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A bit of history:

Bamboo reed pens with a split nib have been found in Ancient Egyptian sites dating from the 4th century BC. Reed pens were used for writing on papyrus and were the most common writing implement in antiquity. In Mesopotamia reed pens were used by pressing the tips into clay tablets to create written records. Bamboos are a diverse group of evergreen perennial flowering plants in the subfamily Bambusoideae of a grass family, with giant bamboos being the largest members of that. The origin of the word "bamboo" is uncertain, but it probably comes from the Dutch or Portuguese language, which originally borrowed it from Malay or Kannada.


In bamboo, as in other grasses, the internal regions of the stem are usually hollow. Take note when looking at the pen itself of the hollow chamber and specifically, the gutter that you will use to hold your choice of ink. The pens I am currently using have carved end nibs, not split like the tool a calligrapher might prefer.To make a reed pen, early scribes would take an undamaged piece of reed about 20 cm and leave the end that would be cut into point in water for some time. This ensured that the pen would not splinter when cut. They crafted a series of cuts that would cut the nib of the pen until it was flat enough and pointed. The pointed end was then cut off, not too far from the point, to form a squared end suitable for writing. At the end they would start the split, which would act as a primitive ink barrel, from the tip of the nib and lengthen it until it was of the proper length. They made care not to lengthen it extensively, because the pen was at risk of snapping in half. Reed pens are stiffer than quill pens cut from feathers but don’t retain a sharp point for as long, so in time, this led to them being replaced by quills around the 6th century AD.



In using an assortment of prepared bamboo pens, I can say that in using the tip as well as sides of the pen, the bamboo is less sharp, and the side is now broader than when new.

Here’s a bit about the how bamboo grows:

Bamboos include some of the fastest-growing plants in the world, due to a unique rhizome-dependent system. Certain species of bamboo can grow 36 in within a 24-hour period, at a rate of almost 1.5 inch an hour (equivalent to 1 mm every 90 seconds). This rapid growth and tolerance for marginal land, make bamboo a good candidate for afforestation, carbon sequestration and climate change mitigation.


Unlike all trees, individual bamboo culms emerge from the ground at their full diameter and grow to their full height in a single growing season of three to four months. During this time, each new shoot grows vertically into a culm with no branching out until most of the mature height is reached. Then, the branches extend from the nodes and leafing out occurs. In the next year, the pulpy wall of each culm slowly hardens. During the third year, the culm hardens further. The shoot is now a fully mature culm. Over the next 2–5 years (depending on species), fungus begins to form on the outside of the culm, which eventually penetrates and overcomes the culm. Around 5–8 years later (species- and climate-dependent), the fungal growths cause the culm to collapse and decay. This brief life means culms are ready for harvest and suitable for use in construction within about three to seven years.



Bamboo beyond the Studio:

Bamboos have notable economic and cultural significance in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia, being used for building materials, as a food source, and as a versatile raw product. Bamboo, like wood, is a natural composite material with a high strength-to-weight ratio useful for structures. Bamboo's strength-to-weight ratio is like timber, and its strength is generally like strong softwood or hardwood timber.


One mighty pen, centuries of artists, allowing you to create your signature style!


Ploughman in the fields near Arles, 1888, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

narrative of the medium