Fun With Flowers

by Terri

Stock photo of a bouquet of flowers in a green glass vase. It has pink roses, baby's breath, ferns, pink & white lilies, purple statice flowers, forget me nots, blue daisies and a purple flower not tagged. Photo via 123rf

Stock photo of a bouquet of flowers in a green glass vase. It has pink roses, baby's breath, ferns, pink & white lilies, purple statice flowers, forget me nots, blue daisies and a purple flower not tagged.
Photo via 123rf

When advertisers exhort us to "say it with flowers," they often don't know how deliberately flowers can talk. While everyone knows that roses mean romance, did you know that daisies mean innocence? Or that larkspur means haughtiness? And that's only according to this flower dictionary.*

When we set out to make our Covertly Hostile series of cards, we took inspiration from the Victorian** custom of using flowers to send messages without words. People used to send each other bouquets that could be anything from a poem to a gorgeous insult. According to our favorite dictionary, the stock bouquet pictured means something along the lines of: "You are my true love because of your innocent, elegant, beauty and loyalty." And that's just what I could figure out from the flowers I actually know. 

The knowledge that flowers can carry intricately coded messages is not longer quite as popular as it used to be. This helps us create our Covertly Hostile cards - the average person doesn't dissect the image of a bouquet of flowers the way the Victorians might have. This means that they usually see "generic pretty thing" and leave it at that, and you can feel free to say exactly what you need to.



*There have always been multiple flower dictionaries. Flowers could have incredibly regionally specific meanings, that often contradicted meanings from the next county over.

**While the Victorians took the custom to their usual elaborate conclusions, flowers have carried meanings since at least Shakespeare.

New Greeting Card: Covertly Hostile Thank You Card

Did someone get you a gift that you Do Not Want? Did a relative get you something that you need or want, but comes with burdensome strings attached? Were you on the receiving end of a gesture that comes with Expectations of Reciprocity TM? Then send them this card.

Covertly Hostile Greeting Card

How it Came to Be:

With the release of the Covertly Hostile Mother's Day card, we had multiple requests for a similarly styled Thank You card. Everyone has that one person in their lives that gets them a gift where the obligations imposed by the gift far outweigh any benefits of the gift itself.

The card features three types of flowers. Rhododendrons are poisonous and mean beware, yellow carnations mean "No!"*, and lint flowers. We're pretty sure that lint is a relative of flax, and it means "I feel my obligations." Those are the small blue flowers. As with the Mother's Day card, the recipient doesn't need to know any of this. All they need to see is a pretty bouquet of flowers. In addition, there is no master flower dictionary. This provides plausible deniability. 

Like all of our cards, the Covertly Hostile Thank You is available singly for $4.00 and as a pack of 6 for $20.00.

*That is literally how it appears in our favorite flower dictionary. 

There's a New Way to Support Our Work!

by Ariela

There are lots of ways to support creators you like. Up until recently, the only ways to support us have been to buy our art and to spread the word about our art. Today we are adding a third option: buying us "coffee."

Ko-fi logo

Ko-fi logo

Ko-fi is a free service that allows fans to give money to creators in small amounts, amounts roughly equivalent to buying them a coffee.

Y U No Patreon?

Patreon is probably the best known crowdfunding service for creators, but it has never really been an option for us. Patreon's reward system tends to depend on offering special perks each month for the highest donors, either in the form of early releases or additional content. Our content doesn't tend to be sequential such that getting access to it early would be particularly enticing, and we're already working to our maximum capacity to get each product released each month and complete commissions so creating more content isn't an option for us right now.

That's why Ko-fi is a good model for us. We recognize that there are plenty of reasons why someone may appreciate our work without wanting or being able to buy our art. But we hope that people will be inspired to support us in other ways.

So, will you buy us a coffee?

P.S. Some of you may be finding this a little ironic. After all my loathing of coffee is legendary. I don't have anything witty to say about it other than to shrug and say that I am not actually being paid in coffee, so I can use it to buy tea, or, more likely, matboard for art. Also, Terri does like coffee, and she is half of this outfit.

Calligraphy Tools: Beyond Pens

by Ariela

This is a followup to the post of several weeks ago about different types of calligraphy pens. While pens are, in many ways, the most important tool of the trade, it would be a lot harder to get good results without others.

