The Secrets of Acquiring Excellent Handwriting

Handwriting is a lost art that is no longer taught in school, used in personal communication, nor used much at all thanks to mobile technology and the internet. So, why is handwriting still around? Does it still serve humanity a worthy purpose?

To understand the future of handwriting and how people can acquire this arcane skill, we talked to calligrapher and fountain pen enthusiast Aidan Bernal (@aidanbernal on YouTube) to share the secrets to developing amazing handwriting.

Below, you'll find the full, previously live YouTube conversation I had with Aidan. While the interview is a fun watch, it is 50 minutes long. For those who want the TL;DR version, scroll on to find the summary with links to the items and resources mentioned in the video.

Aidan's first foray into fountain pens was with the Lamy Safari in middle school.

Since middle school, Aidan has been passionate about handwriting and stationery. Despite pushback from his math teachers, he enjoyed using fountain pens in all of his classes. One would think that the other students would find Aidan's fondness for fountain pens odd. But, most of them were just curious and no one ever gave him a hard time.

Aidan originally posted his writing on Instagram to enter giveaways. Now, his following has grown into the tens of thousands, with his YouTube subscribers peaking above 300,000 earlier this year. Some of his YouTube shorts videos of his handwriting amassed millions of views, reinvigorating interest in handwriting for a worldwide audience.

How can today's youth start to learn handwriting?

Being that Aidan is nearly finished with his senior year of college, we asked if he would share his recommendations on how today's middle and high school students could learn handwriting, especially since it isn't taught in schools. As most of today's youth is connected on social media, he suggested using it as a tool for learning. Aidan said, "half of my handwriting acumen and specific style has come from just looking at what other people post on Instagram or YouTube."

Unlike previous generations, today's children have unprecedented access to information, including valuable resources like IAMPETH (the International Association of Master Penmen, Engrossers, and Teachers of Handwriting). Practice sheets and exemplars of handwriting styles are readily available to download and copy with a simple click.

Just like Aidan, today's younger generations can use handwriting to help take notes, break down complex subjects, and brainstorm ideas to perform better in school.

How to write quickly while maintaining clarity

One of the key problems in handwriting identified by the online pen community is being able to maintain clear and consistent handwriting while writing quickly. For many, it seems, the increased speed causes a breakdown in quality. Aidan says the key is building muscle memory through practice. Start slow at first, then build speed over time. The process is similar to learning how to play a rock guitar solo. Everyone starts off slow, eventually building up speed to shred like Eddie Van Halen.

A quick hack to improve your handwriting today

If you feel self-conscious about your handwriting and would like to make significant steps to make it look neater, Aidan says to focus on two things: slant and s p a c i n g.

You could use a notebook with grid or French ruled paper to help keep the angle of your ascenders and descenders consistent. The angle itself doesn't matter as much as the consistency. So, you could have all of your ascending letters (b, l, and t, for example) completely vertical (perpendicular to the baseline). Or, you could have them at a slant (a 70 degree angle to the baseline). Just as long as the angle of those letters are the same throughout your writing.

The same principle applies when it comes to spacing. You can have your letters spaced the with of a lowercase "n" or you could have them closer or farther apart. As long as the spacing is consistent, your handwriting will look clearer, and more appealing.

To help with consistency, Aidan suggests to be mindful of how you position your shoulder, arm, and wrist while writing. As you write across the page, be sure to move your arm and wrist to keep a steady angle.

"Having consistency means that you can have your handwriting look good even if you haven't perfected the exact way that you want to do it."
- Aidan Bernal

Aidan feels that flex nib and italic nib fountain pens are great tools to make immediate improvements in the aesthetics of your handwriting. Using a beautiful fountain pen ink that shades, sheens, or shimmers also adds a lot of visual appeal without needing to be technically precise in one's letterforms.

How do you practice handwriting?

Aidan gets a lot of practice through copywork, which we talked about in our video 10 Fun Ways to Practice Handwriting. He combines the love of reading with writing by copying, word-for-word, cover-to-cover, books like "Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius, "Walden" by Henry David Thoreau, and his latest read, "Midnight in Chernobyl" by Adam Higginbotham.

How to write with flex nib fountain pens

If you've watched a few of Aidan's videos, you'll see he's an expert at writing with flex nib fountain pens. To help introduce beginners to the concept of flex nib writing, Aidan has a video "How to use Flex Nibs" and "The Best Flex Nibs." In the interview, he provided a quick summary of how aspiring writers can get started with flex nibs.

When using a flex nib, Aidan strongly recommends to position your hand as an underwriter and apply pressure to the nib only on the downstroke. Flex nib fountain pens can vary in their flexibility, softness, and ink flow. So, it's best to understand the tolerance of your fountain pen and be gentle with it.

Leonardo Elastic Nibs are made by Jowo in Germany and are availabl in either stainless steel or 14kt gold options. You can find a comparison of the steel versus gold flex nibs on our website.

For starters, Aidan recommends his first flex nib - the Noodler's Ahab fountain pen. True, most times people have to tinker with the pen to perform correctly. But, for the money, it provides a economical entry into writing with a flex nib.

Although they don't provide as much flexibility and line variation, Aidan also recommends the Jowo elastic nibs (as seen on Leonardo fountain pens), and the Conklin Omniflex pens.

His favorite flex nib fountain pens are the Aurora Optima flex, the Pilot Custom 912 FA nib with an ebonite feed from Flexible Nib Factory, and the Regalia Writing Labs Crossflex nib. The last nib unit is actually a modified, stainless steel Jowo nib made by a nibmeister that no longer makes these nibs available for sale.

Flex nibs found on vintage pens are some of the best as long as you know how to shop for one, which may be difficult, especially for the novice pen enthusiast.

How do you apply your handwriting skills in everyday life?

"It's not a very applicable skill," Aidan says of his handwriting. He writes for two personal reasons: to take notes and to schedule his day. Presently, posting on social media is the only public way he shares his calligraphy. Although friends and family have approached him for handwriting favors, Aidan isn't looking to go into business as a calligrapher.

One such favor took place when he was the captain of his high school's ultimate frisbee team. He was asked to write the names of everyone on the team on their frisbees with a fat Sharpie marker.

How can you improve your handwriting in as little as 5 minutes a day?

For everyone else that might not have loads of time to practice handwriting, Aidan suggests writing a simple pangram. A pangram is a short, memorable sentence that incorporates every letter of the alphabet, so you get your practice a-z without actually writing the entire alphabet.

Aidan's favorite fountain pen ink - Pilot Iroshizuku Tsuki-yo. "It's interesting on its own, but it's also a professional-looking ink that you can use in every environment."

Some catchy pangrams to remember:

  • The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.
  • Sphinx of black quartz, judge my vow.
  • When zombies arrive, quickly fax judge pat.
  • Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs.
  • The five boxing wizards jump quickly.

So, next time you're trying to pay attention in class, taking notes in a meeting, or on a Zoom call with the camera off, write down your favorite pangram over and over to get some quick handwriting practice.

As you embark on a journey to improve your handwriting, learn cursive, or practice calligraphy, it's essential to practice consistently and enjoy the process. In this interview with Aidan, we shared tips on how to improve technique as well as pen suggestions and practice methods. Now, it's your turn to put pen to paper and get writing today!

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