When I first set out to learn calligraphy in 2012, I grabbed a cheapie Speedball calligraphy starter kit at Michael’s (an art supply store). When I got home, I was so eager to enjoy my new hobby! Instead of loving calligraphy, however, I ran into problems galore: ink that bled, unwieldy nibs, and instructions that didn’t make sense. I concluded that calligraphy and I simply weren’t meant to be. A few months later, though, I found the right materials through experimentation and recommendations, and I fell in love! I’m writing today’s post because I want to make sure you have the proper materials for calligraphy success, too.
The DIY Modern Calligraphy Starter Kit List
If you’re just starting out, you can absolutely invest in a beautiful pre-made starter kit. In fact, we have a starter kit at TPK that’s gorgeous — a true treat to receive! But if you’re looking to save some money, you can DIY a kit. Here’s exactly what you’ll need:
- 1 Nikko G nib
- 1 Brause EF66 nib
- Straight calligraphy pen
- Right oblique pen (fitted for Nikko G nib) – optional; make sure your pen has a brass flange
- Sumi ink
- Container for ink
- 32# laserjet paper
- Cup for water
- Non-fibrous cloth
- Potato (for cleaning new nibs)
- Beginner’s Modern Calligraphy Online Course – Optional but highly recommended
Note that all the links in my list are for US-based merchants (TPK, Amazon). If you’re not located in the US, take a look at the purveyors in the Where to Purchase Calligraphy Supplies page!
It’s important to understand why you’re choosing the materials listed above so you can personalize your starter kit. The rest of this article will discuss exactly why each item has a spot on the list.
I find the Nikko G to be the best beginner calligraphy nib, and I use it in all my beginner calligraphy workshops. Originally developed for manga artists, it’s a medium-flex Japanese nib that can stand up to calligraphy growing pains. It’s tolerant of a new user putting too much or uneven pressure on it, which is good: you need that kind of leeway when you’re figuring out your pen pressure exertion!
To be clear: the Brause EF66 nib is not a great beginner nib! That’s because it’s delicate and flexible. However, I’ve included it in my list in the hopes that you’ll try it after you master using the Nikko G. Writing with the Brause EF66 will show you that nibs can differ from each other dramatically, and you’ll develop a preference for one or the other!
You can start out with virtually any straight pen as long as it can accommodate a variety of nibs. Ideally, the end of your pen should look like the pen on the left in the photo below. If your pen looks like the one on the right, it won’t accommodate your tiny Brause EF66 nib.
If you’re right-handed, chances are high that you’ll benefit from using a right oblique pen. These pens exist to help make our lives easier when it comes to making a consistent right-leaning slant! Oblique pens might look intimidating, but I’ll bet that, eventually, you’ll find the oblique pen easier to use than the straight pen.
Sumi ink is velvety, pitch black, and boasts a smooth viscosity that is very beginner-friendly. It’s a fantastic ink to begin learning calligraphy with! With most sumi inks, you’ll also need to purchase a dip pen-friendly container to store the ink in. As long as the container is small and includes a screw-on top, it’s perfect! This jar is a good choice.
In 2015, Rodger Mayeda introduced me to writing on 32# laserjet paper, and I’ve never looked back! There are a lot of specialty papers you can purchase to write on, but 32# laserjet rivals their quality and is by far the most cost-effective. It’s a great paper for dip pens because it’s super smooth and doesn’t cause ink to bleed or spiderweb out. Don’t skip buying this paper (or another high-quality dip pen paper). More than almost anything, nice paper is vital to enjoyable calligraphy creation.
Water and Cloth
These are a couple of supplies that you probably already have! First, you need a cup to hold water. You’ll use that water — which I call “art water” — throughout your calligraphy practice to clean off your nib. I like to use a pretty vintage teacup because it brightens my workspace. Next, you’ll want a non-fibrous cloth that’s made from an absorbent material like cotton. You’ll use this cloth to wipe water off of your nib after every cleaning. While you can use a paper towel, it’s not ideal because the fibers of the paper towel get stuck in the nib!
Next time you’re at the grocery store, grab a potato. You’ll need it to prepare your new nibs for use! You can find a detailed explanation plus instructions in this article.
It’s easiest to begin learning modern calligraphy if you have plenty of information and guided practice! (Some quizzes and homework also help.) For that reason, I recommend starting your calligraphy journey with the TPK Beginner’s Modern Calligraphy Online Course. You can learn more about what the course includes in the video below.
I hope that this explanation of the ideal DIY modern calligraphy starter kit addresses any questions you may have about the supplies you need! If you prefer to receive a treat in the mail and bypass compiling your own supplies, you can consider a TPK Modern Calligraphy Starter Kit. The pre-assembled starter kit also makes a great gift!