In this two-part series, we’re going to explore which calligraphy writing utensil is most compatible with you at this point. Based on the information you read here, you may decide to try one of the recommended writing utensils; or, you may find out that there are a couple of different kinds that you’ll love! Today’s post will examine regular pens (e.g. ballpoint, gel) and brush pens. Next week, we’ll talk about straight dip pens and oblique dip pens!
Regular Pens (Ballpoint, Gel, etc.)
Regular pens — ballpoint, gel, and/or whatever else you have laying around — are fantastic for creating calligraphy no matter what your skill level! They’re mess-free, portable, and, if you’re a calligraphy beginner, they help you to develop a good understanding of thick downstrokes and thin upstrokes.
If you are using a regular pen to create calligraphy, you’ll want to use the faux calligraphy technique. The technique requires that you write out your calligraphy in any style that appeals to you (I am using the Kaitlin here), then you draw in parallel lines on downstrokes. (Downstrokes refer to the areas where you had to pull your pen downward to create the stroke.)
Next, you fill in the downstrokes, which will leave you with a completed piece that shows a lot of great contrast in stroke thickness.
There are several nice things about creating calligraphy with a regular pen. If you are a beginner, regular pens are an approachable tool, so they act as a great stepping stone if your eventual goal is to write with a dip pen. That’s why all of the Learn Calligraphy for a Latté worksheet sets start with a faux calligraphy section. A lot of times, people won’t even be able to tell your regular pen calligraphy wasn’t made using a dip pen! If you’re not a beginner, regular pens are still great to have around if you want to write on paper that is not reacting well to dip pen and ink.
I recommend this tool to all skill levels because it’s so useful! As an added bonus, people really do love faux calligraphy. In fact, I kicked off my career by selling faux calligraphy pieces — like the Amy Style place card pictured below — on Etsy. Faux calligraphy place cards without the downstrokes filled in were a customer favorite! That worked out well for me because at the time I was very intimidated by dip pens, as many beginners are.
Regular pens come in a variety of colors, so you can even write faux calligraphy on darker pieces of paper if you want to (read more about that in this blog post). The faux calligraphy envelope below, which was one of the first client commissions I ever made, was created using a white Gellyroll pen.
While it takes a chunk of time to create faux calligraphy using regular pens, the humble pen proves itself as a valuable calligraphy tool. You might consider using one to create calligraphy if one of the following applies to you:
- You have just decided to learn calligraphy and want to build a good foundation/see immediate results.
- You wish to write on an irregular surface, like wood or handmade paper.
- You are in a situation where you can’t use a dip pen (e.g. school), but you want to write something pretty. (Faux calligraphy looks great when used in school notes!)
Brush pens are fantastic for a number of applications! They are super reactive to pressure, so they are able to produce nice, thin upstrokes and thick downstrokes. To make an upstroke, you’ll want to barely touch your nib to the paper and, maintaining light pressure, push up.
To make a downstroke, you’ll apply pressure to the nib and pull down. This pressure change technique closely mimics the one you’ll use with dip pens, so brush pens are a wonderful stepping stone between regular pens and dip pens if your ultimate goal is to learn dip pen calligraphy!
Brush pens are, for the most part, approachable. However, they do take a little bit of practice because of how responsive they are to the pressure you exert on the nib. The upstrokes can be particularly difficult to create because you’ve got to use light, even pressure.
For that reason, it’s advisable to have a good understanding of the calligraphy style that you are writing with your brush pen. That way, you can direct most of your attention to concentrating on pressure exertion rather than wondering what the letters should look like. If you’re a beginner, the best way to get to know a style is by practicing it with a regular pen/faux calligraphy first.
Brush pens are especially awesome if you want to create larger calligraphy pieces. For example, Janet Style brush pen calligraphy fills out space nicely in the padded manila envelope pictured above. Using a brush pen is also faster than using a dip pen because there’s no need to keep stopping and re-dipping!
If you’d like to learn more about how to use brush pens for calligraphy, you can visit this blog post, which provides a free printable practice worksheet. I wouldn’t recommend brush pens to complete beginners just because I do think the pressure exertion aspect can be frustrating. Here are some reasons you might give the brush pen a try:
- You have been practicing using the faux calligraphy technique for a week or two and you want something to buffer the transition from regular pen to dip pen.
- You want to create calligraphy on a larger scale, such as on a sign or on a package.
- You’re interested in trying a delightfully different calligraphy tool!
I hope that this blog post was educational and has lent some clarification to which writing utensil you should use and in what circumstances! In Tuesday’s blog post, the evaluation will continue with a look at straight dip pens and oblique dip pens. Of course, if you have any questions regarding this post, you are welcome to ask in the comments!
Have a great weekend, and thanks for reading TPK!