An introduction to calligraphy

If you’ve ever looked at some beautiful calligraphy and wished you could recreate it yourself, you’re certainly not alone. Calligraphy is an ancient art that’s been practiced in Europe since 600 BC, and it’s still enormously popular today. Calligraphy centres around letters and symbols, and in its most basic form, involves writing in artistic lettering using thick and thin lines. Learning calligraphy is relaxing, rewarding and meditative, and just like painting, you don’t need to be good at drawing to learn. If you’re looking for gift inspiration, or to leave a lasting impression with a beautifully handwritten note, then here are six tips to get you started on your calligraphy journey.

1. Start at the beginning

When you’re excited about something, it’s natural to want to jump in headfirst. If you’re eager to create your own beautiful invitations, or write lovely handwritten letters, it’s tempting to skip the ‘boring’ parts once you’ve bought your tools and jump straight into your project.

Starting from the beginning may seem like obvious advice, but you’d be surprised how many calligraphy novices skip over the basics and then feel disappointed when their attempts don’t look the way they’d like. To learn the basics of calligraphy, it’s best to start by having a go at forming strokes – even before you’ve bought any calligraphy tools. You can use a regular pen and paper for this.

Calligraphy letters are made up of strokes. There are downstrokes, when your pen or brush sweeps  down, and upstrokes, when your pen sweeps up. Practicing letter strokes is known as a calligraphy drill, and it’s hugely beneficial to spend time practicing these drills again and again before you attempt to write actual letters or words. It may seem a bit mundane, but mastering individual strokes, will help you master the art of calligraphy as a whole. The more streamlined and effortless your strokes become, the better your calligraphy will look.

There are several different ways you can practice calligraphy drills. You can watch online tutorials on YouTube and have a go at recreating the drills yourself. You can download free, printable drills and copy out the strokes below. Or you can even sign up for free online drill courses, like the Happy Ever Crafter’s ShowMeYourDrills course, where you’ll receive printable workbooks, 20-minute assignments, and daily how-to videos. To learn more about the importance of drills and learning the basics, have a watch of the video below.

2. Get the right supplies

While it’s fine to practice calligraphy drills using a ballpoint pen or a pencil, when you’re ready to take things to the next level, it’s important to have the right tools. If you’re just starting out, or aren’t yet sure calligraphy is for you, it might seem sensible to buy cheaper supplies – but calligraphy tools aren’t all created equal. If you use poor quality tools your lettering may not come out the way you hope, and you might feel disheartened, or wrongly assume that you’re not cut out for this type of art.

If you’re a beginner, you don’t need to buy all the tools, but some of the basics you will want to have to hand are:

  • Nibs: It’s crucial to choose the right nib when you’re starting out. There are several different styles of calligraphy, but modern calligraphy is the style that’s recommended for beginners – and for modern calligraphy, you need a pointed nib. The nibs that are usually recommended for beginners are the Nikko G nibs and the Zebra G nibs, because they’re sturdy and have the right level of flexibility. When you’re starting out, you need to get used to applying varying pressure for different strokes, and when a nib is too flexible, it can make things harder.

  • Pen holder: Once you have your nib, you need a pen holder to put it into. There are two different types of pen holder: straight and oblique. You can use either, and which feels more natural in your hand comes down to personal preference. But generally, straight pen holders are easier to control when you’re new to calligraphy. The Speedball Pen Holder is popular with beginners – or, if you’re happy to spend a bit more, the Tachikawa Comic Pen Holder is considered one of the best.

  • Ink: Your ink should be rich and opaque. Ink that’s too thick or too watery makes it harder to be precise with your strokes. Black ink is always the go-to colour, and Zig Cartoonist Sumi Ink is one of the most popular brands.

  • Paper: Choosing the right paper is an often overlooked part of buying calligraphy supplies, but it’s very important. Getting the wrong type of paper can cause your nib to become stuck, or your ink to bleed through the page. The smoother the paper, the better, as this allows your pen to effortlessly slide over the page. You can buy calligraphy pads on the Scribbler website or over on Amazon.

