How to Write Calligraphy – A Comprehensive Guide

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During my college time, I had a calligraphy teacher who taught me this beautiful craft, and even though I am not a master at writing calligraphy In this article I will show you everything, that I know and teach you how to write calligraphy.

Here is a brief summary of what you will learn in this guide:

  • What you need for writing calligraphy
  • Assembling and filling a dip pen with ink
  • The Basics of writing calligraphy
  • How to write calligraphy

Let´s get started!

What do I Need to Write Calligraphy?

Calligraphy Pens

When it comes to Pens, there are two main types to choose from.

The more traditional dip pen or the more modern cartridge–filled pen.

I personally love to use the cartridge–filled pen when I wanna do some Calligraphy on the road in my sketchbook because I don´t need to carry too much stuff around with me. All you need is paper and one of those pens.

But you are limited when it comes to different inks and nibs. You can´t use any special ink with it and you can only use the Nibs, the pen comes with.

Cartridge-filled pen

The traditional dip pen, however, is more diverse.

You can switch the nib easily and use a large variety of different inks, from colored ink to pigmented gold or silver ink.

In the end, it comes down to preference. I personally like to use both. It depends on the Situation.

Dip pen

The Nibs

There are two main types of nibs.

The italic broad nibs and the pointed flex nibs.

The italic broad nibs are usually used for older scripts like the medieval Unial or the Carolingian minuscule.

Different stroke thickness is achieved by holding the pen at a constant angle and varying the direction of the stroke.

The pointed nib is also called a flex nib because it comes to a sharp point instead of a broad edge.

Different line thickness here is achieved by pressure.

When the nib is pushed down harder on the paper it will split the nib allowing more ink to flow and therefore making the line thicker.

The pointed nib is a little younger than its bigger brother and it is usually used for cursive fonts.

I would recommend starting out with a broad nib, mainly because line thickness is a bit easier to control and the fonts are more fun in the beginning.

Markers and Brushes?

Yes, you can use a Marker and Brushes for Calligraphy!

You can even get some amazing results that you wouldn´t necessarily be able to get with a regular Pen.

I really like experimenting with different markers and brushes to do western calligraphy (Japanese and Chinese calligraphy obviously already use brushes).

I especially like markers with flat nibs like Copic-markers, for example. The fact, that they come in a wide variety of different colors makes it even better for experimenting. And Copics usually have another brush-like tip as well!

There are some brush pens, and Japanese and Chinese calligraphy brushes, that are really awesome to use too! Just go out and try different things, you can never tell what works and what doesn´t until you try.

But I would generally not recommend using them if you are new to calligraphy. As a beginner, you should stick to Pens until you feel confident enough to try markers.

The Ink

There is a lot to try here. Inks come in every color you can imagine.

  • There are pigmented inks, that look like gold or silver.
  • There are neon inks, that are extremely bright and colorful
  • There even is special ink, that glows in the dark!

In the beginning, though I would recommend simple colored calligraphy ink.

Every decent calligraphy ink will do. With cartridge-filled pens you will be limited to the cartridge the manufacturer provides or recommends.

The Paper

And finally paper! There is really good calligraphy paper but in the beginning and for exercising I wouldn´t recommend it. Mainly because it is expensive and there really isn´t any point in using it, in my opinion, if you are just practicing calligraphy.

Instead, I would recommend photo print paper or Aquarell blocks, which have very little texture. You can also use photo paper (not the glossy one though) or good drawing paper.

You can use any paper really, as long as the ink doesn’t run or the paper doesn’t dissolve or gets scratched up by the nib. The paper has to be blank. Don’t use Paper with lines pre-printed on it!

If you want more information about what paper is best for calligraphy and what paper to use for practicing calligraphy, then check my paper guide out!

Kneadable Eraser and Pencils for Guidelines and Sketching

When you are writing calligraphy you will have to use guidelines. These lines are not permanent, you will only need them as a guide while writing and you will erase them after you are done.

I would recommend a soft lead pencil like 4B and to erase the lines I almost always use a kneadable eraser as this eraser will not damage the paper in any way. Just be sure to use the eraser only after the ink has completely dried.

Starter Kits

One calligraphy kit, that I can really recommend is the “Speedball calligraphy collector’s set”.

This set has four different Inks, four different pen holders, four different nibs (broad italic nibs and flex pointed nibs), and it has a textbook, that is helpful in the beginning.

With this kit, you will have everything you need to start writing calligraphy.

Assembling the Dip Pen

Cleaning and preparing of the nibs

Before you use the Nib for the first time you should clean it. That is because, when the Nibs are manufactured they will (most of the time) be coated with a small amount of oil to keep the metal from rusting.

This isn´t a bad idea but the oil will keep the ink from running down the nib properly, which will result in an uneven spreading of the ink or even ink blobs. This is much more prominent with pointed nibs.

You can clean the nibs with some rubbing alcohol. But don’t soak it too much, just a few drops should be enough to rub the oil off.

Alternatively, you can also pass the nib through a little flame, from a lighter for example. But be careful, the nib should not get too hot, as this could permanently damage it!

The broad nibs should be disassembled before cleaning.

