As I was driving to work on National Handwriting Day, listening to one of my favorite Mozart operas, an exciting idea came to me: I should interview Pen Boutique's very own calligrapher, Linda Pennington! If you follow Pen Boutique on Instagram or Facebook, you've probably seen Linda's weekly quotes, written in her beautiful script and posed with her writing instrument of the moment. I am always fascinated by the pens, nibs, inks, and paper she selects, and the quotes she chooses are continuously inspiring and thoughtful, uplifting but never saccharine. Occasionally the poignancy of her choices moves me to tears.
Linda's quotes are loved by many, but who is this mysterious Linda? Linda used to work in our store part time, but it was before I was hired, so I only see her occasionally, like when she comes in to buy a new pen or ink she's excited about, or when she brings us her famous yearly homemade cookies at Christmas time. (The toffee chip ones are especially popular with the team, and they always disappear at an astonishing speed.) Linda e-mails me her written quote every week to post on social media, but I haven't worked much with her in person, other than when I assisted at some of the handwriting classes Pen Boutique hosts at local libraries, so I thought it would be very interesting to learn more about her involvement with Pen Boutique, handwriting, and fountain pens. I e-mailed her to ask, and she agreed to a video interview over Zoom the following afternoon. Thank you, Linda!
(Matchy matchy! Back in November, Linda came into the store to buy the new Tropical Blush flamingo pen from Benu Pens, and Roseate Spoonbill Anderillium ink to match! The next week, she used both to create one of her wonderful Linda Quotes. It was one of my favorites!)
Linda's Fountain Pen Journey
Linda doesn't recall what her first fountain pen was, but she thinks it was probably a Sheaffer, because she remembers using Skrip Washable Blue in bottles or cartridges and being cautioned not to buy the permanent blue-black ink, as it wouldn't wash out of her clothes if she spilled it. When she was a kid, ballpoints had just really come out, so she was using fountain pens in school, and the school desks had built in inkwells. Her school had just moved on from using the inkwells, and the desks had ink splattered all over them, with years of splotches decorating the wood.
She sent me a photo of a Wearever fountain pen and pencil set that was one of her big inspirations and fascinations as a child. She doesn't know how her mom got it, but she thinks it was her grandfather's. She always admired it, so her mom finally gave it to her when she was about twenty-one. She treasured it, but never used it, because the nib was broken. However, she sent it off recently to be restored, and had the nib replaced. How wonderful, to give this special pen new life!
Unlike most people who lived during the 1950s and '60s, who were relieved when ballpoints took over, Linda always liked writing with fountain pens. She stopped using one for a while, but, when she was in the military going through basic training, she had fountain pens with her and used them to draw, doodle, and relax whenever she had some downtime. During her first couple years in the military, Linda was stationed in Spain working with telecommunications systems. Later, back in the states, she transferred to vehicle maintenance systems analysis, using early keypunch style computers for batch processing. She was in the military for six years, then joined C&P telephone company, which turned into Bell Atlantic, and then Verizon. She worked in telecommunications for twenty-four years, then was able to retire early at age fifty-four. She got her first new fountain pen as an adult in the early '90s, at Fahrney's Pens. Then in June, 2012, she found Pen Boutique.
Linda's first pen from Pen Boutique was a purple Lamy AL-Star. She picked it out for her birthday, and was going to have it shipped, until she saw that the store's address was only about 20 miles away from her house. Gianna, the representative who helped her that day, also talked her into buying all the Pilot Varsity disposable fountain pens. Linda still has them, and they still write!
As she was walking out the door after buying her new pens, she said out loud, "You know, I could work in a store like this..." The manager happened to hear her, and replied, "Are you serious?" After an interview, she was hired right away, and started working part time. She worked in the store for about seven years, until health issues forced her to stop in December of 2019.
When I asked her how the Linda Quotes began, she said she started doing them while she was working in the store, to show off new pens and papers that came out. After she got sick, store owners Leena and Raj suggested she continue the quotes for social media, and she'd take a photo of her creation and send it in to be shared. We also have a machine in the back that can write in Linda's handwriting! She writes thank you notes in her beautiful script on dot grid paper, and the machine can copy the handwriting to produce lovely cards for us to express our appreciation.
