I come from very humble calligraphy beginnings — there is no disputing that. I honestly used to think that the majority of calligraphy out there was created using a regular pen (like, a ballpoint pen) … I had no idea how a dip pen worked or what it was for, really. So, you can imagine that when I started learning calligraphy (and did, eventually, try using a dip pen), I encountered several frustrating obstacles. “Why,” I would often think, gritting my teeth, “does this not look like the gorgeous envelope calligraphy I saw on the internet??” There were certainly a couple of throw-the-pen-across-the-room moments, and yet, I kept going. How? By following the seven tips outlined in this blog post!
1. If it’s not working for you today, walk away and try again later.
Everyone has “off” days, regardless of skill level. If you’re having “one of those days” with a lot of spattered or spilled ink, letterforms that make you cringe, layouts that just aren’t cutting it, or whatever it is: just walk away. Remember, you’re learning calligraphy, first and foremost, for your own enjoyment. If your calligraphy is frustrating you at the moment, it’s not fulfilling its purpose today. Give it a day or two, and you’ll be amazed at what some time away can do. Even a few hours can remedy frustration and help you to focus better!
2. Take on learning calligraphy a little bit at a time.
It’s human nature to take on a new endeavor and want to be an expert now. Here’s the thing, though: you learn better if you take on learning a little bit at a time. There’s nothing like a fanatic day of practicing a skill you want to be good at, but the value of consistent, consecutive days in which you devote 15-20 minutes to learning calligraphy is priceless. Those building blocks will stack up tall and strong! I’d recommend choosing a Learn Calligraphy for a Latté worksheet and promising yourself to fill out at least a page a day. That’s a small time commitment, and the continuity from day to day will allow the skills you’re learning to stay fresh. If you’re stuck on which worksheet to choose, I recently developed the Amy Style calligraphy worksheet set as the perfect starting style for absolute beginners.
3. Post your work on social media for others to see.
I used to so not be a social media person; dually, I completely understand if this tip doesn’t appeal to you. When I started TPK, though, I realized with a groan that I’d need to start being more active on social networks. To my immense surprise, social media served to motivate me to keep working on my skills and keep putting work out there. You may think that a piece you have made is only “meh”, but to someone else, it will be the “Aha! Inspiration!” moment they’ve been waiting for, and they’ll tell you so!
My prediction with social media, too, was that people would use the anonymity of the internet to say not-so-savory things; but after three years, I have yet to meet with a malicious comment. Truly, people are so nice; and I know that that’s the experience you will have when you post your work as well. A kind observation goes a long way as far as motivation is concerned, and you’ll be glad you put yourself “out there”!
4. Do not get discouraged by seeing others’ work; instead, aspire to it!
It is the easiest thing in the world to look at something someone else created and think: “Wow. I could never do that.” Every time you find yourself thinking that, you should instead change your thinking to: “How could I do that?” Realistically, you are capable of creating a lot of the beautiful calligraphy that you see on Pinterest, Instagram, blogs, etc.
It’s important to remember, too, that people who are posting beautiful photos on social media are taking care to style the photo. That can be the difference between you as the viewer being impressed or not. You’ve got to remember that a lot of creatives (myself included) put their best foot forward on social media, and that the “best foot” is styled in meticulous lighting with eye-catching angles. So: also take what you see with a grain of salt. The modern brush lettering photo below, for example, has of course been styled. I don’t customarily put moist, paper-ruining citrus fruits on my finished pieces; but, hey, it makes for an appealing photo!
If you haven’t the slightest clue as far as where to start if you want to create something beautiful, it never hurts to ask an inspirational creator for tips. That’s the point of social media, right?, to connect us all to one another! I can’t speak for others, but if you ask me how I made something, I’ll probably write a blog post about it — so never hesitate to pipe up. On that note, if you’d like to see where I started out as a calligrapher (including pictures of early attempts), you might be interested in this blog post.
5. Don’t relegate yourself to practicing in a conventional way.
All of the Learn Calligraphy for a Latté worksheet sets are structured to give you practice through observation and repetition, as you can see in the Janet Style calligraphy worksheet above. This is a model that users are learning well with … and yet, every once in a while, even I as the creator of the LCFaL worksheet sets recommend that you take a break to have some just-for-fun practice.
