• Your Calligraphy Questions and Their Answers

    In last week’s TPK newsletter, I asked for your calligraphy questions. The response was wonderful! Some readers had questions that I’ve never addressed, while others asked about topics that we haven’t revisited for a while. For today’s blog post, I pared the questions that I got down to five common requests! We’ll look at those…

    Your Calligraphy Questions and Their Answers

    Gauging the Right Amount of Ink

    I can’t seem to get the right amount (of ink) on the nib: either I have too much and it blobs onto the paper hideously or I have so little I can’t even finish one letter without it running dry. I’m quite frustrated as I can’t even get to the point of forming letters. – Chris D.

    The Best Beginner Calligraphy Nib | The Postman's Knock
    Many of the calligraphy questions that I received pertained to ink flow!

    We all encounter ink issues at one point or another, and it’s natural to blame these problems on something you’re doing. However, the types of problems that Chris describes have more to do with the ink viscosity than the amount of ink on the nib! If you experience issues with your ink, try diluting it with water. Or, if you’d prefer to use a tried-and-true watery ink, try iron gall or walnut ink!

    Why, When, and How to Dilute Ink | The Postman's Knock

    That’s not to say that you can’t have too much ink on your nib! It’s possible to overload it, for sure. Just follow a few rules of thumb and you’ll be fine: first, if you encounter the types of problems that Chris describes above, dilute your ink. Second, always dip your nib in ink to just above the nib’s reservoir. You can go lower than that, but never higher! Finally, give your nib a firm shake over your art water once you dip it in ink. This will encourage any excess ink to come right off!

    Pen Angles

    I’m still stuck on various pen angles for different scripts. I have read all about the angle to hold one’s calligraphy pen for Italic or Gothic, etc., but I just don’t seem to get it. Also, when reading about angles, I’m never quite sure whether the writers are talking about the pen’s angle to the writing surface, or the nib’s angle, or both. – Felecia E.

    The Proper Angle to Hold a Calligraphy Pen
    In this photo, I’m holding the pen 35° in respect to where the nib meets the paper. A 35° – 45° pen angle is appropriate for calligraphy beginners. If all this talk of angles is confusing, you can take a look at a protractor here!

    This is a great question because pen angle trips a lot of people up! First of all, let’s talk about the angle of the pen to the paper. Beginners will find it easiest to hold the pen at an angle that’s fairly close to the paper; somewhere between 35° – 45° is appropriate! As you reach an intermediate level, you can experiment with holding your pen at more of a vertical angle (up to 70°). The larger the angle of the pen position in respect to the paper, the easier it is to make delicate upstrokes (and, unfortunately, the easier it is to catch the tip of the nib on the paper).

    Calligraphy Nib Angle

    Now, let’s talk nib angles! In dip pen calligraphy, you must always hold your nib parallel to the slant that you want your calligraphy to have. Take a look at the photo of the Amy Style Calligraphy Worksheet above. You can see that Amy Style calligraphy has a vertical slant to it, so my nib has a 90° angle in respect to my calligraphy’s baseline. Now, let’s take a look at Janet Style calligraphy:

    Calligraphy Nib Angle | The Postman's Knock

    Janet Style calligraphy has a 55° slant to it, so your nib needs to be at that angle in respect to the calligraphy baseline. To be clear: your pen to paper angle should still be 35°-45°. But the aerial view angle of the nib in relation to the calligraphy baseline will be 55°. In short, the pen/paper and nib/baseline angles are two different and independent numbers! Your pen/paper angle will determine how easy it is to write and the thickness of your upstrokes/downstrokes. Your nib/baseline angle will determine your calligraphy’s slant.

    Upstroke Woes

    Well, I’m stuck on the upstroke. I have such a heavy hand that, try as I might, the upstroke is nearly as thick as my downstroke.  – Carol H. (and Gail B.)

