Last updated: 28 April 2016
I subscribe to Edward Johnston's postulation: "Useful practice is the making of real things". In other words, you learn by actual writing -- concentrating on good letterform construction -- rather than performing endless repetitive letter formation exercises and alphabet renditions. Of course, beginning students -- or those adopting new hands -- will require sufficient alphabet practice to be able to render the essential letterforms with confidence and reasonable consistency. However, once that is accomplished they should be refined by using them in "making real things" (i.e. in written renditions).
The goal is to develop and perfect good letterforms in written renditions -- not to become skilled at rendering beautiful alphabets!
It is important to use fairly wide nibs or chisel edged pencils when rendering practice alphabets in order to examine the essential letterform characteristics as illustrated in the following exemplar of an Italic handwriting alphabet rendition:
My Cataneo based minuscule alphabet
I often include a freely rendered alphabet in the form of gloss with my Chancery cursive renditions in the same way that renaissance writing masters did -- with didactic and decorative intent as illustrated by my following exemplar :
Small writing exemplar
I do test (and adjust if necessary) the nib smoothness and ink flow of pens using the folded guard paper immediately prior to commencing writing. I also use the guard paper to write out a very brief passage from the rendition I am about to undertake in order to establish the letterform size, weight, slope, spacing, etc. -- and obtain a relaxed, comfortable, writing position and pen hold.
Of course, I use the same pen/nib, ink and paper for this brief pre-writing activity that I am going to use for the actual work.
Edged nib fountain pens with their copious "on board" ink supply are my writing implements of choice for rendering everyday Italic handwriting. However, fountain pens with appropriately narrow edged nibs are hard to use well.
Many beginners soon discover that the italic writing they can render comfortably and well is too large for everyday writing applications but that their letterform quality deteriorates when they use narrower nibs. Well, narrow edged nibs are hard to control -- only practice and experience using "wide" nibs first will cure the problem.
I use square-cut, chisel edged, nibs of appropriate width by preference for most of my italic handwriting. I use the same nibs for my supplemental hand writing.
Chancery cursive letterforms as I describe them -- of small size (2mm - 2.5mm letter body height) -- require narrow nibs. The narrowest calligraphic fountain pen nibs commonly available are 1.1 mm wide which is obviously too wide and so I reduce the width to .4mm - .5mm.
Most individuals will probably feel more comfortable hiring the services of a reputable "nibmeister" to accomplish nib narrowing, profiling and polishing rather than attempting these delicate operations themselves.
Note relating to double line writing devices:
I make these up using pencils, ballpoint pens or crowquill pens taped together as illustrated in the following photograph:
Twin ballpoint pen setup depiction
I tape them together like these two BIC Stic BP pens held together with masking tape, occasionally using the inner "cartridges" only, for narrow spacing. I sometimes do a similar thing with pencils, shaving away the wood until the desired line spacing is achieved. Writing is very easy using these devices -- as long as you let "the pen rule the hand" and maintain the points consistently at the correct angle to the line of writing and keep them in contact with the paper throughout the letter formation. The very ends of the letterform strokes have to be finished carefully using one of the points. This method of letterform construction provides ready detection of errors and deficiences.
The following essential minuscule letterforms were rendered using a double line writing device. The letterforms produced by these devices are perfect for study and error detection:
Twin ballpoint pen alphabet writing exemplar