The other day, I received an email asking me about what I — personally — did to learn calligraphy. Did I practice with workbooks? Set myself rigid hours devoted to writing? Actually, no. My practice was always pleasant and fairly non-structured, and I learned pretty quickly! In this post, I’ll go over six tricks that I used to keep my learning on the right track. Hopefully you can apply them to your own calligraphy journey!
1. I Bought the Right Supplies
Admittedly, I only ended up buying the right supplies because I started off by buying the wrong supplies. And by “wrong”, I mean wrong for a beginner. I initially bought a cheap kit with flexible nibs, grabbed some no-name black ink, and I tried writing on the bargain paper that was in my printer.
The results were disastrous, and I assumed that it was a user error versus supplies. Luckily, early in my calligraphy journey, my friend Rodger Mayeda reached out and suggested that I try a Nikko G nib and sumi ink. He also recommended different types of paper: Rhodia, Clairefontaine, Tomoe River, and even 32# laserjet — all of these papers were awesome! It’s not like I was “super calligrapher” after swapping my old supplies for these new ones … but they did help me a lot. Not having to deal with issues like ink bleeding on my paper or the nib picking up fibers kept me going!
2. I Kept My Motivation Up
I still use social media — particularly Pinterest and Instagram — to garner inspiration. There are so many good ideas out there, and it’s encouraging to see how people experiment with different styles and mediums.
That said, you should approach social media with the philosophy that it’s a “good servant, but a bad master”. When you find calligraphy that you like on social media, never tell yourself, “That’s great, but I could never do that.” Instead, take inspiration and encouragement from the piece! You can do awesome things.
3. I Became Friends With Google
Your decision to learn calligraphy should be coupled with a willingness to be resourceful. If you’re having trouble with something, you can rest assured that someone else has had the same problem! With that in mind, if I couldn’t figure something out, I Googled it. If I couldn’t find anything, I tried phrasing my search term differently.
For example, I noticed that people on social media used an oblique calligraphy pen a lot, though — at the time — I didn’t know what it was called or what it was for. After a few minutes of trying keywords like “pen with tab on side calligraphy”, I stumbled across an explanation! If you can’t figure something out, search for it; and, if you can’t find an answer, ask. I, personally, am always glad to answer questions — and most other calligraphers are, too. Just comment on their Instagram posts or send them a message/email!
4. I Mixed Structured Practice With Play
People tend to take the execution of their goals very seriously, which is why we sometimes fail. Extreme diets come to mind: there’s no fun in those, so dieters often fall off the bandwagon. Calligraphy is the same way! If you vow to learn calligraphy just by doing worksheets for hours per practice session, you may not stick with it — because how fun is writing “A, A, A, B, B, B,” day after day?
I’m not saying that worksheets and structured practice are bad! In fact, I encourage you to start your calligraphy journey with the Beginner’s Course and then take on a worksheet or two. But, don’t let assignments and worksheets be your sole source of practice. No matter what your skill level is, you should punctuate your structured practice with “play sessions”. For me, play sessions meant creating envelope art. For you, that may mean calligraphing words in a sketchbook journal or writing out quotes. It’s important to keep fun in the equation and impress yourself occasionally with what you can do with your budding skills!
5. I Put My Work “Out There”
When I resolved to learn calligraphy, I assumed that I wouldn’t share my work with anyone until it was perfect. As I wrote more and more, I realized: I’ll never consider it to be perfect. I mean, it’s impossible to achieve perfection if you’re creating something by hand, and that’s why people love calligraphy. The little inconsistencies and personal touches make it beautiful and unique!
Once I reached that conclusion, I decided to put my imperfect work on Etsy in 2012 — and people liked it! I improved my skills with every project I took on, and I always did my very best because a client was counting on me. Of course, what “putting your work out there” means to you will be different than what it means to the next person. For me, it meant advertising my calligraphy services online. For you, it may just mean sending an envelope to a friend or sharing photos of your work on social media. Whatever (gently) gets you out of your comfort zone, do it!
6. I Challenged Myself With New Supplies and Ideas
The nice thing about calligraphy is it’s not static — there’s always something that you can improve on, a new style to learn, or a new ink or nib to try. Once you get comfortable writing a certain way with a certain ink, you can try writing a different way with a new ink!
For example, as a beginner, I always used black ink and a Nikko G nib. When that got a little stale, I tried the more flexible Brause EF66 nib and a variety of inks — and non-inks! Now, I rotate nibs constantly and I use all different mediums to write with, from white ink to watercolor to colored India inks. Trying new things and experimenting with different font styles kept me engaged in my goal to learn calligraphy back in the day, and it continues to motivate me now! (By the way, if you’re looking to try something new, you can enter the latest TPK giveaway for a Finetec golds palette. Finetec remains to be one of my favorite calligraphy discoveries, and I know that you’ll love it, too!)
Remember to take this post with a grain of salt, as we all have different learning processes and preferences. Still, if even one of these “tricks” helps you, this article has done its job! If you have any questions or additional tips, please feel free to contribute to the comments. It’s always wonderful to hear from you!
Thanks very much for reading TPK, and enjoy the rest of your week!