Adventures in American Penmanship: A Weekend With Michael Sull

by Clara Wiersma September 26, 2018 3 min read

Adventures in American Penmanship: A Weekend With Michael Sull

On November 30th to December 2nd 2018, The Paper Seahorse brings master penman Michael Sull to Tampa for four intensive workshops on Cursive Handwriting, Creating Your Artistic Signature, Introduction to Spencerian Script, and Decorative Flourishing.

The workshops will start with American Cursive, a 3-hour workshop designed to help attendees improve their everyday handwriting skills.

artistic signature with michael sull

Creating Your Artistic Signature, where you will develop a suite of your signatures that can be used in various settings. You will work one-on-one with Mr. Sull to make something as unique as your thumbprint. 

spencerian with michael sull

Beginning Spencerian is an introduction to the 19th century script used in official correspondence prior to the widespread use of the typewriter and the de-facto American standard writing style from about 1850 to 1925. This style is the pre-cursor to modern calligraphy!

flourishing with michael sull

Decorative Flourishing is where you will learn how to embellish your lettering, calligraphy and more. In this beginning class, you will create elegant and polished finishing touches on your handwritten projects.



What is Spencerian Script?

Before the laptop, word-processor, and typewriter, there was Spencerian handwriting. From 1850 on, it was the default for official documents, correspondence, and legal certificates. Uniquely American, it was developed to standardize the style of script used across the growing country when the national population was only 17 million.

Spencerian was at the time and is still today cherished for its improved speed and efficiency and precise slanted style of liquid shapes, meant to mimic nature and be pleasing to the eye.

Two notable corporate logos remain today in the classic Spencerian style: Coca-Cola, and Ford Motor Company.

Why Spencerian Matters

As the first widely adopted American script style and a departure from those developed in Europe, Spencerian is part of our national identity. It’s an art form that requires practice, broad cognitive function, not unlike playing a musical instrument. It is wholly analog, in-the-present creation that many people now crave in our modern, instant-gratification world.

  • Beautiful, unique, and a skill to be built upon
  • Impressive as a hobby, party trick, and increasingly in-demand skill for signage design, wedding invitations, and other creative realms
  • A way to unplug, focus, use your hands, and express yourself creatively

Calligraphy vs. Handwriting

What differentiates calligraphy from “fancy” handwriting? Calligraphy incorporates special writing tools such as broad tips and brushes, and elevates handwriting to an art form. Calligrapher Katharine Scarfe Beckett expands on the definition of calligraphy in What is Calligraphy?


As technology rushes toward VR, AI, and the complete digitization of our lives, reverting back to “analog” methods presents a bevy of proven benefits. 

Many school curriculums have dropped handwriting and cursive instruction in favor of developing digital competencies, but handwriting will always be more authentic (a “signature”) and intentional (less editing ability) than typing on a keyboard or tapping on a screen.

Psychological studies have also linked handwriting to the positive development of fine motor skills. In learning to handwrite, the brain must locate each stroke relative to other stokes, learn and remember appropriate size, slant, and feature detail of each letter, and develop categorization skills. Cursive writing is even more valuable because it is more demanding than simple printing. Cursive is also faster and more likely to engage students to develop a personal style and ownership of their skill.

From Master Penman Michael Sull: "Handwriting is the intimate expression of emotions, wishes and dreams made visible on paper. Through this personal medium we have the privilege of sharing our humanity with everyone, or with no one at all. It is an intensely private occupation that can never be exactly duplicated, yet always reveals a glimpse of the writer’s soul.” (Why write? Penmanship for the 21st Century | Jake Weidmann | TEDxMileHigh)

Michael Sull

Michael Sull (born 1949) is an IAMPETH master penman and author living in Mission, Kansas, United States. An expert on penmanship, he was Ronald Reagan's calligrapher after his Presidency and is known worldwide for his skill and teaching ability. He regularly teaches handwriting, calligraphy, and engrossing programs throughout the United States, Europe and Asia.

Considered America’s foremost living Spencerian penman, he is author of Spencerian Script and Ornamental Penmanship, Learning to Write Spencerian Script, and American Cursive Handwriting, and publishes various other educational materials focusing on pen writing. He also manufactures period style oblique dip pen equipment for use by penmen today. —Wikipedia

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