With broad nibs, there can be another problem. If you cleaned them and you still get too little ink flow or ink splatters and drops then take a look at the two parts if there are some little metal leftovers from the manufacturing process.

Sometimes there is a little metal corn on one of the parts. If there is, you can carefully sand it away with some sandpaper. Be very careful, if you do this, to not scratch the metal too much, as this will ruin your nib!

How to Assemble the Pen

Now, that your Nib is clean and ready for drawing, you should assemble your pen. Dip pens usually come with a universal insert. Those inserts usually look like four metal “fins”.

With such an insert you will be able to use almost all kinds of Nibs in almost every size.

If the universal insert doesn´t look like the picture, don’t worry! Sometimes new Pens will arrive with the “fins” bend back. You can simply bend them one after another carefully towards the middle until it looks like in the picture above.

After the insert looks good you can stick the nib in. The first mistake almost every beginner does (Me included in the beginning) is, that they push the nib in between the “Fins”. But the Nib has to go between the “Fins” and the rim as seen below.

If you want to disassemble the Pen, simply clean the Nib with water and pull it straight out of the pen.

The Basics of Writing Calligraphy

These are the basics of writing calligraphy. We will start with how you hold the pen and end end with how to prepare the paper for writing.

How to Hold the Pen

I personally learned to hold the pen the way I would normally write just a bit further up, so you wouldn´t touch the nib in any way.

When you write, especially when it is on a larger scale, you shouldn’t move too much using your wrist but use your elbow instead.

This way you will get smoother curves and you can do them on any scale. Depending on the nib and the font you will have to hold the pen at different angles, more about that later.

In my opinion, you can hold the pen the way, you are most comfortable. It’s all about having fun with calligraphy, don’t focus too much on the one “perfect” way to hold the pen and just write.

How to Load the Pen With Ink

This again depends on which nib you use.

The pointed nib is rather simple. Just dip the nib in the ink, but be sure not to dip it in too far.

The broad nib is another story. Don´t just dip the broad nib in the ink. You have to “load” these types of nibs with a little brush.

The reason for this is, that you don’t want inc on the top part of the nib, because it will result in uneven ink distribution on the paper or even ink blobs! So use the brush to load some ink in the little gap until it is about 3/4 filled. Look at the picture below for reference.

Now you are ready for drawing our first few lines. Try and get a feeling for the pen and the paper by making some practice lines, before trying to write your first letters.

How to Prepare the Paper

Yes, I know, you want to start doing some calligraphy, but before you write your first letters, you should draw some lines for orientation.

I´m talking about the x-height, the ascent, and the descent.

The x-height is, as the name suggests, the height of an “x” in a given font. The x-height is the distance from the baseline (the line all letters sit on) and the median.

The ascent shows the highest cap, a letter in the font can have. The highest letters are not capital letters but letters like “h” for example, that ascent slightly beyond the cap height.

The cap height will show how high the capital letters go.

And the descender height will show how far down letters like “p” or “g” go.

You can see an example of this in the picture below.

At the top of each of my Worksheets, you will find three things.

  1. You will see the guidelines with some squares next to them. These squares are for reference. Each square is as high as the nib is broad. With this way of measuring you can use any nib size you want to and scale the script to any size correctly.
  2. You will see the Nib size in the middle at the top of the Worksheet. This is the Nib size I optimized the Worksheet for and that I recommend using in the beginning. For all the Worksheets in this guide, the Nib size is 1.5 mm.
  3. The last thing you will see is the angle, at which you have to hold the pen. The pen should be held in this position whenever you write these letters.

Let’s Write Your First Script!

The Black letter Script

Most of the time, when you start out, the first font type that you will learn is a Grotesque font, meaning it has no decorations whatsoever and is mostly very “clean” looking.

Popular examples of a grotesque are Helvetica and ITC Franklin Gothic (Both not meant to be drawn by hand) or a cursive script.

We are, however, going to start with a gothic script or Blackletter. Just because it is more fun in my opinion.

Even though the letters look more complicated I promise you, they aren´t as hard to write as you may think. Initially, we will only use minuscule (small letters) at first as they are easier in the beginning.

If you want to, you can download a free Worksheet of this script on my side.

This Worksheet has four different pages.

The First page will give you all the necessary information to write the script properly like x-height, line heights, how to hold the pen, the complete alphabet with capital letters, and some step-by-step examples of how to write some of the letters.

The other pages will have pre-drawn lines for you to directly write on and the whole alphabet written on the top of the page as a constant reference.

Download the free Worksheet here!

Blackletter Guidelines

After you have downloaded the Worksheet you can either print it out on photo paper, which you can write on with a dip pen and ink, or you can just draw the guidelines manually.

When you draw them manually you should draw a ladder of squares, that stack on each other, as seen in the picture below on the far left side.

Then just draw the guidelines following the numbers below. So for the Blackletter Script, the descending line is 1.5 units (or squares) high. From the baseline to the median (or the x-height) it is 4.5 units. And from the median to the cap height its 2 squares.

The lowercase letter alphabet

And here are some step-by-step examples of how to write them.

I would recommend writing the whole alphabet at least twice. And after you are done you can write some sentences of your choosing, only use small letters for now though.

