I think a lot of the motivation behind creating calligraphy is the ability to create something special. Something that no one else could exactly duplicate; a piece that makes you feel good, and, if it ends up with someone else, makes them feel special to own it. Really, it all boils down to being able to feel creative and having the power to make others feel great in the process.
Because of all the good creative energy that comes with being able to create calligraphy, it’s natural to want to make things that are even more impressively unique than beautiful penmanship on paper. This desire has led to the trend of calligraphy popping up on all sorts of non-traditional surfaces from leaves to glass to fruits. In this blog post, you’ll learn how to write on a few of these surfaces; as well as be presented with suggestions on what to use your new knowledge for!
Dip Pen-Compatible Surfaces
Only a handful of non-paper surfaces can handle a dip pen and ink! Here are a few of them:
Freshly-picked leaves work well as a calligraphy surface because they have the right amount of “give” and hardiness that a nib needs to be able to deposit ink. I’m not saying it’s the easiest thing in the world to write on leaves, but it certainly can be done!
Calligraphed leaves have been popular as wedding escort or place cards lately. While the leaves can handle a dip pen, it’s important to use a nib with a relatively blunt tip (I use the Brause Rose) as opposed to a nib with a sharper tip such as the Nikko G.
You’ll also want to make sure you use acrylic-based, thick ink. I used Winsor & Newton White for this leaf.
Unfortunately, watery inks just don’t work on fresh leaves. I experimented with the Finetec Gold and admittedly didn’t have much success. The high water content doesn’t allow the pigment to “stick”, leading to inconsistent calligraphy.
If you plan on writing on leaves for an event, I would recommend conducting some experiments a few weeks or months beforehand to see how long your chosen leaves will stay perky (and, effectively, how far in advance you can make the calligraphed leaves). For this post, I plucked leaves from a ficus, and they stayed fresh and healthy-looking for about a week. However, I’m sure the climate here in Colorado, the health of my tree, etc. etc. were all factors.
In the course of Pinteresting, I have noticed calligraphy on dry leaves, which gives an impressive vintage effect. Sadly, I was unable to write on one … my nib poked a hole right through it! (The dry leaf pictured below is from an arrowhead plant.)
All that said, creating calligraphy on leaves is all about experimentation. You may be able to write on dry leaves if you use leaves from a hardier plant, or maybe spray them with some sort of fixative before you begin so they won’t tear. My dry leaf “hack” would be to write on the leaves while they are fresh, then dry them. If you choose to write on leaves, I would definitely recommend writing with Winsor & Newton White (Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bleedproof White would probably work as well). White ink works well for this application because it is technically acrylic paint.
You can use calligraphed leaves for quite a few things; for example, I wrote in Kaitlin Style on the leaf in the photo below, punched a small hole in it, and used it to polish off a snail mail card presentation. (I would not, however, do this for international mail … I don’t think you’re supposed to send vegetation to other countries.)
As I said, calligraphed leaves also make for impressive place cards or escort cards. Alternatively, you could tuck them into wreathes, or use them in scrapbooks (for example, bring a leaf home from a city you have visited, calligraph on it [e.g. “New York, Autumn 2015”] and preserve it).
You can use your dip pen to create calligraphy on fruits and vegetables that have “give” and relatively thick skin. To determine whether your fruit/veggie will work for calligraphy, squeeze it a little. If it reacts, you can write on it as long as it has a substantial skin.
You can see that I wrote successfully on an avocado using Winsor & Newton White (again, inks with a higher water content are a no-go) and a Brause Rose nib. Like calligraphing leaves, you don’t want to use a super sharp nib that could easily pierce through the skin of the fruit. I won’t lie to you: it’s not the easiest thing in the world to write on an avocado! The most difficult part is creating calligraphy on a non-flat, slippery surface. To be sure, it can be done (and mistakes can be washed off!), but “simple” isn’t the name of the game when it comes to calligraphing fruits and veggies.
While I haven’t tried this technique on a whole lot of different fruits or vegetables, I would imagine that you could also write decently on lemons, limes, oranges, bananas, and other similar fruits with give and strong skin. On other fruits/veggies (e.g. apples, potatoes), you’ll want to use faux/”cheating” calligraphy.
So — why on earth would you want to calligraph an avocado? I can think of a few reasons. Perhaps you’re having a dinner party with Mexican cuisine, and you want to use the fruits as edible place cards. Or, maybe you own a grocery store/coffee shop/restaurant, and you want to display an eye-catching message (e.g. “2 for 1 today”, or “Add Guac – $1”). Then again, maybe you have roommates and you want a beautiful but firm means by which to communicate, “Keep your hands off my avocado!”
As a side note, I would not recommend eating the flesh of fruits that you have calligraphed because you never know what’s in the ink. However, if you calligraph the skin of fruits/veggies that you don’t eat (bananas, avocados), it’s a non-issue.
You can also create dip pen calligraphy on smooth leather. That’s because it A) has “give”, and B) has a surface that is nearly impossible to puncture by accident with your nib. For this reason, you don’t have to relegate yourself to a blunt nib; you could certainly use the Nikko G or Brause EF66.
