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Cursive Italic News had a special issue about the Icelandic method in 1985.

Handwritten throughout and lavishly illustrated, a limited supply is still available from the publisher for US$ 3.50 plus postage.

“Two weeks,” I said. “You can have legible handwriting in two weeks.”

A senior manager and I had been discussing type design. He changed the subject and said: “I’m ashamed of my scribbles. I can barely manage capital letters. One of the things I most want in life is decent handwriting.”

I suggested zigzag exercises. They worked: his writing improved beyond all his expectations. It wasn’t hard work. A good approach was all he needed.



Some of these letters are hardly recognizable. Capitals weren’t meant for joined writing. That’s why we have lower case letters.

The changed writing may not win prizes. But it is made with easy movements, and it’s legible.

Hidden letters
Not long ago, friends of mine came to me with their their nine-year old son. He couldn’t write. A remedial teacher had diagnosed “underdeveloped precision movements.” It was nonsense in this case. The boy could open any child-proof container in the house.

Again, I suggested zigzags. They can easily be turned into lettershapes.

The day after, his father called, bursting with pride. The boy had been filling pages of writing, and soon demanded his turn on the telephone. “That was a secret alphabet you showed me,” he said. “All the letters are hidden in it.” His writing is awful, I must admit. But it’s far better, as his parents say, than none at all.

How to make a zigzag
Take a pen in your hand. Move it up and down, as if you were waving goodbye. That’s the movement you need. It could hardly be simpler.

Every hand has its own rhythm and makes its own movement. Try to find your own, and build up your handwriting around it. Scribbles and zigzags are a good start.

Writing a zigzag is easier on lined paper than on blank. Put less pressure on the upstrokes than the downstrokes.

Try to give all the uprights the same slant. And try to keep the distances between them as even as a picket fence. Lift the pen as you move your hand. Writing half a dozen stems between pen lifts is more than enough.

How do you turn zigzags into letters? You depart slightly from a regular movement, just enough to make characters. A closed top becomes the letter a. An extended line makes an ascender.

La Operina
A 32-page book has played a large part in the modern revival of italic handwriting. It was published in Rome, and dated 1522.

The author, Ludouico Vicentino degli Arrighi, couldn’t write enough model sheets to keep up with demand. Instead, he relied on the recent invention of printing.

The most influential manual of italic ever written is probably La Operina di Ludouico Vicentino, da imparare di scriuere littera Cancellarescha. Much of its advice is still the best.

Is italic right for everybody?
Maybe. People aren’t all the same. Handwriting depends on personality and circumstances. Not everybody who learns italic will write it well. But it seems to be a good foundation.

Many teachers of italic say they were ill prepared for their work. They were neither instructed in writing italic nor teaching it to others. I wrote these pages for them.