How to Use an Oblique Calligraphy Pen

Psst! There’s a newer, improved version of this post that you really should read. Click here to check it out!

How to Use an Oblique Calligraphy Pen | The Postman's Knock

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but if you’re in the northern hemisphere, it’s summer — and wedding and events season! With party season comes invitations, and with invitations comes invitation calligraphy.

It’s always been my philosophy that the envelope builds up anticipation for whatever is inside of the envelope. If the envelope is super-cool, just imagine what’s inside! Before I started selling calligraphy, I would look on Etsy and salivate at the amazing wedding calligraphy on the site. For months, I wondered, “HOW do they do that??” {as I used my cheating calligraphy method in the meantime}.

Some of the more artistic photos on Etsy included photos of a funny-looking calligraphy pen; a sort of Frankenstein’s monster pen with a strange appendage. I had no idea what it was called at the time {I had no luck with “Frankenstein Calligraphy Pen” on Google}, but now I know it’s an oblique calligraphy pen. And it’s your new best friend if you’re in the market for making some seriously cool text.

How to Use an Oblique Calligraphy Pen | The Postman's Knock

Today, I’m going to show you how to make a show-stopper envelope that will leave your pen pal or event invitee floored. But first, you’ll need a few things:

Calligraphy Power Tool Kit | The Postman's Knock

The most important thing to purchase is an oblique calligraphy pen. I live in Boulder, CO, a relatively populous area, and I couldn’t find one in town (at least, there wasn’t one at Michael’s or the paperie downtown). Dually, I enlisted the ever-trusty, and it was there I found the oblique calligraphy pen I now call my own.

You’ll notice that here I am planning to use a black envelope and white ink. The opaque white ink was not easy to find, but eventually I tracked some down at I recommend stocking up because the shipping cost on Mr. Art is about $10.00. Don’t discount the possibility that a local store may carry calligraphy inks as well; I was able to purchase every color but white at Michael’s.

Then, of course, you’ll want a ruler and a pencil, plus an envelope.

Your first step, as always in my calligraphy tutorials, is to create light guidelines using your pencil and ruler. Make sure your lines run parallel to the top and bottom of your envelope.

How to Use an Oblique Calligraphy Pen | The Postman's Knock

Now, before you jump the gun and start writing, I’d like to show you how to hold your oblique calligraphy pen.

How to Hold an Oblique Calligraphy Pen | The Postman's Knock

See? It’s not difficult. You just hold it like a regular pen or pencil. The Frankenstein appendage is there to make your life easier: you write just like you normally would, but the pen provides you with an angle that otherwise would be tough to achieve.

How to Use an Oblique Calligraphy Pen | The Postman's Knock

This may be self-explanatory, but you’ll dip your pen in your ink — don’t overdo it. Generally I just dip 1/4″ {0.6 cm} of the nib in the ink. Do more and you’ll risk having a big drop of ink ruin your potential masterpiece.

How to Use an Oblique Calligraphy Pen | The Postman's Knock

Then you’ll start writing, utilizing a marriage of pressure and no pressure to make a gorgeous work of art. When you stroke down, apply pressure. When you stroke up, apply very little pressure. This gives you thin lines on the upstrokes and nice, fat lines on the downstrokes.

I can write ’til the cows come home about how to do this, but to be honest I think it will be easier for you to watch me. I don’t think I’ll be going to Hollywood anytime soon, but despite that, enjoy this video detailing how to use your oblique calligraphy pen {and what not to do}.

{If you can’t see the video, click here to visit its home on vimeo.}

How to Use an Oblique Calligraphy Pen | The Postman's Knock

Once you’re finished, your masterpiece should look something like this. The wonderful thing about calligraphy ink is it takes minutes to dry. I’d wait five minutes to be safe, then use a good eraser {I like Staedtler Mars Plastic} to eradicate any evidence you used guidelines.

How to Use an Oblique Calligraphy Pen | The Postman's Knock

I recently discovered the multi-stamp look and I love it. If you’re having an event and want your envelopes and stamps to be absolutely stellar, check out Edelweiss Post on Etsy. Owner Patrick pre-stamps pretty envelopes with stunning vintage stamps. Everything is all color-coordinated, unique, and ready to go! You can find unused vintage postage stamps at many shops on Etsy, and believe it or not the post office still accepts them {provided you’ve got sufficient postage on your envelope}.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how it’s done! If you have any questions, of course don’t hesitate to comment. If not, have fun using your oblique calligraphy pen — and knock yourself out impressing the post office!