    Calligraphy Before and After Photos | The Postman's Knock
    This is my calligraphy from 2012, shortly after I started learning. You can see that some of the upstrokes are quite thick!

    First of all, don’t fret over thick upstrokes, especially if you’re just getting started with calligraphy! Nearly all beginners struggle with making delicate upstrokes. There are a few things you can do to help get those upstrokes nice and thin:

    1. Hold your pen at a more vertical angle to the paper. This can help you to make delicate upstrokes, but it also might cause your nib to catch on the paper!
    2. Try a flexible nib. The Nikko G is a good nib to practice your pressure regulation on, but a high-flex nib like the Brause EF66 may be easier to achieve nice stroke contrast with. (The EF66 easily makes thick downstrokes, which make upstrokes look thinner.)
    3. Use a watery ink. It can be tough to make thin upstrokes with fairly thick inks like sumi or Bleed Proof White. Try using iron gall ink and see what happens!
    Iron Gall Envelopes | The Postman's Knock
    Watery inks make it easy to create delicate upstrokes! This Flourish Formal calligraphy was written with iron gall ink.

    Finally, one huge thing to remember is to always apply balanced pressure to both tines of your nib. There should never be an instance in which you apply more pressure to the left tine versus the right or vice versa! If you do, you’ll find it very difficult to achieve stroke contrast. (If this concept doesn’t click, consider taking The Beginner’s Modern Calligraphy Online Course.)

    Letter Connections

    I am confused about how and where to connect letters. In every calligraphy style I take on, there are some combinations that trip me up. – Kyle H.

    Dealing with Double Letters in Calligraphy | The Postman's Knock
    Have trouble with double letters? Check out the Dealing with Double Letters in Calligraphy post!

    My number one tip for letter connections is that you don’t have to connect at all! As long as your letters maintain a close proximity to one another, it will be clear that they’re part of the same word (see: “egg”, “Exxon”, above).

    Dip Pen Calligraphy | The Postman's Knock
    Don’t be afraid to get playful with your letter connections (or lack thereof)! In the envelope above, I didn’t connect the “v” to the last “a” in “Villanueva”, though it would have been easy to do so. In “Miguel”, the “g” stands alone and the “u” does all the connection work, which is non-traditional!

    Letter connections really just boil down to experimentation. If you’re not sure how to connect letters, try a couple of different connection combinations on scrap paper! See what you like the best, and go with that.

    Inky Indecision

    I never know which ink to use for what project. Do you have any recommendations? – Donna L.

    Black Calligraphy Inks Comparison Part I: Ziller, Sumi, and Higgins | The Postman's Knock

    Ink is a very personal choice, so I encourage you to try anything you can get your hands on! Here is my list of favorites, but — of course — favorites vary from calligrapher to calligrapher:

    • Beginner ink: Yasutomo Sumi (not too watery nor too thick, dries a beautiful matte shade)
    • White ink: Bleed Proof White (brilliant opaque white that erases well)
    • Waterproof ink: Ziller Soot Black (bulletproof ink that I use for all my watercolor + calligraphy projects)
    • Iron gall ink: Walker’s Copperplate (smooth watery ink that is capable of making super fine hairline strokes)
    • Colored ink: Either Bombay inks (silky and vibrant) or just watercolors (economical; lots of variety)
    • Metallic “ink”: Finetec watercolors (these are opaque, high-quality, and don’t smudge under an eraser)
    Decorated Envelope | The Postman's Knock
    I love using Ziller Soot Black ink on projects that include watercolors, like this mail art!

    Again, those are my favorites, but I encourage you to come up with your own list! There are so many inks available that it would be a shame to limit yourself to only a few!

    These were just a few of the calligraphy questions I received, and I chose to address them because they were the most common! If you have additional calligraphy questions, please feel free to contribute them to the Comments section of this blog post. I’d be happy to address them!

    Thanks very much for reading TPK, and have a wonderful weekend!


    Lindsey's Signature | The Postman's Knock