Beginning Calligraphy

I have a confession to make. I love calligraphy (and pens!), but I am hardly an expert on the subject. Therefore I hesitated to post this, but I was asked by a few people to write about how to get started with calligraphy, what pens I like, and so forth.

The Tools of Calligraphy

There is really no easy answer as to what you “need” when starting off in calligraphy. ┬áI have about 30 different pens or nibs (removable tips) which I use regularly in creating calligraphy or artwork.

The basic fact is this: the better quality pen you have, the easier a time you’ll have. If you’re wrestling with your pen clogging up, leaking all over your fingers, etc., you will be frustrated and give up sooner than you otherwise might. I recently cleared out my pen draw of all of the annoying ones that leaked ink all over me or didn’t work after a month. No one has time for that.

But another clear truth of calligraphy is simply that you can start learning alphabets long before you have a proper calligraphy pen. Different nibs (the pen tips) make different “Thicks” and “thins” for calligraphy, and you will need a different nib or pen type based on what alphabet you prefer to create.

Instead, I recommend something a little less glamorous.

Get some books, and learn the alphabets first, even if you’re just using a regular pen. Think of penmanship practice from our elementary school days. Practice forming the basic shapes of the letters, from calligraphy guide books (I list my favorites below), and work from there.

Learning calligraphy? Learn the alphabet first, even if you're just using a regular pen. Click To Tweet

Beginner Calligraphy Pens

If you prefer to practice with something that has a bit of a nib, here’s my recommendations, based on the exact calligraphy alphabet.

When most people think of “Calligraphy” they think of either Italic style calligraphy or the Gothic calligraphy. For Italic, you’ll need something with an Italic Nib, which is basically the smallest nib you can get without being a regular pen. Thus, the thicks and thins will be very subtle. This is my preferred handwriting style, actually.

some quickie calligraphy samples to show you what I mean.
Some quickie calligraphy samples to show you what I mean.

If you wish to create something a little more “gothic” looking, or uncials, use a Pilot Parallel Pen or a felt-tipped pen with a wide-nib. These are not good for creating professional calligraphy (such as doing addresses on envelopes) but they are good for getting started, and fairly reasonable in price.

For any kind of brush lettering, fancy scripts, Copperplate, or Spencerian, these are usually created using script brushes or flexible pointed pen nibs on an oblique pen holder, neither of which are particularly easy to get started with. You can buy some brush tips in felt-tipped pens these days, but I strongly believe that these kinds of styles are best learned first with a regular pen (felt tipped marker if you’d prefer), and the later branch off to a special nib.

Finally, we can talk about how my mega talented youngest daughter Isobel does hand lettering (not really calligraphy). She sketches her letters instead of writing them out like calligraphy. This is also a possibility. For this, she starts with a pencil, then goes over it with a fine tip pen once she has the layout to her liking.

Best Books for Learning Calligraphy

The  Italic Way to Beautiful Handwriting

The Italic Way to Beautiful Handwriting is a classic. This was the book I used to greatly improve my own handwriting and to learn basic calligraphy. I highly recommend it. It’s widely available, but of course, Amazon has it for an amazing price.

Calligraphy Alphabets for Beginners

Calligraphy Alphabets for Beginners is a great resource for a large variety of Calligraphy alphabets/fonts to learn. I frequently use this as a reference, and I’ve used to it learn some new fonts. I recommend using some tracing paper with it, and a pencil, to get a feel for letter formation.

Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy

I love the look of Copperplate calligraphy. I set out to learn it a few years ago, with the help of this book. Copperplate is a gorgeous, elegant font from days gone by, and usually created with a flexible nib in an oblique pen holder. The Oblique pen holder keeps your pen at the right angle for making this script.

The Ultimate Brush Lettering Guide

For a look at modern brush lettering type calligraphy, The Ultimate Brush Lettering Guide is the place to go. I don’t really do brush lettering-type calligraphy, but my daughter does. She taught herself using this book.


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