When I first developed an interest in calligraphy, I perused a lot of calligraphy photos online. Those photos featured a recurring theme: a strange-looking pen with a “thing” sticking out of its side. After some intensive Googling, I found out that the “thing” is called a “flange”, and the pen is called an “oblique calligraphy pen”.
Today’s article endeavors to answer basic questions about oblique pens. What is an oblique calligraphy pen, how do you write with it, which oblique pen should you use … these are all questions that I wish someone could have answered for me in 2012! I hope that this post clears up any confusion you have about the oblique calligraphy pen, and that it will help you to discover an invaluable tool to add to your collection.
1. What Is an Oblique Calligraphy Pen?
In order to successfully create calligraphy, you need to fulfill two requirements. First, your nib must be parallel to the writing slant that you wish to achieve. Second, you have to exert even pressure on both tines of the nib. Right-handed people may have a difficult time meeting these requirements with a straight pen. After all, our arm is on the right and has to go to the left to write! That’s why it’s often easiest to write calligraphy (or create everyday handwriting) with a straight up-and-down slant.
Most calligraphy has a right-leaning (55 degree or so) slant, and “righties” can have a hard time achieving that slant with a straight calligraphy pen. Don’t get me wrong: it absolutely can be done! As a right-handed person, you can rotate your paper and experiment with your posture and grip to achieve that right-leaning slant. However, righties will probably find it much easier to use an oblique pen versus a straight pen. I know I do!
2. How Do You Write with an Oblique Calligraphy Pen?
If you’re interested in writing with an oblique calligraphy pen, I show you exactly how to use it in the Beginner’s Modern Calligraphy Online Course videos! However, I’ll also summarize here:
The Traditional Grip
Calligraphy purists will say that there’s only one grip to use with the oblique pen. This grip involves putting your index finger on the top of the pen and letting the tip of your thumb rest just above the flange.
The Long Fingernails Grip
The traditional grip doesn’t work for me because I generally keep my fingernails long. A long thumbnail, however, makes it uncomfortable to put the tip of your thumb above the flange! If you have long thumbnails or the traditional grip doesn’t work for you, you can rest the left side of your thumb on the flange. You then use your index finger and your thumb to “pinch” the barrel of the pen in a three-point grip, and your other three fingers stay under the pen.
The “Uniquely You” Grip
If both of the grips described above don’t work for you, you should feel free to experiment with your own grip. Try holding the pen further up on the barrel, for example. Whatever technique gets you comfortable with writing calligraphy is perfect!
3. Which Oblique Pen Should You Use?
You should use a brass-flanged oblique pen that’s fitted specifically for the nib that you wish to write with. Try not to use a plastic-flanged oblique pen, no matter how tempting the price! You can find out why in the 5 Reasons to Ditch Your Plastic Oblique Pen article. I exclusively stock brass-flanged obliques in the TPK Supplies Shop.
You may be wondering: how do you know which nib you want to use (and therefore, which oblique pen to purchase)? Well, I’d try out a variety of nibs in a straight pen first, and designate a favorite from there. Buy an oblique pen based on whichever nib — or nibs — that you like. I, personally, use my Brause EF66 oblique pen 99% of the time. Honestly: you’ll find that you only really need one oblique pen, maybe two, maximum.
4. Are Oblique Pens Suitable for Lefties?
Most left-handed people actually have an advantage when it comes to calligraphy. You see, as a lefty, you’re coming from the left and moving to the right. If you can keep your hand under your calligraphy, it’s much easier for you to make a right-leaning slant than it is for a typical right-handed person.
That said, there are some lefties who find it uncomfortable to write with a straight pen. In that case, a left oblique pen may really help! Throughout the course of teaching in-person workshops, I found that 10% or so of lefty students connected best with a left oblique pen. Usually, these were lefties who write with a hook when using a regular pen, or lefties who tended to uncomfortably contort their bodies while writing to get a proper angle. You can learn more about writing with a straight pen and an oblique pen as a lefty if you watch this 5 minute video by (left-handed) calligrapher John DeCollibus.
5. How to Keep Your Oblique Pen Clean
The brass flange on your oblique pen will last for years and years … as long as you keep ink and water out of it! There’s really no reason that liquid should get up in the pen because you shouldn’t dip the pen in ink past the reservoir (the hole in the middle of the nib). The same goes with water! When you swish the pen off, water should only make contact with the nib, not the calligraphy pen.
For more information on keeping your oblique calligraphy pen in mint condition, you can check out the How to Take Care of Your Calligraphy Pen article! To reiterate, though, the main secret is to keep moisture in any form away from the pen itself.
As a right-handed person, I almost exclusively use an oblique calligraphy pen. There are three exceptions. First, if I’m writing a straight up and down calligraphy style (like the Amy), I don’t need the right-leaning slant advantage that the oblique pen gives me. Second, I like to use straight pens for hand-lettering. Finally, I enjoy using straight pens to create pen and ink illustrations like the illustrated lace butterfly.
If you predominantly write with your right hand, you’ll probably love the oblique pen! I encourage you to give it a try. It may be confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it, it can be a game-changer. For detailed instructions over how to use it, you can check out the Beginner’s Modern Calligraphy Online Course. If you’re a lefty, stick with your straight pen if you’re happy with it. If you’re not, try a left oblique! It just may be the calligraphy tool that you’ve been searching for.
I hope that you enjoyed this article! Hopefully it serves to clear up confusion or guide you to your new favorite calligraphy tool. For further reading, I strongly recommend Dr. Joseph Vitolo’s article Demystifying the Oblique Penholder. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments!