In the seven years that I’ve written this blog, I’ve noticed trends in the questions I receive. People tend to have certain preconceptions about calligraphy that may not be true! I don’t want those preconceptions to keep you from giving calligraphy a fair shot if you’re interested in it. This blog post is the result! In it, we’ll examine eight modern calligraphy myths that aren’t true. Let’s start with the biggie:
1. If you have bad handwriting, you cannot create calligraphy.
The important thing to remember about calligraphy is this: at its core, it’s art. It’s not writing. Personally, my handwriting is not what one would call “graceful”, “neat”, or “enviable”. In fact, I am sure that when my snail mail correspondents receive my letters, they have to mentally prepare themselves for what is sure to be a few difficult minutes of deciphering!
No matter what your everyday handwriting looks like, know that it will have zero bearing on what your calligraphy looks like. They are two totally different things. Calligraphy is an activity that requires intention, artistry, and concentration. Jotting down notes, on the other hand, tends to be an automatic, no-thought-required type of thing!
2. Calligraphy is an expensive activity/hobby.
You know that part in the song Forget You by Cee Lo Green where he sings, “I’m sorry / I can’t afford a Ferrari / But that don’t mean I can’t get you there!”? Same principle with calligraphy: you can spend as much money on calligraphy supplies as you want, but you really only need a few basic tools to get you there. All of them are listed in The Utimate DIY Modern Calligraphy Starter’s Kit. All in all, a fantastic DIY starter kit will cost you $25 or so.
I’ll admit it: I have about a gazillion calligraphy supplies and I spend freely on my interest in the art. However, out of all the supplies I have purchased, I use the same tools 99% of the time. If all my other supplies disappeared, I’d be happy as long as I still had these!:
- Brause EF 66 nib, Nikko G nib
- Plastic straight pen
- Rodger’s Pen Box oblique pen fitted for Brause EF 66 nib
- Sumi ink
3. Lefties cannot create calligraphy.
Here’s the thing, lefties: we people who write with our right hands, we don’t understand how you write. It’s easier for us right-handed people to say, “Well, since you can’t do it like me, you’re out of luck,” rather than say, “I don’t understand the technicals of how you can do this — but you can.” I know it’s a right-handed person’s world; my father is left-handed, and the poor guy was tormented up through fourth grade by teachers that tried — quite forcefully — to get him to write with his right (“correct”) hand.
If you’re a lefty who is able to write with your hand under the calligraphy, your orientation can be more of an advantage than a drawback. Right-handed people actually use oblique pens to try and emulate the natural angle that you’re able to approach the paper from! If you’re a lefty who has developed a funky way to write, there’s still hope! You can write with left-handed oblique pens or flourishing pens. Some lefties even write with right-handed oblique pens! The main rule for anyone learning calligraphy — right- or left-handed — is do what works for you.
If you’re left-handed, here are two articles that may interest you:
4. You have to have a dip pen to create calligraphy.
Dip pens can be intimidating, and there are different reasons for not wanting to use one. Maybe you’re just not ready. Maybe you’ve got a child in the prime of his or her “terrible twos” and you know that little jar of (very permanent) ink is going to end up all over the carpet. Or, maybe you’re just not sure about investing in a dip pen starter kit yet!
Know that you have many, many options for writing non-dip pen calligraphy. They include:
- Faux calligraphy – You can make this with any writing utensil, including regular pens, pencils, or chalk!
- Brush pen calligraphy – Brush pens have a nice, flexible tip that allows you to make high-contrast calligraphy.
- “Crayola” calligraphy – Broad-tipped markers, such as Crayola, offer an economical and fun way to write calligraphy!
- Pencil calligraphy – You can vary the pressure that you exert as you’re writing with a pencil in order to make unique and eye-catching calligraphy.
Here are examples of all of the techniques mentioned above:
5. Dip pens are only good for creating calligraphy.
If you’re not interested in illustration/drawing at all, then this calligraphy myth may be true for you. But, if you’re creative enough to create calligraphy (and you are, trust me); then you’re also creative enough to create illustrations! All of the illustrations below were made using a calligraphy pen and sumi ink and/or watercolor.
If you want to learn more about how to create and/or print any of these illustrations, you can visit:
- Watercolor Henna Cat Illustration Tutorial
- Illustrated Lace Butterfly Card Tutorial
- How to Create an Illustrated Watercolor Map
- “Springtime in Paris” Printable Stationery
- Printable Henna Bluebird Illustrations
6. If you know how to create calligraphy, you can write on any paper surface.
This myth is partially true. You can write on any paper, just maybe not with a dip pen. For example, if you attempt to write on regular printer paper with sumi or India ink, that particular paper will absorb the ink like crazy. This will result in fuzzy letters that bleed out at the edges! There are a few solutions. If you have a fairly smooth paper surface, you can add gum arabic.
That said, there are some papers that aren’t conducive to standard dip pen calligraphy. Try writing on a kraft grocery sack, for instance, with sumi ink and a dip pen: the ink will bleed like crazy! Ditto for cardstock. Truthfully, there are papers that are optimal for calligraphy and papers that simply aren’t. You can read about them in this article!
7. You must take classes to learn calligraphy.
While my husband was working on his PhD in Aerospace Engineering, his advisor sat him down and said, “As a general rule, classes are useless. You can learn whatever you want from books and the internet.” (Hernán’s former advisor is a German engineer who doesn’t mince words.) While, obviously, this isn’t a blanket statement, it does apply to many things, and it has inspired me to pursue learning many things!
The thing about a class is it organizes information and techniques in a logical and comprehensive way. A good calligraphy workshop provides you with information and feedback that’s relevant to your skill level, and it gives you a clear path for improvement. If you learn best with structure, then a class is definitely beneficial! But, if you’re able to learn via piecing together bits and pieces of information from books and online, power to you! I actually have a YouTube video to get you started. 🙂
8. Calligraphed envelopes won’t get delivered.
You might be curious about how many calligraphed envelopes have been returned to me … and the answer is zero. Okay, yes, I think two in the past three years have gotten lost; but I chalk that up to USPS’s 6% non-delivery rate. That said, I’ve gleaned from reader emails that some post offices seem to be more tolerant than others. What my post office in Boulder decides to let through, your post office in New Orleans (let’s say), might wag a finger at. Still, that shouldn’t stop you from trying!
If you’re curious about how to make calligraphed mail that gets delivered, I’ve got a couple of articles that you might find helpful. The first is How to Make Deliverable Mail Art, and the second is 10 Mail Art Tips.
That’s it for the top eight calligraphy myths (that I know of, at least)! If you are aware of any more myths, or want to know whether something you have heard is myth or fact, please feel free to comment. I’m always happy to hear what’s on your mind!
Thanks very much for reading TPK, and have a great weekend!