Calligraphy for Beginners: What You Need to Know

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Writing has been an essential part of human life for around 8000 years. Characters were created to record experiences, events, and thoughts. It was often a sign of status and privilege to have the ability to write. Despite the advent of digital technology, handwriting remains vital. For example, in most cases, contracts are invalid without a handwritten signature.

The art of calligraphy — a beautiful, stylised form of handwriting — is found in multiple cultures, including Western, Persian, Indian, and Arabic. it is considered a major art in East Asia and is particularly highly prized in Arabic culture. A common practice in Western calligraphy is to use pens with wide nibs so that lines of varying widths make up each letter. It can be thought of as a cross between drawing and writing and can be a terrific way to add a flourish to your words if you prefer them to straight drawing. If you do fancy drawing, check out this post for some useful techniques you can learn.

If you practice this as a pastime, it can be relaxing and can help alleviate stress. It can make you more aware of the way you write. It may even help you improve your handwriting.

Later, we’ll explore calligraphy further and discover some reasons you might want to take up this creative hobby.

First, though, we’ll define what calligraphy is. Read on to find out more.

What is calligraphy?

The term calligraphy is an amalgamation of the Greek words “kalos” meaning beautiful and “graphein” meaning to write. So, when put together these words mean beautiful writing. Thus, calligraphy is the art of beautiful writing. It is far more than that, however. It’s an expression, a mediative process, and its own elegant art form.

Why learn it?

To learn calligraphy, you need to pay attention to detail. You can only master calligraphy if you can perfect the interplay of ink, paper, tools, and posture. Only when each of these elements works in seamless concert will you master this art. Like when you attempt to learn a musical instrument, it is tricky to become proficient at calligraphy. However, if you are patient and preserve, calligraphy can help you take your mind off your everyday worries, become a therapeutic exercise, and help you relax.

This is the perfect time to investigate the main upsides of learning calligraphy.

A quote on a piece of white paper written calligraphy, on a ink-splattered background. The calligraphy pen rests on a green holder.
Photo by Diana Schröder-Bode on Unsplash

6 top benefits of practicing calligraphy

Here’s a list of the chief advantages of engaging in this hobby.

It may help improve your memory and enhance your fine motor skills

To practice calligraphy, you must learn how to use a pen to create each stroke of a letter. The motor centres in your brain are active, including your basal ganglia, cerebellum, and prefrontal cortex. At the same time, the areas of your brain associated with language light up.

Children learning calligraphy have been shown to have a better memory for the spelling of words they’ve written down. This suggests that learning calligraphy can improve your memory for words, at least. You will also develop your fine motor skills with practice often so that all the elements involved in producing beautiful calligraphic handwriting come together.

The act of writing by handwriting activates the part of our brains associated with memory and language, improving our powers of retention. Thus, we may also be able to expand our vocabulary when we do calligraphy too.

Helps improve focus

You need to focus on the words and you’re writing when you do calligraphy, there is no room for error. If you practice regularly, you will be able to maintain your concentration for longer periods of time.

Can be an inexpensive way to practice mindfulness and meditation

Calligraphy engages all the senses. It can help ease anxiety and stress and make you more appreciative of the present moment. If you do calligraphy, you can also learn how to be more mindful, and put aside your worries when you’re creating beautiful letters and words. It doesn’t have to cost you much to pursue this pastime.

Can improve your problem-solving skills

One of the best ways we can solve problems is by writing things down and trying different things out on the page. It’s one reason some of us keep a diary, to organise and make sense of messy thoughts and emotions. Others process emotion and thoughts by doing something with their hands. We also use critical thinking to figure things out. As calligraphy involves doing both things it may help us gain a more profound understanding of our situations and emotions and help us unearth creative solutions to problems we face.

Can foster relationships with others

As social beings, when we write something meaningful to someone or create something beautiful to share with others, we can tell immediately if a message has connected with someone on an emotional level. We can see if they are touched by what we’ve written. This can be a powerful way to form and maintain relations with others and can create moments we come to cherish.

It may help improve your confidence

Just as with other hobbies, it takes time and patience to develop a skill. Calligraphy is no different. You might get frustrated when you start out, but your confidence will increase alongside your skill level. You may even find you are more certain of your ability to solve problems in your everyday life too.

