I want to start this post off by saying that if you experience a lot of calligraphy ink problems, there may be a simple culprit. The first may be that you have not prepared your nib for use; or you might be holding your pen too upright. If you have addressed those issues and continue to experience problems, then this post will be helpful! In it, we’ll go through four common calligraphy ink problems and how to fix them.
1. Ink Skips on Upstrokes
Depending on your calligraphy ink’s ingredients, it may have a tendency to be thick. While thick ink can be nice because it’s opaque, it also can be temperamental. For example, Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bleedproof White Ink generally arrives looking like this:
See that big glob on the upper right 1/4 of the rim? That’s paint that has separated from the watery part of the ink. Try to use a super thick ink as-is, and you’ll get upstrokes that are barely there (and not in a good way). In the photo below, you can see the result of trying to use too-thick ink to write calligraphy. Notice that a few of the upstrokes and horizontal strokes just look like a series of tiny dots!
To fix that, simply stir some water into the ink! I usually start with 1/4 teaspoon and keep adding until the ink has a smoother consistency. You should stir white and metallic inks to the consistency of cream. Go a bit thinner with colored inks and black inks — you want them to be more watery. I officially recommend that you dilute the ink with distilled water, but I always just use water from the tap.
Once you stir in water, the ink should write like a dream! As a side note, if you add too much water and the ink is no longer opaque, that’s an easy fix. Just let the ink sit overnight with the cap off, and a lot of the water will evaporate out!
2. The Ink Bleeds
There’s nothing more frustrating than writing a beautiful letter, then watching the ink blossom out into a fuzzy mess! As far as calligraphy ink problems go, bleeding ink is something nearly all beginners experience. The problem is nearly always the paper and ink combination. If the ink is thin and the paper tends to absorb liquid quickly, then you’ll get bleed! A lot of times, the problem can be fixed by switching out your paper. Instead of cheap printer paper, for example, use 32# laserjet paper. Sometimes, though, you absolutely have to write on a certain paper (for commissioned wedding calligraphy, etc.). In cases like those, add some gum arabic to the ink!
It doesn’t matter whether you use liquid or powder. Just stir some into to the ink a little bit at a time (increments of 1/8 tsp. are good), and continually test the ink by writing with it. Gum arabic is a thickener, so eventually your ink will become too thick to bleed — but not so thick that you can’t write with it!
If you don’t have gum arabic, you can always spray a fixative on your paper and try writing on the paper then. A fixative will lessen the absorbency of your paper, which helps you to write on it! That said, the compromised surface doesn’t allow for super crisp strokes, so I do recommend using gum arabic instead of the fixative if you have a choice.
3. Ink Globs on Downstrokes
So, you’ve just dipped your nib in ink, and you start writing your calligraphy. Instead of a nice, smooth downstroke, however, all of your ink dumps onto the paper as you pull your pen down! What’s up with that?
If all your ink has a tendency to rush down onto the paper, you may have too much ink on your nib. Every time after you dip your nib in ink, give the nib one firm shake over your cleaning water. Doing this should encourage any excess ink to drip off! If that doesn’t help, try slowing down your pace. If you apply pressure to the nib very quickly and try to make a fast downstroke, the tines of the nib tend to splay apart and deposit everything they have onto the paper. Writing slowly and consistently should fix the problem!
4. Ink Won’t Flow from the Nib
If you’ve ever tried using a flexible nib like the Brause EF66 or the Brause Rose, then you probably can relate to this issue. You dip your nib in ink, then put the nib on the paper and attempt to write … but nothing happens!
If you experience this problem, try gently wiggling the nib on the paper exactly where you want to start writing. Don’t apply so much pressure that the tines splay apart! The goal is to get one dot of ink to appear on the paper. Once that one dot of ink appears, you will be able to write starting at that dot!
If that doesn’t make sense, then I would suggest watching this video from the Getting to Know the Brause Rose Nib blog post. At 2:00, I start to explain the concept behind getting a dot down on the paper.
I know that there are other common calligraphy problems besides those detailed in this post. So — if you have any questions about them, please feel free to comment! I’ll be glad to offer any feedback that I can or point you in the direction of a blog post that can help. 🙂 For personal instruction and feedback, you can attend a TPK workshop at the beginning of June or middle of July here in Boulder! You can find sign-ups for current workshops by clicking here.
Thanks very much for reading TPK, and enjoy the rest of your day!