Ariela's drafting table with t-square hanging off it.

Ariela's drafting table with t-square hanging off it.

Drafting Table

You won’t get far without a good surface to write on. The sloped surface of a drafting table considerably reduces strain. When working on large surfaces, I increase the angle to bring the top closer to myself. Even when working on smaller pieces, the slant means that the pen meets the paper or parchment at a different angle than it would on a flat surface.

Mine is a Bieffe AF15, but brand matters much less than height and range of angles. As long as one adjusts to heights and angles that are comfortable for you, that's all that matters.

Good lighting is important while working. Many artists, myself included, answer this need by installing a swingarm lamp on one corner of their drafting table, but there are plenty of other solutions available.


Making straight, parallel lines is one of the most important preparatory steps for calligraphy. Some drafting tables have a ruling tool built in. Mine doesn’t and I like it that way; there are times when I want to be able to use the entire surface of the table. Instead, I use a t-square together with the flat edge of the table to rule parallel lines. Mine is three feet long.

Ariela rests a triangle on her t-square.

Ariela rests a triangle on her t-square.


When making vertical lines, it isn’t always practical to flip the t-square and use it vertically; for one thing, the t-square is quite a bit longer than the table is tall, and jabbing myself in the gut is not fun. When I need to make a small to medium vertical line, I rest a triangle on top of my t-square.

Lettering Guide

Ariela rests a lettering guide on a t-square.

Ariela rests a lettering guide on a t-square.

This little gizmo saves me so much time. Instead of measuring along the side of my writing area and marking each point at which I should draw a parallel line, I sit it on top of my t-square and it does all the spacing for me. (This is another way the slant of the drafting table helps – I can use gravity to keep the bottom of the lettering guide flush with the t-square.) I can change the line height by rotating the disc in the center between 3mm height and 10 mm height. If I want to work bigger than that, I can skip holes in the center or use the ones along the sides.

If you are a calligrapher and you don't have one of these, I highly recommend acquiring one. They are cheapest from Blick Art.

Lead Holder/Lead

Hand holding lead holder.

Hand holding lead holder.

This is the original mechanical pencil. While you can now get leads of different weights to load into modern mechanical pencils, I prefer this one for a few reasons. You do sharpen this lead, unlike your standard mechanical pencil. This means that you can choose how much you sharpen it; if a super sharp lead tends to cause you to gouge holes in your paper, you can keep it a little bit dull. The lead is thicker than the 5mm or 7mm standard to mechanical pencils now, so I don’t snap it as easily when inserting it into the holes of the lettering guide. I also just like the feel of this pencil body, the weight and the balance. Others might prefer different pencil bodies. I tend to use a 2H lead, which provides a good balance between producing a line that is dark enough to see but doesn’t lay down enough lead to smudge much while working.

Guard Sheet

I put a piece of paper under my hand to prevent the oils from my hand from touching the paper too much as I rest my hand while writing. It can be any scrap piece of paper.

There are more tools still for when I need to do fancy schmancy things, but these are the ones that get used in basically every calligraphy project


I love talking about the technical aspects of calligraphy. The best way to get in touch is to tweet @GeekCalligraphy.


by Terri

The CONvergence flier. It features their mascot, Connie. The theme of the convention is Space Opera, and so the flier contains a lot of recognizable imagery from famous space operas.

The CONvergence flier. It features their mascot, Connie. The theme of the convention is Space Opera, and so the flier contains a lot of recognizable imagery from famous space operas.

There are many things to both love and hate about the United States Postal Service. One of the things we like is that it enables our art to go to conventions when neither of us can be there. Urged by a friend, we have sent our art to CONvergence, a fan run Science Fiction and Fantasy convention in Bloomington, MN. This year, the convention is taking place July 6th-9th (this weekend).

We have pieces hanging in the Art Show, and multiples for sale in their Print Shop. If you're going to be there at any point, give us a shout on Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr! We hope you enjoy the con and take a little something of ours home with you.

"I Like It" =/= "It's Good"

by Ariela

Quick followup on last week's post about my Hugo ballot. I mentioned a few times that I voted for things that I didn't enjoy. I don't think I mentioned the flip side as much, where there were things I enjoyed very much that I didn't vote for, but that happens, too.

The "Good" Meter and "Ariela's Enjoyment" Meter are different things.

