favorites so far are Robert Oster Velvet Storm, Colorverse Mariner 4, Diamine Nutcracker, and KWZ Honey.

I was really surprised at how much purple there is in Velvet Storm, since it’s a teal-black ink. The colors separated out so distinctly, and it looks neat. With Mariner 4, the corners of the towel stuck to the side of the glass and ended up separating in a triangular shape. It looks like a purple and blue iceberg. Nutcracker yielded a very nice gradient with a thin line of black at the top. Honey might be my favorite because it looks like some kind of rock formation.

Some results that surprised me were the Sailor Ink Studio dual shading inks. 123, 162, 150, and 224 all look different out of the bottle, but separated in water look very similar. 150 has more a more vibrant pink and purple than the others, and 123 has a more vibrant teal than the others. 224 has the least vibrant results. 162 has a pretty equal amount of teal and purple.

So far only one ink has completely separated out, with a clear white space in between colors, and that’s Iroshizuku Chiku-rin. It’s like blue and yellow polarized each other. I expected there to be some green in this strip, but there isn’t any.

In science class in school, we did chromatography on paper towels with magic markers. I remember being fascinated then, and had a lot of fun making these now. If you have bottles of ink or ink samples, it’s very easy to do chromatography at home with things you might already have. All you need are some paper towels, a glass, some q-tips, and something to hold the paper towel while it soaks up the water.