If you’ve ever received an invite to a grand event such as a wedding or christening, you’ll have likely seen the beauty of hand-written calligraphy. Or, if you’re a prominent user of social media, it’s likely you’ve scrolled through the reels and found yourself watching the relaxing efforts of a calligrapher in their zone. And, it will always produce a beautiful piece of art or ephemera.
This art is open to everyone who wants to try it. You don’t have to be an artist and you don’t need to have the most beautiful handwriting in order to create beautiful lettering with a nib, ink and steady hand. And, that’s why the team here at The Hobby Kraze wanted to bring you the ultimate guide to calligraphy. Where we’ll cover everything from what calligraphy is and how it has changed over the years to how you can begin to complete the perfect thin upstroke and thick downstrokes to your calligraphy lettering. Have a look at the array of questions that will be answered in this beginner’s guide to calligraphy:
- What is Calligraphy?
- What is the Difference Between Traditional and Modern Calligraphy?
- How was Calligraphy in Penmanship Born?
- Why Should You Start a Calligraphy Lettering Hobby?
- Which Calligraphy Equipment for Beginner’s Should You Have in Your Art Room?
- What Are the Different Types of Calligraphy Lettering?
- What are the Top 5 Tips for a Perfect Flow from the Beginner’s Guide to Calligraphy?
One thing to note before heading into the wonderful world of ink dipping and tracing is that it is a very slow hobby. Much like an artist slowly developing their canvas into the finished piece or a baker carefully applying slow pressure to pipe the perfect icing peaks on the cake. Calligraphy is a magnificent hobby with stunning results and real world uses but it isn’t for the truculent minded. So, if you’ve got the patience to learn, make mistakes, get new paper and learn again, continue on.
Those with natural creative flow can even become a belletrist with a business venture of calligraphy design.
What is Calligraphy?
Calligraphy is an art-form whereby the written word is decorated at each letter with ornamental flourishes. And, it is these flourishes that are individualistic from creative flow. In fact, the origins of the word ‘calligraphy’ derive from the Greek words ‘kallos’ (beauty) and ‘graphein’ (to write). Meaning ‘calligraphy’ directly translates to ‘beautiful handwriting’.
But, it’s not just beautiful handwriting when it comes down to splitting the nib. In fact, there are specific symbols, levels of integrity, a relationship of harmony, historical techniques, and creative rhythm that goes into each and every piece of calligraphic writing.
What is the Difference Between Traditional and Modern Calligraphy?
Within calligraphic penmanship, there is specific calligraphy lettering that relates to two categories; traditional and modern font.
Traditional calligraphy is a way of writing with a specific set of rules. This is because, the history of calligraphy streamlined into a set of specific type fonts such as Copperplate and Spencerian. We’ll cover these a little more in the article, but they have very specific qualities that run consistently throughout their alphabets.
It is the mimic of these fonts through your calligraphy pen that will create traditional calligraphy lettering. And, even if you’re not wanting to copy and paste the same lettering over and over, it is very useful to learn the rules of traditional calligraphy writing before trying to break them. Plus, they are very in demand for businesses in the wedding circuit!
Qualities of traditional calligraphy include; elegance, rules, consistency, italicised script, basic letterforms, a backstory, correct angles and spacing, neutral colours and performed with a nibbed fountain pen.
Modern calligraphy, on the other hand specialises in seeing the beauty in non-consistent and unique lettering using calligraphy equipment for beginners and some other tools, too. For example; consider the possibilities the slanted-nibbed highlighter can do for your notes. Or, how it can improve your scrapbooking skills after reading our team’s Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Scrapbooking.
Modern calligraphy doesn’t have rules to follow. As long as it follows the basic principles of designs lettering with the purpose of being beautiful, there is nothing to stop it from being consistent or inconsistent in font type. However, that said, there are trends with modern calligraphy that can set it apart from its ancestor.
For example; modern calligraphy can often be seen as more whimsical, flourishing and fun. It can incorporate upright, bold, underlined, strikethrough or capitalised fonts. They can be highly popular with branding of new businesses and often use brighter colours, too. Finally, the biggest transformational stride for modern calligraphy lettering is that the calligraphy pen is done away with entirely; amid digital mediums, standard stationary and brushstrokes used on modern calligraphy practice sheets.
You may find erudite traditionalists in the calligraphy profession that can scrutinize the idea that calligraphy is something that can be learned or that modern calligraphy could even be considered as part of the art form at all. This is because they believe people are born with innate abilities in order to perform steady-hand drawings of lettering with a calligraphy pen.
But, here at The Hobby Kraze, we’re here to prove to you that it can be learned. And, with such a rise in modern calligraphy across social media and other online platforms, it is becoming more common of a sight than any of the traditional modes.
