I want to start off this blog post by saying that the only calligraphy supplies you really need to begin learning to use a dip pen are listed in the Ultimate Modern Calligraphy Starter Kit post. To recap, the supplies include a Nikko G nib, a straight holder, sumi ink (India ink works too!), smooth paper, and a worksheet set (plus water, a napkin, and something to prime your nibs with). That said, once you have been practicing for a while, you may want to try out some new supplies to help bring some novelty into your calligraphic creations! This blog post will give you some ideas for indulgences when you need a little something to reward yourself for your hard work.
1. Oblique Pens
Oblique pens are amazing for both righties and lefties! You can read more about them in this blog post, but basically they were developed to help you achieve a right-leaning slant without a lot of frustration. The flange (that metal protruding part) holds your nib at an angle that facilitates that right slant and also ensures you exert even pressure on the nib. As an added bonus, I feel like the oblique pen helps me to keep my hand out of the way … I even use it for illustration purposes!
The Speedball plastic-flanged oblique pen is probably the pen you’ll find at your local arts/crafts store. While you can start out using that pen, a metal-flanged oblique offers a more snug fit for most nibs and is adjustable. That means you can move the flange to suit your needs as far as the angle that works for you. If you are new to oblique pens and want to test the waters without spending a lot of money, I’d recommend trying a Ziller pen. This pen is best for the Nikko G nib, and this pen is best for the Brause EF66 nib. For a really nice little calligraphy treat, though, I’d purchase from Rodger’s Pen Box.
When it comes to oblique pens, I exclusively use Rodger’s Pen Box pens. They are lovingly created by Rodger Mayeda, a retired engineer who is a lover of all things calligraphy. Rodger is dedicated to making tools that ensure calligraphers have the best experience possible: the finish on his pens is smooth as butter, the flanges are pliable and custom-fitted for your favorite nib, and the ends are tapered to fit your grip like a dream. The caveat? All of Rodger’s pens are handmade, and he can only create so many per month! So, if you ever want to treat yourself, check Rodger’s shop announcement, then mark your calendar for the day and hour that he’ll open. Place your order as soon as possible on that day because he sells out lickety-split! (If you’re in the UK/EU, you can purchase RPB pens from Penman Direct.)
2. New Nibs
As I mentioned before, I consider the Nikko G to be the best beginner nib. However, once you have mastered using it, you’ll find yourself wanting to broaden your nib horizons. I know that I, personally, wanted a nib that would give me a super thick downstroke and a nice, thin upstroke! For that reason, I fell in love with the Brause EF66. There are lots of other excellent nibs out there, too, including the Brause Rose, the Brause Steno (“The Blue Pumpkin”), and the Leonardt EF Principal. You can learn about all of those nibs in the Lowdown on Calligraphy Nibs post!
I tend to recommend the same little group of nibs over and over here on the TPK blog, but I don’t want that to limit you in any way if you are considering trying out a nib I haven’t mentioned! Nibs are cheap, and you can never have too many different nibs to try out. So — if you’re out and about one day, and you see a nib that you’re curious about, give it a try! It might end up being your new go-to.
If you’re splurging on a couple of nibs, you might as well get a nice little container to keep them in! I love this little nib tin, which is only $2.95 on Paper and Ink Arts and £1.50 on Scribblers. (Really, you can keep your nibs in any little container you have laying around; but for aesthetic reasons, I like the Leonardt tin!)
3. The Finetec Palette
I think I talk about the Finetec palette so much because becoming acquainted with it was a real turning point for me as an artist and calligrapher. I remember the first time I used the Golds palette — I could not believe how beautiful the “ink” flowing out of my nib was! When it dried, I was so impressed at its opacity and exquisite shimmer. If you’ve never heard of this palette before, it’s a good idea to read Instant Gold Ink: How to Use the Finetec Palette … otherwise, writing with it may be a bit confusing!
There are two Finetec palettes available: the Golds and the Pearl Colors. It’s really up to you which one to start with: they’re both gorgeous. I like using the golds for projects that I want to exude elegance, like the Kaitlin Style menu above. The Pearl Colors are a little bit more subdued, so I love using them to add some subtle sparkle to projects like the thank you card below. The copper Finetec Pearl Colors oval border really complements the natural-looking watercolors used to paint the fox, as well as the earthy Janet Style “Thank You” (written in walnut ink).
If you’re hesitant about purchasing the entire Finetec palette, you can always give one pot (Arabic Gold) a try for $4.45. That way, you can get a feel for using it and see if you like it!
I know that a lot of people wonder how long one Finetec pot will last. That’s a tough question to answer because it really depends on how much you use it, and what water to Finetec ratio you prefer. I will say that one pot goes a really long way — at least as long as a 1 oz. bottle of ink, for sure. Finetec is technically a watercolor, so if you don’t end up using it up quickly, it lasts just about forever in storage. Really … I can’t say it enough: I love Finetec!