If you like, you can purchase your calligraphy supplies all together by buying a calligraphy kit. Scribblers stock a Modern Calligraphy Starter Set, or alternatively you can buy either the Sheaffer Calligraphy Maxikit or the Staedtler Steel Calligraphy Pen Set over on Amazon, which are both good sets for calligraphy beginners. If you’re able to, you might also find it helpful to pop into your local art shop to ask for advice and recommendations. Cass Art has a good calligraphy section and has stores located throughout the UK – you can find your nearest stockist here.

Do bear in mind that no matter how good quality your tools are, pointed pens, inks and nibs take some getting used to – especially if you’ve never used a fountain pen before. You’ll need to learn to prep and clean your nib, vary how much pressure you’re using, and keep an eye on your ink supply. The tools you have should come with instructions, and familiarising yourself with these tools often comes down to practice and trial and error – but if you want to find out more about using a pointed pen and ink, you might want to watch the video below.

3. Practice your technique

Even once you’ve figured out how to comfortably hold your pen and when to dip your ink, you may find that your letters still aren’t coming out elegantly. It’s completely normal – and expected – for your first attempts to come out looking shaky and inconsistent. The best piece of advice out there for any budding calligrapher is to practice – a lot! The more you practice, the more natural calligraphy will feel. Just like learning to knit, muscle memory plays a part here, and while writing letters may feel slow to start with, you’ll soon begin to get a feel for the speed, rhythm and pressure. Eventually, writing ornate words and letters will become second-nature.

How much you practice is up to you, but if you’re keen to progress quickly, then try to practise for at least 45 minutes, twice a week. To get practising, you can head over to YouTube and check out the wide range of calligraphy tutorial videos. If you like to receive instruction and guidance while learning, you might want to consider purchasing an online course. Udemy’s Calligraphy for Beginners: Creating Strong Lines and Introduction to Modern Calligraphy Using a Dip Pen and Ink focus on ensuring you’re comfortable using your tools and mastering basic strokes and lines before you move onto the more challenging art of lettering. You’ll learn how to angle your pen and develop your own rhythm.

Another online course with great reviews is the Beginner’s Modern Calligraphy Online Course. For £20 you’ll get unlimited help and support, a 28-page printable worksheet set, and nearly two-hours of video lessons – all of which are captioned for the deaf and hard of hearing. Alternatively, head over to the Modern Calligraphy Co to check out live streamed workshops, pre-recorded online tutorials, and free mini tutorials. If you’re happy to spend a bit more, you might want to check out the four-lesson correspondence course with well-known professional calligrapher Gaynor Goffe, where you’ll learn letterforms and try some writing exercises. However, with the amount of content on YouTube, you can still learn plenty without paying a penny.

If you like learning from books, you may also want to buy a calligraphy book. The Calligrapher’s Bible: 100 Complete Alphabets and How to Draw Them is considered – as the name suggests – to be the calligraphy Bible, and contains 100 different sections as well as plenty of handy advice on how to avoid mistakes. Modern Calligraphy: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started in Script Calligraphy is another popular book. It delves into the fascinating history of calligraphy, provides lots of information on tools, and with clear step-by-step instructions and templates, shows you how to form letters, words and then phrases.

4. Find your inspiration

As you continue to learn and develop your confidence and skills, it’s helpful to keep yourself inspired. Because mastering calligraphy can take some time, it’s not uncommon for beginners to feel uninspired at times – but luckily, finding inspiration can be easy.

There are several groups on Facebook you might want to join: you can join the open group Calligraphists, or request to join the private groups Calligraphy Beginners or UK Calligraphy & Lettering. Here you can see other people’s calligraphy, share your own – and swap tips and advice.