I told Linda I am very impressed by how she manages to find quotes that are so inspiring and encouraging. She said the quotes are usually prompted by something that happened to her that week, and that sometimes a negative one slips in, but life is hard at times and it's important to acknowledge that, while keeping a positive outlook overall. I agree. She chooses her writing materials by instinct, depending on the quote.
Learning Calligraphy, Linda Style
Linda got started with calligraphy simply because she wanted her handwriting to be fancy, and is basically self-taught. "I think I was in high school when I first tried using the Speedball dip pen with India ink. We didn’t have nearly as many choices as are available now! When I was in college at Morgan State in the '70s, I also had a Sheaffer calligraphy set so I kept dabbling in it. I would do flyers for people. Looks pretty crude now but it was fun to do then!"
As she researched more to improve her technique, she studied quite a few different books and tried to emulate the writing, then developed her own unique style. She recommends Italic Variants by Ken Fraser; The Speedball Textbook, a comprehensive Guide to Pen and Brush Lettering by Joanne Fink and Judy Kastin; The Art of Hand-Lettering: Techniques for Mastery and Practice by Helm Wotzkow; Foundations of Calligraphy by Sheila Waters; and, The Calligrapher's Bible: 100 Complete Alphabets and How To Draw Them by David Harris. She also takes all the virtual classes that Montblanc offers in calligraphy. You can attend Montblanc's Inspire Writing Series workshops for free, and even watch the videos after the events are over!
Arthritis makes doing Spencerian and Copperplate exercises too painful for her, so instead she just focuses on "doing the best I can with what I've got." The handwriting styles she experiments with depend on her mood and the pen she's using, be it a stub, a flex nib, or whatever is at hand. Since she just does it for fun, she can use any style and writing instrument she wants. She occasionally takes on little jobs addressing envelopes in beautiful script for events like weddings, but she was never in it for the money, and isn't interested in stressing herself out in order to achieve calligraphic perfection like a professional.
Linda told me she really loves flex nibs, but most modern flex nibs really aren't the same as vintage ones. She has had some nibs professionally modified for her by nibmeisters John Mottishaw and Richard Binder, and she also loves Pilot's FA nib, which is available on the Pilot Custom 912 and Custom 743. Her current dream is owning a pen with the Montblanc Calligraphy nib, and she is saving up for one.
Making the Most of Ordinary Pens
One of the first things I did to prepare for this article was look back through all the quotes Linda had sent me to post on social media over the past several years. Linda has some extremely special pens in her collection, but I noticed that she often uses very accessible pens to create her beautiful pieces. They aren't even all fountain pens! A number of the quotes were written with Retro 51 Tornado rollerballs, Sailor Shikiori Markers, or dip pens like the wonderful Sailor Compass Hocoro.
Linda also loves stub and oblique nibs, and often uses them to great effect when she writes her Linda Quotes. Some of her most beautiful quotes are written using TWSBI pens with stub nibs. When I pointed this out, she got very excited and exclaimed, "I love the TWSBI stub!" She had a pen holder filled with seven or eight TWSBIs nearby, which she held up to the camera to show me.
Another cool pen that gets Linda excited is the Platinum Classic Brush Pen. This beautiful aluminum pen is decorated with Japanese Maki-e style painting, but costs less than $100. It uses Platinum cartridges or a Platinum converter (which can be purchased separately), and features a synthetic brush tip instead of a nib. It can be used to write with, but Linda uses hers for creative and relaxing art. Check out Ana's great review with some very inspiring writing and drawing samples on The Well-Appointed Desk!
Linda also loves the inexpensive and fun Pilot Parallel fountain pens, which come in six different stub nib sizes, ranging from 1.5 mm to 6.0 mm for a variety of exciting line variations. The nibs of these wildly creative pens can also be used to transfer ink to another Parallel pen to produce changing color effects. Linda owns all the different Parallels, and likes to play around with them. She also enjoys bringing them to our handwriting classes at local libraries to show the kids and let them experiment.
One of Linda's favorite pens is the Pilot Vanishing Point, and she owns several beautiful special edition Vanishing Points in both medium and stub, but she uses the entry-level Pilot Metro Pop pens, as well! These are available with calligraphy (1.0 mm stub) nibs, as well as in fine or medium.
