Getting started with modern calligraphy

I recently decided to learn pointed pen or modern calligraphy.  I had been admiring the beautiful work I see on instagram for awhile and when I decided to start stocking calligraphy and lettering kits I thought this is the right time to get into it.  I use the Manuscript Oblique Modern Calligraphy Set.   The oblique set is designed with right handers in mind as it makes it easier for you to get the nib to a 55 degree angle to the paper that you need with a lot of modern calligraphy alphabets.  Left handers don't need an oblique pen holder really as what you are trying to achieve is a 55 degree slant on the letters and come at your writing from the left hand makes it a lot easier.


A basic summary of what tools you will need are:

  • Penholder - straight or oblique
  • Nibs - I recommend the Leonardt Principal EF Nib.  The Manuscript Calligraphy set comes with this and 2 other nibs for you to try.
  • Calligraphy Ink - Sumi Ink is great as well as Van Diemen’s Pigment Ink.
  • A cloth for wiping your nib on
  • A cup of water
  • Dinky Dips or small container for putting your ink in to dip your pen in.
  • Good quality practice paper such as the Manuscript practice pad or good quality printer paper.  What your essentially looking for is a paper that doesn’t absorb the ink straight away and then bleed or feather.


Calligraphy birthday card


For my practice I like to find inspiration first.  I find most of my inspiration on Instagram, there are thousands of great accounts for this. My favourite is @thepostmansknock, this is the owner of "The Postmans Knock" blog, which is a great blog to go and look at for calligraphy information.  A hashtag I also follow is #calligraphychallenge. This is a tag centered around daily calligraphy practice words. Another source of examples is #calligraphycommunity. Pinterest is an excellent source of inspiration and sources for calligraphy styles, I have set up a few boards for calligraphy and lettering that you can see HERE. Finally there is a lot to be said just Googling ‘Modern Calligraphy’ or ‘Pointed pen Calligraphy’, this is how I found my favourite site “The Postmans Knock” I highly recommend this site for all things pointed pen.


Think of calligraphy as drawing words not writing them.  You can have horrible handwriting and still make beautiful calligraphy.  I am one of these people, my writing is horrible but my calligraphy is beautiful if I do say so myself.




So to learn calligraphy you can get books or look at pinterest and other blogs but I would highly recommend signing up for Skillshare for the 2 months for $2, go through this link because you can get free months that way .  Once you’ve signed up for Skillshare, search for Audrey Ko and her class is called ‘Modern Calligraphy: pointed pen basics’  seriously it is a really good class to do. She takes you through every letter and number and how to do it, she’s GREAT.

So from newbie to newbie when you start out with calligraphy you will want to hold the penholder like you would a pen, very upright.  I’m here to tell you, you will end up with ink all over the place if you do. A Calligraphy pen needs to be held at a 45 degree angle to the paper so that the nib tip can glide over the paper and not dig in.  The key is to make sure that the stem of your pen holder is lying back against the skin between your thumb and index finger as in the photo below.

pen hold

 Part of  the beauty of calligraphy is the variation in line thickness, this is achieved by varying the pressure you put on your nib. There isn't a shortcut to learning this, the key is repetition of drills.  Drills get you used to the shapes involved in calligraphy, they also warm your hand muscles up so that you shake less I've found. The blog 'The Postmans Knock' has lots of good drills sheets for you to practice on, they also have worksheets for different styles of calligraphy you can learn before you develop your own style.  Audrey Ko also has her own website HERE where she blogs and sells her worksheets for the script that you learn in her skillshare class. 


On to Inks

Different brands of ink will all work differently that much is obvious.  My go to ink is Van Diemen’s Pigment Ink closely followed by Sumi Ink, these inks just behave well for me and my style.  I have also tried Dr. Ph Martin’s Iridescent ink and that has behaved well too. I recently got a bottle of liquid watercolour by Ecoline but I have found it to be too watery (imagine that) so I added Ziller ink thickener and it works great now.  You don’t have to stick to liquid inks though, you can use watercolours from pans, just put a few drops of water on the pan and mix with a brush till the consistency is not too watery (experiment is the key) and then you paint it onto the underside of your nib and your away.


So on the topic of paper I use Manuscript practice pads for daily practice and then I have just been experimenting with different types of card stock from my local office supplies shop.  What you are looking for when you look for card stock and paper for projects is stock that doesn’t absorb the ink fast. This means the ink won’t feather or bleed and you will have crisp lines in your work.

To sum up I think that calligraphy should be fun, even if your just doing drills.  I have found that If I set myself little projects to achieve like making a bookmark, card or even just perfecting a phrase, it keeps things interesting because I have a goal.  So never stop experimenting and incorporate calligraphy into your everyday and you will find it pays off with beautiful calligraphy.

Lee Saul

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