    • says

      You should! I could not find ANY here in Boulder … through granted I only looked at Michael’s and then also a local paperie. They’re really great. The next letter I write to you, I’ll use the oblique pen to write your address. :)

  1. Elizabeth A says

    So helpful for new calligraphers! Or at least, me anyway… What nib do you happen to be using?

    • says

      So glad you find it helpful, Elizabeth! I know I hadn’t the slightest clue how to use this oblique calligraphy pen contraption when I received it, and after I figured it out, I wanted to help others who were in my position. The nib I’m using came from this Speedball set. It’s the nib that says “HUNT IMPERIAL USA” in horizontal orientation; then in vertical orientation it says “10”. Let me know if you have any other questions — I’m always glad to help!

  2. Crafty grandma says

    How elegant, how bourgeois, how beautiful….reminds me of writing with ink and pen in grade 2. Had a fabulous grade 2 teacher that taught us to write (script) that was almost like calligraphy…same for my grade 3 teacher…beautiful penmanship to copy throughout my life even though it was many many moons ago! I love to journal using calligraphy especially in old (my mom’s photo books). TFS truly beautiful

    • says

      Hi Hilda!

      I’ll be glad to. :) We’re just about to undergo a website/blog redesign so that will be my first post once we are finished! Thanks so much for reading.

  3. says

    I hope you get a commission from all the pens we’re buying 😉 Found the white ink on and they are having a sale right now… so, might be worth it to get your ink there! Can’t wait to get the oblique pen and try this out. Thanks again for the video, it’s awesome!

    • says

      I wish! :) I did find oblique pens locally, actually — while stores like Michael’s and Hobby Lobby don’t appear to have them, a little store called “Guiry’s” here in Boulder has them! (For you Denver folks: I’m sure Guiry’s in Denver has them, too!) They seem to be a little hit-or-miss as far as rather you can find them offline. And definitely! If there’s a sale going on, stock up! When I buy ink I always buy a lot to compensate for the relatively large shipping cost through DickBlick and MrArt. There’s a lot of Higgins ink here in Boulder (at Michaels/Hobby Lobby-type places), but I love Winsor and Newton because it’s waterproof; the Higgins ink isn’t.

      Happy calligraphy creating! Later this month I’ll be doing a tutorial over how to use a regular calligraphy pen. The effect is a little less elegant, but every bit as visually delicious!

    • says

      Don’t I know it! I kept seeing photos of oblique calligraphy pens on Etsy {mostly as supplements to photos of envelope calligraphy}, and I had no idea what they were … what I did know is I wanted to get one and figure out how to make my calligraphy look prettier, too. I pored over the internet for tutorials and didn’t find any, so after a few hours of trial and error that led to finally cracking the mystery of the oblique calligraphy pen, I resolved to make my own darn tutorial. I’m so glad you like it! By the way, just checked out your blog — so cool! I love that West Elm is including Etsy artists in their catalogs.

    • says

      I wish I did have something to share! The truth is I just write cursive plain and simple; the result of my oblique pen calligraphy actually resembles my normal handwriting. If you want a font to go off of that’s really fancy {and on every computer!}, though, I’d recommend using Edwardian script as a guide. You can also just browse the internet for “handwritten envelope calligraphy” and mimic your favorites. I tend to like fun styles rather than super fancy ones — that’s why my calligraphy is generally pretty loopy with a trill thrown in here and there. 😉

  4. Gia says

    Love this! You made it look so easy I totally went out and bought myself an oblique pen and white Winsor ink! I realize my first time diving into this is going to be difficult, but I’m struggling! The ink seems globby (almost like too watery?) when I use it! Any tips, tutorials, more videos, etc. For a newbie would be GREATLY appreciated!

    • says

      Hi Gia!

      Oh no! Don’t despair. Usually the first couple uses of the Winsor & Newton white are disastrously watery. You want it to get to this sweet spot where it’s a little more viscous. Why don’t you leave it with the lid off for about 20 minutes, then come back, shake it up, and see if it’s gotten more manageable?

      It’s probably coming out in globs, right? That’s what happens when it’s really watery. It tends to all hang out in the nib’s reservoir and then when you least want it to, it produces a big blob on what is supposed to be a masterpiece. Like I said, try to get it to a sweet spot by letting a little bit of the water evaporate. It may take a little longer than 20 minutes, but eventually you’ll get it to a good, manageable place.

      Also: I’m sure you’re not, but just in case: don’t try using super, super tiny nibs with it. It’s a big headache to try to write with those.