Shortly, we’ll highlight the main differences between traditional and modern calligraphy. Next, let’s find out more about the history of this art form.

History of calligraphy

Various forms of calligraphy developed around the world alongside one another. Over time, Hebrew, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, and Western incarnations of the art were developed. Each type had a different purpose. For instance, Chinese, Japanese and Arabic calligraphy are more like works of art than mere pieces of writing. Some exist more for decorative purposes rather than to read and take in information.

In contrast, Hebrew calligraphy was invented to make it possible to create biblical texts. Western calligraphy was devised for a similar purpose — namely for the translation of literary texts. Thus, the readability of the elegant characters was the chief priority. Monks most commonly practiced the art form.

Calligraphy began to lose its prestige with the advent of printing. Nevertheless, many people do calligraphy as a hobby and modern forms of it are used on posters, certificates, or books intended to be presented. Modern calligraphy is still impressive.

It’s time to look at the differences between traditional and modern forms of this art.

Traditional vs. modern calligraphy

Monks typically practiced calligraphy to produce beautiful books and illustrated texts. Traditional calligraphy conformed to a strict set of rules. The main goal was to produce almost perfect, uniform handwriting. All letters had a particular shape and a fixed orientation.

Modern calligraphy is more about an expression of feelings and individual style.

 Both types of this art are distinct from hand lettering. While both forms of artistic expression are similar, they are some differences, even though both can be used to add a personal touch to your writing. It’s imperative you understand this when you learn calligraphy. If you want to practice hand lettering, you’ll need to use different tools than you would employ to do calligraphy.

In hand lettering, each individual letter is a work of art. Thus, you have more scope to show off your design skills if you take up hand lettering. It’s more about painting letters than writing.

Neither hand lettering, nor any form of calligraphy will suit you as a hobby if you’re impatient. But you don’t need to know anything about either to try them out.

Still interested in giving it a go? Let’s find out what equipment you’ll need.

What you need to practice calligraphy

You’re going to need a few utensils if you want to take up this hobby. You’ll want to get hold of some decent quality paper and high-quality ink, as well as excellent writing tools and a set of nibs. If you intend to enjoy this hobby for a long time, the quality of your equipment is even more important. There are also calligraphy templates you can get if you want help getting started.

The only other thing you’ll need to buy is some cleaning equipment, including rubbing alcohol, a water bottle, and cloths.

Let’s go into a little more detail on the types of nibs and pens and other equipment you can choose from before we discuss the techniques you need to develop.

Writing instruments

You’ll need a nib holder to ensure that you’re chosen calligraphy pen will glide over the paper allowing you to create an even typeface. Calligraphy fountain pens and calligraphy brush pens are both viable alternatives. Many pros feel that you won’t get an authentic experience or true feel for calligraphy if you don’t need a nib holder though.

The nib/pen holder  

The nib holder is the nib is attached to. You can get ones made of metal, wood, glass, or even plastic. No matter what it’s made of, make sure it fits well in your hand as is comfortable. There are two shapes to choose from, slanted or straight.

The nib

These are always made of metal and there are nibs best suited to a specific calligraphy font. The most important thing to consider when buying a nib is that it helps the pen glide easily over the paper. Ensure it doesn’t scratch or stick. You need very few tools to do calligraphy, but to get the most pleasure out of it, it’s best to get high quality equipment, including your nib. You also need to make sure you need is compatible with your chosen holder. It shouldn’t wobble in the holder. Most modern nib holders will fit most nibs.

Here’s a list of common nibs you can use.

The pointed nib

Dip pointed nibs at least halfway into the inkwell to get enough ink.

  • Good for novices.
  • Perfect for fonts like copperplate and others created using precise lines of differing thicknesses.
  • Available in broad, medium, fine, and extra-fine varieties. The finer the tip is, the thinner the resulting line will be.
  • The elasticity of the nibs can also vary. If the nib is more elastic the spring is, the thicker the line will be if enough pressure is applied.
  • If the nib becomes too elastic through use, it can become difficult to control. Therefore, if you are just starting out, it might be best to use a firm pointed nib.

