An Interview with Heber Miranda
Heebs' holders are some of the most beautifully crafted ones I've ever seen! They're hand-carved, with beautiful woods, maintaining and enhancing the natural beauty of the wood, and shaped in a thoughtful way as to keep your hand cramp-free. His sharp sense of design is so apparent in his style, it's a unique and modern spin on the traditional. And to top it all off he's incredibly likable, and forthcoming with his knowledge, and has a super sweet 'stache! His genuinely kind spirit is so apparent in even the smallest interactions on social media, and that's an artist worth following! He fills your feed not only with beautiful pens and images, but with inspiring and uplifting words as well!
The beauty of pen-making is that each pen is a complete reflection and discovery of the pen-maker, you have to figure things out on your own. While that can be frustrating at times, it really helps you to make creative decisions and end up with a product you fully understand and is completely your own. Heebs has been generous enough to share his journey and process with us!
Location: San Diego, CA
Best advice you've ever received:
Besides shop class in middle/high school I had very little woodworking experience prior to making my first holder so I've had to do a lot of research and experimentation but I I'm also very lucky to have met a couple of people who were more than kind with their knowledge--in particular Chris Yoke and Bill Lilly both of whom I can't thank enough. However, I can say that the most impactful advice I've received so far was from Mr. Lilly. It's no secret that I love his pens (I own 7 last time I checked...) not only because I enjoy his designs but because they happen to fit my particular style of writing very well due to their flange. Curious about his thought process behind the design I decided to ask him and was pleasantly surprised with his response, "I just tried different ideas on the flange until I came up with one worked well and that is how I did it..." Expecting an elaborate technical reason, instead I received something that resonated deeply with me as a novice pen crafter--just play around and see what works best for you.
I wish I knew how to...
Stay organized. I tend to overwhelm myself with projects and work but using some strategic planning would certainly alleviate the situation. Sometimes I get distracted and it takes me forever to answer interview questions for awesome people who run awesome sites and make awesome pens...
5 adjectives that describe your business:
Versatile, experimental, approachable, methodical, organic
Favorite tools of the trade:
I love collecting things…meaning I’m a supply hoarder--especially nibs. I’ve gathered and used more vintage and modern nibs than anyone could ever need but I always come back to the Spencerian 1 which for me has the perfect balance of line contrast and flexibility. Of course the fact that it’s incredibly smooth doesn’t hurt at all. I also like to switch it up with vintage Hunt 101s and Brause 66 EFs and more recently I’ve joined the Titanium Zebra G love fest.
As someone who makes holders it’s really hard for me to pick a go-to pen, it’s typically whatever pen is nearest and often happens to be my Blackwell modified 5/8 Century. However I recently made myself a Cocobolo pen using an engraved flange that was gifted to me last year and I can’t stop using it. For anyone just starting out, I recommend the Paper and Ink Arts Hourglass Adjustable--it was my first serious pen and although it was too small for my hand it made my life much easier.
The rest of my favorite calligraphy tools include the typical walnut (in my go-everywhere aluminum inkwell by @artemscribendi) and Moon Palace Sumi along with whatever Rhodia pad is around. One of the unsung heroes of my kit happens to be a small piece of craft leather I picked up at Michael’s for $5 to use as blotter, combined with a couple of sheets of paper it makes the perfect writing surface.
How did you get started in calligraphy and how did you turn it into a thriving business?
I love letters. Everything letters. I’ve always been obsessed with the forms and design of typography but it wasn’t until college that I discovered it’s something people actually study (and can get paid to do). While studying graphic design I incorporated lettering whenever possible inspired by one of the greatest, Doyald Young, which led me to explore older forms of typography and here we are today. I should mention that my first foray into calligraphy ended in failure simply because I didn’t spend the proper amount of time researching tools and techniques—from buying the wrong ink to ill prepped nibs, everything went wrong. Luckily I stumbled upon Pilot Parallel Pens a couple of years ago and they led my right back to pointed pen—a passion which flourished thanks to the amazing people I’ve met through Instagram and of course the gracious members of IAMPETH. Today I rarely do calligraphy for profit, it’s almost strictly something I do for myself and I’m happy to keep it that way (plus I really hate writing addresses).
