Calligraphy skills, like anything, take time to hone and perfect to your liking. While calligraphy is a fun and enriching art, odds are you will encounter a bit of frustration while learning it! In this blog post, you’ll learn five ways to forge ahead and improve your technique along the way.
Your calligraphy skills will drastically improve if you practice — but “practice” shouldn’t just mean boring drills. In fact, it’s best to strike a balance between repeating letters (like in the letter formation practice sections of the TPK calligraphy worksheets) and creating stimulating, worthwhile projects. For example, you could create a cool calligraphy-centric work of art like the calligraphy ampersand below. It doesn’t have to be perfect: the point is to challenge yourself by trying out something new!
Mail art offers another great way to boost your calligraphy skills! It’s so rewarding to make something to send to a friend or family member; you won’t even realize you are practicing. I really love mail art, so there are a lot of mail art-centric tutorials here on the TPK blog! Here are a few of my favorites that you may enjoy as well:
- Three Decorated Envelopes Mini-Tutorials
- Illustrated Teapot Envelope Art Tutorial
- Four Mail Art Mini-Tutorials
- Four Artistic Ways to Write a Return Address
When you get to merge calligraphy with artistic elements, the calligraphy creation process is even more enjoyable! It’s also motivating, in a way, to know that a friend or family member will become the owner of your efforts. That’s why I’m always showing you photos of mail art that I have made: I want to encourage you to make mail art, too! It’s some of the best calligraphy practice you can get. 🙂
2. Try New Mediums
A new lettering supply can work wonders for jumpstarting your calligraphy skills! There are a couple of different reasons for this: first of all, you may not be using a supply that is helping you to reach your full potential. For example, maybe you are using a plastic-flanged oblique pen when really a brass-flanged oblique would be a much better fit. Throughout this blog, you’ll find suggestions for pens, inks, and papers that may be easier to work with than what you are currently using!
Introducing new supplies into your calligraphy stash will also give your skills a boost because the supplies will encourage you to practice more! It’s never a bad thing to be able to break up the monotony and to be able to make new things as a result of expanding your collection of supplies. That’s why I conduct giveaways on Facebook and Instagram every weekend — to give people the chance to try out something they might not otherwise! (As a side note, my favorite thing to give away is the Finetec palette … I think it is fantastic.)
3. Go Out of Your Comfort Zone
One of the very best things I ever did to improve my calligraphy skills was enlisting my lettering services on Etsy. At the time, my calligraphy looked nothing like it does now. In fact, at first, I was only selling pieces that I created using faux calligraphy, like the envelope below.
If you have the chance to do something challenging with your calligraphy — something that makes you just a little bit uncomfortable — then seize it! My way of challenging myself was starting an Etsy shop and offering envelope calligraphy services. If you are afraid of offering your calligraphy for sale, don’t be: if people like the photos you post of your handiwork, they’ll appreciate what you make for them! If not, they won’t purchase from you. Ultimately, it’s their choice, and if they buy from you, great! You’ll effectively be getting paid to practice, and the project may even prompt you to step out of your comfort zone to meet client demands (e.g. they may ask you to use white ink or add a flourish).
Of course, there are other ways to go out of your comfort zone that don’t involve offering your work for sale. One of the best ways to hone your skills is to make materials for friends and family (like the fabric invitation suite shown above). If there’s a wedding or an event coming up, you can volunteer to design invitations and/or calligraph the envelopes or place cards. You can also exercise your calligraphy muscle in your workplace by designing flyers for bulletin boards, or lettering on a whiteboard or chalkboard (using faux calligraphy) if one is available.
4. Stay Inspired
If you have trouble coming up with fresh, new project ideas that stimulate you, you might not feel compelled to create calligraphy. Bottom line, f you’re not writing, then your calligraphy skills will not improve. Luckily, the internet offers a plethora of resources to inspire you, including tutorials and photos. Here are my three favorite online resources for inspiration:
- Pinterest! – You can find so many great tutorials and gorgeous pieces of calligraphy inspiration there.
- Instagram – There’s a lot of talent on Instagram; it’s fun to see what others are doing and get ideas! Some of my favorite calligraphers on Instagram are Phyllis Macaluso, Joi Hunt, Sharisse DeLeon (brush lettering), and Jodean Cooper. To find new favorites, you can search Instagram for hashtags like #moderncalligraphy, #calligraphy, and #pointedpen.
- Etsy – It’s always neat to see what artists and calligraphers are offering for sale! I get a lot of mail art inspiration from looking at calligraphy and illustrations on Etsy.
Books and magazines can also serve as a fantastic source of inspiration! Here are the works that I have personally found to be the most helpful:
- Modern Calligraphy by Molly Suber Thorpe – Lots of great project suggestions!
- Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy by Eleanor Winters – Offers a thorough introduction to copperplate calligraphy; it’s a little bit dry, but super-informative!
- Dasherie Magazine – This is a publication by Erica McPhee that celebrates all things calligraphy! It is chock full of photos and information for all levels of calligraphy enthusiasts.
5. Compliment Yourself
If you are looking at others’ work, you may be compelled to compare your own calligraphy skills to theirs. It’s human nature to observe and possibly think things like: “So-and-so is really talented; I could never do that,” but that mentality will get you nowhere because it attributes others’ projects to talent rather than practice. Instead of thinking negatively, be upbeat about your own journey. For example, take a look at the photos below — these photos show some of my early attempts at calligraphy (and photography!):
At the time of creating those pieces, I knew that they weren’t totally extraordinary, but I really loved some aspects of them. For the envelope on the left, I complimented myself on creating thick and thin upstrokes. I also loved the dots between the numbers in the zip code — I hadn’t thought to do that before! For the envelope on the right, I loved its simplicity, sparse flourishes, and the fact that everything was more or less centered.
Fast-forward a couple of years, and my calligraphy skills have improved (and continue to improve every day). I attribute that to positive self-talk and an understanding that all skills take time to develop.
Don’t get me wrong: it is 100% okay to look at a piece you have made and do a mental critique. You can think about the things you would change if you had it to do over, but for every thing you find that you don’t like, find something that you do like. The goal is to have a mentality of: “I did this well, and in the future I can do it even better,” rather than “I am not good at this.” Trust me, if you put in the time, have fun with it, and stay positive, you will get better!
I hope this post helps you to keep moving forward with developing your calligraphy skills! Truly, calligraphy is one of those things where the more you do it, more you’ll see improvement. You don’t have to practice every day, but do try to write regularly (2-3 times per week). Every practice session will build on itself until you are able to make things that you are totally in love with — and even after that, you will continue to improve!
If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contribute. Thanks very, very much for reading TPK, and we’ll reconvene again this weekend!