Instagram is also one of the best sources of calligraphy inspiration around, so if you don’t have an account, you might want to think about setting one up – even if you only use it for calligraphy. Simply search for calligraphy related hashtags like #calligraphy and #handlettering, and a whole rabbit hole of calligraphy creativity will open up to you.

You might not be able to emulate all these designs just yet, but try to see them as motivation as well as inspiration. Keep reminding yourself that if you stick at it, these are the types of designs you’ll soon be able to create yourself. Many of the most popular Instagram accounts enjoy chatting to their followers, sharing their favourite tools and techniques, and giving advice, so it’s also a great way to connect with other people. Learning calligraphy involves time, effort and patience, and it’s much more enjoyable when you’ve found a like-minded community, virtual or otherwise.

Some inspiring accounts you might want to follow are Calligrafikas, Pieces Calligraphy, The Postman’s Knock, Kelly Creates, HandLetteredABCs, and Logos Calligraphy – the latter is a must-follow if you’re left-handed! The Instagram calligraphy community is very welcoming, and due to the visual nature of this platform it’s easily the best social media channel for inspiration.

5. Don’t compare yourself to others

While looking at other people’s work is a great way to stay inspired, it’s really important that you don’t compare yourself to other calligraphers. Remember that social media platforms like Instagram only showcase the very best of the best – and on Facebook, people only share the creations they’re proud of. Impressive one-minute YouTube videos probably took at least 10 attempts to get right – and, most likely, years of work. This is the beginning of your calligraphy journey, so try not to compare it to the end of somebody else’s journey.

Go easy on yourself and remember that none of these skilled calligraphers just picked up a pen and started effortlessly looping and swooping like a professional. They started where you’re starting now – at the beginning – and it’s very unlikely their early work looked anything like the designs they might be posting now! Above all, remember that calligraphy is an art form. It’s a way to express yourself and show your individuality. So don’t feel bad because your work doesn’t look just like someone else’s. It isn’t meant to.

6. Use your skills

You don’t have to be an expert calligrapher to make good use of your skills – and thinking about fun ways to try out what you’ve learned is a great way to stay inspired and motivated. There are lots of creative ways you can put what you’ve learned to good use – and even make your home look nicer while you do so. For example, you could write out your favourite song lyrics and phrases and have them framed. You could write motivational quotes on postcards and give them to friends and family – or keep them yourself, for a bit of extra drive. If this sounds like something you’d like to do, have a look at this article on how to make calligraphy quotes into art.

As you progress, you might want to set yourself more ambitious goals and targets. If a loved one is getting married, you could volunteer to write the invitations. You could promise yourself that you’re only going to send handmade birthday cards from now on – take a look at some gorgeous but simple designs here to get inspired. You could decide to calligraph the address of all envelopes you send out – even if they’re just routine letters to your bank! You never know whose day you might brighten when a beautiful envelope arrives on their desk. If you like working with colour, you may even want to branch out into watercolour calligraphy… have a watch of this video to find out more.

Final thoughts…

In our hyper-connected, digitally-overloaded lives, there’s a unique comfort to be found in the personal touch of calligraphy. The simple act of picking up a pen and creating something ornate and elegant from the flow of your hand is enormously satisfying. Putting time aside to learn something new can provide a helpful respite from our busy lives, as well as the current climate – and having beautiful creations to show at the end of it is just an added bonus.

Have you ever tried calligraphy – or are you interested in learning? We’d love to hear your stories and see pictures of your creations! Send us a message at [email protected] or leave a comment below.

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2 thoughts on “An introduction to calligraphy

  1. Avatar
    Katherine BL on Reply

    “The Society for Italic Handwriting”
    is
    a great and established Society to join and read ( or contribute to ) their quarterly newsletters.
    My late father was a member before me and it’s wonderful to read about this ancient art form thriving.

  2. Avatar
    Sue Graham on Reply

    I have wanted to learn this lovely art for some time.Im going to start this week.Something new and creative to learn over
    the winter months and beyond.Thankyou for the inspiration.

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