Getting Started With Calligraphy – Beginners Guide
Calligraphy is a beautiful skill that is easy to get lost in. If you’ve ever found yourself admiring beautiful works of calligraphy online wishing you could do the same, this is the post for you.
This essential guide to calligraphy for beginners will walk you through everything you need to know from the basic terminology to the best supplies, to how to get started.
You’ll even find some great resources for free worksheets and where to find the best inspiration to help you on the path to a skilled calligrapher.
The Benefits Of Learning Calligraphy
Before we get started learning the basic principles of calligraphy, let’s take a look at some of the reasons why it’s the perfect hobby.
1. It’s Good for Your Mental Health
Calligraphy is a fantastic form of mindfulness. It takes concentration and patience to learn calligraphy, which means you can switch off from the world and have some much-needed quiet time. It also teaches patience and quietens racing thoughts, making it incredibly beneficial for mental health.
There’s nothing better than spreading out your paper and pens on a table, pouring a hot cup of tea, putting on your favorite movie and getting lost in calligraphy practice.
It’s easy to get frustrated when your fonts are immediately perfect, but try to think of it more like a relaxing self-care routine you’ll get better at over time.
2. It’s an Affordable Hobby to Take Up
Unlike many hobbies that require expensive equipment or a huge time commitment, calligraphy is easy to start. If you’re unsure whether it’s for you, all you need is a starter kit or some beginner’s worksheets and you’re ready to go. This will cost around $25-$30 for a good starter kit. If you decide it’s not for you, it’s a small price to pay. But we’re certain once you get started, you won’t want to stop.
3. There’s No Age Restriction
No matter your age, calligraphy is the perfect hobby to dive into. For children, calligraphy teaches patience and reduces agitation so it’s a great hobby to get into early. Plus, with cursive writing becoming less and less common in schools, calligraphy is a wonderful skill to teach your little ones at home to keep the tradition alive.
At the other end of the age spectrum, calligraphy is also the perfect hobby for an older generation. If you’re retired and trying to find something new to do, why not try calligraphy? It keeps the brain healthy and active and your family will be in love with the cards and gifts you create.
4. You’ll Save Money on Special Events
People pay serious money for calligraphers to create stunning invitations, cards and gifts for weddings and special events. So you’ll save yourself a ton of money by learning this valuable skill yourself.
This comes in especially valuable for a wedding. You’ll be able to write your own save the dates, wedding invitations, place settings, menus, thank you cards – the list goes on.
Not to mention any party, special occasion or event you organize. Being able to create gorgeous invites, designs, brochures, and more with your new skill will definitely get noticed by guests and save you a fortune hiring a professional.
Plus, with a little practice, it can even turn into a lucrative hobby. Others are willing to pay top dollar for someone with an eye for creating stunning calligraphy designs.
5. It Complements Other Creative Skills
If you already enjoy creating works of art, calligraphy is a complementary skill that can take your artwork to the next level. Whether you paint watercolors, work with charcoal, or even draw eye-catching cartoons, adding hand-lettered fonts to your designs will give them a new edge.
6. It Has the Potential to Turn into a Creative Business
Many people who love calligraphy have transformed their hobby into a lucrative creative business. From selling hand-lettered invitations to their own practice sheets, there are many ways to turn a passion for calligraphy into a side hustle that benefits others.
The Difference Between Type And Lettering
Typography and hand lettering share many similar concepts but they are actually different disciplines.
Hand lettering, as the name suggests, is the art of drawing letters by hand. Individual letters are created using brushes, pens or markers. Letters may be similar but can also be different sizes and styles.
Contrastingly, typography is the art of creating and arranging typefaces. Typefaces are usually found online in digital form such as Arial, Cambria, etc. The idea is to create a consistent style of font that looks the same on our screens wherever it is used.
Although these principles are different, they are complimentary. This means becoming proficient in one will help advance your skills in the other.
When we’re talking about calligraphy here, however, we are referring to hand lettering – the physical form of calligraphy.
Important Terms You Should Know
When you’re just starting out with calligraphy, there are a few terms you should know. Below are some of the key terms to keep in mind when learning hand lettering:
- Baseline – The baseline refers to the line your letters sit on. In school, the baseline is the blue line in a notebook that helps kids keep their writing straight. When hand lettering, this line is invisible. Although you can stick to this invisible line to keep your hand lettering more uniform, many artists alter it to make their work more creative and quirky.
- Cap Line – The cap line is the invisible line at the top which marks the height of the highest capital letter. Again, this can be altered to make hand lettering more whimsical.
