According to the French professor of Fine Arts, Claude Mediavilla, calligraphy is a millenary art that originated in caves such as the ones in Altamira and Lacaux more than 30.000 years ago, though it’s official date of discovery is circa 3.500 B.C in China. It can best be described as the act of representing thoughts and objects in a graphic way, a strictly manual technique that consists of drawing different graphic signs that correspond to a specific letter. But it is much more of that. It is also a cultural representation of the time and space in which a text was written, and a most compelling visual form of art.
Watching an experienced calligraphist writing has the same soothing effect as watching an artist apply his masterful strokes on the canvas, and it produces a similar effect on the writer. Though it requires great control and dexterity, it is extremely gratifying once mastered, and has a similar effect to that of meditation. It is also a great exercise to stimulate the neuronal connection in our brain, since it revives our memory and our visual, motor and mental capacities.
If you’d like to delve into this beautiful art form, here’s all you need to know about how to use a calligraphy pen.
CHOOSE YOUR CALLIGRAPHY PEN
There are several calligraphy pens available to choose from, however, there are different aspects you need to take into account to ensure it is the right one for you:
- Comfortability: One of the most important things to look out for upon selecting your pen, is that it feels comfortable in your hand when writing. These pens come in a variety of sizes and shapes; shorter and longer, wider and narrower, as well as heavier and lighter pens.
- Style of writing: If your letters are small, you’ll want a fine or extra fine nib, to allow clarity and to avoid the strokes from coming together. If you write with wider letters and a wider stroke, you’ll want a medium, broad or extra broad nib that will stay wet at all times, and will adapt to your writing technique.
- Quality: There’s a wide range of calligraphy pens, with prices varying depending on the materials it is composed of, brand recognition and quality.
If you are just getting started, it is recommended to start with a cheap, functional calligraphy pen (Pentel has a great collection of these). You can move on up the quality ladder as you improve your style and fluidity.
ASSEMBLING YOUR CALLIGRAPHY PEN
Upon acquiring a calligraphy pen, the nib (the writing part of the pen) is usually covered with a varnish or protective coating. The first step is to softly clean this coating with a piece of acetone-soaked cotton.
Once you have eliminated the coating, you can place the nib into the dip pen (the handle of the pen), making sure that the nib’s curved edge is lined up with the holder at the end of the dip pen. Do this carefully to avoid damaging the nib.
Now that the nib is properly set up, unscrew the writing tip from the base of the dip pen, so you can insert the ink cartridge, and screw it back on – your fully functional calligraphy pen is now ready to create.
Once you’re done practicing your calligraphy skills, don’t forget to rinse both the pen and the nib (separately) with water and ink cleaner, before gently drying them with a paper towel. This will prevent the ink from drying and obstructing the nib.
WHAT INK TO USE
While you’re still practising your technique, we recommend you get started with black ink from brands such as Pelikan 4001, Quink or Waterman. While these inks aren’t as resistant as others, they are economic and will give you a great feel of how to work with them. Once you have improved the handling of the pen you may want to move on to permanent inks such as Sumi ink, which is known as one of the best options.
As you go on improving the fluidity of your strokes, you can play with different inks and colours, such as metallic and gold ink or gouache.
WHAT PAPER TO USE
Finding the right paper is usually the most difficult part, since its quality and suitability is extremely important. You could use any old notepad you have at home to practice your calligraphy, but this will only lead to frustration because nothing will work out the way it supposed to. The paper should be smooth and cotton-based; Rhoda and Guarro are some of the most popular brands among calligraphers.
CALLIGRAPHY PRACTISE EXERCISES
There are several different exercises you can do to improve your calligraphy:
- Pressure on lines: Descending lines are applied with a greater pressure and are broader. Conversely, ascending lines are thinner and sharper, as the pressure on the paper is much lighter. Apply this technique to your own calligraphy as an exercise, paying special attention to curves and changes in stroke direction.
- Parallelism and spacing: All vertical lines should be parallel, and all letters and words should be equally spaced. A good exercise is filling a page with short, consistently spaced parallel lines. Once you’ve mastered this, move on to drawing curves, following the same concepts.
- Practice your alphabet: When you were learning your alphabet at school, you probably had a calligraphy notebook in which you wrote the same letters repeatedly until you had them completely figured out. This is also the best exercise to find your own written voice when using a calligraphy pen. Write the same letters over and over, focusing both on straight lines and curvatures, the different strokes when using upper case and lower-case letters and the overall consistency of your writing.
- Pen angle: Finally, when using a calligraphy pen, the angle in which you position the nib over the paper has a great impact on the final result, depending on wider or narrower strokes. Usually, you’ll want to keep the nib at a 30º or 45º angle. Go over the previous exercises varying the angle you are using to write with and observe the differences between each approach.