I feel like there are imaginary barriers to starting new hobbies, whether it be learning the guitar, going to the gym or modern calligraphy, these barriers stop some people from ever starting. I believe it’s 2 things, a fear of sucking and an absence of knowledge of the topic. Now I can’t help the fear of sucking because when anyone starts anything it is not going to be very good, (look at my early posts on Instagram @richardwideman) yeeeesh. This teaches us all that everyone starts somewhere! Seriously though, if you press on and practice you will get quite good quite fast. I hope to motivate some people that may not have learned the art of calligraphy through this post. I intend to get rid of those barriers by posting some really easy to use beginner posts. Below are some basics for beginners as well as some tips and hints that any aspiring calligraphers should know for each script.
My first tip would definitely be (if you haven’t already) purchase your calligraphy tools. If you don’t have the tools for modern calligraphy, click this link of my recommended tools you can get on Amazon here: Recommended Tools for Calligraphy
I know you came here to learn how to write modern calligraphy (or Copperplate) but first I think it might be important to have a little background of where modern calligraphy comes from. If you skip past this I do not blame you. I get it, you want to just start writing. Go for it. On the other hand, those of you that like the history of things, or need to know everything about something you like, read on.
A Very Brief History of Pointed Pen Calligraphy
Copperplate, sometimes referred to as English round hand, first emerged in Europe in the 16th century, but were more popularized in the 19th century. The name comes from the etched copper plates that were used to print the copybooks students learned from. Since there was a disconnect in the times this style was used, the term “copperplate” has been commonly referred to any old fashioned fancy handwriting. All forms of copperplate are written at a slant of 55 degrees. Below is an example copperplate alphabet.
Spencarian is a script that was popular in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s in the United States. It was considered the way to write for a business because of it’s oval based style it could be written fast and was still legible. It made it great for taking minutes in a meeting or aid in business correspondence. That was until the widespread of the typewriter in the 1920’s, where it made this wonderful script obsolete. It no longer required skill or effort to make perfect letters and therefore fell out of style. Below is an example Spencarian alphabet.
However, modern calligraphy is a deviation of ancient scripts with no standardized alphabet. It is essentially freehand pointed pen cursive. It is a popular style on Instagram and and other social media because the style is dependent on the writer and therefore every time a word is written it will be different. It is also rather easy to learn as you will see later in this post. You just need a pointed pen, ink and know how to write in cursive. If you have those three, read on to learn how!
First things first, Download your free copy of my Modern Calligraphy Practice Sheet below as You will use this later:
NOW ON TO LEARNING MODERN CALLIGRAPHY
I am no means amazing at the pointed pen/dip pen, (whichever you prefer) but I can offer you some tips to kick start you from someone who has never touched a calligraphy pen to decent in an afternoon. First thing you do once you have an oblique holder, some ink, and some good paper, is insert your nib into your pen carefully, making sure not to damage the tip. The best beginner calligraphy nib is the Nikko G and you can read more about it here. Next, you will want to get a small bowl (that you don’t care about, as it will be filled with ink water) fill it with warm water. This water reservoir is to wash your nib periodically after writing, because after writing for a bit, your pen may not write properly. So just give it a swish and use a paper towel to dry it. As a nib that is wet with water will write “unpredictably,” to say the least.
Oblique Holder: The holder is just an easy way to hold your actual writing instrument, the nib, at an angle. An oblique holder is not necessary but it has help me improve. Also what the holder is made of is also irrelevant. I have seen very expensive holders on Etsy and other websites, don’t worry about it just get the cheapest thing as they all serve the same purpose. (I was gifted the wood one below, just to be clear)
If you do not have a Pointed pen (or just ordered it) you can still start learning the strokes of modern calligraphy with a Crayola Marker Here!
Next you will want to dip your nib to halfway up the vent hole, in the picture below may even be too much to be honest. (it’s hard holding a camera and a pen)
Vent hole: the hole in the nib that allows proper air flow to smoothly lay ink.
