For eight years, I’ve answered calligraphy questions in various forms: some questions come to me in blog post comments, others via email, and still others in workshops. For many people, a simple answer or two can make all the difference in making progress. Today, I’ve put together this list of dip pen calligraphy FAQs in the hopes that you’ll find solutions to help you to keep going, too!
1. How long does it take to learn calligraphy?
This question, of course, depends on how much time you have to dedicate to calligraphy. It only takes a day to get the mechanics of it down (thus the popularity of single day calligraphy workshops)! But proficiency, of course, takes practice. For most people with a fairly busy schedule, it will take two months until you’re making things that you’re modestly proud of. You can find my two month plan for learning calligraphy here.
2. Can you teach yourself calligraphy?
Sure! I’ll use myself as an example. I’ve got an entire blog post that explains how I learned calligraphy (read it here). Here’s the gist of it: With the help of the internet, I started teaching myself calligraphy in 2012. Knowledge came to me in little scraps: everything I saw helped me to learn, albeit in a roundabout sort of way, so it took me about a year to feel comfortable with my skill level. You’ve got an advantage over me because the TPK website exists, and with it, you’ve got comprehensive online courses and tons of helpful articles.
3. What supplies do you need to get started with calligraphy?
I recommend starting your calligraphy journey with a straight pen, a Nikko G nib, sumi or India ink, and 32# laserjet paper (try to buy HP Premium brand). If you’re right-handed, it’s also a good idea to get a brass-flanged oblique pen! You can find a detailed article over how to DIY a calligraphy kit here.
4. Is calligraphy more difficult for lefties?
It’s difficult to put all lefties into one general group. Lefties who don’t have a problem keeping their hand under what they’re writing (in everyday life) generally experience a smoother transition into calligraphy. Lefties who write with a hook might have a little bit more trouble figuring out the optimal hand position. Whether you’re right- or left-handed, calligraphy success is all in finding the grip that works for you. Your grip should facilitate comfort and give you the power to exert balanced pressure on both the left and right tines of the nib. Here are two helpful articles for lefties on TPK:
5. What causes ink to bleed?
Ink bleed is one of the most common beginner issues, and it almost always has to do with your materials. Paper is everything, and you can learn about the optimal papers to use in this article! My favorite practice paper is 32# laserjet because it’s wonderful for the dip pen and so economical. If you have to write on paper that’s not conducive to calligraphy, you can try thickening up your ink with gum arabic to discourage the ink from quickly soaking into the paper.
6. Why won’t my ink descend from the nib?
Many calligraphy learners are shocked to find that, despite having a full nib of ink, the ink won’t descend onto the page. This commonly happens for one of two reasons: either you need to properly prepare your (new) nib, or you need to dilute your ink.
7. How do I know when to switch nibs?
If your nib’s tines have split, your nib feels uncomfortable and scratchy, or your upstrokes are too wide, it’s probably time to switch out your nib. You can find a detailed article about how to know when to put in a nib into retirement here.
8. How can I correct calligraphy mistakes?
Calligraphy mistakes can be tricky because ink is messy when it’s wet and permanent when it’s dry! Usually, the best you can do is try and scrape off the mistake with an X-Acto knife or — if you’re working on white paper — paint over the mistake with Bleed Proof White ink. You can read about additional error solutions in this article.
9. Can you create calligraphy if you have messy everyday handwriting?
The important thing to remember about calligraphy is this: at its core, it’s art. It’s not writing. Calligraphy is an activity that requires intention, artistry, and concentration. Jotting down notes in your everyday scrawl, on the other hand, tends to be an automatic, no-thought-required type of thing! (As a side note, if you are interested in improving your handwriting, you can check out the 8 Tips to Improve Your Handwriting article.)
10. Can you make money with your calligraphy skills?
You can absolutely use your calligraphy to make some extra money. TPK’s roots are in custom envelope calligraphy; I loved getting to write on envelopes for clients’ events! Later, I did wedding invitation design, made custom maps, and designed logos. Here are some articles that can help you to get started monetizing your skills:
- 8 Tips for Starting a Calligraphy Business
- How to Know If You’re Ready to Sell Your Calligraphy Services
- How to Address Envelopes for Clients
- 10 Items That I Successfully Sold on Etsy: A Throwback Post
11. What’s the difference between modern and traditional calligraphy?
Modern calligraphy is, essentially, anything that is not traditional calligraphy. If the calligraphy isn’t strictly Spencerian, Copperplate, Uncial, etc., it’s modern. I love modern calligraphy because its loose rules give the writer a lot of freedom and the opportunity for creative expression! You can click here to read a detailed article about modern vs. traditional calligraphy.
12. What projects can you make with calligraphy?
This question is one that I venture to answer again — and again (and again!) — here on the TPK blog. It’s important to me to find new, innovative ways to use calligraphy … implementations that go beyond the envelope. You can find a list of my favorite “real life” calligraphy projects by clicking here.
13. What are the benefits of learning calligraphy?
The act of learning calligraphy can contribute to your happiness by providing you with a fun challenge! Once you’ve gained some mastery in the art, I think you’ll enjoy using your calligraphy to add beauty to everyday life (like paying rent). You can use your skills to delight friends and family by designing their wedding materials (like these invitations) or making them gifts (like this ampersand). If you’re anything like me, you’ll love the stress relief that calligraphy can provide! At the end of the day, when my toddler is asleep, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than at my desk with my pen in hand.
14. How do you get smooth, fluid flourishes?
My best advice for flourishing is to make a pencil draft first! Sometimes, a certain flourish will seem like a good idea until you try it out. It’s better to learn that a flourish doesn’t work in pencil rather than in ink. As you make flourishes, try to think in ovals rather than circles. Flourishes that look more like a circle often have a less professional look. Finally, take it slow! Think of each stroke juncture as an opportunity to take a tiny break and gather up the confidence to make another lovely, confident stroke. For more information, see the articles below:
- Making Fabulous Calligraphy Flourishes (Includes Free Worksheet)
- Calligraphy Flourishing for Beginners + Free Worksheet
- Free “Macbeth” Calligraphy Flourishing Worksheet
15. What is the top problem that calligraphy learners run into?
Problem areas vary for each calligraphy learner, but in general, I notice that pressure exertion gives beginners trouble! As you’re writing, it’s important to exert balanced pressure on both tines of the nib. Otherwise, your nib will catch on paper, you’ll have issues with ink flow, and it will be difficult to control the thickness of your strokes. To learn how to fix this and the other seven beginner issues that I often see, read this article.
No matter where you are in your calligraphy journey, I hope that you find inspiration in these calligraphy FAQs! If I missed something here, please feel free to ask in the comments; it would be my pleasure to help you out. Thanks so much for reading, and happy writing!