After you feel confident enough with the small letters you can move on to the capital letters.

Some advice on the Capital letter alphabet

Before you start though I will give you some advice on writing capital letters.

First of all: Don’t be intimidated, they look really impressive but they are not as hard to draw as they actually look. I will give you a few Tipps, that helped me before you start:

  1. Be aware, of how much space the Letter will need before you draw the first line. For example with the letter C, you will start with a curved Line but the top part of the C will be added later and a little bit to the right. So don’t start the curved line all the way up at the cap height but a little bit further down or your C will end up being too high.
  2. The letter “S” is universally hated and loved at the same time by calligraphers. Don´t get frustrated if you just can’t seem to get it to look right, it is the hardest capital letter to get right. But just keep at it and don’t give up and you will learn to love this letter because even though it is hard to draw, the letter “S” just looks really great.
  3. Sometimes the Capital letters will look a little tilted or they just don’t look right. In that case, carefully look at the individual lines of the Letters again and try to copy them as close as possible. Some of these letters like the “S” and the “L” have little room for errors. Just don´t give up and practice and you will see results in no time!

All right now let´s start drawing the Capital Letters!

Follow the example below just like before and take your time! Draw every Letter very carefully and have fun with it!

After you are done. Draw the letters, you had the most trouble with again, until they look good. And then, you can start by writing your first sentences with capital letters until the page is full. Now, you are done. You officially learned your first complete Script!

Now the second Script!

The Fraktur Script

The Fraktur Script is very similar to the Blackletter. The main difference is, that the Fraktur script has more fluent lines and harsher angles than the Blackletter Script.

Here is the free Fraktur Script worksheet.

Just like the Blackletter Script Worksheet, this Worksheet has four pages. The first page with all relevant Information about the Script. Two pages for practicing the capital and small letters and one page with only guidelines.

Download the free Worksheet here

The Fraktur Guidelines

Exactly as before you can just download the Worksheet and print it out or you can draw them manually as explained in the Blackletter section.

The lowercase alphabet

And some step by step examples. When you are writing the Fraktur Script it is important that you draw the lines with a smooth motion. 

As before I would recommend drawing the whole alphabet at least twice and before you move on to the capital letters you should write a few sentences only using the lowercase letters. After you feel confident enough you can move on to the capital letters.

The Capital Letter Alphabet

Here the capital letters are a lot easier but as before just concentrate on the individual lines and you will be fine. 

And some step-by-step examples:

As before write the whole alphabet at least twice and then you can move on to writing some sentences of your own choosing. 

And the Third Script!

The Spanish Cursive

This script is rather special. It is a script, that I got from an incredible calligraphy master. He did calligraphy for over 80 years when I met him.

He started writing at the age of 6 by copying the Scripts from old books. When I met him he was almost 90 years old and he was still writing calligraphy with a steady hand.

When I asked him about a Script with great flexibility when it comes to style and decorations he gave me this one. The Spanish cursive.

Here is the free Worksheet:

This one, just like the other two, has four pages. Again the first page with all the necessary information about the Script. Then two pages to practice the lowercase and the capital letters and one page with guidelines only.

Download it for free here!

The Spanish Cursive Guidelines

Just like before, you can either print the worksheet out or you can draw the guidelines manually.

The lowercase alphabet

The lowercase letters in this script are fairly easy. Just remember, that they are written at a slight angle! So the challenging part with this script is, that the angle has to be consistent throughout the whole piece, that you are writing.

And here are two step-by-step examples:

Just like always I would recommend writing the whole alphabet twice. Be careful when you write the letters, that they are all tilted at the exact same angle.

The Capital Letters

Now this will probably surprise you, at least I was surprised, but in this Script, a lot of the Capital Letters have different versions, that you can use.

Which version you choose in which context is completely up to you! This makes this Script really unique.

And here are some step-by-step examples:

Just like always I would recommend, that you draw the Alphabet twice and after you are done, you can write some sentences of your own choosing. When you are doing that exercise with this script though, I would encourage you to try different little flourishes and decorations. As this Script is especially good for that sort of thing.

Frequent Problems

The Ink won´t flow.

A: If it is a new nib, try and clean it from the protective oil as mentioned above under “cleaning and preparing the nibs”

A2: If it is a broad nib and you already cleaned it, make sure there are no fragments, hairs, or other things caught between the two metal parts. Read “cleaning and preparing the nibs” above.

The Ink splatters.

A: You are either using too much force or your paper is not great.

A: Another problem may be, that you didn’t clean your nib if it is a new one.

The Ink is bleeding on my paper.

A: your paper isn´t good. It absorbs the ink too much and bleeds.

My calligraphy looks shaky

A: That is completely normal in the beginning. It will take you a little time until the lines will look tighter. Just keep at it, you can do it! It will become better really fast if you practice a little more.

What is possible with calligraphy?

Here is some Inspiration from my personal works.

I hope I could inspire you with these now go and have fun writing some calligraphy and if you have any other questions or you want to learn more just search through my Blog. I´m trying to answer all the most asked questions and share the solutions to the Problems I encountered myself.

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