When you set out to create a piece of calligraphy, you need so more than just a pen and a nib. Before you gather your wallet to go to the store, though, take a look around your house! I guarantee that you already have a few surprising calligraphy supplies that will make your creative process easier.
1. Old Mug
As you dip and re-dip your calligraphy pen in ink, the ink starts to congeal on the nib. For that reason, you need to swish the nib every couple of minutes in what I call “art water”.
Now, you can use any vessel you want for art water, but I prefer to use an old mug. Why? Because mugs are sturdy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve inadvertently hit my art water mug with my hand and it hasn’t tipped over! Less stable cups tend to spill water all over the place. Don’t have an old mug? Check out your local thrift shop. You should be able to find one there for a ridiculously low price!
2. Cloth Dinner Napkin
Each time you swish your nib in art water, you’re putting excess water on the nib that you need to remove before dipping it in ink again. Otherwise, the water will mix with your ink on the nib and affect the ink’s vibrancy.
Many people use paper towels to blot water off of the nib, but paper towels tend to have fibers that stick in nibs. Stray fibers almost always adversely affect strokes! For that reason, it’s best to use a dinner napkin or other tightly-woven fabric to dry off nibs. Cotton fabrics are great because they absorb water well!
3. Syringe or Spoon
If you notice that moisture is starting to evaporate out of your inks, you should add some water back in. (You’ll know that you need more water because the ink is considerably more difficult to write with, especially when you try to make upstrokes.) I prefer to add water with a craft (dull) syringe, but a spoon will work just as well!
On the record, I should advise you to put distilled water in your inks to avoid mold growth. Off the record, I use tap water because I never remember to pick up diluted water at the store.
4. Chop Stick or Stir Stick
Next time you find yourself at a coffee shop or an Asian restaurant, grab a stir stick or a chop stick for the road!
A chop stick, stir stick, toothpick, or any similar object is instrumental when you want to incorporate water into inks. I use a chop stick almost every day to re-incorporate water back into inks (especially Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bleed Proof White)!
5. Small Jam Jar
Don’t be so quick to throw out small jam jars or baby food jars! If the jar has a lid that screws on and off, it will make for awesome ink storage.
Simply wash out small jars, dry them completely, then pour in inks that didn’t come in a dip-pen-friendly container.
6. Any Small Container
Next time you reach the bottom of a bottle of pills, spices, or cosmetics, consider using the container to store nibs! Keeping nibs in a container ensures that they are easy to find and protects them from moisture and physical damage.
If you have children or pets at home, try keeping your nibs in a pill container with a childproof lid. That way, the nibs won’t end up in anyone’s mouth!
All new nibs arrive with a coating of oil or wax on them. This coating ensures that the nibs stay fresh and are protected from moisture as they wait to be sold. Of course, oil and water don’t mix, and many inks are water-based, so it’s important to get the coating off! The best way I’ve found to do so is stick your nibs in a potato.
Once you’ve stuck your nib in the potato, wait for fifteen minutes, then take the nib out and wipe it off. Your nib is now ready to use!
8. Large Piece of Scrap Paper
Before you recycle that flyer or magazine, consider using it as “padding paper”. You should always keep a piece of padding paper under your calligraphy!
It doesn’t matter what kind of paper you use for padding as long as it’s smooth. Padding paper provides a nice cushion between the hard table top and the paper that you’re writing on. The extra pad ensures that sumptuous downstrokes and thin upstrokes are easier to make!
Remember: you don’t have to use elegant calligraphy supplies to make elegant calligraphy. Creativity is all about solving problems — not having the shiniest toys! So go ahead and use that old pill bottle to store your nibs, embrace that chipped mug to hold your art water, and save that stained-beyond-saving dinner napkin. They will all help to make your calligraphy creation more enjoyable!