In fact, there are many of us who would like to believe that freehand modern calligraphy is more true of an art-form than the traditional copy master’s calligraphy; because it is unique and involves a natural creative flow.
How was Calligraphy in Penmanship Born?
As we know, there is a traditional form of calligraphy that causes a division between artists in the community. But, considering where the history emerged can help to understand why traditionalists rely on their rules and backstory.
Before humans were able to communicate effectively with words, cave drawings and scratches in the natural elements were a way to lobby information from one brain to the other. But, as standardised languages began to form across regions, so did standardised symbols. Since then, the written world has developed in so many ways. Yet, the first hint of calligraphy was not through the Germanic alphabet as we know it today, it was with the Ancient Chinese civilizations.
In fact, the first notion of beautiful intoned calligraphy lettering takes us all the way back to the Shang Dynasty who had a stronghold over China from 1600 B.C. to 1046 B.C. Then, it was taken into the Han Dynasty – with their stronghold lasting from 206 B.C. to 220 A.D. – whereby the trends grew in popularity to become more of an artform completed with brush strokes and ink.
The next historical instance of matter was with the Greek sculptor Polykleitos who described beauty to be a case of proportion in relation to the whole. Which, carries into the world of modern calligraphy practice sheets whereby the specific calligraphy lettering is marked on paper in a way that provides an attractive view to the whole. If we consider each letter to sit in its own perfect square, it would encompass the right amount that gives balance, symmetry, weight and beauty.
And, using beautiful lettering to adorn the pages of a book were used throughout the ages, taking the silk road from the Middle East and into Europe. However, it wasn’t until the 16th century where the recognition and appreciation for the artform was given the name; calligraphy. During this time and since, there have been many changes from regional adaptations to language uses that have given the more traditional scripts used with calligraphy equipment for beginners.
So, here’s an order of establishment for all the main twenty calligraphy lettering styles you’ll come across with your calligraphy pen:
- Ogham Stones
- Imperial Capitals
- Rustic Capitals
- Insular Majuscules
- Carolingian Minuscules
- Early Gothic
- Gaelic Type
- Textura Quadrata
- Lombardic Capitals
- Bastard Secretary
- Humanist Minuscule
Why Should You Start a Calligraphy Lettering Hobby?
If you’ve got this far, then you’ve got the key interest and patience required for the calligraphy hobby. And, it is this slow and calm presence of art formation that allows it to be such a rewarding experience to have as a hobby. With instant relief from stress and anxiety when the focus is placed on writing calligraphy lettering.
However, it isn’t just in the regular sense of having ‘benefits’ that brings this past time to the top of the list for hobbies to have. Calligraphy is something that is still used throughout everyday society. Whether it’s writing the placement cards for a wedding breakfast, writing the invitations to a christening, writing the icing lettering on the top of a cake, teaching others to use script font with ink or selling artwork to individuals through Etsy. This beginner’s guide to calligraphy is here to show you how having a calligraphy pen can change your life for the better.
With that, the team here at The Hobby Kraze has put together a list of substantial reasons you should take some modern calligraphy practice sheets and get going:
- It is stress relieving
- You can write while listening to music
- You can create beautiful artwork
- The end piece is often accompanied by an ineffable feeling
- You can sell art
- You can make jewellery
- You can decorate cakes
- There’s room to up-cycle furniture with written artwork
- Calligraphy can help to relieve anxiety
- You can lower blood pressure by being focused
- Keeping an eye on the page and the lettering helps to prevent arthritis
- Engaging the mind will help prevent or delay Alzheimer’s
- You’ll be releasing the happy hormones
- There’s creative freedom to write modern calligraphy in any way you like
- You can also copy the traditional fonts as part of a portfolio
- You can sell signatures as brands and logos
- You’ll save money on your own decorations and embellishments
- It is a very cheap hobby to have
- There’s no need to have all the bells and whistles
- You can write calligraphy lettering come rain or shine
- It can help you to learn a new language
- You can choose how much or how little you’d like to do
- You can be commissioned to adorn books
- It is the perfect gift or demonstration of affection for a loved one
- There’s no need to write the book; you can be laconic
Which Calligraphy Equipment for Beginner’s Should You Have in Your Art Room?
By nature, calligraphy is a very simple artform, especially in the traditional sense. With the need only for a pen, ink and a medium on which to allow the ink to flow. Yet, as modern calligraphy is a prominent theme in today’s hobby culture, the calligraphy equipment for beginner’s has grown. From all the different types of pen or nib to the different mediums or ink that is used to create beautiful calligraphy lettering.