4. Assorted Inks and Gouache
Once you get a feel for using sumi ink and/or India ink, you may start to wonder if there’s more to life than making lovely black letters. The answer to that is an emphatic yes! There are so many inks available out there, and I encourage you to try as many as you can! My favorites constantly rotate, but right now I’m loving Winsor & Newton white, Daniel Smith walnut, and Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay inks. As you try out new inks, you’ll find some that you adore, some that you’re so-so on, and others that make you go, “What? Why do they even sell this? It’s awful!”. If you’re afraid of the latter reaction to a brand new, big bottle of ink, you might consider buying ink samples from Goulet Pen Co. Goulet’s samples facilitate getting to discover new favorites without wasting money … or space on your desk!
Gouache is also a fantastic calligraphy supply to have on hand! It’s not technically an ink, but a super-concentrated watercolor. You can learn about how to use it — and why you’ll need to splurge a little on the “good stuff” — in this blog post.
Gouache is awesome because you can use it to make vibrant, opaque calligraphy and illustrations on any color of paper! It’s relatively user-friendly, blends well, and makes for some excellent results. For example, this Janet Style envelope with the lace detail is one of my very favorite pieces of mail art. Sure, the intricacy of the illustration helps, but mostly I am enamored with the color scheme! That bright, cheerful yellow can only be easily achieved by using gouache!
In short, I would encourage you to peruse your favorite calligraphy store — online or brick-and-mortar — and select a few new inks to try. You’ll be surprised at how well you click with some of them!
Watercolors are a huge asset to any calligrapher’s creative artillery! You can actually use them in conjunction with your dip pen to write, which is a technique I still marvel at! (This blog post teaches you how to calligraph with watercolors.) I especially love using watercolor paints for calligraphy on the go … my watercolors have accompanied me everywhere from Southern California to rural Kansas to Peru in order to facilitate calligraphy creation. Since they’re dry paints, I never worry about ink spilling all over the clothes in my suitcase!
My go-to watercolor sets are from Greenleaf & Blueberry, but any watercolor set is perfect to get you started! When I first tried the watercolor calligraphy technique, I used a Winsor & Newton Cotman set with great results.
If you’re confused about why a person would use X watercolor set over Y watercolor set, I encourage you to read the All About Watercolor Paints blog post. It can help you to figure out which watercolor set at which price point will be best for your needs!
6. Assorted Envelopes
Part of the fun of calligraphy is calligraphing envelopes! Even though you can make some great pieces of mail art using a standard white envelope, sometimes it’s inspiring and refreshing to start off with a colorful envelope. For example, the Sans Serif/Janet Style envelope below looks so cool because of its orange envelope background. If the envelope were white, the effect would have been completely different!
I am often asked where I buy envelopes, and the truth is I’m really not that picky about where my envelopes come from. The only thing I concern myself about is whether they are high-quality or not … if not, ink has a tendency to bleed! In general, I have noticed that craft stores (e.g. Michael’s) tend to have pretty cheap, flimsy envelopes; while stores that specialize in paper offer quality envelopes. I have had success buying from Paper Source, Neenah Paper, Cards and Pockets, Envelopes.com, and, locally, Two Hands Paperie here in Boulder.
While the post office will generally humor any size and/or color of envelope, you may need to add extra postage to the envelope to get it safely to its destination. To learn more about creating effective mail art, you can take a look at the How to Make Deliverable Mail Art post.
7. Postage Stamps
I’m not sure that I can technically classify postage stamps as a “calligraphy supply”, but they sure can motivate you to make some gorgeous lettering! If you’re into calligraphy — and, in particular, calligraphy on envelopes — chances are you’ll enjoy creating stamp collages to enhance your handiwork.
I cannot speak to other countries’ policies (if you can, please contribute in the comments!), but in the US, a vintage postage stamp is worth whatever it says it’s worth. As long as it hasn’t been marked by a postage machine/postal worker, it’s fully usable! Stamps fill up space beautifully on any envelope, and they can add a lot of character to the piece. Having cool stamps to finish my mail pieces off certainly motivates me to create fun, calligraphed envelopes, which is why I’ve included the postage stamp suggestion on this list. I recently purchased this batch of vintage stamps on eBay, and could not have been more delighted with what I received!
As you process the information presented in this post, I want to reiterate that none of these calligraphy supplies are imperative to your development as a calligrapher. The last thing I want to do is portray calligraphy as an expensive art form that requires a lot of bells and whistles — it’s really not! The items listed above are just some suggestions to add some spice to your lettering process. Sometimes, new supplies can really help to keep things fun and fresh!
If you have any questions or suggestions regarding this post, I would love to hear them in the comments. Thanks so much for reading, and enjoy the rest of your week!