December 19th, 2016 by D. T. Grimes

Edward Curran is a calligrapher and up-and-coming pen maker from Bedfordshire, England whom I had the incredibly fortunate opportunity to become friends with during the IAMPETH Conference in the summer of 2015. Edward is an Irishman, through and through, and our friendship stems from our mutual affection for the pen as well as his incredible patience with this thing I do where I adopt the accent of anyone I meet (Thanks for putting up with me, Ed!). You can find out more about Edward and his work on his site, at, or on Instagram at

Edward Curran and Daughter

David: Hey Edward! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview! It’s been awhile since we’ve seen each other, but I hope things are going well for you? How’s the family?

Edward Curran: Hi Dave, Thank you for inviting me. Everything is going good, very busy on the calligraphy and pen making fronts. Family are good, Elli and the kids ( Caoimbhe and Tadhg) are getting ready for christmas so it’s ‘all go’ in the Curran household.

Can you tell us a bit about your creative background and how you first discovered that you had an affinity for penmanship?

EC: I’ve always been interested in art. I love painting and drawing. I have a degree in graphic design and ran my own graphic design business before the big crash of 2008. My introduction to penmanship came way back when I was at school. My handwriting was so bad that my art teacher gave me a book on calligraphy and suggested strongly that I ‘give it a go’.

Edward Curran Calligraphy - David Grimes

I can’t say I fell in love with it straight away as it took a long time to see any significant improvements to my writing. I didn’t know anything about the tools for penmanship other than a pointed nib was needed. I was using just a ballpoint pen at this point. Thinking that all pointed nibs were the same I went and bought one. This turned out to be a mapping pen, extremely sharp, not intended for writing… at the time I didn’t know any better. I can remember trying it for the first time on a sketch pad….sharp nib rough paper….ink everywhere. It was so unsuccessful I went back to my ballpoint and got pretty good with it. It then became a bit of a party trick writing people’s names in copperplate with a ballpoint.

It wasn’t until after the big crash that I looked up penmanship on the internet. When I first started the internet was not around. I came across the IAMPETH website which was such a revelation. I wasn’t the only pen freak out there! I learned which nibs to buy and the right ink and paper. I can remember trying the nibs for the first time; I was expecting the ink explosion that happened before, but was pleasantly surprised when the nib just glided over the page. I started putting the practice in and here we are years down the line still putting the practice in!

Would you say that you have a particular area of interest or study when it comes to penmanship? Who are your favorite historical penmen? Are they American or English?

EC: I like a lot of styles, Copperplate, Spencerian, flourishing and so on. I always come back to Copperplate. Maybe because it’s the first one I really studied, but also because it’s very popular with my wedding clients, and I use it more than the others. In fact I’m trying to master it first before moving on the other styles. It will take a while but hopefully I’ll get there.

I don’t have a favourite penman but if I was forced to choose I would probably pick F. B. Courtney as he really covered every aspect of pointed pen with unbelievable skill. Having said that one of my favourite pieces of penmanship is the Lord’s Prayer by W. E. Dennis. It is just unbelievable when you look at the capitals and how they are executed. When you look at work by Madarasz you can see just how in control of the pen he is, but when I look at the capitals of Dennis’s work on the Lord’s Prayer it’s like it’s written with complete freedom.

Edward Curran Lillies Calligraphy

On the topic of wedding clients, what are your thoughts around script formality in industries where calligraphers are paid based by-the-piece? Do you feel like in situations like that it’s harder to keep up with your regular hourly rate? Do you have a ‘faster’ version of your formal script that gets used for projects like that?

EC: I’ve never had an hourly rate. I’ve always charged by-the-piece as you say. I’m lucky in that I’ve always been a quick writer so I don’t use a ‘faster’ version as this would compromise the quality of the script. Everyone gets my best effort.

What was it like to receive the International Scholarship to attend the 2015 IAMPETH convention? What were you hoping to learn coming into the conference? Did attending live up to those expectations?