The "Good" Meter and "Ariela's Enjoyment" Meter are different things.

Because here's the thing: just because I enjoy something doesn't mean that it is "good" by any metric except the "does Ariela enjoy it?"-o-meter. I enjoy some things that I recognize as being bad by any number of metrics. Candy corn, for example, is terrible for you, and not actually that tasty, I just love it. I also hate all coffee, even high-quality coffee; my lack of enjoyment of anything I have to put in my mouth that includes coffee says nothing about how good a product it is. There are also things that I enjoy that are good, like a perfectly cooked meal, and things that are bad that I don't enjoy, like undercooked chicken.

So, too, with media. I enjoy some horrendous things, and there are some things that I recognize as being superbly skillfully done that are just not my cup of tea. And when I vote for the Hugos, I am trying to indicate that I think something succeeds in the metrics of innovation, craftsmanship, skill, and execution. It's not really about what I liked, it's about what I think exemplifies everything I want to see in the field of Spec Fic. And yes, we can - and do - argue about what the field of Spec Fic should be. But anyone who thinks that the field of SF should consist of only what they personally enjoy, with nothing for anyone else, is probably not worth talking to.

I want there to be SF for people who like things that are dramatically different than what I like, and I want the offerings for them to be good. I want them to have things they love, things that speak so deeply to their experience that fandom becomes part of their identity. Just because I don't share it doesn't mean it shouldn't be awesome for them. I also want good reading and viewing options for me, and I hope they would support me in my desire for same.

So, for me, the Hugos are not about voting for the things I enjoyed the most, they are about voting for the furtherance of the genre.

New Judaica Product - Mezuzah Parchments

Were you looking for the only place you could find a Spanish & Portuguese style mezuzah written by a woman? This would be it.

Image is a watermarked 12 cm mezuzah parchment in the Spanish & Portuguese style of ritual calligraphy.

Image is a watermarked 12 cm mezuzah parchment in the Spanish & Portuguese style of ritual calligraphy.

How it Came to Be:

You might think that a mezuzah parchment,* being small, would be the easiest of all of the ritual scribal objects. You would be wrong. The technical aspects and rules pertaining to the mezuzah make it actually quite difficult to write.

The first mezuzah size we will be offering is the largest size typically available - twelve centimeters (approximately five inches) tall. Since Terri thinks S&P ktab** is much fancier than Ashkenazi, we will not be offering a "mehudar" or "fancier calligraphy" option

The text on each parchment is scribed by hand by Ariela, and as such will differ slightly from the image. It may take up to 6 weeks for your mezuzah order to ship, depending on the volume of demand at the time. You may notice that the parchment in the image contains faint gray spots. Not every parchment will look like that, as not every parchment comes from a spotted cow.

Important Note: Ariela adheres to strict halachic*** standards when writing her mezuzot. However, not everyone accepts women as kosher scribes, and anyone who does not will not accept this scroll as kosher. If purchasing the scroll as a gift, please be certain to ascertain that the recipient accepts women as scribes.****




*That would be the bit that goes inside the fancy case you were given as a housewarming present.

**Style of calligraphy for ritual objects

***Jewish legal

****Information on women scribes courtesy of Hasoferet

Ariela's (Partial) Hugo Ballot

by Ariela

Logo of the Hugo Awards

Logo of the Hugo Awards

Voting for the Hugo Awards ends in a little less than a month. Terri and I are both supporting members and, when not attending Wiscon, prepping for other art shows, and working on new products, we've both been steadily working our way through as many of the works up for voting as we can.

I am by no means done, but here is my ballot for some of the categories that matter most for me, with some notes as to my thoughts and choices:

Best Fan Artist

Because the Hugos have not changed their criteria for Professional Artist since they were invented, the Fan Artist category is the one that most artists fall into, whether art is a source of income for them or not. So this is actually where most of my artistic colleagues are up for awards. I will be voting as follows.

