The Sinister Scribe – Lefty Calligraphers

Right side and left side used to be called “Dexter” and “Sinister” and had no particular connotations.  Today in the SCA there are people who refer to left handed scribes as sinister scribes simple because of the old word usage.

Left handed scribes get all sorts of advice when they start out and as they continue on.  Usually from right handed scribal teachers.  Some advice is good and the instructor is giving their best advice but simply put muck of the time it is wrong or insufficient.  I myself am a right-handed scribe so I don’t claim to be any better.

So instead, I have resources from some of the best people around.  So let’s do some mythbusting about sinister scribes.

Myth: Sinister Scribes must learn how to do calligraphy right handed.

Busted!  No.  Scribes using dip pens of all sorts can do calligraphy with their left hand.  Some of the best professional calligraphers in the world are left handed and do calligraphy with their left hands.

Myth: Sinister scribes should write using a “hook” hand.

Busted:  No. They can write naturally and in a comfortable position or using the “hook” also called a curl.

IAMPETH is a leading national organization of professional calligraphers, engrossers and penman. They have wonderful resources free online and that includes their section on left handed calligraphy.  Of particular use is this simple handout titled “Calligraphy and the Left Handed Scribe” written by Jodi Christiansen

Myth:  Sinister scribes should try to mimic Dexter Scribes.

Busted:  No, the angles are different.  Here is a wonderful video from Patricia Lovett showing some of the differences in her video “Calligraphy – Left Handers

Myth: Writing Left Handed inside the SCA Period (pre-1600) was considered bad.

Mixed:  It really depended on where and when you were and what the dominant religion and culture was saying at the time, if anything, about it.  I don’t claim to be an expert but do keep in mind that when you were and where you were really caused a lot of things to be different.

Myth: Sinister Scribes should use left handed pen nibs.

Mixed:  I know sinister scribes who despise left handed nibs and prefer flat nibs and cut their quills flat as well and I know sinister scribes who find left handed nibs to be God sends.  I personally recommend that sinister scribes give them a try.  If they help, use them.  If they don’t, don’t use them.

John Neal Bookseller has some wonderful resources and materials for sinister scribes.  I highly recommend him as a resource for all scribes.  For those scribes in the SCA it is a wonderful experience to talk to them on the phone, they speak scadian.

I hope this helps you as well as any left handed scribes out there. Share this with them and hopefully we can get left handed scribes the resources they need to move forward in the art that they love just as much as the rest of us do!

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5 responses to “The Sinister Scribe – Lefty Calligraphers

  1. Thanks for this Ian. I’ve been doing left-handed calligraphy for many years now, starting with Speedball LC nibs (left-handed calligraphy). I wrote with a ‘hook’ when I was little and my mom (also left-handed) taught me to keep my hand in line with my arm. I won’t say it made calligraphy possible, but it did make learning easier. The real eye opener for me was seeing a left-handed Hebrew scribe. Writing from right to left in a hand where the broad strokes are mostly horizontal. Her quill was cut at an extreme angle allowing her to keep her hand at a natural angle.
    Thanks again for this post.
    Aron Sinister

  2. Nice article, Ian.

    I shall share this if I may, with the Facebook Group, Calligraphy for the Left-handed, and at Bill’s Space page for the Left handed Calligrapher.

    Cheers. Bill.

  3. Pingback: The Left-handed Calligrapher. | BILL'S SPACE·

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