EC: Winning the scholarship was nothing short of fantastic. I was so surprised to receive it. I woke my wife up to tell her at 3am when I got the email! She was very happy and very mad! I really didn’t know what to expect when I got there. I had been a member for years and had always wanted to go. The first thing I realised when I got there was the sense of family, everyone was so so nice to me. Everyone introduced themselves and made me feel very welcome. I met so many different people all crazy about penmanship everyone shares their tips and techniques it’s fantastic. We spend so much time on our own when we write, it’s great to finally talk to others about all things calligraphy. I came away with loads of new penmanship friends and a renewed love of all things calligraphy. A truly wonderful experience!

Any words of recommendation for other international people who are on the fence of applying for that scholarship? Tips for the application process?

EC: Go for it! It is a fantastic opportunity for anyone who can’t afford to get there on their own. As for tips, they are not looking for the best penman as such but more the person who’s going to benefit most from attending the conference.

Since we met two years ago, what area of your practice or study of penmanship has experienced the most growth? What has been your largest struggle technically and internally/emotionally?

EC: Tough one! From a ‘technical’ standpoint, I’d say it has to be my Copperplate lower case. I’ve neglected it for years. It’s coming along now but it takes a lot of practice and correct technique to get it working with any consistency.

Internally, I’ve always been extremely critical of my own work, which sometimes can lead to frustration. Frustration is never good when it comes to penmanship, I’ve had to learn to control it and not expect too much from myself.

During the conference, you came up to me during one of the classes and asked if I would give the pen holders that you make a try. I immediately noticed the outstanding quality and attention to detail that went into them, and had been thinking about them for months after as I began my own work with the lathe. Was one of your goals at the conference to get feedback on your pens so that when you returned home you could improve on those designs? If so, what did you learn?

EC: The first pens I made were for personal use. I brought them to the IAMPETH convention, were a few people showed an interest in them. I never thought seriously about making pens for other penmen before this. I asked a few people to test them to see what the reaction was and it was good. I had a couple of discussions with Brian Smith about starting a pen making business, he was great he gave me a few good tips. I left the convention feeling very positive about the new venture. If I learned anything it’s that people are so different when it comes to pen types. Definitely something I keep in mind when I’m in my workshop.

Edward Curran Calligraphy

As calligraphy has really taken off on Instagram, there are more and more people beginning to make handmade pens. What about your pens makes them unique? Would you say anything about your experience as a penman has been used in the designs that you turn?

EC: Yes there are a lot more pen makers out there now compared to when I started a couple of years ago, some good and some not so good. You really need to understand penmanship to be able to produce a good pen. We spend hour after hour practicing and it’s vital that the pen we are using is comfortable to use and will stand the test of time.

There is so much more to making a pen than people think as I’m sure you’re only too aware. From choosing the wood or resins, cutting, drilling, gluing, turning, sealing, sanding, slitting to spraying them with multiple coats of lacquer the process can be very time consuming. I have spent so much time and effort on selecting the right types of glue or the right type of lacquer; which resins or acrylics work best, it’s exhausting. When I think about it, what makes a great pen is spending the time to get each of the steps perfect as it will show in the end product! I want my customers to go “wow!” when they receive one of my pens. It’s extremely satisfying when a customer contacts me to let me know how pleased they are with one of my pens. To create something that makes such a difference to the customer is what makes it all worthwhile. Having customers return again and again is the biggest indication that I’m doing something right!

There’s an underlying theme in both woodworking and penmanship, and that is the spirit of making. Not specifically talking about one or the other, what are your thoughts on craftsmanship and it’s role in our culture and community, today?

EC: Difficult to pinpoint which I enjoy more, the process or the end result. I think it’s different for everyone. The desire to create is the drive that we all have weather it’s making pens or calligraphy or any other art or craft. The world is changing day by day we now have printers that can print 3d objects which have been designed on a computer somewhere. I think people understand more the importance of something ‘made by hand’, especially with the amount of disposable goods out there nowadays. As for it’s role in our culture and community? Will we always need it? maybe not! Will we always want it? Yes, for sure!