Another favorite for Linda is her Kaweco Sport fountain pens, with a lot of different nib options. Again, she held up a collection in a rainbow of colors to show me. She has upgraded the standard steel nib on her Vibrant Violet (my favorite!) aluminum Kaweco AL Sport pen with a gold nib and says it's much bouncier than the steel one. She recommends trying the nicer replacement nibs if you have a favorite Sport.
(This stunning creation features our Pen Boutique Crab pen holders, along with a broad nib TWSBI Diamond Smoke 580 Rose Gold and a Kaweco Sport Frosted Coconut double broad nib with limited edition Colorverse inks Butterfly Nebula and NGC 6302.)
Other nibs Linda enjoys for her calligraphic style writing include the Sailor zoom nib and music nib. The zoom nib can be held at different angles to the page to produce varying line widths, and the music nib is a stub. Both are available on many different 1911 and Professional Gear color options, and you can read about them in my Getting to Know Sailor Nibs article.
Since this article is about handwriting, I decided to try copying a poem in cursive in one of my Oasis Notebooks before my interview with Linda. I learned cursive in third grade, but, later, when teachers no longer required me to write in script, I switched to mostly printing, and I rarely use pure cursive anymore. Since I'm so out of practice, I really had to focus and think about each letter as I wrote it, trying hard not to mess up. The Oasis Notebook helped a lot, but it was still nerve-racking and tiring!
I feel like my cursive looks stilted and a little childish, but I like the subtle guides in Oasis Notebooks that help keep your letter sizes consistent and your writing straight, as this is something I struggle with, no matter what writing style I'm using. The guides are light, so they don't detract from the look of your writing, and are easy to ignore if you choose not to use them.
As I wrote, I noticed I was gripping my pen extremely tightly, something I've done since I first began to write extensively in school. I always used to have a prominent writer's callus on the middle finger of my right hand in the spot where my pen or pencil rubbed. Once I switched to predominantly typing, the bump mostly disappeared, but not entirely. You can actually see it in this photo, enhanced a little by ink from my pen! When I write with a fountain pen, I try to relax my grip and let the pen glide over the page, but old habits can be hard to break. I asked Linda if she had any advice for me, and she did!
Linda suggested that when I notice I'm gripping my pen too tightly, I try holding the cap of the pen in the opposite hand and squeezing the cap with that hand. She said it's very difficult to grip hard with one hand when the other hand is doing the same thing. She learned this tip in a recent Montblanc handwriting seminar! I will have to try it. She also recommends giving your hands a shake to relax them, and exercising your hands by opening and closing your fingers 200 times. She was taught this by a guitar teacher, and does it in sets of twenty.
Linda told me her handwriting has changed over the years, too, but, in her case, it has improved a lot because she practices and hones her style. She sent me two samples from National Handwriting Day to compare, and, while both are beautiful, the one from 2024 definitely displays more nuance and control.
She also showed me what her writing looked like when she was a little girl and new to cursive. She wrote her age on the back of this incredibly cute photo taken when she was five. Like any child, she had a long way to go!
Just like I did, Linda learned cursive writing in 3rd grade, but no longer writes using the Palmer Method that she was taught. She went to a Catholic school where everyone was made to write exactly the same way, and children who were naturally left-handed were "corrected" and forced to learn to write with their right hand.
Linda and I both had left-handed older brothers, and connected over our shared childhood desire to be like our brothers and do things left handed, even though we are naturally right-handed. I brush my teeth with my left hand (doing it with my right hand feels incredibly awkward!), and wear my watch on my right wrist. Linda has taught herself to write with her left hand, but she has to really concentrate on it. I told her that I recently saw a post on Instagram from a right-handed person who practices drawing with her left hand every day for ten minutes and is tracking her improvement over time. I thought that was extremely cool, and kind of want to try it! Linda can do just about everything with her left hand that she does with her right, but can definitely tell the difference in strength. She was inspired by her favorite aunt who was ambidextrous. "I wanted to be like her!" Being able to write with her left hand also came in handy (ha!) when she had arthrodesis surgery on her right middle and index finger in 2019.
