Modern calligraphy is an anything-goes, make-your-own-rules territory. While that makes it a very appealing form of art and expression, it is also intimidating. Given a blank slate, where do you start? This blog post ventures to lend a bit of structure to your own development of unique modern calligraphy styles in five steps. As you’re reading, remember that these are just guidelines, and you can modify them to perfectly suit your needs! There truly is no wrong way to learn modern calligraphy.
1. Learn the Basics
If you’re new to dip pen calligraphy, your instinct may be to jump in head-first and give that holder and nib the ride of its life. There’s no reason, of course, you shouldn’t try that route if it appeals to you; but it’s more likely that you’ll experience success if you start with an understanding of the basics of calligraphy. The Beginner’s Guide to Modern Calligraphy blog post will help you in this endeavor, from ensuring you get the right supplies to cementing your knowledge of thin upstrokes and thick downstrokes.
As part of learning the basics, I would recommend that you choose the Learn Calligraphy worksheet style that appeals to you most and practice with that worksheet set. Each worksheet set starts by teaching you faux calligraphy and eases you in to using a dip pen.
You may wonder why I encourage you to practice a TPK Learn Calligraphy worksheet style when this blog post is about you developing your own style. The reason is this: mastering the basics of any calligraphy style gives you the tools to make a style that is uniquely yours. Once you figure out upstrokes, downstrokes, letter formations, favorite inks, nibs, and papers to write on, you can let creative license run rampant and make calligraphy that is simply “you”. That’s the point of the worksheets: to teach you a new style, and to help you develop the knowledge to make your own calligraphy styles!
2. Identify Elements of Calligraphy that You Like
If you’re on Pinterest, I would suggest creating a board that is dedicated to calligraphy and font inspiration. I have a calligraphy inspiration board — “Font Fascination” — and I always turn to it if I need a creative spark. Looking at all the pins there gives me a thought process that goes something like: “OK, I love the color and the flourish concept on the envelope in this pin. I’m going to use that color and concept in a project!”
If you don’t have Pinterest, you can keep track of good ideas in a sketchbook or notebook. Whether or not you’re a Pinterest user, you might garner some inspiration from books. My two favorites are:
Looking at other artists’ styles will help you to develop your own!
3. Brainstorm Unique Elements of Your Style
Whenever I’m developing a new calligraphy style, I start out with a list like the one below.
Lists can help you to plan out key elements of your new calligraphy style. You may use your list to address characteristics like:
- Slant: Does your calligraphy style lean to the left, to the right, or does it not have any slant?
- Connections: Are all, none, or some letters connected in a word?
- Adjectives: Once you’ve developed this style, how do you want to be able to describe it? Neat and elegant, perhaps? Or cute and messy? (Etc.)
- Flourishes and Loops: Are there a lot of flourishes and loops in your calligraphy style?
- Utilization: Do you envision an ideal utilization for this style? For example, would it be ideal to use on wedding envelopes, or more well-suited for inspirational quote artwork?
4. Make Exemplars for Yourself
The human brain can only handle so much. You might come up with the coolest modern calligraphy style ever, and forget what exactly it looked like three weeks later! (Trust me, I know from personal experience.) That’s why it’s always a good idea to make an exemplar. In fact, I have exemplars for all my calligraphy styles hanging on the wall directly behind my desk.
The most useful kind of exemplar is one that shows all the letters in the style. That way, if you suddenly find yourself wondering, “How did I make that nice, flourishy ‘R’, again?”, you need only reference your exemplar.
You can also take photos of your creations and keep them for future reference. While I really enjoy keeping my Instagram updated so others can (hopefully!) garner some inspiration from it, I actually reference it quite a bit to remind myself of how I made this-or-that.
5. Allow Yourself to Embellish and Evolve the Style
When you’re creating modern calligraphy, know that you always have the freedom to change styles and allow them to evolve. If you’re writing, and you suddenly have the urge to put a very long, curly cross on a lowercase “t” (despite never having done so before), go for it! Or, maybe you’re used to making ascenders (the tall parts of letters like “h”, “b”, and “d”) as loops, and you decide one day to make them as lines instead. Do it, I say! For example, the agitated font style below is an angular variation of Kaitlin style.
As your level of comfort with creating your new calligraphy style grows, you’ll find yourself trying out new looks for the style. It’s natural for your artistic tastes and, effectively, the calligraphy style, to change. For example, when I first started toying Amy Style a couple of years ago, this is what it looked like:
I favored lots of loops and tails, and the style had even more of a roundness to it than it does today. As my calligraphy skills and tastes changed, however, I found myself favoring a cleaner, more sleek look. That’s resulted in the cleaner Amy style of today.
Remember that once you come up with a rule or a stylistic preference, it’s not set in stone. Always allow yourself to try new things with the style; more than likely, your tweaks here and there will add up to a modified calligraphy style that you love even more than the original!
The most important thing to remember when you’re developing new modern calligraphy styles is this: no one expects you to reinvent the wheel, and you shouldn’t expect yourself to do so, either. You’ll put a lot of pressure on yourself if you begin the development of your calligraphy style by deciding, “I’m going to come up with a calligraphy or lettering style that no one in the entire history of humankind has ever seen the likes of.” There are billions of people in the world, and chances are, someone has written in a style similar to the one you’re creating. That is 100% okay. Just work with the inspiration you have, and see where your new calligraphy style takes you!
Thanks for reading, and enjoy the rest of your day!