If the perfect calligraphy client walked up to you five minutes from now, who would they be, and what project would they offer you?

EC: The perfect client doesn’t exist! The reason is simple, if you get someone who wants something which is difficult and takes us out of our comfort zone we tend to get all ‘arty farty’ on them muttering to ourselves ‘why can’t they want something simple?’. But these are the clients that make us better, they force us to try different things. As for the project, that falls under the same reasoning. So I suppose the perfect client is someone I don’t know wanting something I’ve never done before!

Outside of actually practicing with the pen or studying examples of writing, what’s the most important thing for someone pursuing excellence in writing to spend their time on?

EC: Exercise is very important, we sit for such long periods it’s easy to get out of shape very quickly. Doing something to keep us active is very important to your health and more importantly to your mental well being. Your brain is a muscle so we need to flex it, recent studies have shown that even the mildest of exercise can sharpen the brain and help with information processing and memory functions. Calligraphy takes a lot of concentration so finding something you like to do regularly (even if it’s just a quick walk) can be very beneficial to our penmanship.

What are you plans for 2017?

EC: Practicing! Always practicing. I’ve started to use a very different grip when holding the pen. Hard to break the old grip, but it will improve my penmanship in the long run. Sometimes we need to take a step back to go forward, as I’m sure you’re aware!

I’ll also be trying to turn some new pen designs I’m working on. When it comes to holders, we are pretty limited with what we can do shape wise, so it’s always a challenge to come up with something unique. Keep your eyes out, though. I’ve got some cool ideas.

A few months ago, You sent me a beautiful straight holder made from Snakewood and African Blackwood. I use it every day. When I asked if you’d be willing to do this interview, you came up with the idea of giving away an oblique sibling to that pen along with this post. That’s incredibly generous of you. What can you tell us about the oblique? I’m assuming, I’m barred from entering?

Edward Curran Giveaway Holder

EC: The oblique is like you say a close match to the straight holder you got from me (One holder is enough for you, so ‘yes’ you’re barred!) It’s made of the exact same materials Snakewood and African Blackwood. These two woods really compliment each other, it’s hard to see from the photos but the African Blackwood has a wonderful grain that gives a nice depth to the wood.

Thanks again for agreeing to chat with me, Ed, I really appreciate it! I really think that this should be enlightening to many people! Keep working hard on those pens, as I’m sure they’ll only get better and better, and I’m incredibly excited to see more artwork from you and this new grip you’ve been working on!

Edward Curran

Edward Curran is a calligrapher and up-and-coming pen maker from Bedfordshire, England whom I had the incredibly fortunate opportunity to become friends with during the IAMPETH Conference in the summer of 2015. Edward is an Irishman, through and through, and our friendship stems from our mutual affection for the pen as well as his incredible patience with this thing I do where I adopt the accent of anyone I meet (Thanks for putting up with me, Ed!). You can find out more about Edward and his work on his site, at, or on Instagram at

Giveaway Rules

UPDATE*** The winner of the giveaway is Lizzie Matthews (@lizziemcalligraphy) from London England. Thanks again to everyone who participated! The comments were wonderful to read, and there were a number of really great entries. I’m proud of everyone for taking the time to consider why ‘handmade’ is so close to our hearts!***

For those of you interested in getting your hands one of dear Ed’s fancy oblique penholders, there are only a couple of things you need to do to enter! Head on over to my Instagram account and repost the giveaway shot with your your thoughts on why we love handmade things so much. Make sure to tag both Edward (@curran_calligraphy) and myself (@masgrimes) in your photo, and use the hashtag #masgrimesgiveaway so we can track your entry! No need to follow either of us (But definitely check out Ed’s other pens!), and multiple entries won’t mean multiple chances to win. This giveaway is not in any way affiliated with or sponsored by Instagram. The winner will be announced on Wednesday morning at 9:00 PST.

As always, feel free to comment below with questions for Edward about any of the topics covered above. I’ll make sure that he sees them!

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