Over the past few years, I have taught several beginners’ modern calligraphy workshops and answered countless calligraphy questions via email. Those experiences have taught me that there is a need for an article like this one: a post that shows you where to start learning from scratch! In this blog post, I’ll explain how to learn modern calligraphy in a few simple steps. (Curious about the difference between modern calligraphy and traditional calligraphy? Take a quick trip to this blog post!)
1. Master Faux Calligraphy
I believe that “faux calligraphy” — modern calligraphy created with a standard (ballpoint, gel, etc.) pen — is the best introduction to dip pen calligraphy. The fact that you’re using a familiar writing instrument allows you to focus on letterforms, which is great for beginners!
You can find a tutorial video plus a free printable detailing how to create faux calligraphy in this blog post. Note that faux calligraphy isn’t just for beginners! You can use the technique on a variety of surfaces that aren’t suitable for dip pens, like chalkboards. Once you’ve practiced faux calligraphy for a couple of weeks and feel comfortable with it, you are ready to move on to dip pen calligraphy.
2. Assemble Your Modern Calligraphy Supplies
Basic, Budget-Friendly Bundle:
- Nikko G nib – You can read about why I think this nib is the best beginner nib in this blog post.
- Brause EF66 nib – This is a good, flexible nib to move on to after you’ve practiced a bit with your Nikko G.
- Straight pen
- Oblique pen – Optional; you can read more about oblique pens here. (This pen is not necessary for left-handed learners.)
- 32# laserjet paper
- Sumi ink, plus a screw-top container to store the ink in.
- “Art water” – Basically, just fill a cup with water. You’ll use this water to clean off your nib every couple of minutes as you write.
- Non-fibrous cloth – You’ll use this cloth to clean the water off your nib after every little cleaning. I don’t recommend using paper towels because the fibers will catch in your nib.
If you want to treat yourself to something special, you can purchase a readymade calligraphy kit. TPK calligraphy kits are thoughtfully curated with the best beginner supplies. They include helpful extras like a workbook, a cleaning cloth, and a brass-flanged Nikko G oblique pen.
3. Prepare Your Nibs
All nibs have manufacturer’s oils on them to keep them well-preserved as they sit in storage, waiting to be sold. Before you use your brand-new nibs, you should clean the oils off. I generally stick my nibs in a potato to get rid of the oils! You can learn more about how to clean your nibs and why in this blog post.
Cleaning the manufacturer’s oils off of your nibs will ensure smooth, seamless ink flow. If you don’t clean the oils off, you will probably have issues with ink blobbing on your paper, or the nib may not descend onto the page at all.
4. Insert Your Nib Into a Straight Pen
Though you can use a Speedball plastic pen with a Nikko G nib, I recommend purchasing a dip pen with a universal insert. A universal insert has four metal “petals” and a rim; it should look like the photo below. A pen with a universal insert can accommodate a variety of different sizes of nibs!
If your universal insert looks like the one pictured below, then you’ll need to push the petals back inward. Pens sometimes arrive looking like this:
To learn how to push the petals inward, you can watch the short video below.
Once you’re all set, it’s time to insert the nib in the pen. The base of the nib should slip right under the split in the lip of the rim, as pictured below.
If that’s a bit confusing, it may help you to watch this video over nib insertion:
If you have correctly inserted the nib, it will feel secure; it shouldn’t wobble at all.
Your pen is now ready to write!
5. Learn How to Write
The easiest way to learn calligraphy is through video instruction, so I’ve put together a tutorial video for you. In it, I’ll quickly go over basic supplies, then I’ll show you how to hold your pen and write a basic Janet Style calligraphy alphabet.
You can download the worksheet that I am using in the video by clicking here. For additional practice, you can take your pick of other free calligraphy worksheets. Be sure to print any worksheets off on 32# laserjet paper, which is a dip pen-friendly, economical paper.
It is possible to learn calligraphy for free online. With research and focused practice, you’ll figure it out! If you want to get there faster and with less frustration, though, take a course. TPK’s Beginner’s Modern Calligraphy Online Course is only $35 and has 130+ 5 star reviews, making it one of the most reasonably priced and beloved calligraphy courses on the web! (Once you’re finished, you can move on to the Intermediate Course to further hone your skills.)
Teaching modern calligraphy workshops has given me a unique opportunity to understand beginners’ calligraphy problems and frustrations firsthand. Below, you’ll find a list of six problems and their solutions:
- The nib catches on paper – Try holding your pen at a closer angle to the paper. The more upright you hold the pen, the more issues you will run into trying to use it.
- Ink flow is erratic – Same solution as the issue above: try holding your pen at a closer angle to the paper.
- It’s difficult to achieve a thick downstroke – Make sure both tines of your nib are evenly on the paper, and that you’re holding the pen correctly. It will be helpful for you to take a video course.
- The ink is bleeding – Ink bleed occurs with lower quality papers. Make sure you are using a high-quality paper (such as 32# laserjet).
- Your hand is shaking – Read the article Calligraphy Troubleshooting: Nib Pressure and Shaking Hand.
- You are experiencing rust issues with your pen or nib – First, no water or ink should ever come in contact with your pen. You should only dip your nib in ink or water up to the point shown in the graphic below. Second, make sure your wipe your nib clean with a non-fibrous cloth after each practice session, and it should remain rust-free!
Where to Go From Here
The important thing to remember — in modern calligraphy and many other things — is practice will develop your skill exponentially! Everyone starts somewhere, and this is where I started:
The best advice I can give about learning calligraphy is you have to enjoy your practice. Yes, use structured resources like an online course or a worksheet, but also let yourself have fun. As you start to get the hang of how to use a dip pen, take on challenging, fun projects. I’ve got a list of 22 fabulous calligraphy-focused tutorials right here, and I encourage you to try at least one. As long as your practice is enjoyable, you’ll continue to hone your skills!
I hope that you enjoyed this beginner’s guide to modern calligraphy! If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments. Thanks very much for reading The Postman’s Knock!