A lot of TPK blog posts have touched on how to hold a calligraphy pen … but, really, it’s a topic that deserves its own post. You see, there are so many calligraphy frustrations that stem from a problematic grip! With a few minor adjustments, you can solve everything from ink flow issues to the nib digging into the paper to arm and back pain. Whether you write with your right or left hand, the tips in this post will help you to write better and more comfortably!
How to Hold a Calligraphy Pen: Basic Grip
Most people maintain a curled grip around regular pens as they write. You let your fingers “run the show”: they control the pen. When you try to use a dip pen, then, your instinct is to use that same technique … which won’t give you good results.
When you hold a dip pen, you don’t want to hold it like you would any ordinary pen. First of all, you want your grip to be relatively relaxed. Your index finger should have only a slight bend to it, and the pen should be supported by — rather than controlled by — your thumb, index, and middle fingers. This goes for both right- and left-handed people.
How to Write with a Basic Grip
Having a good grip on the pen won’t help you much if you can’t harness its full power. As you’re writing, try to concentrate on keeping your index finger only slightly bent. Your index finger should never look like this:
Instead, this is the most it should bend:
As you’re writing, your finger movement should be minimal. They’ll move a little bit, but nothing like how they move when you’re using a regular pen! Instead, most of your movement will come from the arm, with the fingers mainly acting to exert pressure on the nib. If you’re confused, don’t worry! This video should clear the concept up:
As you write, your instinct will be to hunch over. I still catch myself hunching to this day: when you’re really absorbed in a project, you feel the urge to lean into it! While hunching can give you a good view, it also can cause back and breathing problems. As you write, try to be conscientious about sitting up straight and breathing regularly (don’t hold your breath!). Doing these two things will help you to write smoother, write for longer periods of time, and will save you from back pain!
Issues to Avoid
Holding the Pen Vertically
Even if you know how to hold a calligraphy pen, you can run into issues that hamper your success. The number one thing I want to emphasize is pen position! We all have a tendency to want to hold the pen vertically, but doing so increases the probability of the nib digging into the paper. A vertical position also generally results in ink flow issues; instead of gliding smoothly onto the paper, ink has a tendency to act in concert with gravity and rush onto the paper as a big blob! Here’s a photo of how not to hold the pen:
Holding the Pen Too Far Up
Some people have a tendency to hold the pen far up on the shaft, which allows you to write with a more delicate hand. Holding it too far up, however, eliminates your ability to fully control the pressure you exert on the nib. Instead, hold the pen about 1/2″ from the end — that will give you the best control over pressure and nib direction!
Not Keeping Both Tines of the Nib Evenly on the Paper
With a regular pen, it doesn’t matter which part of the nib touches the paper. Regardless, it will write well! This is not the case with a dip pen. If you’re using a dip pen, you have to make sure that both tines of the nib remain evenly on the paper no matter what type of stroke you are writing!
If one tine of the nib is taking on most of the pressure, the pen will more than likely dig into the paper. You’ll also lose the ability to create stroke contrast! So, make sure that as you’re writing, both tines are always evenly touching the paper. You’ll notice that in the photo below, the nib stays in the same position despite writing different types of strokes.
How to Hold an Oblique Calligraphy Pen
Oblique calligraphy pens were designed to give right- and some left-handed people a better angle while writing. Using an oblique pen can really help you to achieve a right-leaning slant! That said, in every workshop that I teach, I notice that participants are initially terrified at using this pen. The pen looks strange, and the grip is anything but self-explanatory!
If you’re right-handed, your grip should nearly be identical to the grip you have on the straight pen. Your thumb and index finger will be on the top of the pen while your middle finger rests under the pen. Your thumb, however, will also be resting on the flange. Keeping your thumb on the flange will afford you complete control of the pressure that you exert on the nib!
If you’re left-handed, it’s the same concept, but mirrored. Your grip will look like this:
If you’re confused, this video will help! In it, you’ll see me using a right oblique pen:
Getting Used to Using a Calligraphy Pen
If you’re new to using a calligraphy pen, it can take a few sessions of practice to get the hang of it! I would recommend practicing letterforms with a calligraphy worksheet. It will also be helpful to print out a few copies of this free calligraphy drills sheet to gain additional experience with pen control and pressure exertion.
I hope that this post has cleared up any questions you may have about how to hold a calligraphy pen! If you’re still a bit confused, please feel free to ask in the comments — I’m glad to answer! I guarantee that someone else has the same question, and they’ll be glad that you asked.
Thanks very, very much for reading TPK, and have a great weekend!