I feel like there are imaginary barriers to starting new hobbies, whether it be learning an instrument, 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 at it and an absence of knowledge of the topic. Now I can’t help the fear of sucking at it because when anyone starts anything it is not going to be very good, look at my early posts on Instagram from 2014 (@richardwideman)
Yeeeesh.. and there were a lot of worse ones I didn’t post haha. This teaches us all that everyone starts somewhere! Seriously though, if you press on through the discomfort 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.
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. If you would like to learn copperplate, I suggest my other page here.
Spencerian 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 Spencerian 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!
What Tools to Use
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 the link below to see a list of my recommended tools you can get on Amazon here: Recommended Tools for Calligraphy
Short list of tools:
- 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 required but it has help me improve.
- Ink – Most inks will do just fine.
- Good Paper – Very key to get a paper that is not too absorbent. Here is more details about calligraphy paper: Calligraphy Paper Comparison.
- Nib – Too flexible and it would be hard to learn with and too rigid requires a lot of force. Here are more details about nibs: Best Nib for Calligraphy
If you don’t have the above tools…
If you do not have the above tools (or just ordered them) you can still start learning the strokes of modern calligraphy with a Crayola Marker Here!
Calligraphy Practice Sheets
Calligraphy practice sheets are an important tool to learning. Download your FREE copy of my Lowercase Modern Calligraphy Practice Sheets below as you will use this later:
If you find the lowercase sheets useful to your learning I have prepared a premium Uppercase Modern Calligraphy workbook with 3 times the styles per letter for 78 unique letters to practice! More details below 🙂
Getting Started Learning Modern Calligraphy
If you prefer watching to reading I have two Modern Calligraphy videos on Youtube to follow along with:
Preparing Your Tools
First thing you do once you have your tools is insert your nib into your pen carefully, making sure not to touch the tip with your fingers. 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 and dish soap. This water reservoir is to wash your nib periodically after writing, because after writing for a bit, your pen may not write properly due to dried on ink. 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.
Next you will want to dip your nib to halfway up the vent hole (above), in the picture below.
If you ever dipped too deep, I would suggest tapping off some extra on the side of the inkwell or making mini strokes on a scrap piece of paper to ensure there are no blobs of too much ink. You can tell if you have too much on the nib when you look at the nib sideways and see a round bump of ink near the tip.
Next hold the pen where it feels comfortable, which for me is illustrated in the picture above. It is important to keep in mind that if you are using an oblique holder to angle your hand appropriately for the lettering.
Basic Strokes and Letter Formation
There are two main motions to learn, the upstroke: a light stroke using just the tip (number 1 in the picture below) and the downstroke: a slightly pressured stroke (number 2 below) that lessens as you get closer to the baseline. 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: technique or tools. Your pen angle could be too high relative to the paper. Try lowering your pen pressure and the pen angle. It also could be your tools. It is obvious that the ink is not flowing properly, so clean off your nib with soap and water and dry it with a paper towel. 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 a more challenging script like copperplate calligraphy:
- Copperplate Video Course – Complete video walkthrough teaching the copperplate style from total beginner to pro!
- Copperplate Practice Sheets – Self learners can take advantage of my premium practice sheets to teach themselves how to write in the copperplate style.
- Copperplate Blogpost – A list of 3 different ways to learn copperplate calligraphy.
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 🙂