Modern calligraphy is an anything-goes, make-your-own-rules territory. While that makes it an appealing form of art and expression, the lack of structure can be intimidating! Given a blank slate, where do you start? This blog post endeavors to answer that question.
1. Learn the Basics
If you’re new to dip pen calligraphy, your instinct may be to jump in without any experience. There’s no reason that you shouldn’t try that route if it appeals to you! However, it’s much more likely that you’ll experience success if you start with an understanding of the basics of calligraphy. I recommend either taking an in-person calligraphy workshop or enrolling in The Beginner’s Modern Calligraphy Online Course.
Mastering the basics of calligraphy gives you the tools to create a style that is uniquely yours. Once you figure out strokes, letter formations, and favorite nibs, you can cultivate your calligraphy creativity!
2. Identify Elements of Calligraphy that You Like
The next step in developing your own calligraphy styles is figuring out what sort of calligraphy you’re attracted to. Some people like messy styles, others are attracted to orderly styles, and still others love traditional-looking styles. If you’re like me, you might like them all — which means you just need to focus in on what you’re feeling the most on any particular day! If you’re on Pinterest, I would suggest creating a board that is dedicated to calligraphy and font inspiration.
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 also might garner some inspiration from books. Try perusing Modern Calligraphy by Molly Suber Thorpe! Looking at other artists’ calligraphy styles will help you to develop your own.
3. Brainstorm Unique Elements of Your New Calligraphy Style
Before you develop your calligraphy style, try making a list of rules and characteristics. Consider the following:
- 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. Play with Individual Letters
In 2017, I released a Creative Calligraphy Challenge worksheet. That worksheet is great for experimenting with styles for individual letters! Try filling the worksheet out, then you can create an entire style based on the letter you like the most.
If the Creative Calligraphy Challenge worksheet doesn’t inspire you, don’t worry. Instead, you can write several different versions of the same letter that honor the characteristics in your list from step 3! Choose your favorite version, then make an alphabet based off of that version.
5. Make Exemplars for Yourself
The human brain can only handle so much. You might come up with the coolest modern calligraphy style ever, only to forget what 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.
6. Take Photos of Your Favorite Calligraphy Projects
Let’s face it: paper isn’t forever. Mail art is lovely, but the point is to send it away! Artwork can last longer, but it’s not guaranteed that it will. (As the mother to a highly curious nine-month-old, I know this all too well!) So: if you calligraph something that you like, take a photo! It will last practically forever, and it can serve to inspire you for future projects.
If you particularly love something you made, try posting it to social media (like Instagram)! In addition to having a record of your project for yourself, you might just inspire someone else.
7. Allow Yourself to Embellish and Evolve Your Calligraphy Styles
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!
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. That’s what happened with Amy Style calligraphy for me. It started off looking very flourished and playful, like this:
Over the past few years, I subtracted lots of flourishes and modified letters to make the style more serious. Now, Amy Style calligraphy looks like this:
The real secret to creating your own calligraphy styles is confidence and a willingness to experiment! Come up with all sorts of alphabets, use them when the mood strikes, and continue to make modifications as you go. If you’re curious, you can see examples of my five modern calligraphy styles here!
I hope that you found this article helpful, and that you try out making your own modern calligraphy styles! If you make a style that you particularly like, I’d love to see it on Instagram. Tag me at @thepostmansknock! For now, I’m off to prepare for my modern calligraphy workshops, which are taking place this weekend in Boulder. You can be with us in spirit by practicing your calligraphy at home — and looking for some Instagram live videos on Sunday morning!
Thanks very much for reading, and have a great weekend!
PS – If you liked reading this article, you might also enjoy How to Develop an Artistic Hand Lettering Style.