selected excerpts from a students' field guide by High Birdmistress Gwim of the Qin Citadel Rookery
As Yatun writes: "the Nib is, among the Master's accoutrements, uniquely both superfluous and focal [...] it is nothing by itself, yet becomes at the moment of ritual the locus of the Master's soul, the divine Universe, and the Energies of the World."
Being a beginning alcalligrapher, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the many and varied options extolled by your peers and forebears. Your teacher, if you are lucky enough to have one outside of this book, will likely express a preference to which they may well entreat you to adhere; I attempt to offer such guidance, though I focus here chiefly on listing below the common options, that you might make your own decision.
Nibs come in two major varieties, being pointed or broad. A broad nib is often looked down on as offering less flexibility of expression in exchange for an easier wield, but can in fact achieve a similar range of artistry with a practised hand, though the methods are different to those commonly taught, owing more to geometry (cf. Agost's treatise on planar angles).
The pointed nib is the common choice, but requires a delicate hand that its most vocal proponents often lack. It is the quieter and subtler of the two shapes, less mechanical and thereby lending itself to the traditional forms and holds most frequently taught but so rarely mastered.
There is also a recently fashionable blunted or "stub" nib, which lies somewhere between the two. I recommend this for beginners only, as I doubt its effectiveness in the higher forms.
While the make of a nib is, in the cosmic sense, largely inconsequential, a soft yet firm metal allows energy to flow freely and provides enough flexibility to recreate the forms freely without sacrificing precision. The metals most commonly used in nibs are as follows.
[On Copper] Often considered base due to their cheapness and lesser durability, copper nibs are by no means of inherently inferior quality. I would recommend them especially to new alcalligraphers, as they can be replaced easily if damaged during recitals. I have seen them used effectively at even the highest forms, and a copper nib kept well will last much longer than their reputation suggests. Bronze is also an excellent alternative for a more experienced Master, with very similar resonances.
[On Steel] The most common, still in use as the Royal standard issue due to its excellent strength and resistance. The added hardness of steel does require delicacy when handled, especially if using a pointed nib, but for the basic forms there are few better options. The metal's resonance with the Winter house also affords it unique strengths in some less common forms, though a beginner used to the resonance of warmer metals may find the adjustment difficult.
[On Gold] A hugely popular choice among those who can afford it, gold benefits not only from its excellent softness but also its durability and strong Summer resonance. However, those who utilise it as a mere status symbol are frequently kept in check by the metal's unwieldy level of softness; a truly light and delicate touch is needed to handle a gold nib, making the learning curve steeper than with other metals. In the hands of a true Master, however, there is little more effective at the higher forms.
There are other options in material, such as the practice of tipping the nib with platinum or even silver. These should be avoided until the practitioner is familiar enough with the basics to take on the additional complications in resonance added by mixing metals..
It is a well-used metaphor, and trite, but as beginnners it serves us well: if the Universe is whence we draw the water and the flame, and the Master is the vessel, then the feather used is akin to tea leaves. One can expect to make "tea" - that is, "magick" - with anything, though the taste and effects will vary with type, quality, and the skill with which the ritual is performed.
Given the spectra of birds available to us here in the great citadel, the feather used in learning the forms is largely the choice of the teacher. Unlearned practitioners use the tail or wing feathers of common pigeons, or perhaps still worse magpies, to achieve the base forms and distasteful bastard magicks.
As a Royal student you will likely begin with raven or crow, a purer class of bird and the Royal standard for even trained guards. The powerful Winter alignment of the birds themselves is inherent within their feathers (though take heed that this correlation is not uniform across all species, as commonly illustrated through the case of the male peafowl - cf. Merittom's Bestiaries), and is ideal for practising the forms required for the citadel exams, and serves as a functional starting point on the lifelong journey towards Mastery.
Beyond these, a Master's selection is their own. For those with a tutor, a practice feather will likely be gifted - though do not expect the same type as the teacher's, which has likely taken them many years of progression and ritual to gain competence in. You will likely have cause to practice with many types before settling on a preference - while the old adage that "every feather is a spell" is far from academically correct, there are forms limited to certain classes or even species of bird.
I can offer little advice in this matter, other than to remember one's resonances - it is not too great a measure to take into account one's birth chart! - and to not waste time on delusions of grandeur. Many a would-be Master has failed to realise their true potential after frittering away decades on failed quests for the tail feathers of the Phoenix or the Crowning Bird. Better to learn through ritual, practice, and performance, than high-minded ideals.