Paper & Ink Arts Instagram Takeover, Day 2: The importance of guidelines

Italic Hand is probably what most people think of when they hear the word “calligraphy.” I think it’s one of the scripts that look easy but is actually quite challenging to do well.

When I first started to learn Italic Hand, I found it very challenging because not only do you have to keep in mind the angle of the pen, but also the letter slant. For those who are beginners to Italic Hand, I strongly recommend using guidelines as you practice. You can use an online guideline generator, draw your own guidelines, or a practice pad that already has lines drawn in.

A good exercise for beginner practice is to draw your own guidelines by creating a nib ladder. When learning a broad edge script such as Italic, it’s a good idea to start with a larger nib like 3mm to 2mm, so it is easier to see where you may need improvement. A recommend proportion for Italic is 4:5:4, meaning 4 nib-widths for the ascender, 5 for the x-height, and 4 for the descender. Even if you don’t have a metric ruler, you can use your nib size and its ladder as a guide. Do use a protractor to measure out the letter slant and draw them in, especially if you’re used to writing pointed pen scripts that are heavily slanted, such as Copperplate or Spencerian. This prep work of drawing guidelines may feel tedious at first, but will prove to be invaluable for a beginner to really get a feel of the proportions of the script, develop muscle memory, gain confidence in finding your own rhythm, and to get the right feel for the pen angle and letter slant.