- Ascender Line – This marks the height of lower case letters with vertical forms such as ‘h’ or ‘f’. Some people like to make the cap line and ascender line the same to make the writing look more uniform, others like to change it up to add interest to the lettering.
- Descender Line – Opposite to the ascender line, the descender line marks the boundary of lower case letters which extend down such as ‘y’ or ‘g’.
- X-Height – This marks the height of your lower case letters. For example, the distance between the baseline and the top of the letter ‘m’.
- Cap Height – This marks the distance between the baseline and the ascender line of capital letters.
- Kerning – This term refers to the distance horizontally between two letters. This can vary between letters.
There are many other terms to familiarize yourself with but these are the foundations. But don’t let these overwhelm you, when you’re just starting out you don’t need to get too technical with terminology. These are terms you’ll become more familiar with as you progress.
Basic Calligraphy Equipment
The beauty of calligraphy is it’s a simple hobby to get started with. Below are the basic tools you’ll need to get going.
There are two main types of calligraphy pens: a dip pen and a fountain pen.
Dip pens are dipped in ink wells whereas fountain pens have an ink supply inserted in a cartridge.
If you’re just starting out and are unfamiliar with dip pens, go for a fountain pen. They are far less messy and much easier for beginners.
Also, don’t spend a fortune on a professional fountain pen when you are starting out with calligraphy. Find an affordable pen to test out some different styles. You can then change it up and try out a dip pen as you progress.
The nib is the metal tip of the pen that holds the ink. When you’re starting to learn calligraphy, it’s best to go with a large, stiff nib. These are much easier to control and give a nice effect when practicing.
Smaller, thinner nibs are for more advanced techniques. They are harder to control and require a steady, practiced hand. However, the results can be quite beautiful.
Again, start out with a beginner’s nib and you can always try out different styles as you progress.
When you think of classic calligraphy, it’s usually accomplished with a chisel nib. This gives thin and thick lines depending on the technique, giving the classic calligraphy style that is so popular. There are endless options when it comes to chisel nibs and it really comes down to trial and personal preference.
The brush nib is popular in traditional Asian styles and a must-have tool for calligraphers. Because of the versatile nature of a brush nib, it can be used for traditional or modern scripts as well as creative writing.
Although classic calligraphy is done with a chisel nib, brush nibs are a wonderful tool to practice with to give your calligraphy skills range.
You’ll be amazed at the difference the quality of the paper makes when practicing calligraphy. Although you can get started with a notebook or simple blank sheet of paper, you’ll notice a marked difference when using thick, high-quality paper.
When you’re just starting out though, there’s no need to invest in expensive paper. Ordinary lined school paper will do – bonus points if you can be eco-friendly and find recycled.
Once you’ve got a few basic lettering principles down, you can then move onto more expensive, high-quality paper knowing it won’t get wasted.
If you are looking for a good paper to invest in, Bristol drawing paper is a firm favorite among calligraphers. You will see many calligraphy practice pads on the market but beware, you often pay a lot for the same quality as normal printer paper.
Now you have all the tools you need, let’s take a look at some of the basic principles of hand lettering.
When you get started with lettering it’s important to keep your letter proportions in mind for a professional-looking finish. This is the ratio between the stroke width and letter height when working with a chisel nib. Without keeping the proportions in mind, letters can look messy.
To understand your proportions, start by drawing five strokes on top of each other. When drawing lowercase letters, make sure the heights do not exceed this stroke width.
If you’re struggling, try using a wider chisel nib – this will allow you to write larger letters which can be easier to practice when starting out.
Before you get started, make sure to choose your letter height. Refer to the section above with the different terms if you’re unsure which heights you need to mark out.
If you decide on a high X-height, letters should be much narrower and closer together to give the right effect. However, if you choose a low X-height, make your letters much wider and more spaced out.
Try out both to see which style you like best.
Another important aspect to keep in mind is the spacing between your letters. By varying the spacing between letters and joining them up with a cursive line, you add interest and whimsy to the words.
Test spacing out to see what you like most by trying widely spaced letters as well as more clustered letters.
Now you have the basic principles under your belt, it’s time to think about the different writing styles and which you’d like to try.
Rounded and Unconnected
In this style, letters have a low X-height so they are broader and more spaced out. However, the letters are still clear and easy to read. The X-height is 3 stroke widths or in other words, 3 times wider than the width of the pen nib.
If you try out this style and find the letters are hard to read, try changing up the descender line and making the ‘tails’ of letters such as ‘g’ ‘y’ etc. more pronounced. This will give the writing style more interest and help make letters clearer.
