Papier Passions

Express Yourself: the Writing Styles of Our School Years

From bubble writing to felt tips on the OHP.




Nina Cosford

Whether you were lugging folders from classroom to classroom in the age of the filofax, the flip phone or the touch screen, for most of us, our school days are the period of our life when we most often put pen to paper.

And although certain teachers may have enforced strict handwriting rules, creative deployments of pen on paper or pencil case (or toilet door) were some of the few genuine opportunities for self-expression in school.

Here, we look back at this golden age of felt tip pens and the most fondly remembered scribbling styles of our school years.

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There was a once a moment in every pre-teen’s life when you realised that the limit of handwriting wasn’t just neatly joined-up letters. The power of pen and paper allowed you to create a reading folder-load of fun fonts. But bubble writing was the style that everyone loved the most. It was cute, it was cuddly, it was like the writing you’d see in cartoons. Best of all, it wasn’t too difficult to do. Once discovered, every class project would get the rainbow-coloured, inflated-letter treatment. Homework, textbooks, folders, your journal, the ‘keep out!’ sign on your bedroom door. This was you now. Bubble writing 4 lyfe.

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An hour deep into double maths, at the back of the class, in the back of your exercise book, you would be filling page after page with your signature. Time very well spent in your opinion. You didn’t need to know algebra. How would that help your glittering career in the latest chart-smashing girl band? You needed to nail the speed of your autograph so you wouldn’t be stuck with those future hordes of adoring fans for too long. Of course, you also had to check what your name looked like with the surname of your celebrity crush/Ashley from form 2AF.

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We don’t mean any old mindless doodles, we mean the little illustrations you might specifically add in the margins of a piece of work to give it a little more life – like stars and smiley faces, the ancestors of emojis. They may have been in danger of being encircled in red pen by unenlightened teachers but it was a price you were willing to pay; you were an artist and in this instance, your 200 words on the formation of stalagmites was your canvas.

When you really wanted to imprint your personality on the page, out came the glitter pens and the stickers. A puppy here, a unicorn there. They might not have much to do with upward-growing mounds of mineral deposits but boy, oh boy, did they look cute. And you knew enough by then to know that that’s what really mattered.

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Expressing our love for our most obsessed-over soap stars, writing song lyrics and waving the flag of our favourite sports teams, graffitiing on our pencil cases and backpacks allowed us to do just this. If you were rocking a dark canvas backpack, Tipp-Ex was your medium of choice. Hard to have much control over the style – though that worked to your advantage if you were promoting your kinship with Korn. The halls became your catwalk and anyone walking behind knew who your favourite band was. The ultimate dream was to receive an impromptu high-five from a fellow fan in the year above.

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It wasn’t just the students who used writing to unleash some pent-up creativity. Before interactive whiteboards, before Powerpoint, there were overhead projectors – or OHPs as the cool kids breezily referred to this OG of electric-powered classroom presentation tools. The creative teacher’s chance to get a little playful.

Extended lesson plans that would have otherwise been scrawled, wiped and scrawled across a monochrome board now had the chance to be created beforehand and with added colourful, felt tip flair. We’re talking rainbow writing, words in clouds, words in spiky-looking clouds and other sky-based phenomena turned typographical elements – like shooting stars instead of bullet points. But did we notice our educator’s extra efforts to engage our attention and better our education? Hell no! We were too busy practicing our signature in the back of our exercise book.

Feeling the urge to personalise your notebook with just a little more stylish maturity? Try these.