If I dipped too deep I would just tap off some extra on the side of the inkwell. Another habit I have recently formed from doing wedding calligraphy is to make a mini stroke or two on a scrap piece of paper to ensure there are no blobs of too much ink. Next hold the pen where it feels comfortable, which for me is illustrated in the picture below. It is important to keep in mind that if you are using an oblique holder to angle your hand appropriately for the lettering.
Next, there are two main motions to learn, a light (just the tip) upstroke (number 1 in the picture below) and a slightly pressured downstroke (number 2 below) that lessens as you get lower. Most letters are made up of these two strokes, which you will practice with your free practice sheets.
There are some slightly different strokes required by different letters. Let’s take “m” for example, there is a lightly pressured hairline for the upstroke, and for the final stroke there 3 steps: light, pressured down stroke then light upstroke.
Here the “u” and “y” have been deconstructed into the separate strokes it takes for each letter. The “u” takes 1 upstroke and 2 downstrokes, while the “y” uses two complex strokes.
I also just learned recently that I have been taught that I was doing my “e’s” and “l’s” wrong. Your upstroke goes up as normal then you take your pen off the paper and move it horizontally right for a little bit then up and around in one smooth motion. If you look closely at either “e” in the image below, the thin part of the “e” is not one smooth line but two separate lines connected with the downstroke. Try it for yourself and see the difference!
Now you’ve got the basics of letter structure try out the practice sheet, copying the letters as closely as you can. Don’t be discouraged, if I learned it, you can too.
As you complete a line of sheet take the time to review your letters and rate them one of two things: letters you want to make more of with a (✓) and letters you didn’t intend to make and should be put out of their misery with a (✕) like you see below. Mistakes happen to everyone, and that’s why it’s important to practice, to minimize the frequency of letter abominations. 😛
When your pen starts “railroading” (below) you are out of ink. As you are practicing your letters consciously start remembering how long a dip lasts so that this doesn’t happen in the middle of a letter. In the long run it is always better to dip too early to replenish your ink than too late. However, it is not the biggest deal if you make a little railroad, because you can pick up from where you left off by filling it in with some careful tiny strokes on your next dip.
Railroading: when ink makes little train tracks as you can see in the picture below
Now there are those of you that are railroading at the beginning of the stroke and all your ink drops into a bubble (so frustrating! I’ve been there) there are a couple things that it could be. It is obvious that the ink is not flowing properly, so clean off your nib with the water and dry it with a paper towel. If this is still happening to you give it a good wash, you can use nail polish remover on a cotton swab. As this removes a bit of the protective oils that come with the nib that may be stopping proper ink flow. If it’s still happening, it is possible that the nib you have selected is an advanced nib and should order some beginner friendly ones, here they are my favourite! If you already using this nib, the ink you are using is not the right thickness, and needs to be thinned out or thickened a little bit.
Above is a lowercase modern calligraphy alphabet, there are many variations and different ways to write and flourish a letter so if you like writing a letter a different way, go for it! Try, experiment, practice until you are where you want to be with your calligraphy skills.
It is mainly a Copperplate practice sheet, as there is the 55 degree angle guidelines but can be used as a modern calligraphy practice sheet as well. It allows you to put your high weight paper into your printer and print this easy guide without having to buy it pre-printed.
The End… but Really it’s just the Beginning!
Feel confident with modern calligraphy now? Try out one of the many styles of calligraphy by checking out: How to Learn Calligraphy: Complete Beginner’s Guide
Thanks for reading all the way! Hopefully you found this useful, if you did let me know what this helped you with in the comments!
Also, any questions or comments, I promise that I will answer you!
Thanks a lot 🙂
If you are looking for a Modern Calligraphy Video Course it is in the works! If you are interested there is a mailing list at the bottom of the page that will only send 1 email when the course is ready for purchase.