Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Learning Modern Calligraphy!

For months I would look at Pinterest to find beautifully addressed envelopes and elegantly written bible verses and yearn to possess the skills these artists had with pointed-pen. For weeks I would tell my mum that I'd start learning once my exams would finally be over and finally the day came where I visited my local art store to buy some supplies.

After searching through various blogs, video tutorials, and Skillshare classes, I started creating mental notes of calligraphy techniques I would need to employ and physical notes of the supplies I would need to find. Needless to say, I became pretty anxious with wanting to begin. After approximately two weeks of practicing, I want to share what tools and resources I've used that have helped me develop my skill. Hopefully some of you will find this blog post helpful!

Pictured from left to right:

  • Rubbing alcohol - used to clean nibs when I'm ready to pack up. I've been quite diligent with cleaning my nibs after practicing and this rubbing alcohol ensures that the nib dries completely to prevent rusting.
  • Higgins Eternal Black Ink - a staple of many calligraphers, this works well on different types of papers.
  • Sumi Black Ink - the first ink I used when I first started calligraphy, I prefer it a little bit more than the Higgins because it's thicker and more opaque.

There was one time where I was writing and a substantial amount of ink decided to splatter all over my white acrylic table. I panicked and started wiping it with a kitchen towel (worst idea ever) which spread it around before quickly starting to dry. It only decided to give after I used two Dettol disinfectant surface wipes and a paper towel drenched in rubbing alcohol. Needless to say I don't want to ever re-live that. So I stole my dad's drawing board

I found it especially hard trying to find the nibs most calligraphers recommend (Brause Blue Pumpkin, Nikko G, Zebra G), but after looking through some Pinterest posts, I saw that a calligrapher recommended the Hunt Imperial 101 (nib on the left) and the Hunt 22B Extra Fine (nib in the middle). These are also the nibs that Melissa Esplin recommends for her istilllovecalligraphy class

The Hunt Imperial is great for making thick downstrokes, something I find useful for larger works, while the Hunt 22B creates thinner downstrokes, which I use for smaller written quotes. I bought these two nibs at the Takapuna Art Supply Store, along with the two inks, nib holder, and Canson pro layout marker paper (not pictured).

The marker on the right is the Tombow dual-ended brush pen, which I bought before my nibs and have used sparingly since then. I haven't touched my Tombow in a while since I'm not actually good at brush calligraphy (sigh, one day) but I have used it for bolder-looking works a handful of occasions. I bought my Tombow at Gordon Harris

Resources I find helpful:
  • Pinterest: There are so many great calligraphy examples on this website, I can pin for hours on end! I've found it especially useful to look at how other calligraphers construct their letters (I've found that the letters p, q, z, f and b frustrate me!). As I've gotten more confident with my own calligraphy style, I've started to look at practicing other 'fonts', and Pinterest provides great examples of these too. Searching the "quotes" tag lets me practice different letter combinations and helps me add to my favourite quotes collection!
  • 'Calligraphy I: Writing in Modern Script' Skillshare class by Bryn Chernoff: This class is fantastic and was what I watched before picking up my nibs. Bryn's Skillshare classes are conveniently split up into different learning blocks which makes it easy to re-watch. I do have to admit, I haven't watched all videos that Bryn provides (Skillshare has a limited freemium streaming time), only until 'constructing letterforms' but I do plan to watch them all in the future, and maybe even contribute to the Project Gallery. 
  • Instagram: There are so many calligraphy pros out there in the Instagram world and I love it when I see a post from any of them on my feed. Scrolling through their profile gives me a little bit of hope that one day I'll be as skilled and creative as them. 

After this equipment talk I really want to start talking about how I've found learning calligraphy. In short, I'm loving it and it has been so much fun! Growing up (and even now) I've had an interest for writing - in notebooks and spare pieces of paper, so much so that I have a ridiculous collection of notebooks that I have but don't necessarily use. It's a bit of a problem, and my mum hates it when I step into a Kikki K but I would buy stationery over clothes any day.

I started calligraphy on November 11 and have been practicing almost every day since then. It's been interesting trying to develop 'my own' calligraphy style (with inspiration from others) and it can be frustrating at times, but I always come back to picking up my pointed-pen when I'm feeling inspired.

Something I found frustrating at first was figuring out how to hold the nib holder. 

On the left is how I typically hold a pen (I still hold pens like this for every day writing) and on the right is how I had to learn to hold a nib holder. Because the tines of a calligraphy nib have to 'split' when creating downstrokes, the typical way I hold a pen wasn't allowing me to create the right pressure to let them do that. Holding the nib holder a new way definitely took a bit of getting used to, but it wasn't something that couldn't be fixed with a bit of practice!

I am by no means (zero, actually) artistic, so I'm glad I've found an outlet that gets my creative juices flowing and my hands away from my laptop. Here are a couple of quotes I wrote last night all written with the Hunt 22B:

Before I finish start finishing off this post, I want to share some last minute points to take into consideration if you're a brand new calligrapher. I sure wish someone had told me about these because I ended up learning the hard way:
  • Learn how to take care of your calligraphy nibs properly. Buy some rubbing alcohol and don't use toilet paper. I used to clean my nibs with just water, a couple of days after they rusted so badly I couldn't use them anymore (more devastating than many of you would think because the nibs available at my art store are $5 EACH). Use kitchen roll paper and not toilet paper, toilet paper catches more easily on the tines of your nibs and you'll end up dragging it on your work.
  • Put something underneath your work surface, especially when you're using Higgins ink! I don't need to tell you my story twice :(
  • When using Sumi ink, make sure you let your work dry properly (since Sumi ink takes longer to dry), in a place where it won't fly off and away from cat paws.
  • I haven't had this happen to me (fingers crossed not ever) but put your ink bottle in the hole of a duct tape roll to prevent it from falling over. 

And a little something I wrote for the kitchen: 

I guess this has also turned into a bit of a desk tour! Here are a couple of things that are around my desk:

  • A bowl of Kinder and Whittakers Chocolates (my two favourites)!
  • A fake plant because I don't have to think about watering it
  • Two Ecoya candles: the larger one in Sea Grass and Water Lily (a limited edition scent!), and the smaller one in French Pear
  • The 'horn' behind my candle is actually an acoustic iPhone dock that I bought in New York
  • A Les Miserables poster from New York, bordered by gold MT washi tape
  • A pin board that typically houses a monthly calendar, quotes and various printed pictures

Let me know if you're into pointed pen Calligraphy, what nibs are your favourite? What resources do you find helpful? Where can I stalk your work? :D


  1. I know that this post is about calligraphy, but I just gotta say that I love those Kinder chocolates too! Haha


  2. OK, wow. I love this. Sounds like a skill I'd want to have (I have quite the messy handwriting in general.) And you're amazing at it!

  3. looks absolutely beautiful so far!!! i've always wanted to learn calligraphy, and since i just finished exams and have a little break from school, i just might give it a try too! :)