How did you get started making nib holders?
As the saying goes, Necessity is the mother of invention or in this case a lack of funds is. What began as a fun experiment to see if I could replicate the Bullock flange exploded into an ongoing woodworking lesson inspired by Bill Lilly and Jake Weidmann—in fact one night, as I had to pass up on another of Jake’s ergonomic pens because I couldn’t afford it, I pulled out an old wooden dowel and my xacto knife to begin carving my first pen. The need for a better writing instrument really fueled my desire to keep experimenting, as someone with larger hands it was harder to find a comfortable pen that I really wanted to write with so I was forced to make it myself. Just like my calligraphy journey, pen making began as an extension of a hobby and has become a learning experience. I get to combine my passion for letters and the joy of working with my hands.
What is your favorite part of making holders? What's your least favorite?
I’m lucky that most of my customers give me creative control when making their pens and I thoroughly enjoy that the most. The initial hand carving and design shaping is done on the fly and is either completely new or a variation of previous designs I’ve made and enjoyed—the ergonomics are the only constant. More recently I’ve started to focus on 3-4 somewhat standardized designs I feel connected to in order to streamline the process.
While starting a new pen is my favorite part, finishing a pen is easily my least favorite. Because my pens aren’t lathe turned I have to spend quite a bit of time and effort sanding down the staff and making sure it’s ready to accept the clear coat.
What does your holder process look like from start to finish?
- Let’s see your grain: It all starts with carving out the general shape and ergonomics. Half of the fun here is discovering what lovely surprises the wood will unveil for you--although sometimes the surprises aren’t so charming.
- All in the details: I'm not sure if this is a reaction to the perfectly cylindrical curves of lathe turned pens or an extension of my geometrically heavy graphic design aesthetic but I tend to create flat planes when carving. Or I often find myself on the other extreme creating highly organic shapes inspired by nature--maybe one and the same.
- Oh so much sanding: My hands don’t appreciate this.
- Make it shine: Depending on the customer request and/or wood I decide what kind of clear finish works best. Some woods, especially the dyed birch, tend to darken excessively with most finishes.
- Jewelry: Each pen is finished off with a shiny new flange--for my pens that usually happens to be a nickel silver Bullock
- Flying Home: What seems like a sixteen step process of packing and shipping each pen finally sees them heading to their new owners.
What are your favorite Instagram accounts?
It goes without saying I could fill a whole page with people I admire but I'll start with some of my original calligraphy crushes:
@lindayoshida | @openinkstand | @bienfaitcalligraphy | @melissapher | @thefozzybook and of course @the_md_writes.
Can't forget my fellow pen makers as well, besides the big guys, I'm inspired every time I see new pieces from:
@salmankhattak | @milescalligraphy | @elenakalligraf and obviously the lovely lady behind this shindig @ash_bush (naturally along with Zach's lathe work).
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I still smile like a kid in a candy shop every time I see someone use one of my pens to create beautiful words, I don't think that will ever go away. But if I had to pick something that stands out it would have to be when I get requests to craft a holder used to alleviate specific hand problems that prevent someone from expressing themselves through calligraphy--hearing back that they can continuously use a pen longer than 20 minutes for the first time in over a decade is something special.
What's one of your 'big/scary' goals you'd like to attain for your business in the next couple years?
Branding my business. Visual design and creative direction is what I do for a living and I'm in no rush to turn this into a full blown business but at some point, for logistics alone, I'll have to sit down and create a visual and strategic identity.
Time saving tip for other calligraphers to try out:
Ask questions. That doesn't mean ask about every single thing because art is all about experimenting and finding your way but if it's something completely alien and you're really intrigued it doesn't hurt to ask. Not just about technique either, understanding why people chose the path they did might open your eyes up to something lovely-ask about the why not just the how.
What do you want your legacy for your business to be?
In case anyone is wondering Heebs is just a nickname my friends call me. And you are my friends. Calligraphy is something I do for fun and it's the way I'm going to keep it. I make pens for my friends and their friends and the people that find me through them. I don't use hashtags or advertise, my etsy hasn't seen a single pen listing and I don't have a business name. I'm just Heebs and I love making the tools that others will use to create amazing art.