  1. Likhain (M. Sereno)
    Mia is an astonishingly talented artist and if I could place her higher than first, I would do it. Her use of color is breathtaking. And I have an extra soft spot for her work because she occasionally incorporates calligraphy, and does it very well.
  2. Vesa Lehtimäki
    Vesa does some truly gorgeous photo editing. I do photo editing for my day job and know exactly how hard it is, so this blows me away. 
  3. Spring Schoenhuth
    Spring does some of the most beautiful geek-themed jewelry, and works at a size that increases her difficulty factor exponentially. While I see geeky jewelry at nearly every con, most of them are made from premade, mass-produced pieces. Spring is the only one I know who does this kind of work from scratch.
  4. Elizabeth Leggett
    Elizabeth is an extremely technically accomplished artist, but she doesn't rank higher for me because I see lots of similarly themed art around. For art to be Hugo-worthy for me, it needs to not only be technically skilled, but also original.
  5. Ninni Aalto
    I suspect I am missing the best parts of Ninni's work due to language barrier; the ones without language don't really do it for me.
  6. Steve Stiles
    Steve is an amazingly prolific artist, but since we are judging just based on output in the past year, I haven't seen anything from him in the past year that really grabbed me.

Best Novel

Novels are my favorite thing to read and what I read the most of. I had already read a number of the nominees before nominations opened, much less after they closed.

  1.  A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers
    I adored The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, which was an utterly delightful reading experience. But it lacked the emotional punch that the sequel delivers here. I'm a sucker for "what does it mean to be a person?" books, and this one comes at it from both ends in a devastating way.
  2. Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee
    I will admit that I couldn't finish this one, which I started before award season. I bounced off it in much the same way I bounced off Ancillary Justice my first time around. Serious culture shock, working too hard to absorb the world to be able to sit back and enjoy the story. Though I finished AJ on my first attempt, it took me until my third readthrough to just enjoy it. I suspect it will be the same here. As is, I recognize the technical accomplishment already.
  3. Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer
    This is another incredibly rich worldbuilding work. I am impressed, but I suspect that the later books will bring more payoff. If this volume doesn't Hugo, I suspect the third book in the trilogy will.
    While I was impressed, I am also somewhat troubled by feedback I have heard from the trans and non-binary communities about some of the gender views expressed therein. I hope that the later volumes address this.
  4. The Obelisk Gate, by N.K. Jemisin
    I voted for The Fifth Season and was incredibly gratified when it won. While this volume is no less skillful, it suffers from middle-installment issues - we've already met most of the characters and we've been introduced to the world. While there are astonishing revelations (Sassun's sections broke my heart), it's all about building up to The Stone Sky.
  5. All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders
    This book is skillfully written, but it just didn't wow me as much as everything above. Frankly, it wasn't my cup of tea, but it might be yours, so you should still check it out.

I didn't actually read Death's End by Cixin Liu. I voted for Three Body Problem, even though I didn't enjoy it at all, because I felt that it was both technically brilliant and extremely innovative, and that it made a significant contribution to the field of SF lit. However, there are limits to my dutifulness, and having not enjoyed either of the first two installments in the series, I'm not going to put myself through the third. So it is not on my ballot. Mind you, I am not voting it below "No Award," I am just leaving it off the ballot entirely, as I haven't read it and cannot rank it.

Best Novella

This is a partial list, as I have not yet finished reading everything in the category, and I do intend to.

  1. The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle
    This one blew me away. 
  2. Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire
    Years ago I came to the reluctant conclusion that, though my friends love it, Seanan's writing is not my thing. This, however, really impressed me. It's a fresh take on the very tired trope of portal fantasies.
  3. Penric and the Shaman, by Lois McMaster Bujold
    I adore everything Bujold writes, and though liking something isn't enough to make it award-worthy, in this case, I think it is. I am enjoying the exploration of the magical and theological issues Bujold is taking us through with this entire series.
  4. A Taste of Honey, by Kai Ashante
    This was well executed, but it didn't have the wow-factor of the works above it.

I haven't read The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe or This Census Taker yet. I do plan on reading them both, despite This Census Taker being on the Rabid Puppy ballot. I don't always dignify a Puppy nominee with reading, but Mieville doesn't seem to be wrapped up with them like, say, Wright is.

Best Series

Ah, the one-time category. Thank goodness I had read at least some of almost all of them before now, because if I tried to read them all in Award Season, I would have drowned in the attempt.

