Spencerian Calligraphy for Beginners – Basic Strokes and Practice Sheets

Last Updated on November 26, 2022

Learning Spencerian calligraphy is not an easy task. If you already know how to write with a pointed pen, it should be a manageable task with some practice. Even if you haven’t, fear not! There are great resources for you to follow and understand to learn Spencerian calligraphy. Below I have 2 different online learning resources to choose from depending on the kind of calligrapher you are. However, let’s start with the basic question: What calligraphy tools are used for Spencerian calligraphy?

Table of Contents

Tools You Will Need For Spencerian Calligraphy

No matter what kind of calligrapher you are, (or even a total beginner) you will need the right tools to properly learn Spencerian calligraphy. I have made a working list of all the calligraphy tools I have used for all different kinds of calligraphy, but below are my favourites for Spencerian (a subcategory of pointed pen calligraphy).

1. Oblique Pen Holder

Oblique pen holder from PaperInkArts.com


An oblique pen holder makes it much easier to write the letters at the 55 degree slant without putting extra stress on the wrist or holding the paper at a very different angle.
Oblique Pen: PaperInkArts.com

2. A Beginner Friendly Nib

A calligraphy nib is incredibly important, as only the pressure sensitive tines of the nib can create the beautiful contrast of thick and this strokes. The Zebra G Nib is incredibly beginner friendly as its pressure sensitivity is low so you don’t need to have to have incredibly accurate pressure to succeed at making letters. This does sacrifice a little bit of line contrast, but honestly, for Spencerian calligraphy you really don’t need that sensitive of a nib. Also make sure you properly prepare and care for your nib, you can find out how to do that here.
Calligraphy Nib: Zebra G Nib

3. Calligraphy Ink

Most calligraphy ink should do the job here, but in my experience the viscosity of India ink works perfectly with the Zebra G nib.
Calligraphy Ink: Speedball Super Black

4. Bleed Proof Paper

Finding paper worthy of calligraphy is hard as there are just so many types. If you ask me about any specific paper, I cannot answer for sure that the paper will cooperate with ink. However, we have one metric to measure to help make sure the paper you use should work is weight, which is measured in lbs or gsm (grams per square metre). I recommend 32lb or 120gsm for the best chance that your paper won’t bleed. If you want to learn more, I go into more depth on calligraphy paper in my other post here if you are interested
Bleed Proof Paper: HP Premium 32 Paper

Two Ways to Learn Spencerian Calligraphy Online

Disclaimer: If you have never learned any style of pointed pen calligraphy before, I suggest getting the basics down with Modern Calligraphy. It is the perfect introductory script to learn the basic strokes, the tools of the trade, and troubleshooting any problems you may be facing with the pointed pen. There are less rules to adhere to when learning, making pointed pen calligraphy easier to pick up.

1. For the Motivated Self Learner –
Practice Sheets

If you are persistent on learning Spencerian calligraphy, and you are a self learner, practice sheets are what you need. This isn’t any old copybook though. They have all the tips and tricks to fast track you to learning the skill you want:

  • The Tools You’ll Need
  • Basic Strokes
  • 3 Methods of Flat Tops and Bottoms
  • The 5 Guidelines of Flourishing
  • Common problems and Probable Solutions page (to help solve annoying blobbing/pointed pen problems)

You can find the practice sheets and all it’s details here:

2. For the Careful Spender – Instructional Tutorial Blogpost

As someone who did learn Spencerian calligraphy from online resources, I understand this selection. When you are first starting, you may not want to spend anything until you know you like it. The only thing I can say is that it took me quite a while to get where I wanted to be with the copperplate script. A lot of problems were from things I didn’t know about ink, paper and proper method. These hurdles could have been avoided if I attended a course or bought a book. That said, I will try to outline as much as I can in this tutorial blogpost. Read on!

But First: An Ultra-Brief History of Spencerian Calligraphy

The Spencerian calligraphy script is based on the Latin alphabet that originated in 1840. It was created and based off of Platt Rogers Spencer’s handwriting. For about 75 years,
it was THE standard writing style for all business correspondence. Like all pointed pen scripts, the thick and thin strokes add contrast and depth the writing style. Two main ways Spencerian varies from copperplate: fewer thick downstrokes and larger letter spacing. These two distinctions lead to a “lighter” and more “refined” overall style.

Now onto the learning!

What are the Basic Strokes of Spencerian Calligraphy?

Before we get to the basic strokes, we need to know the fundamentals of pointed pen calligraphy: (1) Upstrokes and (2) Downstrokes.

Upstrokes are typically made every time a new lowercase letter is started and are created by applying light nib pressure onto the page while swinging in an upward (away from you) motion. This will make a thin evenly-weighted line that will connect each letter.

Downstrokes are typically made every time you need to make the thick lines that create the identifiable part of each letter. In Spencerian script, thicker strokes are used more sparingly, as only one is used per capital letter and in lowercase letters only a few are used. Downstrokes are done by applying medium nib pressure onto the page while pulling the pen downwards (towards yourself). This will create a thicker strokes that contrast well with your upstrokes.

The 8 Basic Strokes of Spencerian Calligraphy

In the image above there are 7 basic strokes: (1) the entrance stroke, (2) oval, (3) teardrop, (4) overturn, (5) underturn, (6) compound, (7) ascender and (8) descender. All strokes but 3 and 6 are completed with minimal to no pressure.

PROTIP: While practicing these strokes make sure you are applying that ~55 degree angle that we mentioned earlier. I suggest having the paper at that angle (or as close as you can) so that when you are making downstroke you will be pulling straight towards yourself.

Once you’ve gotten familiar with the basic strokes for copperplate calligraphy, try piecing together the practice strokes into letters!
(7) Ascender + (6) compound = “h” and so forth. Don’t forget to always start a lowercase letter with an entrance stroke!

“h” is an entrance stroke, an ascender and a compound stroke

Check out the other combinations:

  • (3) Teardrop + (8) Descender = “g”
  • (4) Overturn + (4) Overturn + (6) Compound = “m”
  • (6) Compound + (5) Underturn = “u”

Flat Tops

There is another stroke that you definitely need to practice to complete lowercase alphabet: flat tops on the lowercase letters: “d” and “t.”

Flat Tops of “d” and “t” for Spencerian Calligraphy

Above is 1 of 3 methods for flat tops from my Spencerian Calligraphy Master Class. Notice that in step one, you flex the nib to near max before starting the stroke.

Differences Between Modern, Spencerian and Copperplate Calligraphy

While both Copperplate and Spencerian have a strict 55 degree slant, Spencerian calligraphy can be identified easily by it being a more”light” script while Copperplate contains thick and bold downstrokes that are in each and every letter. Modern calligraphy is more of a flowy script and has no consistent size, spacing or connections. Below you can see the difference in style and tone between modern, Spencerian and Copperplate calligraphy.

If you would like to learn modern calligraphy I have a separate post with free lowercase practice sheets here: How to Learn Modern Calligraphy

Now get practicing, so you can learn Spencerian calligraphy yourself! If I missed something in this post please leave a comment and let me know!

Thank you for reading all the way until the end. 🙂
Richard

2 thoughts on “Spencerian Calligraphy for Beginners – Basic Strokes and Practice Sheets”

Leave a Comment