Ribbon nibs

These are sometimes called round or broad nibs.

  • The broad tip makes ribbon nibs ideal for practicing Gothic or broken calligraphy.
  • When you guide a ribbon nib sideways you can create a thin line, if you guide it downwards you will produce a thick line.
  • You cannot push ribbon nibs; no ink will flow.
  • These are good for right-handed people because the springs then tend to be bevelled on the right side, though you can get ones bevelled on the left side if you’re lefthanded.

Poster nibs

These are like ribbon nibs.

  • When you use a poster nib, you’ll need to push to get the ink to flow, the opposite of what you must do to work with a ribbon nib.
  • These are most often used to create powerful fonts and larger type forms.

 Double bar nibs

These are difficult to get hold of now.

  • These allow you to draw two parallel lines with one stroke.
  • They are great for creating larger type forms.
  • They are often antique pieces because they are no longer made.

String nibs

These are also called plate nibs.

  • These produce even lines.
  • This means they are ideal for producing cursive script.

Drawing nibs

As the name suggests, these nibs are not meant to use to write.

  • These nibs are very fine and will get stuck quickly if you attempt to write with them.

The ink

Calligraphy pens are dipped in an inkwell. This should not be conventional ink that you would find in a fountain pen. Conventual ink is too thin and dries unevenly, so will not look the same across the whole page.

Instead, use ink with high-quality colour pigments which contain additional binding agents. These agents thicken the ink and mean that the letter will all have the same intensity and look great. Black ink is most often used. This sort of drawing ink is called India, Chinese or Sumi Ink.

Distinct types of calligraphy pen

Fountain pen lying in a pool of spilt blue and black ink.
Photo by David Pennington on Unsplash

Calligraphy pens are equipped, as we have seen, with an unchangeable metal nib. It might be a good idea to buy a range of different pens with various nibs if you want to try out several different type forms and fonts.

You can write with some calligraphy pens for quite a long time without having to refill ink. This may be because your pen has a reusable piston which can be filled with the right type of ink. Otherwise, your pen may contain a disposable cartridge. But there is a disadvantage to this. The ink in such pens will be thinner and fade more quickly if exposed to sunlight.

Here are the two most used pens

The brush pen

  • This type of pen is chiefly used in special Asian calligraphy. It is also use in certain forms of modern hand lettering and calligraphy.
  • It produces lines of varying thickness and is good for beginners because the plastic tip is robust, dispensing with the need for delicate nibs.

The calligraphy pen with a wedge tip

  • This type of pen is also good for those just starting out with calligraphy.
  • You can produce calligraphic lettering with wide and thin lines, by rotating the pen.
  • You should always apply constant pressure when using a pen with a wedge tip. These come in differing widths.

The paper

You need high-quality paper if you want to create perfect calligraphy. Don’t use copy paper because the nib will stick on the rough surface. Calligraphy paper has a smooth surface, meaning that the drawing ink can’t bleed on the page. You can use watercolour paper or drawing paper for calligraphy too.

If you’re a novice and want to use practice sheets, make sure that the paper you use is slightly transparent. The practice sheets are lined and can act as guides to help you get the correct proportions for both small and large letters. You may also find it easier to get the right slope to your characters. Place the practice sheets under your paper and begin.

Now you have all the equipment you need, let’s learn how to begin producing beautiful calligraphy.

Calligraphy templates and fonts

You need to use templates to learn this art. You should copy templates until the copy you have made exactly matches the template. Thus, you must pay attention to the order of the pen strokes as well as to the weight of each line.

A good starting point when learning calligraphy is to trace the letters of the alphabet from a template. This will help stop errors creeping in. Trace the letters until you’ve really got hang of the movements you need to make to form each one. The next stage of the learning process is to copy from books or documents. This will force you to study the composition of individual letters carefully so that you can accurately recreate them.

There are templates available for every skill level. You can get ones for practicing swing exercises, complete lettering, and single letters. You can also find exercise sheets that will help you make sure you have the correct proportions and slant for each of your letters.

Each exercise sheet has a grid of vertical and horizontal lines. The idea is that all your letters should sit on the baseline. The p and k lines mark the endpoints of both upper and lowercase letters. Slanted lines drawn on the grid indicate the correct orientation of each letter.

