A couple of weekends ago, I got to teach two calligraphy beginner workshops here in Boulder. I haven’t taught since 2017, so it felt amazing to get back on the horse! As we got into the meat of the workshops, I was reminded of beginner pitfalls. Every workshop, learners have the same issues, and all are easily corrected! In this blog post, I’m going to outline those issues and how they can be fixed. If you’d prefer to hear about the issues/solutions in person, be sure to tune in to @thepostmansknock on Instagram Live on Wednesday, June 19th, at 6:00 PM MDT (Denver, CO timezone)!
1. Ink Pools Up on the Paper
If you notice that your ink pools on the paper, take a look at your pen angle! Calligraphy beginners tend to hold dip pens as they would hold a regular ballpoint pen, which means the pen is quite upright. If you’re a beginner, you probably are a bit heavy-handed with your pressure. Combine that heavy-handedness with the pen being upright, and ink will often drop down onto the paper in a big blob.
You can experiment with holding the pen more upright as your skill level progresses. However, at the beginning, you should shoot for holding the pen at a 35-45 degree angle to the paper. With the nib not so upright, ink will flow onto the paper at a nice, constant speed!
Note: if you think your pooling problem might be caused by excessive ink, see mistake #6.
2. The Nib Isn’t Parallel to Slant Lines
I always begin workshops by explaining that learners’ nibs should always be parallel to the slant lines on the worksheet. That’s very difficult for some people to achieve because we’re not used to writing like that with regular pens!
Keep your nib parallel to the slant lines, and many of your problems will be solved. First of all, the tines of your nib will make even impact with your paper. This will ensure that the tines don’t catch on fibers in the paper, causing ink spatter. Secondly, it will be much easier to make letters with a nice, consistent slant. Once you understand how to keep the nib parallel to your slant lines, calligraphy will be 100x more enjoyable!
3. Tension + Clutching
When you’re learning something new, it’s natural to tense up! Beginners tend to clutch their pens, which can lead to shaky letters at best and hand cramping at worst. If you’re gripping the pen so hard that any part of your fingers are white from the pressure, loosen up! Similarly, none of your fingers should be bent into sharp angles. Some people bend the middle joint of their index finger into nearly a 90 degree angle, which definitely doesn’t help! You should always maintain a light and relaxed grip on your pen.
There are a few things that I reiterate to workshop learners throughout the class. First: breathe. If you’re concentrating hard on your calligraphy, you might forget to breathe regularly, believe it or not! Second: keep your shoulders relaxed, and take a break to roll them every once in a while. Finally, don’t hunch! It’s okay to lean in once in a while to get a better look at what you’re working on, but chronic hunching leads to back pain.
When you first set out to learn calligraphy, it’s logical to want to write at the same speed that you do “in real life”. It’s important to remember, however, that calligraphy is the art of lettering. It’s not something to be done very quickly! Instead, you should strive for a consistent, fairly slow pace. If you go too fast, you’ll find it difficult to achieve stroke contrast and exert even pressure on both tines of the nib.
While 90% of workshop participants who have a problem with speed go too fast, there’s a minority that goes too slow. If you move at a true turtle pace, you’ll probably notice shaky upstrokes as your pen reacts to every little tremor! That said, it is difficult to go too slow. If you’re confused about what your writing speed should be, be sure to tune in to the Instagram Live session on the 19th (Wednesday) at 6:00 PM!
5. Paper Position
When you learned to write, your teachers probably encouraged you to keep your paper perfectly centered in front of you. Try to forget that! Rotating your paper will ensure that you’re physically comfortable. After all, why contort your body when you can adjust your paper position instead?
In addition to ensuring your comfort, rotating your paper will give you a leg up on achieving a proper calligraphy slant. No matter what pen you’re using — oblique or straight — experiment with rotating your paper such that it’s in an optimal position for you!
6. Excessive Dipping
One of the first things I try to tell my participants is not to dip their pen in ink so far that it gets into the calligraphy pen itself! If you get ink up in the pen, you’re going to have some serious gunk (and probably rust) to deal with. Ink should only interact with your nib, not the pen.
Also: every time after you dip your nib in ink, give the pen an assertive little shake over your “art water”. This will prompt any excess ink to come off of the nib — and not pool onto your paper!
On Monday, I asked about what information to include in this post via an Instagram poll. Several people requested tips on practicing, so I want to touch on that! I have several articles about practicing calligraphy, including:
- How to Practice Calligraphy
- 5 Ways to Sneak in Calligraphy Practice
- 5 Suggestions for Condensed Calligraphy Practice
Definitely give them a read if you’re stuck on how to progress, especially if you’re pressed for time!
Don’t forget to check out @thepostmansknock on Instagram on Wednesday, June 19th, at 6:00 PM MDT to learn about these issues + their solutions in person! I’ll also be taking questions, which I’ll be glad to answer in the IG Live session. I also want to remind you about the CLASSIC Amy Style Calligraphy Worksheet — it will be gone on July 5, so be sure to grab it if you’re interested in learning a fresh new calligraphy style!
Finally, we’ve got a giveaway going on right now, which ends on July 6th! The winner will receive a Finetec Pearl Colors palette, which you can learn how to use in this tutorial. For giveaway details + entry instructions, check out this Instagram post!
That’s it for now! Thanks so much for reading, and hopefully I can provide more details about this topic on Instagram. Please feel free to watch and ask questions! It would be my pleasure to help you progress in your calligraphy journey. 🙂
Have a great day and “see” you soon!
PS – If you’d like to take a TPK calligraphy workshop, I’m unfortunately all sold out for this year. I would be glad, however, to add your name to the list of people to notify when my dates are announced for next year! Just email me to let me know you’d like to be contacted: firstname.lastname@example.org.