My first experience with dip pen calligraphy happened in 2006. At that time, I saw the dip pen as a tool that was fabulous for making artistic-looking scribbles! I had noticed how Sabrina Ward Harrison used a dip pen in Spilling Open, and I loved that messy, casual look.
I used a dip pen for fun and chaotic writing sessions for a short season, then I didn’t touch that writing instrument again for five years! Now, I realize why: I didn’t understand how to harness the power of the dip pen, and I wasn’t aware of its advantages beyond making ink spatters. If you’re on the fence about taking on dip pen calligraphy, here are five ways to know you’re ready:
1. You Can Name a Dip Pen Calligraphy Project You Want to Make
Motivation is the most powerful learning tool out there. If you can identify one project you want to make with a dip pen, you’ve got a goal that will propel you through any learning hiccups! My main motivation for learning was a desire to make envelope calligraphy. After I made a few envelopes that I loved, other dip pen-related projects popped up, like illustrations and sketchbook pages.
2. You’re Ready to Move on From Another Writing Instrument
Many (but not all) dip pen calligraphers came to the dip pen from some other medium. People often start with faux calligraphy, like I did, or brush pen calligraphy. Eventually, you either want to try something new or you start to tire of running into stylistic limitations. Either way, you’ll love the challenge and the stunning results that the dip pen produces!
3. You Want the Freedom to Write in Any Color
Inky liberation is one of the biggest advantages of writing with a dip pen! With a brush pen or faux calligraphy, you’re limited to one color. Even fountain pens require a commitment to a specific color (though you can change fountain pen colors with some cleaning and disassembly). With a dip pen, changing colors couldn’t be more simple! You wipe off your nib, then dip it in whatever color of ink you want. For the next stroke — and the next, and the next — you can change the color if you want to.
If you pick up your dip pen and start to write in cursive with it, you’ll probably be disappointed. Success with a dip pen rests in knowing that calligraphy is the art of letters! In calligraphy, you’ll do things that don’t make sense for everyday cursive writing, like adding flashy tails to characters. A lot of calligraphy’s appeal also depends on stroke contrast, which isn’t present in cursive. When you start learning calligraphy, you’ll focus in on stroke contrast from the get-go as you learn how to make thick downstrokes and thin upstrokes/ horizontal strokes.
5. You Understand Which Calligraphy Supplies You Need and Why
I didn’t connect with the dip pen initially because I didn’t have the appropriate materials. I realize now that my paper was too absorbent and my nibs were too flexible for a beginner. My ink spiderwebbed around letters, giving them a frustrating feathery appearance. The flexible tines of my nib caught on paper fibers, which made for stressful lettering sessions. It’s no wonder I decided that the dip pen wasn’t for me!
When you first set out to use a dip pen, it is so important to make sure that you’re using tools that will work for you instead of against you! Start off with the right stuff, and your chances of success go up exponentially. Obviously, I eventually found the proper supplies, and I went on to LOVE writing with a dip pen! Even with a toddler around, I find time to use it every single day because it’s such a versatile and powerful tool. You can learn about the supplies that you need to get started in the The Ultimate DIY Modern Calligraphy Starter Kit article.
Dip pen in hand, I’ve designed Hollywood wedding invitations, created commissions for international magazines, and built the web’s #1 calligraphy blog. And yet, my dip pen is most valuable when I can steal a few moments of time to enjoy working on sketchbook page or addressing a beautiful just-for-fun envelope. It’s my hope that the dip pen leads you to that same quiet joy, too!