The fonts

There are multiple fonts used in calligraphy. As a beginner, it’s best if you commit to mastering one font before going on to attempt others because you need slightly different materials and nibs to create each font.

Here’s a list of popular ones, but there are more out there you can try.

Copperplate

  • This fount requires precise strokes of the pen because it has many curlicues.
  • Thick strokes and thinner upstrokes create this elegant typeface.
  • You need a pointed nib to practice this font.
  • It’s not the best font to start with if you’re a novice, because if you make even a small mistake it will be noticeable.

Gothic and facture

  • These are the fonts most associated with the Middle Ages and traditional calligraphy.
  • Lots of pen strokes are needed to produce the big letters and decorative style.

Arizona

  • This is a casual, modern font comprised of thick downstrokes and thin upstrokes.
  • This is an elegant, polished font.

Blenda

  • This is an easy-to-read font that is perfect for headings.
  • You can also use it to great effect in logos.
A example of the Blenda font, in pink on a navy blue background
From https://www.lettering-daily.com/calligraphy-fonts/

Birds of paradise

  • This font has an expensive feel and looks classy.
  • It is a tightly spaced, condensed font that would be great if you want to give your newsletters or logo a touch of class.

Calligraphy techniques

There are certain rules and techniques you need to follow and preparations you need to make before you can enjoy this pastime.

Preparing your spring and workspace

All your writing tools and your inkwell should be placed within easy reach of your dominant hand. It may be helpful to work on a slightly sloping service. You could use a clipboard as a base. Ensure you have several sheets of paper.

Make sure you have plenty of room to move your arm and that you sit in a comfortable upright position.

Next, you must prepare the spring and nib. New nibs have a coating of oil that prevents rusting. The trouble is, it also stops ink from sticking to the nib, so new nibs must be cleaned with rubbing alcohol before use. Once they are dry, you’ll be ready to go.

How to hold the pen

Hold the pen as you normally would, until you want to use the full width of the pen. Then hold the pen a little flatter to get the best effect.

Correct hand position

It is essential to get the position of your hand correct. If you get used to having your hand positioned incorrectly, it can become hard to rectify your mistake. The hand and finger positions you need to get used to will depend on the kind of pen you use.

Position with a pointed nib.

  • Nib holders with a pointed nib should be positioned between the thumb and index finger with the middle finger acting as support. You can use your little finger as support for the blade to give yourself the maximum degree of control.

Hand position with a pen with a ribbon nib.

  • These are held between the middle finger and thumb. Then you use your ring finger as support and your little finger as a spacer.

Before, we wrap things up, here’s a short list of tips to give you a head start.

Calligraphy tips for beginners

You can use some of these tips to get started with your new hobby and have fun.

  • Warm your hands before beginning, and always hold the pen at about a 45° angle to the paper.
  • Don’t press too hard, as this can cause inkblots.
  • Make sure all your letter sit on the baseline of your practice sheets.
  • Clean the nib between uses to prevent ink clumping.
  • Ensure that the spacing between each letter and word is even.
  • Don’t try to cram too many different elements into your style. Sometimes simple is best.

Wrapping up

You should now have everything you need to start enjoying this wonderful art form. You just need to buy a few pieces of equipment and then you can have fun with it and start getting the benefit from it, whether you use it to help you become more mindful or just to have fun and relax. You might even improve your ability to focus and spot details. You can practice one of the fonts mentioned here or you can pick your favourite from the many other gorgeous fonts out there.

Take note of the tips shared to get started. Now you just need to put pen to paper and revel in creating beautiful calligraphy. Soon, you’ll be able to produce stylish greeting cards and logos that have your personal touch and are sure to impress.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this and would be interested in a piece giving you some ideas on what you could do with your newly acquired calligraphy skills, leave a comment. Thanks for reading!

Published by Lizzie

Lizzie here. I'm a freelance copywriter and editor based in the UK. I'm also passionate about volunteering and hold a MA in History from the University of Warwick. I've written for a multitude of fantastic websites and companies, including a legal automation software company, a dog training site and more. Check out my reviews on Fiverr and Upwork for more info!

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