When I was new to calligraphy, most of the online resources that I found assumed that I knew a lot more than I did. I remember being frustrated by the lack of basic information out there, and there were a lot of things that I had to discover for myself! Today, I want to tell you five non-obvious calligraphy tips that I wish I would have known back then. This information would have helped to make learning much easier for me, so I hope that it will do that for you!
1. Nib Names are Etched on the Barrel
For the longest time, I wondered how people were able to tell nibs apart. Eventually, I just decided that calligraphy aficionados could simply tell by the shape of the nib. Then, one day, while gazing at a calligraphy nib, it dawned on me: the names are etched on the barrel!
If you need to know what type of nib you are using, look at the barrel. This knowledge will really help if you buy an assortment of nibs to work with! Note that some nibs have a clear and obvious etching, while others really make you squint.
2. It’s Easiest to Find Calligraphy Supplies Online
When I first decided to learn calligraphy, my instinct was to go buy a kit at a commercial craft store. There wasn’t much of a selection, which I was thankful for at the time because I wouldn’t have known what to buy anyway. As it turns out, however, the Speedball kit that I purchased wasn’t the best for a beginner. I found the nibs difficult to use, and the paper that I purchased caused the ink to bleed! Later, I found out that the calligraphy supplies that I chose weren’t the best quality, and I decided to order a few basic things (Nikko G nib, sumi ink, laserjet paper) online. What a game changer! With those supplies, my calligraphy experience became completely different.
I live in a fairly large city, but when it comes to calligraphy supplies, I can’t find a lot here. If one store has something, it doesn’t carry the other thing(s) that I need. While I am all for supporting the local economy, the selection of high-quality supplies online can’t be beat. I usually purchase my supplies at Paper & Ink Arts and Amazon.com. Granted, the vast selection is overwhelming, but The Ultimate Modern Calligraphy Starter Kit post walks you through exactly what to purchase if you are a beginner.
3. Always Keep a Piece of Paper Under Your Calligraphy Page
You have probably noticed the difference between writing in a notebook with a regular pen and writing with that same pen on a piece of paper with a hard surface underneath. The layers of pages in a notebook allow for smooth, easy writing. The paper with a hard surface directly underneath makes for more difficult, less vivid strokes. That’s because the hard surface underneath creates more friction with the pen.
The same concept exists in dip pen calligraphy. If you try to write on a piece of paper with a hard surface directly underneath it, the nib reacts to the hard surface. You’ll find that it’s a bit more difficult to write! Instead of putting your calligraphy page in contact with the table, soften the surface with at least one piece of “padding paper”. The padding paper can be anything: a page from your printer, a piece of junk mail, whatever. As long as it provides some cushion between your calligraphy page and the table, it will work!
4. Try Not to Hunch
Out of all the calligraphy tips that I am giving you today, this is the one that I struggle with! If you’re anything like me, you like to curl your body around whatever you’re working on so you can get an extra close look. An hour later, you start to wonder why your back and shoulders are aching. Then you realize that the problem is your terrible posture!
As you write, make it your goal to continually assess your body position and breathing patterns. So many of us have a tendency to curl up, limit our breathing, and become tense when we are concentrating on writing. However, that defeats the purpose of calligraphy, which is to give us a creative outlet to help us relax! It’s not necessary to be tense, so if you notice that you’re starting to hunch, do the following: straighten your back, roll your shoulders a few times, and take a deep breath. Start writing again in that nice, upright position. If you maintain good posture, you’ll be able to write longer and you won’t suffer any consequences from constant hunching!
5. Projects are the Best Way to Learn
A lot of calligraphy learners avoid doing projects until their skill level is good enough. That makes sense, except “good enough” is very subjective, and a lot of people get discouraged and quit before they ever attempt a project. Don’t fall into that trap! Even if you started learning this morning, I encourage you to try making something.
If you let yourself have fun with your new skill and make a project that’s creatively stimulating, you’re more likely to stick with learning calligraphy. You can use the envelopes in this blog post for mail art inspiration, make a simple calligraphy-themed birthday card, or fill out an artistic drills sheet. As long as you’re challenging yourself, you’ll never get bored!
Maybe you already knew these calligraphy tips, but several of them are things that I haven’t pointed out before! I think it’s important to put this information out there not only for those who are learning, but also for seasoned calligraphers who need a reminder once in a while. No matter what your level is, I want to thank you for reading. I hope that you have a wonderful, creative day!
(PS – There is only one spot left in the Boulder Modern Calligraphy Beginner Workshop on June 3 — which is coming right up! I would love to see you there.)