  1. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold
    I mentioned my love of Bujold above, and the Vorkosigan Saga is where she has done almost all of her most innovative work. It is always one of my first recommendations to someone looking for new reading material in the SFF field. It also covers an astonishing breadth, from space opera to political intrigue to romance.
  2. The Temeraire Series, by Naomi Novik
    Again, I love "what does it mean to be a person" books, and Temeraire's struggle to get dragons recognized as people in Europe speaks deeply to me. Also, I happen to love Regency period stuff. A+ highly recommended.
  3. The Peter Grant/Rivers of London Books, by Ben Aaronovich
    I only started this series, but 2.5 books in, I am mostly enjoying it. I love Peter's constant efforts to approach magic scientifically, and I love that he is foiled not by magic being magical (or not just by that) but by his lack of access to resources, and sometimes by his own distraction. I'm less thrilled by his constant commentary on the women he meets; it gets really tiresome.

I haven't read any of The Expanse by S. A. Corey, and I don't expect to have the time to do so before the close of voting, but I will check it out later. October Daye was my first introduction to Seanan McGuire, and as I mentioned above, really not for me. I read the first two books and decided I didn't need any more. Likewise, I read 1.5 books from The Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone and decided it wasn't my cup of tea. I will be leaving all three of these series off my ballot. Again, I am not voting them below No Award, I am just leaving them off.

So that's a partial look at my Hugo ballot. I am still working my way through the novelettes and short stories and have no idea when I will have a chance to watch Arrival, which is the last of the Long Form Dramatic Presentation nominees I want to watch.

What's on your ballot?

Geek Calligraphy Guide to Pen Types

by Ariela

I get a lot of questions from people who are interested in learning calligraphy. They cover a range of topics, but a lot of them concern materials. So today, I am going to talk about pens.

That's a lot of pens.

That's a lot of pens.

Like many things, there's no one right pen for all things. You need to use the correct tool for the job, and sometimes it comes down to a matter of personal preference.

I am going to go through the biggest categories of calligraphy pens and talk a little bit about what projects they are great for and what my favorite brands are.

Felt Tip Calligraphy Markers

A very small sample of the number of felt tip calligraphy markers out there

A very small sample of the number of felt tip calligraphy markers out there

What they are good for:

Felt tips are great for beginners who are just starting out. They don't require any sort of learning curve for care and feeding of the pen, the inkflow, etc., which frees the user up to concentrate on learning pen angles and strokes.

As markers, they require no maintenance beyond remembering to cap them when you're done. They come in a rainbow of colors and you can buy them in any art store and many office supply stores as well.

They are also nice for casual projects and for taking along when you need to go somewhere, as they are the least likely to leak.

What they're not good for:

Felt tips are not great at creating thin lines. For projects that require hair-thin lines, felt-tips are not your friend. They are also not good at subtle changes in pen angle and pressure. The line quality and ink density are also not great. Work you do with them may be prone to fading.

Ariela's Favorite Brands:

Zig makes a nice variety of colors and they have double-tipped markers, which I like very much for the two-in-one. But they are pricier than a lot of the other brands.


Cartridge/Fountain Pens

Several uncapped fountain pens with cartridges and a bottle of ink.

Several uncapped fountain pens with cartridges and a bottle of ink.

What they are good for:

A good fountain pen with good ink will give you the most consistent ink flow of any tool available.

Cartridge pens provide better line quality than felt tips, with good thick and thin. They also travel pretty well.

The roundhand nibs of cartridge pens tend to be fairly rigid. This may be a feature or a bug depending on your preference.

If you need to write a whole lot with the same nib width, and you will use the pen regularly, a cartridge pen is probably the best tool for the job.

What they are not good for:

These are not pens to buy on a budget. Note my first sentence about "good" pens with "good" ink; that means pricey. Cheap pens and ink may give you okay results, but they may also be made of fail. Buying ink in cartridges is an even more expensive proposition than in bottles, and refillable cartridges are not everyone's cup of tea, though I rather enjoy the process.

Good fountain pens also need to be bought from a specialty store. You cannot walk into Michaels or your local craft store and buy one. Chances are that you will find Sheaffer's and Manuscript, and believe me, they are made of DO NOT WANT.

Cartridge pens need to be cleaned regularly. If you use your pens at least every other day, you can get away with only cleaning them every couple of cartridge changes/refills, but if you only use it occasionally you should clean it after every use. Cleaning them can be pain in the tush. Leave them uncleaned for long enough, and you will probably need to replace the whole pen as many companies don't sell replacement parts individually anymore (though you can always check Ebay!).

