Arm Writing 101
What is Business Penmanship?
Business Penmanship (aka business script, business writing, practical penmanship, or Palmer Method) is a script that evolved from traditional Spencerian (or shaded) script to serve more practical, or business, purposes. Business script features simplified forms without shading that are easier to execute with arm movement. Examine the two examples below to see how business script is a simplified version of shaded script.
Example of Shaded (Spencerian) Script
Example of Business Script
Will I write faster with my arm?
Writing with your arm will likely increase the speed of your handwriting, but mostly because you can write for longer without stopping. When you write with your fingers, the wrist and hand tire quickly and you need to take breaks, which slows you down. When you write with your arm, there is no fatigue and you can continue writing without taking breaks.
For more on how to write faster, go to this Lesson.
What is the difference between Palmer Method and other arm movement methods?
Palmer Method was a popular arm movement method of writing created by A. N. Palmer in the late 1800s. While arm movement writing went out of favor in the 1900s, Catholic schools in America continued to teach the Palmer Method. I’ve heard one anecdote that the Palmer Method was being taught at a New Jersey Catholic school as late as the 1980s. It is for this reason that many people still know of the Palmer Method today while other arm movement methods have largely been forgotten.
Palmer Method isn’t anything special though. It is merely a brand name. In general, Palmer Method is similar to all of the other arm movement methods that were taught in the Golden Age of Penmanship. One of the more significant differences is that the Palmer Method places emphasis on the use of pure arm movement in writing. In contrast, educational materials published by the Zaner-Bloser Company stressed the importance of combined movement between the arm, hand, and fingers.
Is there a certain grip I should be using to write with my arm?
There is a certain way to hold the pen that will make it easier to write with your arm. This grip is discussed in Lesson #1. This grip will feel uncomfortable, but like anything else, you get used to it.
What matters more than grip is that you are utilizing the arm muscles to move the pen. That grip that works best for you might look very different from the recommended grip, but then again, it probably won’t.
How high should my chair and desk be for writing with my arm?
You’ll have to experiment a little to figure this out for yourself, as every person is unique. If your shoulders are shrugged while you are writing, your desk is to high. If you feel the need to lean over the desk, the desk might be too low. If you do a lot of writing in these uncomfortable positions, you’re going to hurt yourself. Most desks are too high, which can be remedied by sitting on a book, pillow, or folded blanket.
What kind of pen do you use?
I typically use a straight pen holder and a vintage Esterbrook 1000 School pen. This is a traditional pen that you have to dip into ink as you write. If you are serious about writing with your arm, I suggest you purchase a straight holder, some nibs, and ink. Of course, a ballpoint pen or pencil is a great way to begin your practice.
What kind of ink do you use?
For arm movement writing, I enjoy using Higgins Eternal Black or Walnut ink.
Study and Practice
What book should I study from?
There are so many classic penmanship books available for free online and I recommend you read at least two different books. Reading multiple perspectives will give you a better idea of how writing with your arm works.
You can see which books I recommend on the Study Resources page.
How much should I practice?
This depends on what you want. My general advice is to practice as much as you want to. If you practice more than that, it’s going to be a struggle and you will burn out eventually. Most people that learn to write with their arm successfully had long periods of time where they practiced on a daily or almost daily basis.
I’ve made a video that goes into this question further, which you can watch below.
How long does it take to learn to write with your arm?
I can only guess that it takes most people between one and six months to become comfortable writing with their arm. Here are some of the key factors that will determine how long it will take you:
- How serious are you about learning to write with your arm?
- Are you practicing on a regular basis or do you go long stretches without touching the pen?
- Do you have long arms that are harder to control?
- Do you have a sensitive touch?
- Have you developed your fine motor skills through other activities?
- Have you developed your ability to perceive shapes and space?
The bottom line is that if you really want to learn, none of the questions above matter. Just pick up the pen and start learning.
I have no control when I try to write with my arm. Am I doing something wrong?
You could be doing many things wrong, but in general I’ve never met anyone that found learning to write with their arm easy. The arm is a relatively large piece of machinery and when we ask it to control a pen to write small letters, we are asking it to do something it was not designed to do.
Learn more about why it is difficult to write with your arm in Lesson #3.
How long have you been practicing your handwriting?
I began studying handwriting in July 2016. I started learning to write with my arm in August 2016. I studied almost every day for at least 20 minutes until the Fall of 2019. It took me about 3 months of daily practice before I started to feel like I could control the pen with my arm.
Today, I continue to practice on a regular basis, but not every day.
While I learn to write with my arm, is it okay to write with my fingers for practical purposes?
It’s probably going to take a while before you feel comfortable writing with your arm. If your arm writing isn’t legible yet, then by all means use your fingers when writing anything that needs to be read. As long as you are getting your practice in with your arm, you will continue to progress.
Additionally, there’s always going to be a time and place for writing with your fingers. Writing with your arm requires a proper setup as far as tools, chair, and desk. Oftentimes you don’t have that luxury. In fact, I pretty much only write with my arm when I’m at my desk in my studio.