For example, there are people who have used instant coffee as ink to create a natural and environmental brown lettering surrounded by flowers and/or leaves. Then, there’s those that use nothing more than a smart tablet with accompanying pen in order to design digital modern calligraphy lettering. And, while it can be on the more expensive side, there are many homes who already have access to such tablets, and it s a way to save on resources down the line. Something the team hear at The Hobby Kraze will always support.
But, before we take you through the list of supplies, you need to know the parts to a pen; the standard pen will have a calligraphy pen body and a nib. These nibs can be changed in order to adapt to your intended calligraphy lettering font. For example, some may have a point and others may have varying sizes of flat bed in order to intensify thickness of the ink flow. Yet, there are other parts to the nib that will help you understand use and care.
The nib has 6 components; the base, shank, nib I.D., vent hole, split and tines. The base is the curved bottom that enters into your pen under the split in the pen’s metal holder. The shank is the long section of metal nib that enters the pen for stability. The nib I.D. is the engraving of details of the nib such as the brand, size and type. The vent hole is a small hole that is used to regulate the flow of ink: when you dip, the ink should never go further than the top of the vent hole. The split is the beginning of a line on the nib where the tines can separate to increase the amount of ink flowing onto the paper. The tines are the two sides of the nib where the nib splits; the tines separate when pressure is added to the pen.
Otherwise, here’s a list of all the calligraphy equipment for beginners and other stationary you could make use of in your lettering hobby adventure;
- Straight Dip pen
- Oblique Dip Pen
- Fountain Pen
- Glass Dip Pen
- Flat Brush
- Brush pen
- Normal Ball Point Pen
- Instant Coffee
- LaserJet Paper
- Nikko Nib
- Micro-Fibre Cloth
- Light Tablet
- Smart Tablet
- Tracing Paper
- Rolling Ruler
- Lined Paper
- Penmanship Practice Books
- Modern Calligraphy Practice Sheets
- Traditional Practice Sheets
- Storage Box
What Are the Different Types of Calligraphy Lettering?
Now you’ve got your artillery of calligraphy equipment for beginner’s, it’s time to begin thinking about the most common styles of calligraphy lettering you’ll come across.
Of course, earlier in this beginner’s guide to calligraphy, we mentioned a range of styles and type fonts that have risen over the years. However, some have related to specific dead languages such as Gaelic or Latin, and the majority have since left fashion. So, we’ve got the seven most popular and common lettering you’ll come across in a modern calligraphy hobby.
1. Foundation Hand
The foundation hand is the perfect basis for beginning your hobby in calligraphy lettering. Developed by British scribe Edward Johnson, it was developed to be a fluid and cursive script to have the fewest pen lifts when writing. It is also a geometrically satisfying calligraphy lettering to use.
2. Faux Calligraphy
Faux calligraphy is a go-to for many calligraphers looking to get the sense of pressure and split-tine ink flow when using a normal pen or pencil. This is because the premise relies on writing in the calligraphic font of choice and adding depth to particular segments after the fact. They have their own beauty in separate lines and in a coloured base (to mimic true calligraphy pen writing).
As one of the most common fonts used by the erudite traditionalists, it was historically used by a scribe and engraver on a copper plate. The font has iconic heavy pressure throughout the lettering in order to deepen and thicken the lines. If you are wanting to begin a career after this beginner’s guide to calligraphy, you’ll need to be familiar with this style.
Much like copperplate, blackletter calligraphy lettering has a wide history of gothic origin. It also makes use of the high-pressure nib placement for the thickened lines. It is recognisably the oldest type font used throughout Europe including in the Guthenberg Bible, it has a dramatic difference between strokes. It’s properties also include a standardised rectangular ‘block’ in which each letter fits the same alongside harsh geometric corners rather than soft curves.
5. Brush Lettering
Brush lettering is named as such due to the tools used to create it. When a paintbrush is dipped in ink, it allows for a curvature and flow that a pen can’t. It is actually considered part of modern calligraphy due to its freeing nature but is often used alongside the copperplate and Spencerian fonts where there is a typical thickness on the down stroke and a prominent thin upstroke.
6. Spencerian Penmanship
The American counterpart to the copperplate being used throughout England and Europe is Spencerian font. This font it highly recognisable throughout many US brands such as Coca Cola and Ford. The properties include a very italicised font with similar strengths of the down and up strokes. Yet, this is still a relatively new type of calligraphy lettering in comparison to others in the history of the hobby. It was developed in 1840 by Platt Rogers Spencer and was used en-masse throughout the US until the 1920s when typewriters and the Courier New font would stamp its way into the spotlight.
7. Modern Calligraphy
Finally, there is modern calligraphy, where modern calligraphy practice sheets will take you into a world of variance and freedom. Here at The Hobby Kraze, we like for you to be free when it comes to taking part of a hobby. This is because it allows you to enjoy a hobby in your unique way. That said, in order to experience modern calligraphy creation to its fullest, it’s best to get to grips with the above traditional methods, first. Then, you can begin to relax and experiment your way into modern calligraphy trends.
