For Christmas, Husband gifted me the Copperplate Starter Kit from Paper & Ink Arts. I have wanted to try my hand at an oblique nib holder for a while, so I was thrilled! I assumed a kit would be a good way to discover what I might prefer — and if I even liked oblique holders — before investing any further.
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The first chance I got, I broke out my new toys and prepared to play! I’ve messed around quite a bit with dip nibs and holders so I’m not a total novice, but no matter what I tried, none of the included nibs would fit into the holder. I didn't want to do major adjustments this early in the game, so I sent an email to Paper & Ink Arts explaining my troubles.
However, it was the weekend. They were closed. I am impatient. After trying multiple times to gently (and eventually not so gently) adjust the flange, I was finally able to insert a vintage Esterbrook 555 nib into the holder. I still could not get the nib to sit correctly in the flange, but I was determined to try this thing out.
Oh the joy! The Esterbrook nib floated over paper, and I was finally able to make the hairline upstrokes and fat downstrokes that I have longed for. I was enjoying the nib so much that I practiced for a few minutes with a favorite Gaelic quote. (That's it in the photo above.) My first attempt is far from perfect, but it was glorious fun! Now it was time to try out some of the nibs in the kit...
And this is where things got ugly.
The blankety-blink oblique holder would NOT let go of my beautiful vintage nib.
Paper & Ink Arts did kindly email me back asking for photos to see if they could figure out what was wrong. I told them never mind. I couldn’t send the holder back regardless because it still had an unwavering grasp on my grandfather’s vintage nib.
So just in case you missed it, I’m not totally happy with the holder. However, all is not lost. The rest of the kit is reviewed below.
The Practice Pad
I didn’t have high hopes for the practice pad because it felt too cottony, but the pad performed better than expected. Nibs did catch and pull on the paper, and the paper did have some bleed (see photo) but it was less than expected. Still, to save my nibs and extend the life of the pad, I plan to put a piece of vellum over the pad and practice on that.
I have no problems with Higgins Eternal (shown on Clairefontaine paper above). I know some folks don’t care for it, but it is a readily available, economical ink that works fine for most applications. This ink won’t be as black as a Sumi or Indian ink, but it hugs the nib well and is dark enough for practice and general writing. I used Eternal in every example photographed for this post so you can see what it looks like on various papers.
I have LOVED playing around with the different nibs using various inks and papers to see how they react and what I might prefer. This was exactly what a beginner like me wanted and needed! I included several scribbles in the photos above so you could see some examples. The papers in the photo are Arches hot-pressed watercolor (ivory), Stillman & Birn Alpha (white on left) and Strathmore 500 Series Marker paper (white on right).
Nibs along with ink and paper are extremely personal so my experiences may not match your own. Below are my newbie evaluations of the nibs in this kit.
Note: Due to the Peerless oblique holder's malfeasance, I am testing the nibs in a straight holder. If my opinions of the nibs change when using an oblique holder (on order!), I will certainly update this post. Also, please tell Gillott that I apologize for misspelling their name. I know better now.
Hunt 56 - This is a large, sturdy nib that should suit me, but it was a little scratchy in my hand. As popular as it is, I wasn’t overly fond of it. Since I am a beginner and struggle with control, I really need a smoother nib.
Gillott 404 - This is my fav nib so far! This nib glided easily across almost every paper I threw at it. The tines flexed easily and left a consistent ink flow yet sprung back quickly for hairline upstrokes. Gillott 404 is divine! Yep, love it.
Gillott 303 - Because I loved Gillott’s 404 so much, I thought this nib would be a second love. However, this nib spurned me. I could barely make strokes with this obstinate nib. It flexed easily but wouldn't release ink and balked on every paper I tried it on. I may need to adapt a lighter hand to use this nib… or I may just move on. [UPDATE... Gillott has revamped their 303 nib. Check out my review of their much improved 303!]
Gillott 290 - This is a tiny, tiny nib that takes a tiny holder and performs much like the 404, but on a much tinier scale. If you write small with a light hand, you may love this one.
Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy is a fantastic resource that is heavy on written and visual instruction for ONLY Copperplate, though the letter forms and skills gained from this book can be used for any type of calligraphy. Since you can read more than 100 reviews at the link, I'll skip a detailed review here. If you are interested in trying your hand at a more casual style, I highly recommend Molly Thorpe's book, Modern Calligraphy.
My overall experience with this kit has me divided. I think this was a great starting point. It helped me identify a few tools I liked and totally helped me conquer the intimidation factor of an oblique holder. A simple sheet of explanation and instruction describing the kit's specific tools would have been extremely helpful, but it only took me a few days of experimentation to figure it out.
However, even though I am really glad I received this kit for Christmas (thank you, Hubs!), I hesitate to recommend it.
I wish I had taken the time to really research various oblique holders and nibs so I could put together my own "starter kit." I would have chosen more beginner-friendly nibs (like maybe some of the G nibs to try) and different oblique holders, and probably skipped the book and practice pad for now.
If you are interested in getting started in calligraphy, you can support this blog at no additional cost to you by placing an order via my referral link at Paper Ink Arts or my affiliate page with John Neal Booksellers. Thank you so much!