My name is Elisabeth, and I’m writing this post to help you learn more about left-handed calligraphy. I have loved playing with different hand-written fonts ever since I was very young. As a result, I constantly changed my handwriting throughout my childhood, and I doodled nonstop in my notebooks. I was fascinated with the precision and execution of handwriting. At one point, my great-aunt purchased me a calligraphy kit for Italic hand (which uses a broad-edge nib). I immediately tried the kit when I received it; to my dismay, all I could manage were a few chicken scratches of ink. No matter what I tried, or how I maneuvered my hand, I couldn’t get anything written.
Little did I know that broad-edge nibs are made for right-handed writers by default. Since I am left-handed, there is no way those kit nibs would have ever worked for me. (I recently found out, however, that you can purchase left-handed broad edge nibs.) Unfortunately, at that point in my life, I assumed that I would never be able to create calligraphy. In Fall 2014, however, I finally had an “ah-ha!” moment when I saw multiple calligraphers using pointed pen nibs. I bought myself some starter supplies from Amazon and a local craft store, and thus began my left-handed calligraphy journey. After hours of experimentation and practice, I was pleased to slowly be creating letters and words that I liked! You can see one of my very first pieces below:
It took me quite a while to figure out that I can create calligraphy as a lefty, and I want to encourage other lefties out there. As a result, I decided to team up with Lindsey to create this post. Today, I’m pleased to provide a few tips about left-handed calligraphy to help any other lefties who want to learn this beautiful art!
1. Develop a Grip that Works for You
A lot of lefties write different ways depending on the writing instrument! For example, when I am writing with a regular pen or pencil, my hand smudges my lettering as it goes over it. To fix that, I change the position of my hand so that my palm does not smudge any of the lettering, which means that I position my hand underneath the line that I’m writing. When I am writing and creating left-handed calligraphy, however, my hand always rests below the line that I am writing. I have seen some left-handed calligraphers who write with a hook, but that is not a hand position that I, personally, am comfortable using. You can view the different ways that I position my hand based on the writing tool in the photos below!
As a leftie, the first thing to do is try to develop a grip that keeps your hand under the calligraphy. If that just doesn’t feel right to you, then you can try writing with a hook. In the end, as long as your grip allows you to exert even pressure on both tines of your nib, then you are holding the pen correctly! You can learn more about pressure exertion in Lindsey’s Beginner’s Guide to Modern Calligraphy post.
2. Realize That You May Not Need a Fancy Calligraphy Pen
When I first started calligraphy, I ordered an oblique calligraphy pen online because all of the calligraphers I followed on Instagram used one. I figured I should probably try the same! Turns out using an oblique didn’t work out very well for me. I found out later that oblique calligraphy pens were actually created for right-handed calligraphers because it helps them to achieve a right-leaning slant. You can see that Lindsey’s nib, pictured below, is in the perfect position to write slanted Flourish Formal calligraphy. As a lefty, I can naturally position my nib that way without the correction that an oblique pen provides!
As a side note, lefties can purchase specially-made oblique holders. These holders may benefit lefties who tend to contort their arms and shoulders into uncomfortable positions to create calligraphy. That said, I never purchased one because I discovered pretty quickly that I love using a straight holder. Using a straight holder to create left-handed calligraphy makes sense to me, and I have never looked back! As left-handed people, we are naturally set up to make a beautiful right-leaning slant. In most cases, there’s no need to correct our angle with an oblique flange! I would recommend trying a straight holder first, and if that doesn’t feel right after a month of practice, try ordering a left oblique pen.
If you take a look at the photo above, you will see a demonstration of a left-handed calligrapher holding a straight holder, and a right-handed calligrapher holding an oblique holder. Notice that the left-handed calligrapher is able to achieve the same angle as the right-handed calligrapher, but without the aid of a flange.
3. Find Your Favorite Pen and Nib Combination
If you find a pen and nib combination that you love, you will really enjoy practicing and honing your skills! My favorite pen and nib combination tends to change from week from week depending on what I’m working on. In general, however, I prefer a pen that my husband hand-turned on a lathe! It’s so raw and beautiful and fits my hand perfectly — I love it!
In terms of a pen that you can easily purchase online, I love the straight Tachikawa T40 pen. That pen has served me so well through many projects! As far as nibs, I prefer to use either a Hunt Globe 513 EF, or a Hunt 512 Ex-Fine. Those nibs have a great balance of flexibility and can also hold a lot of ink! A lot of beginners prefer to use the Nikko G or Zebra G, and those are both great options as well.
4. Remember That All Beginners Face Disadvantages When Learning Calligraphy
I used to psych myself out all the time thinking about how many disadvantages that I have as a left-handed calligrapher. I would curse my smudging, my clammy palms, my writing angle, the ink, and anything else that seemed not to cooperate with me. Once I learned to accept that every new undertaking has challenges, I was able to overcome the obstacles better! For my smudging, I continuously practiced keeping my hand under the writing line. My clammy palms were remedied with putting a paper towel under my hand so that I wouldn’t dampen my calligraphy paper.
I fixed my writing angle by experimenting with the paper placement/rotation and my hand placement as well. I just kept working at everything as much as I could until it began to feel right! It’s important to remember that everyone — right- and left-handed people — face obstacles when learning. You just have to experiment until you figure out what works for you! Calligraphy, no matter what hand you are using, takes a lot of practice and patience.
5. Keep on Practicing
Some of the best advice that I can offer is to stick with it and keep practicing! I used to get so discouraged because I couldn’t achieve the look that I saw other calligraphers creating. I had to learn to set aside my expectations and discover my own style, which took a while for me to develop! If you have the opportunity to use worksheets to start out by learning a particular style, that’s a great option! TPK’s Amy Style calligraphy is a nice style to start out with because you don’t have to worry about writing with a slant.
Once you learn one style it’s very easy to tweak it and create your own unique style using that foundation. Sometimes you have to learn the rules before you can learn how to break them! Remember, too, that calligraphy drills are very helpful for both right- and left-handed learners. They’ll significantly improve your pen-handling skills and switch up your practice routine!
I hope that these tips helped to provide a little bit of left-handed calligraphy insight for you! Keep in mind that calligraphy can take years to develop and perfect for both right- and left-handed writers. It’s an art that isn’t necessarily for the faint of heart! It may take a little bit of time to get the hang of it, but don’t give up!
I want to end this post by saying that pursuing calligraphy has been one of the most rewarding endeavors in my life. I am grateful for the satisfaction that I get from creating it every time that I sit down to write, and I know that you will feel the same way!
Thank you for reading,
Elisabeth Young is a left-handed calligrapher based in Marietta, Georgia. You can find her at elisaannecalligraphy.com, and keep up to date with her current projects on Facebook and/or Instagram!