As lefties, one of the most important keys to successful brush lettering is the way we hold our pens. Righties naturally hold their pens in the perfect position, but us lefties have had to modify the “correct” grip in order to write comfortably. This is something we subconsciously did while we were learning to write, and it takes practice to change it up. Every modification we make in our grip is going to be in an effort to get our pen at a 45-degree angle from the paper. If you remember nothing else from this post remember that last sentence! That magical angle is what makes it possible to get the thick and thin lines just right.
Now, let’s talk about underwriters vs. overwriters.
If you hold your pen like this, congratulations! You’re an underwriter, and you’re in great shape as far as brush (and especially pointed pen) calligraphy goes! You’re called an underwriter because your hand is positioned under your writing line. All you’ll likely need to do is experiment with bending your wrist and changing your arm position slightly to get those thick and thin lines just right. Smudging won’t be much of an issue either. You’re a rare unicorn, and you should be incredibly grateful because most of us are…
There’s a whole spectrum of overwriting grips, but they all fall into this category because our hand is positioned over our writing line. The most extreme of these is the (super unfortunate name alert!) hooker. You’re a hooker if you grip your pens like this:
Your grip has this totally offensive name because you hook your hand in an attempt to mimic a righty’s grip. Believe it or not, this is actually great for lefty brush lettering. If you imagine that pen in a righty’s hand, it’s positioned pretty close to that magical 45-degree angle! You’ll be pulling your upstrokes instead of pushing them, which I’m very, very jealous of. You also have your hand positioned way above the writing line, so smudging is almost a non-issue. Actually, I kind of hate you right now. The only modification I forsee is having to exaggerate the hook even more to get closer to the correct pen angle and avoid smudging the taller letters.
Most of us fall somewhere in between. I’ve had lots of lefties say they grip their pens similarly to me, so I’ll use mine as an example and go through some the modifications i’ve had to make.
First, I’ll show you how I hold my pen when I’m writing normally:
The pen is at almost a 90-degree angle from the paper, and I’m gripping it as close as I can to the nib of the pen. Not ideal at all.
Now, here’s how I grip my brush pens:
Notice that I now have that 45-degree angle happening! Here’s what changed:
- I’m using my same comfortable grip, only higher up on the pen.
- I’ve pushed my ring and pinky fingers out farther from my hand, which gets the pen resting in the right position.
The changes are subtle, but so important!
With pens like the one in the photo (smaller-tipped brush pens like the Pentel Touch or Tombow Fudenosuke), smudging is not much of an issue. These smaller pens can be used on regular printer paper or cardstock without messing up the tip and ink dries quickly on these types of paper. That’s why these are the pens I use 90% of the time.
Sometimes, though, you want to use a big, juicy brush marker (like these beauties)! They lay down way more ink and create dramatic transitions between thick and thin lines but, if you use them on plain printer paper or cardstock, you will fray the tips really quickly (like, after the first use). You need much smoother paper if you have any prayer of using your brush markers more than three times. Unfortunately, with smooth paper, the ink just lies on top of it for awhile before drying. This is pretty much a one way ticket to Smudge City, USA. There are two ways to combat this. One is to stop in the middle of the word or phrase to let the ink dry before you continue. I’m not a fan of this method, because I feel like it totally ruins my flow and takes forever. My preferred solution is to grip the brush marker even higher up than I do with the smaller brush pens.
That way, your hand is underneath the writing line and you’re much less likely to smudge. You may have to reposition your hand a little as you go to keep that 45-degree angle happening, but that’s all trial and error (something us lefties are used to). It’s a little awkward at first, but it works!
Also, a side note about paper position: I usually have my paper positioned at about a 45-degree angle from my body (like in these photos), because that’s what I’m used to and it’s the most comfortable for me. However, it might be useful for you to experiment with your paper position, because it can help with the angle of your letters and with smudging. I’ve even seen lefties who have their paper turned at a 90-degree angle! It’s whatever works for you.
I hope this helps and, as always, post any questions you’ve got in the comments! Happy lettering!