What do I mean by that? I mean put the worksheet to the side, maybe keep an alphabet exemplar out for reference (like a Stroke Reference Sheet, included in all the worksheet sets), and make a nice-looking envelope or art piece. The Breezy Hand-Lettering tutorial, pictured below, is a great way to take a break from conventional practicing … it will build up your creative and calligraphic skills!
The main goal in practicing is to have fun with it. I know I’ve touched on making practice fun in the How to Practice Calligraphy post, but I want to reiterate that point here. It’s very important that you make practice an enjoyable time, and if conventional practice just isn’t doing it for you on any given day, make something cool that incorporates the calligraphy knowledge that you’ve learned thus far. That “counts” as practice, too!
6. Stay inspired with books and online tutorials.
Looking at fresh content stimulates your creativity and keeps your motivation at full-throttle! When you see calligraphy that you love, it will inspire you to continue in your learning endeavors. As an added bonus, the more content you are exposed to, the more you’ll be able to develop your own personal style in picking up and omitting elements you’ve seen in books and tutorials. For example, maybe you really love calligraphy that features flourishes on the ends of letters, and you decide to incorporate that into your calligraphy. I developed Kaitlin Style calligraphy (pictured below) after seeing photos of many different modern calligraphy styles online. I loved the look of uneven letters, swooping lines, and plenty of contrast between upstrokes and downstrokes; so I created my own calligraphy style that incorporated all of those elements!
The more you see and read, the more tips you’ll pick up as well. I’m not saying that you have to research the topic of calligraphy to death, but it is good to casually browse through some tutorials or books once in a while. Not only will you get more excited (and, effectively, more motivated), but you’ll also pick up useful advice. The most inspirational/helpful book I have come across is Modern Calligraphy by Molly Suber Thorpe. It’s not a one-stop book for beginners, but it is excellent!
Some calligraphy project-focused TPK tutorials that may inspire you are as follows:
- Breezy Hand-Lettering Tutorial
- DIY Envelope Stencil for Perfect Spacing
- Five Fresh Gift Tag Ideas
- Ideas for Unique Modern Calligraphy
- Five Unique Ways to Address an Envelope
- Three Simple Illustration Tutorials: Feathers
7. Reward yourself with a gift that will make learning calligraphy easier.
To be clear, a plethora of expensive tools won’t transform you into a calligraphy expert overnight. However, possessing a few key tools (which are relatively inexpensive) will make life easier. I’d make sure that you start out with the materials outlined in The Ultimate Modern Calligraphy Starter Kit. The tools described there are the ideal basics. However, after you’ve been practicing with them for a while, you can reward yourself by trying out new things. Some indulgences I love are:
- Various nibs (especially the Brause Rose and Brause EF66!)
- The Finetec Golds palette (pictured below; you can learn how to use it in this blog post)
- The Finetec Pearl Colors palette (also pictured below)
- Opaque white ink
- Walnut ink
- Rodger’s Pen Box oblique pen (my number one indulgence; you can read more about oblique pens in this blog post)
I don’t want to encourage you to blow your budget on materials — you don’t, strictly speaking, need any of the items I enumerated above. That said, it is nice to build up your collection one indulgence at a time to reward yourself as you develop your calligraphy skills. Doing this helps to keep your calligraphy learning exciting, and allows you to develop in ways you couldn’t otherwise. For example, the purchase of white ink will facilitate writing on dark paper; and an oblique pen may revolutionize your writing style (as well as help you to maintain a comfortable position as you write).
I’d like to take a moment to say that if you’re reading this blog post, that already says a lot about your determination to learn. Remember that you’re human, and humans make mistakes. Mistakes are great, and that’s why you’re learning calligraphy — where slants may be inconsistent and ink spatters may happen — rather than using a too-perfect calligraphic computer font. You should be proud of your willingness to expand your horizons and challenge yourself. Your creativity and desire to learn is truly something to aspire to; so even if your calligraphy isn’t looking like you want it to at this moment, keep on going! Give it some time, and you’ll love what you see.
Have a great rest of the week, and of course let me know if you have any questions or suggestions in the comments! Thanks so much for reading the TPK blog; I’m glad you’re here. 🙂