How to Get Started with Calligraphy

If you're one of those fun people who is interested in learning pointed pen calligraphy but you're just not sure where or how to get stared, then this post is for you! I'll give you my recommendations on what supplies to purchase, how to prep your nib, hold your pen, and a few tips and great resources to help you continue on your calligraphy journey. I hope this is helpful!

ANATOMY OF A PEN

Before you get started, I think it's important to understand the tools you're working with and how they function. Thankfully, calligraphy requires only a few supplies and is easy to understand. Aside from ink and paper, the two things you'll need to create your calligraphy magic are a pen and nib.

Oblique pens were originally created for right handed individuals to help them achieve the slanted angle that you see in traditional calligraphy. BUT there are plenty of righties that use straight holders (including me!) so it's really what feels most natural to you. 

Nibs come in a variety of styles but all have the same basic anatomy: two tines that create the tip and a vent hole that holds your ink as you write. The tines on your nib are what give you that signature thick to thin stroke that you see with calligraphy. Here's a quick video that explain how it works:

SUPPLIES

The great thing about calligraphy is it only requires a few tools. Unfortuantely, depending on where you live, the correct supplies can be difficult to pin down. If you're here on Oahu, the only store I've found that carries true calligraphy supplies is Hawaiian Graphics. Otherwise, I turn to PaperInkArts.com or Amazon.

Pen: I recommend that you purchase a plastic holder when you're starting (which are inexpensive and easy to clean) and try out both an oblique and a straight holder. 

Nibs and Ink: There are so many types of nibs to choose from, but the two that I recommend when you're first starting are the Nikko G and Brause Steno (otherwise known as the Blue Pumpkin). As you continue learning, you should test out as many different types of nibs as you can - it's part of the fun! 

For ink, I like using Kuretake Sumi Ink or Dr. Martin's Bombay for colored ink. The ink you use WILL have an impact on how you write, so research carefully on what you're buying and make sure it's suitable for pointed pen calligraphy.

Paper: I usually have the following types of paper on hand: Strathmore Drawing Paper or Strathmore Bristol PadGridded Rhodia Pad and a thicker copy paper like Hammermill 28 lb. Overall, choose a smooth, acid-free paper that isn't too absorbent or fibrous (which will make your ink bleed or nib snag). Tracing paper can also be helpful.

PREP YOUR NIB & ASSEMBLE YOUR PEN

All nibs come from the manufacturer coated with an oil that helps prevent rusting. However, this oil will actually prevent ink from adhering to the metal nib and flowing smoothly. As soon as you're ready to use a new nib, you'll need to strip away the oil. Some do this by passing the nib quickly through a flame but I find it's easiest to prep the nib using toothpaste. Simply use a Q-tip or your finger to rub a very small amount of toothpaste all over the nib and then wipe it clean with a cloth.

Now you just need to assemble you nib to your pen. It's super easy - here's how:

HOLDING YOUR PEN

Hold your calligraphy pen the same way you would to write with a regular pen or pencil. Make sure your vent hole is facing up and you keep a relaxed grip that close to the top of the pen, but not choking it.

Maintain a relaxed grip, keep your elbow free (not resting on the table/desk) and sit up straight! Give your arm more freedom to write by placing your paper at a 45 degree angle, like this:

It's best to work on a smooth flat surface. Although not pictured above, you should always work with some sort of cushion under your paper, like a blotting paper or a few extra sheets of paper. This will help your nib flow smoothly over the paper and achieve those wonderfully thin hairline strokes. It also helps to preserve your nib, which can be damaged by writing on a hard surface.

As you write, make sure you occasionally wipe your nib clean. You don't want to let ink dry on your nib as it makes it difficult to clean and shortens the life of your nib. When you're done writing, clean your nib and holder (using water is fine) and dry completely before storing.

RESOURCES

I hope this blog post was helpful and that you learned something new! Now is the time to start practicing and build up muscle memory in you hand. Practice as often as you can and reference a book, instructional video or some sort of alphabet practice sheet to make sure you're forming your letters correctly. Here are a few resources you may want to check out:

Online classes:

Books:

Websites:

Happy writing!