The Writing Pen

When I walk into a well-stocked stationery store, I often find myself acting like a child who has been given free reign over a candy store; the sheer variety of pens on offer fascinates me. Only a few generations ago the stationers’ customers were restricted to quite a limited choice of writing instruments – basically, you could buy fountain pens and pencils and little else – ball-points, fibre-tips, plastic roller-balls and nylon-tipped fineliners were just dreams in the imaginations of pen designers because the materials to make such writing instruments simply didn’t exist in those days and nobody had solved the difficult problems of ink delivery which they posed. Now, the situation is very different, and we have a much wider range of writing instruments to choose from. A trip to a good stationery or office supply store, along with some practice with the pens on hand, can be an educational experience.

When reading works on handwriting analysis written before the explosion in the available variety of writing instruments, keep one thing in mind: differences in writing depth between subjects were achieved primarily by the different levels of pressure used by individual writers in their era. Because all writers were likely to be using similar writing instruments (with significant differences in nib width and rigidity), it was reasonable to assume that those who produced deeper lines had to use more pressure than those who produced lighter lines.

The existence of pens that can produce great depth with very little pressure has complicated this consideration in our era, and we have been forced to conclude that the subject’s aesthetic tastes play a large role in dictating depth, and that depth is truly produced by a combination of pressure and the effects of the chosen writing instrument. People will experiment with a variety of writing instruments, either consciously or unconsciously, until they find one that produces the line quality they like in conjunction with the amount of pressure that is comfortable or convenient for them.

Line Qualities produced by some Popular Writing instruments

Fountain Pens

Handwriting analysts lament the disappearance of fountain pens from popular use, claiming that this type of writing instrument is unrivaled in its ability to register the tiniest pressure variations. Don’t be tempted to persuade your subjects to use a fountain pen solely because of its pressure-related properties; the average writer may not be familiar (or comfortable) with one, and the results could be misleading. Fountain pens can produce corrugations, blotches, and signs of hesitation or inhibition in the hands of a writer used to more modern writing instruments, but they can also produce corrugations, blotches, and signs of hesitation or inhibition in the hands of a writer used to more modern writing instruments.

The introduction of pens with faster-drying inks, were easier to recharge, and were less likely to leak signaled the end of the fountain pen’s dominance. Fountain pens are considered a status symbol among clerical workers in some parts of Asia, and enterprising local pedlars sell a variety of false tops that are fashioned to look like the caps of smart fountain pens. Office workers ostentatiously clip them in their breast pockets to give the impression of owning one of the most sought-after pen brands. Largely expensive ergonomically designed ceramic fountain pens were recently thought to be a fashion statement by well-heeled Europeans.

Despite its high price, the pen always leaks like a sieve; there are two possible explanations: either the pen’s designer focused solely on ergonomics and neglected the business end of the pen, or it’s a risky business to allow a generation of people who have never handled a fountain pen to play with such things, and they’d be better off with just a false top suitable for wearing in a visible pocket.

Dipped Nib Pens

Even though it is almost entirely out of use in other areas, this writing instrument is still used by some calligraphers and other specialist writers in our era. The use of a dipped nib is nearly extinct; in its most complete form, it necessitates precise recharging of the nib at precisely the right moment, in addition to the other more common writing skills. Blotching occurs when the nib is charged with too much ink, and faded writing occurs when the nib is charged with too little ink. If the writer wants to keep his script’s rhythm and fluidity, dipping at the right time is crucial. Several signs of inexperienced dipping can be identified:

  • inequalities of ink-depth – the subject may continue to write after he should have recharged his pen, resulting in fading, or he may overcharge his pen, resulting in blotching when he returns to the paper
  • lack of fluency – the subject’s pen fades in the middle of a sentence, and he may be forced to recharge it at this inconvenient time.
  • dipped nibs are frequently sharp-pointed, and inexperienced writers may attempt to compensate for fading by increasing overall pressure, which can result in grooves in the paper surface and corrugations.

