Sunday, January 9, 2011

pencil lines

"booklore" posted a comment about seeing pencil lines when he magnified a scan....and wondered if it was a trick of the trade. not so much a trick as a tool. it often surprises people that scribes use pencil lines. or even write out the whole piece (or address) in pencil.

in my classes, i teach people to pencil everything...if they want it to control the placement of the elements. and definitely pencil the words first if you are doing a piece and want to get all the words spelled correctly. one of the most frequent questions that people ask when they are looking at a poem or something that has a lot of words written out...."What do you do if you make a mistake -- spell a word wrong or leave a word out?"

or...they ask....How do you do that without making mistakes? and i answer...i pencil it first...and then i don't have to worry about it.

if i am doing a piece where i want all the spelling and words to be 100% accurate, i always pencil the entire thing. when i do the final lettering, i may not put the final strokes exactly over the top of the pencil, but at least i am looking at exactly what i want to write, so i don't make any spelling or word errors.

beginners do not have any trouble understanding the concept of penciling everything first. and they usually try it once. but then, they see how much time it takes. plus it takes a lot of time to erase the pencil. so, down the road, they go back to just hoping they can write what they want, without penciling. and then they make errors and then they whine. they get no sympathy from me. repeat offenders get *the look.*

there really is no shortcut to avoiding errors. there is one other method that is almost as good. you print out the piece on a computer, in the size you want the final to be. then you fold the paper at each line and hold the line you are writing right under the space where you are writing. you can see exactly what you need to write... just below where you are writing. i have even done this on envelopes and it really doesn't take much time. it is the best way that i know of to write centered addresses. i'll scan a sample in case this is hard to picture.

i saw an exhibit of some of the pages of the st john's bible and it included pages of layouts and tools. i noticed that there was a printed out copy of the text and it had been folded between each line. so, i assume they are using the technique of putting each line right under (or above) the line they are writing. i can't imagine they just sit around and fold every single page 30 or 40 times, just for the fun of it. if anyone reading this blog does not know about the st john's it. it is a huge project and the website has lots of information.

back to the topic of centering and avoiding mistakes... some people will say that a light box is the best way to center (or avail yourself of an accurate template. that's fine if you like light boxes. i just never forced myself to use one enough to get used to it.'s like coffee or tea. can't really say one is better than the other. it's just what you prefer.

so *booklore* i hope you try penciling...and let me know if it is helpful.


  1. I do the same thing, everything from an envelope to a large piece. I didn't until I left out the next to the last word on the last line of a large 30 line quote. That was about 20 years ago and have penciled everything from then on.
    Chuck in Newton

  2. In addition to avoiding errors, pencil work is just plain fun. I suppose there are pencil people, and people who have no affinity for the medium. I like to practice in pencil. I've discovered over the years that once I have the rhythm of a hand in pencil, pen & gouache work feels much more natural. When someone tells me they are struggling with a hand, the first advice I give them is to put down the nibs and learn it by heart in pencil.

  3. When Donald Jackson was in NYC with "The Prophets" portion of The Bible, he gave a slide show talk to our guild (he was a founding member). And they did have a computer print out of it to follow along with above/below line written. Despite that---errors happened. Missed words were 'corrected' like old time scribes did. One showed a line pulling up the missing word! with humor and creativity!

  4. Two pencil innovations that kept me obsessed this winter break were the "Sharpie Liquid pencil" (thank you Santa!) and the "Uni-ball Kuru Toga pencil." The two were part of Wired Magazine's 100 Best Gifts for Geeks.
    After a Sharpie test, I'm sticking with "lead." The jury is still out for the "Kuru Toga." I first need to find one...