Over Zoom, she showed me what her regular note-taking handwriting looks like, and it's definitely much prettier than mine, but it doesn't look as fancy as the decorative writing she uses for her quotes. Like most of us at Pen Boutique, she uses a combination of cursive and print. She says it all depends on how her hand feels that day, as well as her mood. Handwriting is one of the ways we express ourselves, as unique as we are.
In addition to her calligraphic pursuits, Linda loves painting, drawing, and playing the guitar. She showed me some cool 3D-printed busts of Frida Kahlo, Albert Einstein, and Yoda that she had hand painted. Right now, she's taking a watercolor class, and also wants to try painting with fountain pen ink. I love painting with ink myself, so I can't wait to see where Linda takes that!
Inspiring Kids at the Local Library
Before we called our talk to a close, I wanted to ask Linda to tell me more about the cursive handwriting classes that Pen Boutique hosts in collaboration with local Howard County, Maryland libraries. Pen Boutique owner Leena started the classes in 2011 or 2012, when her daughter Shriya was eight years old, and Linda says she became involved around seven years ago. At first it was at the Central Branch of the library, which is very close to Pen Boutique, but we have also had sessions at the Miller Branch in nearby Ellicott City.
Linda teaches our current classes, designed to get middle school aged children excited about cursive writing, developing a signature, and using fountain pens. The classes are free, and Pen Boutique provides cursive handwriting practice booklets, a Platinum Preppy fountain pen, and additional writing goodies to each child so that they can take a gift bag home and explore further after the class is over.
In each class, representatives from our Pen Boutique team share our love of pens and writing, demonstrating the differences between different kinds of writing instruments (ballpoints, rollerballs, fountain pens, etc.), how fountain pens work, and why cursive writing is important and valuable. Most children aren't taught cursive in school anymore, although many of the kids that attend our classes have learned a little bit of cursive. Most don't use it very often, though, and some start the class unable to even write their own name in cursive!
I really enjoyed helping out with several of these classes this past summer at both branches of the library. The kids loved writing with their new fountain pens and practicing their signatures and cursive handwriting with the help of our team, led by Linda and Shriya, who is particularly wonderful with young people. We have four Pen Boutique staff members assisting at each event, but I haven't been involved in all the classes because our schedules vary. In addition to getting the kids excited about writing, I had fun talking with the library staff members who were overseeing the classes! The love of fountain pens is infectious, and just trying the pens made them want to learn more.
We host a series of these classes each summer, and also did a National Handwriting Day "Introduction to Fountain Pens" class for pre-teens at the library last week during a Howard County winter school break. It was very popular, and the library is keen to schedule more. We all feel that it's important to introduce young people to fountain pens and teach them to value handwriting, creativity, and artistic expression.
Linda says it calms her down to just sit and write. "You can write the same thing over and over again. Maybe try different techniques, different pens, use the same words... try it with lines, without lines... just practice. It's great for hand, mind, eye coordination. I see children struggle with writing... and really wish I had more time to spend with them."
I texted one last question to Linda: "Do you have any particular favorite inks?" Her reply was, "LOL! Iroshizuku Yama-budo, Kon-peki, Tsutsuji and Fuyu-gaki; all the J. Herbin 1670 inks; Montblanc Permanent Black, Burgundy Red, Beatles Psychedelic Purple, and Royal Blue; Waterman Black and Mysterious and Inspired Blues (mainly for my vintage pens); Diamine Writers Blood and a lot of the shimmering inks... so many to think about!"
I agree, inks are impossible to narrow down to a short list of favorites. I always look forward to seeing which inks Linda will choose next for her thought-provoking quotes, and I loved getting to know her better for this article. Now I feel comfortable texting her with questions and advice, and I'm inspired to focus a little more on my handwriting. I think I'm going to start a handwriting project in the Traveler's Notebook I am exploring for a future blog article. Happy (belated!) National Handwriting Day, and see you next time! Please send me your thoughts on handwriting in the comments.
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(Pen: Vintage Montblanc Meisterstuck 146 OB nib. Ink: Montblanc James Purdey & Sons Single Malt. Paper: Rhodia Spiral Dot Pad.)