Ball-Point Pens

The ability of this type of pen to show different depth ranges or pressure effects is quite limited. You’ll have to get used to the lack of responsiveness of the ball-point pen, which is unfortunately the most widely used writing instrument today. Writers who require a thick line quality are unlikely to enjoy using ball-point pens and will most likely switch to a pen that will provide them with the line depth they require – thus it can be inferred that writers who use ball-points as a matter of personal preference are already making a statement about their preferred line-quality.

The ubiquitous ball-point pen first appeared in the 1940s; it took several advances in engineering and ink delivery technology before it was ready for mass production, and the basic version is still in use today. The introduction of the ball-point prompted a rethinking of the depth/line quality and pressure issues.

Roller Ball Pens

The tendency of roller-ball pens to produce blobs of ink at points where the pen lifts from the paper is their most notable feature. Because such blobs can be misinterpreted as a sign of hesitation (the pen resting) if you aren’t aware that a roller-ball was used, you may be led to this conclusion.

Chisel-Tipped (Italic) Pens

In the hands of a skilled penman, these pens can produce fine and fluid shading between upstrokes and downstrokes (the upstrokes being noticeably less heavy than the downstrokes). The use of an italic style of script (or any other form of ornamental script) as a daily mode of communication may reflect the writer’s desire to maintain an air of refinement (his reasons may be deceitful or escapist, depending upon other signs present).

Fibre-Tipped Pens

This type of pen is favored by heavy-line writers because it can produce a rich and emphatic line quality. These pens used to spread out at the point after a period of use before the introduction of harder-wearing fibres; while this problem is less noticeable now, it may still be encountered with heavy-pressure writers.

Ink Color

In some cases, the ink color of any specimen under examination can only be considered with caution. It’s often impossible to tell whether the writer chose a pen out of habit or preference, or simply because it was the closest at the time of writing. However, I believe it is possible to read a little more into the color of the ink when we know the writer prefers a particular hue (or in cases that normally require some preparation on the part of the writer, such as letters or forms applying for employment or military enlistment, etc.).

Some ink colors, such as blue, black, or blue/black ink, automatically suggest a lack of conservatism or conformity in the writer. I’m referring to obviously garish or non-standard colors that defy convention (i.e. blue, black, or blue/black ink).

Dr. William Rottersman, a psychiatrist, conducted a study for the US Marine Corps that revealed some interesting statistics on the subject. Men who wrote in green or red ink were far more likely to be rejected on psychological grounds than men who wrote in blue, black, or blue/black ink, according to his research. Green ink users accounted for half of the men who were rejected, while blue, black, or blue/black ink users accounted for only 10% of the psychologically based rejections.

Rottersman discovered that people who used green ink had similar but distinct emotional characteristics. They couldn’t openly or adequately express their individuality because they were afraid of ridicule or appearing different from the other recruits. The majority of this group also showed signs of being overly reliant on their mothers or a mother substitute (e.g. wife, mistress or teacher). Rottersman came to the conclusion that they were compensating for their reliance by displaying their individuality through their ink choice.

When Rottersman looked into the case histories of men who used red ink on a regular basis, he discovered that they were (on average) more disturbed than those who used green ink. Frequently, they “Strange symptoms were openly displayed. Many of the people were on the verge of or suffering from mental illness.”

Remember that statistics must be correctly interpreted before they can be of any real use, and that Dr. Rottersman’s research was carried out in the high-pressure environment of the American military’s strictest regime. The USMC sets out to break down recruits’ feelings of individuality (in order for them to function as a unit and obey orders without question), and it puts them through experiences that will identify those who are likely to crack under combat conditions. The Marine drill instructors’ motto perfectly encapsulates this policy: “We break men down in order to build them up.”

It could be argued that many of the rejected men who wrote in non-standard ink colors would have had no trouble pursuing other careers – particularly those that required less of their sense of individuality.

Green and Lewis, both highly regarded practicing psychologists and handwriting analysts, have cited Rottersman’s findings and reached similar conclusions. They also defined habitual black ink users as “revealing an attitude toward communication rather than an emotional state.” “Such people are concerned with precision, exactitude, and a clear understanding of the message they are attempting to convey,” they continued.

Some authors will purposefully use a non-standard ink for effect. Red ink, for example, has long been a favorite of poison pens and hoax writers due to its symbolic associations with blood.

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