As mentioned above, the roundhand nibs on calligraphy pens with cartridges tend to be pretty rigid. If you like a flexible pen or need to get variations based on pen pressure, this is the wrong tool for the job.

For my money, I hate grinding the nibs on cartridge pens, but your mileage may vary.

I find that the variety of nib widths offered by cartridge pens is much narrower than for dip pen nibs.

If you want to use lots and lots of colors, then you need to have lots and lots of pens, or be prepared to wait a long time between switches as you clean and dry your pen.

Ariela's Favorite Brands:

I am a loyal devotee of Rotring Art Pens, though they have been cutting down their calligraphy line of late. 0.6 nibs are no longer to be had for love nor money, and 0.9s are only available on Ebay once in a blue moon. I like Rotring because they give good inkflow for a fairly inexpensive pen (by fountain pen standards), and they disassemble completely, which makes cleaning them - and especially drying out the parts afterward - much easier than the ones that don't break down so fully.

Unfortunately, my next favorite brand, Osmiroid, is no longer in production, though there are plenty of them floating around eBay. It's a workhorse brand with good value for your money. In the debit column, their nib and feed don't separate from the grip, which makes them harder to clean. However, the barrels of Osmiroid pens are shorter than the Rotring pens, which means they feel better in my hand.


Dip Pens

Just a few of the options available for dip pen nibs, pen bodies, and ink.

Just a few of the options available for dip pen nibs, pen bodies, and ink.

What they are good for:

If you want a variety of options, dip pens are the go-to. You can get nibs in so many sizes and shapes you may experience decision paralysis. Want roundhand nibs? Spoon nibs? Poster nibs? Copperplate nibs? Left-hand nibs? We have all those and more in a variety of sizes and flexibility.

Dip nibs are the most responsive to subtle changes in pressure and angle, and they have the widest thick and thin range. Some are more responsive than others and you can get a nib that is as responsive to pressure as you personally like.

Many, but not all, nibs are interchangeable, so you can also customize your pen experience a lot. You can pair any number of nibs with any number of pen bodies, and you can even alter an existing pen body or commission a new one if you really want something super special.

While the volume of nibs to buy can add up to a significant price tag, each nib is pretty cheap and there are very affordable pen bodies, making dip pens a very affordable option.

Ink is available in a rainbow of colors, which you can switch between easily with just a wipe of a cloth.

The pens need to be cleaned after each use, by which I mean dunked in water or a pen cleaner and then wiped off thoroughly. Don't put your nibs away wet. That's all.

What they're not good for:

There's a steep learning curve for dip pens. You don't suddenly switch from felt tips and ballpoints/biros to a dip pen without a serious adjustment period. In my opinion this is a skill well worth the time and effort, but beginners, you have been warned what you are getting yourselves into.

Ink can be blobby and distribute unevenly between a freshly dipped pen and one that needs to be dipped again. This gets easier and less apparent the more experienced the user, but it will never be quite as regular as a good cartridge pen.

If you have to write a large amount in a short amount of time, the time spent turning to dip the pen in the ink is wasted motion. If you are in a hurry, this is probably not the best pen for the job.

Ariela's Favorite Brands:

For broad nibs, I adore Mitchell roundhand nibs. But I am in the "bendier is better" camp. For those who like an inflexible nib, I hear that Brause is the go-to. Some of them also have built-in reservoirs, if that's your jam (it is most definitely not mine). If you are new to calligraphy, you may need to try both to figure out what you like.

I am brand agnostic when it comes to spoon nibs, G nibs, and EFs. I have some Hunts and some Speedballs that I quite like, but I have been itching to try out Leonardt brand as well as some of Brause's bendier nibs like the Blue Pumpkin.



Ariela's quills and equipment.

Ariela's quills and equipment.

What they are good for:

Even moreso than metal nibs, quills are flexible, customizeable, and responsive to subtle shifts in pen angle and pressure. When used skillfully, a quill will yield a line quality like nothing else. Since each quill is cut and re-cut multiple times, you get to cut it in just the way you like, with the angles that you like, and the ink channels the way you like them.

If you are looking to do historically accurate reproduction or reenactment, quills are very probably what you will need (unless you are looking to mimic a time and place where reed pens were de rigeur).

