Today, you’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at the Modern Calligraphy Starter Kit: a gorgeous and useful collection that, you’ll learn, isn’t exactly efficient for us to compile (but it’s totally worth it because of owners’ enthusiasm).
When I was a calligraphy beginner, I assumed that the simple calligraphy starter kit I found at a big-box craft store would pave the path to my success. I was beyond disappointed when I got home: the nibs were too flexible for a beginner, and the instruction was minimal. I ended up with a page full of feathering ink that looked like a Rorschach test. Though I felt discouraged, I kept researching and trying out new tools.
It took a while for me to get the hang of choosing and using the right supplies. First, I learned that not all nibs are created equal (and, furthermore, not everyone connects with the same nibs). I also discovered that paper makes a world of difference — you can’t just write on any sheet of paper like you can with a regular pen. You have to be thoughtful about ink, too, and ensure that your ink is compatible with your paper. These are all things I wish someone would have spelled out for me as a beginner.
Developing My Own Calligraphy Starter Kit
When I started writing the TPK Blog, I noticed that people really enjoyed calligraphy-focused articles and free worksheets. As I created more and more projects, I started to realize the potential of the pointed pen. I appreciated that it was capable of making beautiful things; but, more than that, I loved its effect on my mental health. I wanted other people to discover that, too, but I knew that they’d need the proper supplies in order to do that. So, I wrote the Ultimate DIY Modern Calligraphy Starter Kit article to help connect people with the right tools. A few months later, I collaborated with The Paper Seahorse in Tampa, Florida, to develop a starter kit that they sold through their store.
In 2019, I worked up the gumption to design and sell my own calligraphy kit. First, I figured out what I wanted to include in it. I knew it needed, first and foremost, an accessible and comprehensive instructional component. So, I designed the kit to go with the Beginner’s Modern Calligraphy Online Course. Then, the supplies had to be just right: a brass-flanged oblique pen was a must, as were the right nibs and velvety sumi ink. I was overwhelmed by sourcing supplies, so I handed that task off to my husband, who figured out where to get everything. In the meantime, I focused on designing the kit box.
I put together a design in Photoshop, and we used a company called BoxUp to print the boxes. Shortly thereafter, I had printingforless.com print the kit booklets. By that time, my husband had sourced the basic supplies.
After a few months, the calligraphy starter kit was ready! It was very basic but useful, and we sold it for $65 in the Supplies Shop. Figuring out shipping logistics was intimidating, but eventually, we figured it out; and we took advantage of living in a university town to hire students to assemble the kits and package them up.
Coming Up With Iteration #2
In 2020, I felt like I could do better with the starter kit. I had designed the first version of the calligraphy kit when I was bleary-eyed and caring for a newborn, but my energy and vigor had come back by the time he was a toddler. So, I returned to the drawing board.
After extensive input from TPK readers, I settled on a kit design that was an upgrade to the original. The box design was similar on the outside, with a vibrant yellow interior. The kit now included a custom cleaning cloth, an embossed gold sticker, a beautiful nib tin, and a TPK cleaning water cup.
Like the original iteration of the kit, the new kit has the basics. It includes a Nikko G nib — the best beginner nib, in my opinion — and a Brause EF66 nib for when the user wants to try a flexible nib. It comes with a basic turquoise straight pen and a brass-flanged oblique pen. And, of course, it has sumi ink and a workbook printed on pointed pen-friendly paper (printed by GSB Digital in NYC). I get the boxes from PakFactory, and they do an amazing job with the quality and the just-the-right-amount-of-shiny finish. To finish up, I re-filmed my beginner’s online calligraphy course to utilize the exact items in the kit, which has been really helpful for beginners.
It’s been gratifying to see that people really love the current version of the calligraphy kit. Kit owners have been so kind and enthusiastic about sharing why they love their kits (see Dorthea’s testimonial here, Garry L.’s testimonial here, and Ashley T.’s testimonial here). I hear from a handful of people every week saying how much they’re enjoying making their way through TPK’s beginner’s calligraphy course with their kits supplies. I think the beginner’s course aspect is crucial, though you can buy the kit without it. (I’m toying with removing that option, though — thoughts? Leave your feedback in the comments!)
People like the kit because it has the right supplies, yes, but it also doesn’t leave you hanging. Once you receive the kit, you’ll find extensive instructions — both in the kit workbook and in the online course — explaining how to use the supplies in the kit. When I bought my kit as a beginner, I had supplies but no guidance, which was disheartening. Making sure that learners have the support they need is so important!
While I’m incredibly proud of TPK’s calligraphy starter kit, I would be remiss not to mention the growing pains we face with it. A couple of years ago, a major retailer reached out to me asking if I would consider wholesaling, and thinking about the logistics of making a wholesale quantity of kits made my head spin. Each kit takes 15 minutes to put together: we hand-cut the cleaning cloths and fold them around an embossed sticker, use washi tape to secure nibs in the tins, and nestle each supply into its padding.
For right-handed calligraphy kits, I use jewelry tools to fit the brass flange to a Nikko G nib. For left-handed kits, I custom-make a flange for the oblique pen. Furthermore, after toying with the numbers, I realized that we simply couldn’t profit enough by offering the kit at a wholesale price. There’s just too much time and energy that goes into making it. For all of those reasons, I said no to wholesaling.
The Future of Calligraphy Kits
I just put in an order for more calligraphy kit boxes and nib tins. Since I order both in large quantities, I usually only have to restock annually. Prices for both have gone up, so calligraphy kit prices will rise, too — probably around $10 — in late November, after we run through our current stock of boxes.
During the holiday season, we usually get overwhelmed with kit orders — it’s tough to keep up when we need to send out more than five per day! That means that instead of kits sending out on the same day, they can take up to four days to get to the post office. As TPK grows, I know that we’ll need to figure out a more efficient system. I’d never outsource, but I’ll need to put my thinking cap on after I’m done working on my book next year to think about how we can make kits faster while maintaining the same quality.
I feel incredibly proud of the kit that we offer, even if it is a labor of love to make it. Sometimes, sourcing the supplies for it stresses me out; or I find myself in our packaging room frantically compiling kits when our packagers can’t keep up. But then, when I get an email the next day saying how much someone loves their kit, it’s all worth it. My vibe has always been handmade + slow and steady, anyway.
I hope that you enjoyed today’s behind-the-scenes look at the darling of TPK’s supplies shop. If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments! I’m happy to answer. Thanks so much for reading, and have a lovely weekend.