When I decided that I wanted to learn calligraphy back in 2012, I went to the local art supply store and purchased a Speedball calligraphy pen/nib kit and some black ink. I came home full of hope, but my ambitions were crushed by paper that caused the ink to bleed and nibs that I just couldn’t get the hang of. It was hard to convince myself to keep going after that experience; I thought I just wasn’t cut out for calligraphy. Eventually, though, I found the right materials through trial and error, and things got better! That’s why I’m providing you with this list: I want you to skip the pre-made kits, and assemble your own — much, much better — DIY modern calligraphy starter kit. You’ll be glad that you did!
1. Two Nikko G Nibs
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 pressure on it, which is good: you need that kind of leeway when you’re figuring out how to make nice, thick downstrokes!
I recommend purchasing two nibs for your modern calligraphy starter kit. That’s because it’s always good to have an extra! Accidents happen: if you drop your nib on the floor while it’s in a pen, chances are the tines will splay and the nib won’t write properly anymore. Furthermore, all nibs wear out eventually. The Nikko G takes a while to wear out naturally, but you’ll notice that, after a while, it just doesn’t write as smoothly as it used to. At that point, you’ll want to start using the second nib!
Nikko G nibs are internationally available. Here’s a list of some merchants by country:
- Australia – Ornasonova (“Nikko Manga G Copperplaters Nib”)
- Canada – Amazon (Note: the Nikko G is not available for a reasonable price in Canada. Instead, purchase the “Zebra G”, which is what this link leads to. The Zebra G is identical to the Nikko G, but has a little bit less flex.)
- France – Comptoir des Écritures (“G-Type, N° 3”)
- Italy – Calligraphy Store
- Malaysia – Stickeriffic Store
- Philippines – The Craft Central
- Singapore – Art Friend
- UK – Scribblers
- USA – Paper & Ink Arts
2. A Potato (Yep … a Potato)
Believe it or not, a plain old potato (I use Russet) is an important part of your modern calligraphy starter kit! You can read this blog post to learn how to use a potato to clean off new calligraphy nibs. (Do not skip cleaning new nibs! Otherwise, they won’t cooperate when you try to write.)
The Nikko G nib is a standard size, so it doesn’t matter at this stage which straight pen you include in your modern calligraphy starter kit. The nib should fit in just about any pen! If you think you may use other sizes of nibs in the future, however, I would start with a Manuscript pen. I provide Manuscript pens to participants when I teach workshops because they are cost-effective and include a “universal insert”. For more information about straight calligraphy pens and an explanation of what a universal insert is, I highly recommend reading the A Guide to Straight Calligraphy Pens post.
The photo above shows a Manuscript pen on the left and a Speedball plastic pen on the right. They both hold the Nikko G nib securely. However, the Speedball can’t hold many other sizes of nibs, while the Manuscript can. So, for now — while you are exclusively writing with a Nikko G nib — a pen like the Speedball pictured above will be fine. However, if you want to try other nibs in the future (like the tiny Brause EF66, my favorite!), it’s a good idea to invest the extra dollar or two in the Manuscript pen.
Straight calligraphy pens are widely available! You can follow the merchant links provided for the Nikko G nibs to find pens in your country.
4. Sumi Ink
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! I generally use Yasutomo sumi ink, but I have also tried Kuretake sumi ink and found it to be the same (excellent) quality. 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! Good choices would include a baby food jar, small jam jar, cosmetics jar, or this jar.
Like Nikko G nibs and straight calligraphy pens, sumi ink is interntionally available. Here is a list of some retailers that I found:
- Australia – The Art Scene
- Canada – Amazon.com
- Malaysia – Stickerrific
- Philippines – Craft Carrot
- Singapore – Overjoyed
- United Kingdom – Scribblers
- United States – The Paper Seahorse
If you can’t find sumi ink in your area, India ink makes a fine substitute — feel free to use that instead!
5. 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 an old mug because it’s sturdy and difficult to knock over. Next, you’ll want a non-fibrous cloth, like a dinner napkin. You’ll use this 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!
Last year, a friend introduced me to using 32# laserjet paper to create calligraphy on, 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, which is a problem you’ll experience with regular printer paper and most cardstocks.
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.)[vimeo 260163213]
Once you finish the online course, try filling out a calligraphy worksheet! My current favorite worksheet style is the Janet, but I go through phases as far as what I like — and I think that you will, too. If you see a calligraphy style in the catalog that you’re drawn to, start there. No matter which worksheet you choose, don’t forget to print it out on 32# laserjet paper! Laserjet paper will work beautifully with your home inkjet printer.
The supplies explained in the blog post above comprise a solid and high-quality modern calligraphy starter kit. Once you have worked with these materials for a while, you can accumulate additional supplies bit by bit! For example, you can add an oblique pen, white ink, gold ink, beautiful envelopes, and whatever else your heart desires to your collection.
For now, though, here’s a quick summary of all the Ultimate Modern Calligraphy Starter Kit supplies listed above, as well as (USA) links to purchase them:
- 2 Nikko G Nibs
- Straight Calligraphy Pen
- Sumi Ink
- Container for Sumi Ink
- 32# Laserjet Paper
- Beginner’s Modern Calligraphy Online Course
- Cup for Water
- Non-Fibrous Cloth (e.g. a Dinner Napkin)
- Potato (for cleaning new nibs)
TPK-Approved Pre-Assembled Kits
While DIYing a calligraphy kit is always going to be your most cost-effective option, you can treat yourself to a pre-made kit if you would rather not compile your own. For the past few months, I’ve been working with The Paper Seahorse to collaborate on kits that include quality materials. Owner Tona and I put a lot of care and thoughtful touches into the kits, so they’re not going to be your most cost-effective option, but they’re gorgeous and useful.
There are two versions of the kit. The Essential Calligraphy Kit includes everything listed in this blog post (well, except for the online course and the potato). The Ultimate Calligraphy Kit includes everything in this blog post plus a nib tin, an oblique pen, a Brause EF66 nib, and a vial to hold your art water. Both are great options for a gift — either for yourself or a loved one — as they have everything you need and arrive impeccably packaged.
I hope that this explanation of the ideal modern calligraphy starter kit addresses any questions you may have about what supplies you need. If you have any questions, of course feel free to ask in the comments! I’m always glad to answer. Also, if your country is not listed above and you know where to purchase calligraphy supplies there, please contribute that information! It will, without a doubt, benefit someone in the future.
Thanks very, very much for reading TPK, and have a wonderful weekend!