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Nine Valuable Tips for Calligraphy Beginners

Updated on August 1, 2016
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Slaine M. Logan hails from the state of North Carolina. She has long been an avid researcher, product reviewer, and health fanatic.

A felt tip pen, great for introducing yourself to the art of calligraphy.
A felt tip pen, great for introducing yourself to the art of calligraphy. | Source

Beginning Your Craft

You have seen how beautiful calligraphy looks on paper, and now you want to become a crafter of the art of beautiful lettering. Like any art, hobby, or career, getting a good start will help tremendously in boosting your desire and accelerating your improvement. Calligraphy is considerably more difficult than it appears when watching an experienced person write. To get the most helpful start, you will need the right tools, and also know how to approach your new interest in the correct fashion. It will result in far less frustration, and far more encouragement and desire to practice this elaborate form of art.

Learn how to Hold the Pen

Writing with a ballpoint pen is far simpler. The rounded end is not an actual point, it is a ball, so the angle will not affect the thickness of the stroke or the letter. A nib on a calligraphy pen is far different. It consists of a slit in a pointed tip that is on one side of the end of the rounded nib. To properly write, it must be maintained at a 45 degree angle. The nib should lead, and not follow the stroke.

Start With a Felt Tip Pen

Felt tip pens have a few basic advantages for a beginner calligrapher. They are extremely easy to use, significantly more so than a fountain or dip pen. It is much more encouraging for the beginner to start practicing this art with a more forgiving piece of equipment.

There is also the price advantage. Due to its much simpler structure and material, a felt tip pen is a mere fraction of the price of a fountain or dip pen, and certainly much cheaper than an entire calligraphy kit.

The other reason is, as interesting or appealing as an activity may look, you will never know how much you really like it until you actually do it. After trying out calligraphy, some people will find that they did not like it as much as they thought they would. Therefore, before investing in a complete calligraphy kit with different handles, nibs, and inks, it is wise to start practicing with a single felt tip pen to just see if this is something you will enjoy enough to do on a regular basis.

If you end up liking calligraphy, and wish to pursue this art, you should move on from a felt tip pen before long. Once you get the hang of basic strokes and letters, you will then need to learn how to use a fountain or dip pen. Felt tip pens should never be used for portfolios or for customer work. They are cheaper precisely because while they are more forgiving, the appearance will clearly be inferior, both due to the inferior structure as well as the grade of ink. Your lettering will, to various degrees, soak through your paper, and the lettering will not have the refined look of the metal nib. If you decide to try out a felt tip pen, it is only to be used for the very initial tryout stage. Once you get the basic idea of letter structuring, and decide you want to pursue this art further, you should purchase a fountain or dip pen, or both, depending on your commitment, and continue your improvement with those tools as soon as possible. These are the pens you will need to produce any meaningful works of art. Also, with fountain and dip pens, remember to regularly clean them, and do so properly.

Three different calligraphy pens and various nibs.
Three different calligraphy pens and various nibs. | Source

Use a Good Beginner’s Nib

As you advance in this art, in addition to exposing yourself to different fonts, you will also expand into different types of pens and nibs of varying refinements. The three basic categories of nibs are round, italic, and stub. The novice should look for a nib that has a medium flex, such as the Nikko G.

Don’t Buy the Best Grades of Ink

Even after you have graduated to a fountain or dip pen, you are still a beginner in calligraphy. So for mere practice, it does not make sense to spend money and purchase the most reputable inks. The better inks should be reserved when you reach the point that you want to establish a portfolio, and for lettering that you want to give or sell to another.

However, you should also not by the worst inks. Avoid purchasing any ink that contains shellac. This is the compound that is utile for some activities because it hastens drying, however it is bad for calligraphy because it can end up clogging and even damaging the nib of the pen. This is especially true with fountain pens, though dip pens are also vulnerable.

Writing Calligraphy is Far Different Than Regular Cursive

While at first glance, calligraphy may seem to be simply more elaborate forms and fonts of cursive writing, the crafting of the letters is considerably different. When you write cursive, you can write out the entire word without having to pick up your pen, with the exception of any Dotson crosses you may have to make. With calligraphy, this is far from the case. Even though the appearance of many of these fonts look similar to cursive, the letters are made with a series of strokes. This ties into our next point.

Begin Writing Words Only After Mastering the Letters

Think back to when you were a small child and were first learning to write. You most likely learned manuscript before cursive. However, their instruction methods had a common denominator in that your teacher had you practice the individual lettering before you began to structure words.

The same applies to learning calligraphy. If you attempt from the beginning to start writing out words, it will only result in your frustration when it doesn’t look as good as you will expect. You may have beautiful penmanship when it comes to regular cursive, but the writing technique, as stated above, is so different that it will require you to start at the most basic level. This not only applies when you are beginning calligraphy, and also holds true whenever you decide to learn a different font. Hold off on attempting to write out words until you have a handle on writing each letter, both uppercase and lowercase consistently with good form.

When you are completely new to the craft, you may want to even get more basic than starting with the letters. It may help you to practice individual strokes first, before you even begin to craft full letters. Once you become proficient at writing at least one font, you can probably skip this step when you expand into another.

There are a wide variety of inks to choose from, in both colors and formulation types.
There are a wide variety of inks to choose from, in both colors and formulation types. | Source

Try Out Different Fonts

Some fonts are easier to write than others. This will also considerably vary with the individual. What one person may find more difficult, another person may find easier. As you begin this journey, look at different fonts and then try them out. See which one seems the most compatible to your natural ability. If that is not the one you find the most beautiful, you can always expand into the ones later that are more pleasing to your eye.

Settle on Mastering One or Two First

After you have given fonts a trial run, it is best to pick one or two and master them first, before expanding into many different types. This especially holds true if you are thinking of making a side or full-time business out of calligraphy. You will go much further if you are able to do a few fonts extremely well, than to be able to do many merely adequately. It is best to pick from the ones you initially find you can do the best. When learning a new art, you are much more likely to quit if you experience a lot of early frustration. Work up to the fonts you find difficult later.

Get Some Calligraphy Practice Every Day

Yes, even though it is a cliché, it still holds true that practice makes perfect. If you want to get good at calligraphy, you need to do it regularly. This is of special importance for beginners. If you are already a master at something, you can afford to walk away from it without losing your sharpness or proficiency. However, for the beginner who has not done it long enough for it to be second nature, failing to do it regularly will result in forgetting some of the techniques you are starting to learn, resulting in setbacks and having to relearn things. Even setting aside 10 or 15 minutes per day is better than nothing at all.

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    • ambertale profile image

      Aina Taurina 21 months ago from England (UK)

      A very good article, thank you for sharing.

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