When trying out this style, test out variations in letter height of ‘m’ ‘n’ ‘h’ and ‘r’. These can easily be raised above the height of upper case letters to give more visual appeal.
This style has an X-height equivalent to five stroke widths, as talked about above. This gives a high and narrow style giving more uniform letters that are much closer together.
For a more decorative effect, experiment with increasing the X-height to accentuate each letter.
Create straight, simple ascenders and contrast these with open, more decorative descenders to give a clear, creative script.
Pointed and Connected
This style requires an X-height of 4 stroke widths. Therefore it’s the middle ground between the two previous styles.
This script style is almost italic looking and all letters are connected. In this style, you can accentuate the ascenders and descenders to give a pretty but uniform style. Instead of contrasting the style, make all ‘trails’ uniform to make the script more cohesive. However, you can give the ‘r’ letter a more dynamic shape to give the final lettering more flourish.
When you’re beginning to learn calligraphy, experiment with all three writing styles to see which fits best. Like most, you’ll find a style you like using the most and lean towards this when creating hand-lettered artwork. However, this doesn’t mean you can switch it up and try out different styles for different projects.
Top Tips To Take Your Writing Up A Notch
Once you have the basics down, here are a few tips for taking your calligraphy skills to the next level.
It seems pretty obvious but to become a pro, calligraphy takes practice. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to keep doing repetitive drills. Instead, strike the right balance between repeating letters as well as working on larger, creative projects.
Remember, you won’t be perfect right at the beginning, but consistent practice will improve your skills and help challenge you.
We’ve included a few resources at the bottom of this article for practice sheets and inspiration to help you get in some practice while having fun with your new hobby.
2. Try New Mediums
If you’ve tried a metal-nib fountain pen on basic printer paper, it might be time to change things up and add some new supplies to your calligraphy toolkit. You might find you fall in love with a new medium and unleash your true potential.
Try out different papers, canvases and pens to see which works best for you. Some people find it extremely difficult to work with a plastic-flanged pen but love a brass-flanged alternative. You won’t know unless you try new mediums.
3. Maintain a Relaxed Grip
When you’re learning calligraphy, a beginner’s mistake is to hold the pen far too tightly because you’re concentrating so intently on writing. However, this will strain the muscles in your hand and actually hinder your calligraphy performance.
Instead, try to focus on a relaxed grip so your fingers aren’t turning white when holding the pen. Mentally check in with yourself when writing to make sure your grip isn’t tightening.
You’ll find this relaxed grip also makes it much easier to manipulate the pen and get more confident strokes.
4. Do Drills
Drills involve repeating letters over and over to perfect your technique. This is exactly what they used to do in schools when teaching cursive. Although it can become a little tedious – it works.
Use some of the practice sheets we’ve linked at the bottom of this post to practice doing drills. This will give you confidence in doing the basics and help you perfect your individual style.
5. Become a Freelancer
Want to take your calligraphy to the next level? Start offering your calligraphy services as a freelancer. This will make sure you are consistently practicing your technique, coming up with new designs and concepts, and staying up to date with the latest trends. When you have others paying for your skills, you’ll also go the extra mile to perfect each design, which is a great way to hone your talent.
Where To Find Inspiration
Hand lettering is massively popular right now and there is inspiration everywhere to help you figure out what project to work on next. Here are some of our favorite sources of inspiration to help get your creative juices flowing.
Head to Pinterest and simply type in ‘hand lettering’ to get endless articles, videos and pictures of different styles, techniques, free tools and project ideas.
Here are some of our favorite accounts to follow:
- Hand Lettered and Loved by Tanya Levandoski
- Ensign Insights by Sarah Ensign
Be warned, once you start scrolling through calligraphy inspiration on Instagram it’s hard to stop! Instagram is a great source of creative inspiration and is full of incredibly talented calligraphers.
Here are some of the best accounts to follow:
- Karla Lim @writtenwordcalligraphy
- Erica @ep_lettering
- Nina Tran @anintran
You will find dozens of professional calligraphers selling all kinds of products and designs on Etsy, so it’s a great place to find inspiration. From wedding invitations to website logos, there is so much to get inspired by on this platform. It may also give you some inspiration for starting your very own calligraphy store!
Free Practice Worksheets
If you’re ready to get started practicing calligraphy, we’ve rounded up some of the best practice sheets to help you get started. Use these to hone your skills and before long, you’ll be creating beautiful works of art!