Category Archives: The Learning Process

A Quickstart Guide to Calligraphy

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Let’s get started!

I often get asked on Instagram/Tumblr/Twitter/Facebook about how to get started in calligraphy, and I’m always so happy to hear that! After answering a few messages, I thought it’d be helpful to just put together a “quickstart” guide for anyone who’s thinking of trying calligraphy but not sure where to start.

First of all, you’ll need to decide which type of calligraphy you’d like to try. Different styles require different supplies. A script is also referred to as a “hand,” but please don’t call them fonts! Fonts are for typesetting on the printing press or on the computer, and we are not learning fonts but beautiful scripts, or hands.

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Blackletter – written in Fraktur, using a Pilot Parallel 3.8mm pen and walnut ink

If you’d like to learn Gothic/Blackletter, Roman Capitals, Foundational Hand, Italic Hand – you’d want to use a broad-edge pen (using a nib that’s shaped like a chisel). Your best bet is a Pilot Parallel Pen to start (I recommend the 3.8mm), and if you’re more serious about it, a straight pen holder and a set of Manuscript nibs.

Books I’d recommend: Sheila Waters’ Foundations of Calligraphy. Sheila Waters is a master calligrapher and her book has very thorough step-by-step instructions on the most popular broad pen scripts. I also really like Calligraphy: A Complete Guide by Julien Chazal, and Contemporary Calligraphy by Gillian Hazeldine. These books have everything you need to know to get started: choosing quality tools, understanding the structure of letters, and learning the basic strokes.

If you’re interested in pointed pen calligraphy (using a pointed, flexible nib – which is the majority of what I do), there are two styles that are generally referred to – modern calligraphy and traditional calligraphy.

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My modern calligraphy script. Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bleedproof White ink, oblique penholder made by Michael Sull, Zebra G nib.

Modern calligraphy doesn’t really have a set of rules – you’re basically taking the pointed pen and making it into your own style of handwriting that looks fancy. You use a Straight Pen Holder (it also comes in pretty Sapphire and Garnet colors!) and a pointed nib (I recommend Nikko G for the beginner), and the best beginner’s ink in my opinion is Higgins Eternal Black Ink. Paper to use – Rhodia Grid Pad or Dot Pad, and if you’re like me who also loves going to craft stores – Michael’s Arts & Crafts has Canson Marker Pads (9”x12”) that I stock up on when I get their 40% off coupons. It’s semi-translucent so you can slip a sheet of line paper (guide sheet) underneath.

Book I’d recommend: Molly Suber-Thorpe’s Modern Calligraphy: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started in Script Calligraphy. There are also many classes and workshops available online via Skillshare, as well as Melissa Esplin’s I Still Love Calligraphy class.

Traditional pointed pen calligraphy is what I love the most. The most referred to scripts are Copperplate and Spencerian. They require an oblique pen holder which offsets the nib to the side to help achieve a 52- to 55-degree slant that makes the letterforms so beautiful and elegant. Both Copperplate and Spencerian are very different, and have rules you must follow. It will be frustrating for a beginner at first, but who said calligraphy was easy? :)

For a beginner, I’d recommend a Speedball Oblique Pen Holder. Nib/Ink/Paper are same as above.

Books I’d recommend for Copperplate: Eleanor Winters’ Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy: A Step-by-Step ManualDick Jackson‘s Copperplate Calligraphy, and Gordon Turner’s The Technique of Copperplate Calligraphy.

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Cole Porter lyrics in Copperplate. Bleedproof White ink, vintage Hunt 22 nib in a Jake Weidemann oblique pen holder.

For Spencerian Script, which is American in origin, and more based on handwriting: Master Penman Michael Sull‘s “Learning to write Spencerian script.” I love the combination of simplicity and grandeur in Spencerian, with its nature-inspired shapes and letterforms.

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Basic Spencerian script. Bleedproof White, Zebra G nib, aluminium oblique holder made by Artem Scribendi on Instagram.