      Let me know if this helps to solve your problem; if not, we can brainstorm other solutions — I promise that with some practice you’ll be a pro!

  5. says

    Hey Lindsey,
    Thanks for the great post.
    Could you talk about what your favorite nibs are in the oblique? Actually, it would be nice to know what nibs you prefer in a straight holder also.

    • says

      Hi Laura!

      I’m so sorry — I wish I had insight into calligraphy for lefties! I do know that the oblique holder is made specifically with “righties” in mind; though many right-handed calligraphers don’t like to use the oblique holder. If I were a leftie, I’d definitely stick with a straight holder.

      I would highly recommend buying Molly Suber Thorpe’s book “Modern Calligraphy“. It actually has a section titled “For The Left-Handed Calligrapher” explaining that there are two types of left-handed calligraphers: underwriters and overwriters. It provides techniques for both categories of writers. :)

      I’m sorry I can’t be of more help!!

  6. Verelle says

    I was wondering if you could give any tips/recommendations on paper? I’ve been struggling with bleeding/feathering, and was hoping you had some pro tips.

    • says

      Hi Verelle!

      Sorry for this late response! My mom was struggling with the same thing just a couple of months ago. It is all about the paper — and the ink! If you’re using Higgins, I would switch over to Speedball India ink; it doesn’t seem to bleed nearly as badly and stays on the nib longer. With the paper, you won’t get any bleed on watercolor paper because of its low wet-media absorbency … but you may have issues with the nib catching, especially if you’re relatively new to calligraphy. My go-to calligraphy paper is simple 60-80 lb. sketch or mixed media paper; for example, this Strathmore sketch pad is one I use often. It can be found at any art supply store, or (of course) online! Tracing paper also doesn’t seem to bleed, if you want to map out your calligraphy on graph paper first, trace over it, and then scan in your calligraphy for digital use.

      I hope this is somewhat helpful!

  7. Paul says

    I just took a Copperplate workshop this weekend – those Speedball holders are inexpensive, but hard on the hands. I eventually rotated it so the angled part wasn’t flat, but rolled down about 45 degrees, with the nib then adjusted to be flat to the paper – it probably lessened the oblique angle a fair bit, but meant I was able to get the nib much flatter to the paper. I’ll definitely be looking at these holders when I have some time.

    • says

      I agree with you — the Speedball oblique is usable and certainly cost-effective! But you’re absolutely right: they’re hard on the hands, and they require positioning compromises on the calligrapher’s part. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that plastic Speedballs shouldn’t be touched with a ten-foot pole; but I do think if it’s financially and logistically feasible to get a metal-flanged pen instead, that’s the best way to go. :)

  8. Celeste says

    Is there a specific type of envelope you use / place you order them from?
    I have had the same issues with bleeding and feathering (as previously mentioned about paper) when attempting Copperplate on an envelope.
    I have used Fixative spray but that doesn’t really seem to help.

    Thank you!

    • says

      Hi Celeste!

      I try to use envelopes that are somewhat heavyweight — 80 lb. is best for not bleeding. I love buying my envelopes from Neenah Paper … usually I get the Royal Sundance, but any of their 80 lb. envelopes are wonderful! Usually the higher the weight of paper, the lower the absorbency. High absorbency is what gives you that bleeding/feathering.

      There will be times, however, where you need to use lower poundage envelopes. At that point, you’ll want to use thicker ink (because thick ink doesn’t absorb quickly into paper, regardless of the paper). I’d add gum arabic to a little bit of your ink to get it to thicken up a bit!

      Hopefully this helps; let me know if you have any more questions!

  9. claudine says

    Hi! I really like your blog and tutorials. I especially like your font – can you share us the specific font your using? or share a printable Letters/Numbers to try them too? Thanks!! :)

  10. says

    Thank you!
    This is all wonderful. Thank you for generously sharing your expertise in such a straightforward way. You have inspired me to make beautiful letterforms. Your work is absolutely beautiful and now I am eager to find my own voice in calligraphy!

    • says

      It’s my pleasure! After taking a look at your website, I know you will catch on fast — and you’ll be able to beautifully incorporate calligraphy/lettering into future art pieces. :)

  11. says

    Hello again, Lindsey! Is it easier to slant our letters using an oblique pen holder? Will it help to make our slant more uniform? Thank you!

    • says

      Hi Paula! I find that the oblique holder really helps with my slant (I am right-handed)! If you don’t have one, it’s absolutely worth trying — I use mine every single day.

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