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!

2 thoughts on “A Quickstart Guide to Calligraphy

  1. Rita

    I found your blog through your Instagram. So inspiring and helpful! Really appreciate posts like this :) Thank you.

    Reply

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