Previously, I made a pencil and brush to write in my book. But next, I want to take a look at the origin of today’s most common writing instrument the pen. The first common form of the pen was a basic reed pen. Dating as far as 3000 BC The quill pen became popular starting in the 6th century. As they were more flexible and lasted longer than reed pens. It wouldn’t be until 1822 that the metal pen would eventually replace the quill. I”m here with Dennis Ruud, a professional book binder and calligrapher. And he’s going to teach me how to make a quill. So I have a variety of feathers I’ve collected from other projects now. I have ostrich feathers, pheasant feathers, and wild turkey feathers. So of these, do any of these work for making a quill? Dennis: Well I think that the turkey feather would be good for a quill but the others are not, they’d be too weak. Andy: Turkey feathers work best because of the thicker stem here? Dennis: Yes exactly, they’re stronger thicker walled implements. And they cut better into quills; last longer as writing implements. The word pen is another word for a quill which is from the latin for feather ‘penna’ And so we’ll make the traditional, historical quill pens made from the flight feathers of large birds Geese have been preferred, historically. You pull them off the bird and soak them in some water overnight. and then you heat them in hot sand and that is called ‘clarification’ or ‘curing the quills.’ And it makes them a little bit hard Try to fill it up with sand and not burn your hand and put it in the hot sand leave it in there for maybe a minute and that’s really all it is. How you cut a quill is like this It’s got first of all, this whispy membrane on the outside and it needs to be scraped off the next thing you do is to put the slit in and in order to put the slit in I first just remove some material from the end. Just slice it off. Put the knife in, you know just like that much of the knife so that it hits and has a sort of leverage that will make the slit and then– ok that’s good And I want to start cutting then the cutting around the slit opposite from– where that slit was and just start scraping and pulling on either side of the slit. and then I’ve got, rather much more material than I need there So I’ll take a toenail clipper and just remove a bunch and you get to a certain point And I wear a finger protector cut off from a rubber glove and you flatten the inside of the tube because that’s where it meets the paper and it needs to be flat so just, slightly scraping and ok that’s good you could stop there. And you make a couple of slits at the end here One is a bevel cut which is at maybe a 30° angle or so and you end up with that You can test it on a plate like that and see that when you press down it the– the nib spreads apart slightly Andy: Ok Dennis: So it’s got this good flexibility you can see it’ll deliver ink Andy: Now that you’ve shown me how to make a few quills can you show me how to use it? Dennis: Well, I’ll see what I can do Andy I’ll give it a shot First of all I’ve got a little bit of ink, dip the pen in Whenever you’re going to write something have some scratch paper; some waste paper so that you can see that the pen is going to work well Andy: So I see that the table is at a slant is there a reason for that? Dennis: Oh yes, it’s very important for the delivery of ink because it puts the pen at a horizontal angle as the table gets flatter the pen goes up and up like that and it starts to bleed ink because of gravity rather than the careful delivery of ink by the slit that’s the main reason you have a slanted table and when you look at old manuscripts and picture’s of old calligraphers the ancient calligraphers– they’re almost always on slanted tables Andy: So besides having to dip it in ink and write at an angle what else is different from just using a regular ball point? Dennis: The whole deal with these quill pens like you have like you made is that they have a chiseled edge I’ll kind of draw a picture of what the quill point looks like so you see it’s got this chiseled edge on it Andy: That’s compared to like a ball point pen which is just a round one Dennis: It’s just a round blob it’s just pulling a blob of ink around in various directions so that’s kind of the secret of western calligraphy and even western typography it’s all related to an edge pen like that the weight and appearance of letters. For instance, if you have the letter O you can see it has thin parts and thick parts related to the fact that its got this chiseled edge on it Andy: The style of western calligraphy is kind of based on the fact that they use quills Dennis: Exactly. Eastern calligraphy, oriental calligraphy and middle eastern calligraphy use brushes. and they have a completely different mechanics of delivering ink but with western, this is what it is. Related to quills and before that, reed pens. The way they essentially work is you always are making strokes by pulling down and from left to right like that. And if you’re going to make the second part of the O you go back up so you’re coming down and from left to right. Essentially, so you make it in two parts. If you’re making the letter N take down like that go back up there and make an arch on the top like an O you come down– a little serif on the bottom Andy: Ok so I can– when you write with a modern pen, you just kind of do whatever if you draw an O you just go do a full circle so with a quill you have to do more
Dennis: Yeah, more careful yeah more careful with where the thicks and thins go and how they connect this particular hand which is a ‘Carolingian’ hand that’s closely related to modern– every modern type Andy: Yeah
Dennis: That you see in a book today are related to this kind of letter that I’ve been doing right here Dates from the 9th century if not earlier Andy: That’s interesting
Dennis: Yeah Andy: Because western writing they use the quill which has a flat nib so that has affected the style of font which even now that we’re a few generations beyond using the quill our font still looks like that Dennis: Exactly! the nature of this pen formed the way these letters look If you see a letter M and you wonder “oh its got thin legs and thick legs” if you remember it was made by a pen the first leg is a little thinner this leg is thicker then this one is thinner again and that ones thicker again and that’s how– that’s why M’s are the way they are they are that way because of this kind of pen Andy: Huh, so interesting that’s something you normally think about Dennis: Nope! Ok Andy, this was a little introduction to calligraphy and quill pen writing why don’t you try it? Andy: Alright, I’ll give it a shot It’s pretty good! Yes! (laughs) Dennis: Very good!