Again, an acrylic-based, relatively thick ink like Winsor & Newton white works best in this application.
However, I had somewhat successful results using sumi ink, as you can see on the Amy Style piece below. I did have to go over some upstrokes 2-3 times because the ink wasn’t adhering to the surface, though.
Yet again, an ink with a high water content doesn’t do so hot when used on a surface like this. I had major coverage issues with the Finetec gold! Additionally, when I swiped my thumb over the dry Finetec, all of the calligraphy came cleanly off the leather.
Keep in mind that while smooth leather can be calligraphed, soft leather cannot be written on with dip pens. The surface simply doesn’t allow your nib to move! Instead, you’ll need to use a marker.
What would you possibly use calligraphed leather for? A couple of things that I can think of. You could calligraph on leather wedding or event materials (e.g. a leather folder holding an invitation/rsvp card); make a bookmark, or just use calligraphed leather for scrapbooking or an art project.
Surfaces that Require Faux/”Cheating” Calligraphy
There are a lot of surfaces that you cannot use a dip pen on for one reason or another. Here are the top surfaces I receive questions about calligraphing on:
Hard, extremely smooth surfaces like mirrors and glass are not compatible with a dip pen. It’s exceedingly difficult to get your ink “started”, maintain the ink flow, and ensure that the ink is staying on the glass where you want it to. For this reason, it’s best to use a marker and “cheating calligraphy“.
For this mirror, I used a mixture of Hand-Lettering, Amy Style calligraphy, and Kaitlin Style calligraphy. Just FYI: mirrors are a bit tough to write on because they reflect what you are doing, which is visually confusing!
As far as which marker to use, that depends on how long you want the writing to last. If you use a permanent marker on the glass surface, then the writing will last a long time (and will be difficult, but not impossible, to get off). For ease of removal, it would probably be best to use whiteboard markers or glass markers. I used a permanent marker, and it took a bit too much elbow grease to remove for my taste!
There are many possibilities for writing on surfaces like glass. You could decorate your bathroom mirror with an encouraging message for yourself (or your family/roommates) to look at every morning. Also, it’s been a trend lately to write on drinking glasses at parties so you don’t get confused about whose drink is whose. On a larger scale, you can create calligraphy on storefronts to garner curiosity and interest!
I’ve written about painted rocks before, but what if you just want to make some calligraphy on a natural stone? In that case, all you need to do is grab a marker. A permanent marker is certainly your best bet, and an oil-based permanent marker will give you the most opaque coverage. (If you prefer to write with white ink, you’ll want a paint marker.)
Use it to write a word (or words), and boom! You’ve got calligraphy … on a rock.
I like the idea of using calligraphed rocks as garden markers or just keeping them around as home decorations. Again, you could also use these as place or escort cards at a nature-themed wedding or dinner party.
There are two categories of wood: finished, and unfinished. You can actually use gel pens (such as the Pilot G2) with smooth, unfinished wood. For finished wood — by this I mean wood with some sort of paint/gloss on it — you’ll need to use a permanent marker. There’s just not enough “tooth” on most finished woods for a gel pen’s ink to adhere to the surface.
When I first started an Etsy shop (2012), I sold calligraphed wooden clothespins, and they were surprisingly popular! A lot of people used them for baby showers and bridal showers. They are super simple to make if you know how to create faux calligraphy (and if you want to put some for sale in your Etsy shop, please, be my guest!). To make them, you’ll just buy a few clothespins at Target or wherever. Clamp them around an object such as the chopstick shown below; that will give you a more even writing surface. You may also want to rest your hand on a book. Start by writing out the calligraphy in the simple style of your choice; I have chosen Kaitlin Style in the photo below.
Next, identify and draw in the downstrokes. There are explanations on how to do this in all of the Learn Calligraphy for a Latté worksheets as well as the Cheating Calligraphy Tutorial.
Fill the downstrokes in, and you’ve got some sweet-looking clothespins!
If you were working with a very large piece of wood (e.g. a billboard), you would use paint and a brush to make your faux calligraphy. However, for small applications such as these clothespins, you’ll want a gel pen or fine-tipped permanent marker. (If you do make these clothespins, make sure you spray them with a fixative when you’re finished so the ink lasts longer.)
In addition to clothespins, you could also use calligraphy on wood to make signs, personalized wooden picture frames, and a bajillion other things that I’m not thinking of!
If you’re considering creating calligraphy on any non-traditional object, including the items detailed above, the mantra to live by is “test and experiment”. The reason calligraphed objects are so unique is the fact that they are difficult and/or time-consuming to create … otherwise you’d see a lot more of them! However, it’s worth a bit of experimentation to come up with something new, different, and beautiful.
Have you ever written on something non-traditional? If so, please comment — it may benefit someone who is thinking of undertaking a similar project! Of course, if you have any questions, you are welcome to ask. I will answer to the best of my ability!
Thanks again for reading TPK; I’m glad you’re here!