What they aren't good for (aka, all the reasons we no longer use quills much):

Quills wear out quickly. If you  are writing a lot, you may need to re-sharpen your quill multiple times daily. They can be touchy about humidity levels, causing the tines to split annoyingly along the ink channel in dry temps.

Cutting quills is a whole separate skill set from writing with them, but unless you are part of a large operation where you have a dedicated quill cutter, you really cannot write with quills without learning to cut your own, which is also time-consuming and frustrating. Hint: if you had been part of one of those large operations, you would never have been allowed to progress to writing without first learning the grunt work of cutting quills.

As mentioned above, quills are very responsive instruments. This means that if you don't have a lot of experience and fine motor control, they can respond in ways you wish they wouldn't.

Quills can be annoyingly narrow to grip. It is simply not comfortable to firmly grasp something that small for a long period of time. After trying out several different fixes, I solved this issue by making grips out of Sugru, but goodness only knows what the scribes of yore did.

Ariela's Favorite "Brands:"

So far I have only worked with turkey feathers, but I hear goose feathers are better for tiny work, so I should get some of those for my mezuzah work (letters on mezuzot are teeny!).


Reed Pens

I don't actually use them at all, so I don't have any recommendations here.


Image from

Plastic Nibs

What they are good for:

Yes, they are a thing that exists.

I have never heard of these being used by anyone except Torah scribes. It makes sense: they want something more durable than quills, so they don't have to constantly sharpen them, but can't use metal because, aside from Kabbalistic squeamishness about using metal other than gold in the production of a Torah, safrut ink literally eats through metal nibs.

What they aren't good for:

I haven't actually ever tried one of them, but I cannot imagine that they are better than metal nibs for anything (except not being eaten by safrut ink).


Where To Buy Good Pens

If you want to buy pens in person, Dick Blick/Utrecht actually stocks a decent selection of nibs in-store. They also sometimes have Rotrings, so definitely check them out. 

If you have a local stationers, they may have good pens, or they may not. The older the store, the more likely they still stock good pens. Call or go in and look, but be prepared to come away empty-handed.

If you are shopping online, I cannot recommend John Neal Booksellers enough. If you are ready to take the plunge into buying parchment for something other than Jewish holy texts (which have a bunch of extra requirements), try Pergamena.


A Note on Inks

Ink behaves differently at different temperatures and humidities. It is also a matter of preference. I have a strong liking for Winsor & Newton brand ink, but I know other calligraphers who swear by Higgins, which I cannot abide. You may need to buy a bunch and try them out. And the ink you like best in the summer may not be the one you like in the winter.


A Note on Papers

A lot of your writing experience is determined by the paper on which you are writing. Even a great pen will not make writing on crummy paper much better. If you aren't having any luck with any pens, it might be time to try a different paper.

When not writing on parchment (real parchment, the kind made from animal skins, not the paper that gets called parchment by art stores), I like writing on Bristol, which is fairly inexpensive and doesn't bleed much.


Any Other Questions?

You can always ask me on Facebook or Twitter. As long as I have time, I am happy to chat about the tools of the trade.

Terri Goes to Madison, a WisCon Report

by Terri

The larger matted prints hanging on their panel. 

The larger matted prints hanging on their panel. 

2016: It was Memorial Day weekend and my phone wouldn't shut up. The weather in Boston was horrible, as was the weather in Upstate New York.* And my best friend in the world appeared to be having the time of her life.

My phone wouldn't shut up because WisCon 40 was when Ariela discovered Twitter. She was tweeting panels and squeeing about the people she was meeting. When she got home, it was all she could talk about for a couple of weeks. I decided that if we could make it work, next year I wanted in on this thing that my best friend loved so much. After all, I'm a feminist. I'm a fan. WisCon seemed a logical fit.

So this year, I boarded a series of planes in order to arrive in Madison, WI on Thursday May 25. I got to the hotel, checked in, unpacked, got a drink,** got my badge, scanned the program book and waited for Ariela to show up. 

When Ariela arrived, we may have broken the eardrums of anyone in the parking lot. It was so wonderful to be at a con with my best friend again. That colored my entire weekend, even the parts where I didn't have as much fun as I was hoping to. "This person might not be very nice, but ARIELA IS HERE! WE ARE TOGETHER!" was a thought that occurred more than once. That being said, Thursday evening was when I began to meet some truly awesome people whom I am glad to know now.