What are the Top 5 Tips for a Perfect Flow from the Beginner’s Guide to Calligraphy?
Before letting you loose into the wonderful world of calligraphy lettering, we’ve got five tips for you. They cover everything from being able to get into the right mindset to being able to care and maintain your essential calligraphy equipment for beginners.
Cleaning Calligraphy Nibs for the First Time and Thereafter
There are two reasons and two distinct ways you should clean your calligraphy pens and nibs. The first being prior to using your new nib. The second being to remove old ink from the nib in order to maximise performance.
When you first buy your nibs, they will be covered in a manufacturer’s wax to prevent against rust. However, this wax coating repels ink and will make your calligraphy endeavour even more slow and slightly more difficult than it needs to be. But, there is a fun way to get rid of this wax layer! If you have a potato, you’re already ready. If not, it’s time to head out to the shops. After making some nice roast potatoes, you can then use a left-over uncooked potato to clean your nib. Simply stab the potato with your new nib, wait for fifteen minutes and then remove the nib. You’re good to go with the flow.
When you’ve used your nib, you’ll need to clean it in order to prevent rust and dry ink from causing damage to the nib or your calligraphy lettering. In order to clean your nib, it’s good to know that ink is water based. Meaning, all you need to do is dip your nib in water while the ink is wet. When doing so, make sure your pen is at a 90° angle to the water’s surface and the nib goes no further than when water hits the top of the vent. Finally, pat the nib dry with a no-fibre or micro-fibre cloth.
Warm Up First to Prevent Shaky Hands
Sometimes, if you pick up your pen and set up your writing station for the day, you may find you hand shake a little and it’s not because of the impending Winter chill. But, you can relax in the knowledge that this is completely normal and it’s your body’s way of telling you it needs to warm up and stimulate the muscles, first.
So, when you first set up, get yourself a scrap piece of paper and practice the calligraphy lettering you’ll be doing that day. For example; writing out the alphabet in copperplate, writing the alphabet in copperplate capitals and writing out the numbers from one to ten. This way you’ve tried every letter and your hands are ready for the job.
Know How to Dip for Optimal Ink Flow
Knowing how to dip your nib and pen into the ink is very important. Too little and you’ll find yourself barely being able to get through a letter before needing to refill. Too much and you could risk your pen rusting or having large clumps of ink fall at once to destroy your artwork.
In order to make sure you’ve got the optimum dip, use the same premise as when cleaning. Dip your nib into the ink of choice at a 90° angle to the surface. Dip it no further than the top of the vent. As well as this, when you dip for ink at the same level as dipping into the water, you know the water will clean your nib without fail.
Know How to Hold Your Calligraphy Pen
A key component to this ultimate beginner’s guide to calligraphy is knowing how to hold your pen. And, no it is not the same as a regular pen or even a paint brush. When holding a dip pen, whether it’s a fountain, standard dip, oblique dip or unicorn horn, it should sit comfortably between your thumb and index finger. Then, further up the pen, it should rest on the skin connecting your thumb and index finger together.
This specific calligraphy pen hold ensures you’re holding your pen at a 45° angle rather than the usual holding point of 90° angle to the paper. And, it is done this way for two reasons; the first is that the pen will not move when writing, giving you the utmost control of the nib. Secondly, given the way the nib is designed, holding at a 45° angle will allow the ink to flow at a consistent rate while enabling the nib to glide over the paper rather than catch and become damaged.
Experiment and Embrace
A final top tip from the crew here at The Hobby Kraze would be to make sure you experiment with your hobby and embrace any and all blemishes. Turn them into something better by taking on board the rules (or, lack there-of) from modern calligraphy writing.
And, when we say experiment, we don’t just mean with the turn out of each letter; we mean with the medium. Whether it’s digital, on tags, in postcards, creating signatures or making a business all about your beautiful capabilities of calligraphy. Go out there and test your calligraphy lettering strengths.
And there it is. You are (probably) now a fully-fledged belletrist in the art of calligraphy lettering. From understanding how each font came to be to finding the tools you’ll need to get started knowing how the hobby can benefit you, there isn’t much traction against trying the hobby. Especially when you can begin with a piece of scrap paper, a pencil and a picture of the font you like on the internet.
Here at The Hobby Kraze, the team works hard to get you paired with the right hobby. And, we love to see a match made in heaven. So, if this is you and your love for the calligraphy hobby has blossomed, then you should share your written words and beautiful modern calligraphy styles on our social media.
But, if this wasn’t the one this time, you’ll have to check out our other ultimate guides such as; The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Scrapbooking, The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Stamp Collection, The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Knitting and more!