Another wonderful book which covers both broad pen and pointed pen scripts is Mastering Calligraphy: The Complete Guide to Hand Lettering by Gaye Godfrey-Nicholls. It not only has instructions that cover the basics of many of the most populuar calligraphy scripts, it also has biographies and works of many well-known calligraphers throughout the world. My calligraphy teacher is in it! :)

Most the supplies/books mentioned above can be found at Amazon (links provided above), Paper & Ink Arts or John Neal Bookseller.

I also recommend visiting the Flourish Forum to join a great online community of calligraphers new and seasoned to share tips, ideas and inspirations.

Last but not least, if you try calligraphy and absolutely LOVE it and can’t imagine a day without it, join your local calligraphy guild!! I cannot stress enough how much the Society for Calligraphy has helped me get started and gave me the opportunity to take classes from world-class calligraphers. Just Google “calligraphy guild [your city]” and see what comes up! Calligraphers are some of the most generous, welcoming, and awesome people I know.

Happy writing!

One Oval At A Time

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I’m getting ready for Master Penman Harvest Crittenden’s online Spencerian class starting in a few days.

I have to say although it may *look* easy, this oval drill is pretty tough. The goal, according to Master C.P. Zaner’s Lessons in Ornamental Penmanship, is to have all the ovals in uniform slant, height, and spacing.

Obviously I have a long way to go – but it can only get better from here!

Roman Capitals with Alisara Tareekes

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Many calligraphers, whether seasoned or just starting out, will agree that Roman Capitals is one of the most beautiful yet difficult hands to master. Its beauty is in its simplicity of form and structure, yet understanding the form and structure and applying them skillfully can take years of mindful practice.

One of the mini classes offered at Letters California Style 2014, “Hacking Roman Capitals: Defeat the divine proportion and rule the flat brush” taught by Alisara Tareekes, explores a new way of learning Roman Capitals by using a special template that she has developed.

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Alisara started the class with a brief introduction of the history of Roman Capitals and also showed us a large sheet of rubbing from the Trajan’s Column (113 AD) where some of the finest examples of Roman Capitals were chiseled into its base. Alisara’s template consists of the same proportions, using die-cut straight and curved lines that make up all 26 alphabets. Each alphabet will be 6” tall. Using Alisara’s handout as a reference, we followed the template to lay down light pencil lines on a large sheet of rice paper. We then took a ¾” flat brush and followed the pencil lines to construct each letter in watercolor. Alisara recommended David Harris’ The Art of Calligraphy: A Practical Guide to the Skills and Techniques for its thorough yet concise brush-lettering instructions for each letter, and walked around giving each of us individual attention.

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The class concluded on a high note, with very nice Roman Capital samples we created to take home on a rice paper scroll! With Alisara’s wonderful template, Roman Capitals now seem a little less daunting and perhaps one day, I too will become a Roman (Capitals) conqueror.

[This class recap was published in the 2014 issue of Calligraph journal, published by the Society for Calligraphy.]

Blackletter: Textura to Fraktur

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Photo by my teacher

Re-posting the photo from my teacher. See how much fun we have in calligraphy class? :)

The last class of Blackletter was this week. I learned a lot and really enjoyed this age-old letterform! It took me a while to “warm up” to Gothic. I found Textura really difficult because it is so structured, but I incorporated it into a fun Halloween project. Once we started moving to Fraktur, I started to like Blackletter more and more. Around Thanksgiving, it began to feel more comfortable and I was able to see some progress.

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American Gothic

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I started a new calligraphy session in the Fall – Gothic/Blackletter. After working on pointed pen calligraphy all summer, getting back to the broad nib pen took some getting used to. We started with Textura which felt very structured, and of course, I didn’t like it at all. But after several weeks of keeping at it, I can finally say: I like Gothic! I just couldn’t get my writing to look as beautiful as I want it to be, but that’s something to work hard for.

Today I decided to have a bit of fun and made a garland for Halloween. After all, nothing’s more perfect for Halloween than the Gothic hand!

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Table Number Three

Table Number Sample

I had fun working on some samples for table numbers recently. I loved how the white ink looks on a slightly textured dark paper!

Table Number Sample

It looks sweet next to my kokeshi doll collection. I think this would make a great table centerpiece for a vintage-style, Asian-themed wedding!

Paper: Strathmore Art Paper
Ink: Dr. Ph. Martin’s Pen White
Nib: Brause EF66