The greeting card and small matted print display.

The greeting card and small matted print display.

On Friday, we set up the art. For this con, since we inadvertently ended up with a significant amount of table*** space, Ariela made a set of nifty cardboard display stands (as seen in the image below on the left). There was so much art to be nervous at (including a debut coloring page - my idea!), but I was good and tried to only fidget with it a few times over the weekend.

As is often the case with conventions that I am excited to attend, there were more things in the various programming slots that I wanted to go to than the laws of physics would permit. There was an amazing Leverage panel, moderated by the fabulous Michi Trota. Leverage is one of my favorite TV shows, and listening to people gleefully enjoy it with the entire room was wonderful. I also attended a great panel about Unpopular Opinions and how to not yuck your friends yum, while also acknowledging that you might not like things that they like. It was wonderfully affirming to be in a room with people who all had things that they didn't like that it was assumed everyone else did.

Ariela on the left with her fabulous blue dress, satin gloves, feathered fascinator and Impressive Makeup. I am on the right with my fabulous dress from Pendragon costumes, purple hair, glittery headscarf and Impressive Necklace. The temporary tattoo on my left shoulder is in the style of a band-aid that reads "I Am Enough."

Ariela on the left with her fabulous blue dress, satin gloves, feathered fascinator and Impressive Makeup. I am on the right with my fabulous dress from Pendragon costumes, purple hair, glittery headscarf and Impressive Necklace. The temporary tattoo on my left shoulder is in the style of a band-aid that reads "I Am Enough."

There was much socializing, a trip to the hot tub, more drinks, my homemade braised minute steaks, and tasty breakfasts with great conversations. Of course, it would not be WisCon without the Dessert Salon and Guest of Honor Speeches. 

This year's Guests of Honor were Amal El-Mohtar and Kelly Sue Deconnick. Both spoke about their relationships to story and storytelling. I'm still processing their speeches, but here are my favorite pull quotes from each speech:

"Every time I try to pin down a truth about myself, about my identity, it's like trying to pin down mercury." ~ Kelly Sue Deconnick

"Why do we talk about losing an argument instead of learning a truth?" - Amal El-Mohtar

I could simply list quotes from the speeches, but that's not what you're here for. Suffice it to say that they were full of hard yet inspiring truths, and they had me on the edge of tears. I think that the best response to those speeches is the tweet Ariela sent out at the end of the con:

"We are getting progressively more angry and intersectional feminist in our art. Because eff 2017. #WC41 #WisCon41." No one is perfect, but we are taking the energy and trying to do our best. 

During what WisCon calls The Great Sign-Out,**** I got the all important photos of the Guests of Honor holding my knitting:

Kelly Sue Deconnick holding the cowl I was working on throughout the weekend. 

Kelly Sue Deconnick holding the cowl I was working on throughout the weekend. 

Amal El-Mohtar holding the cowl I was working on throughout the weekend.

Amal El-Mohtar holding the cowl I was working on throughout the weekend.

I also got an opportunity to meet and geek out about comics with Jess Plummer (who writes for Book Riot Comics, among other things). Mostly we talked about how Nick Spencer is driving Marvel Comics down the drain and into the sewer,***** but I also heard her talk about G. Willow Wilson's Ms. Marvel books and how awesome they are. It's so refreshing to meet a woman comics commentator who is supporting female comic creators and who won't stand for any nonsense in her comics.

Was it a perfect con? Nope. There's no such thing. I met some wonderful women (and a few men), had some conversations I'm still pondering, heard speeches that inspired me to keep working and fighting, and even attended some panels. Will I be coming back next year? You bet. 



*Memorial Day weekend is typically a small scale SCA war, and we were hoping to day trip Sunday. With rain both here and there, no such luck.

**We stayed on the fancy floors of the Madison Concourse, which entitled us to free cocktails, free breakfast, and other free nibbles during our stay. I am never one to turn my nose up at free alcohol.

***As opposed to pegboard panel

****Instead of having various signings throughout the con, they hold one MASSIVE one on Monday, after all the panels are over. This way no one has to miss a panel to get something signed.

*****We remain a #SayNotoHYDRACap establishment around here.