In the last year, I have been just delighted to start incorporating organic elements of modern calligraphy and hand lettering into my otherwise very digital work. Though I’m by no means a pro (yet!), I get so many questions about getting started with hand lettering and modern calligraphy that I just couldn’t resist sharing the goods with y’all.
First things first, today we’re going to cover the materials. I learned the hard way that great materials make all the difference! I’ve included some of my favorite sources for materials – some can be so hard to find. (Disclaimer: some of these are affiliate links, but I’ve used and adore every single one of these products – and would certainly recommend them either way.)
Nibs are arguably the most important of all the materials, and also the most personal. To get the beautiful thin and thick lines of script or copperplate calligraphy, you’ll need a pointed pen nib. The two tines of the nib come to a point naturally, but separate as you apply pressure on a downstroke. More pressure = thicker stroke.
When I started working with organic calligraphy, I made the mistake of skimping on nibs and just using some cheap Speedball nibs from a local craft supply store. Can you say ink splatters and flow control problems? Great nibs are not expensive, but they can be hard to find in retail stores, so I ALWAYS turn to Paper & Ink Arts to order my nibs.
The best nib for you really depends on your writing style and tendencies. However, when you’re trying to learn, I highly recommend a smooth, medium-flex nib. My personal favorite is the Nikko G, but the Zebra G is a little bit more flexible and also delightful.
You’ll need a pen holder to hold your nib while you write. Depending on your style, you’ll either want an oblique pen holder or a straight pen holder. The oblique holder is great for when you’re working in very traditional copperplate style and looking to get the slant angles exactly right. However, I prefer the straight holder for more modern and organic work. Instead of relying on the pen holder to set the angle, I just turn the paper to the angle I desire and write naturally. Just like nibs, it’s really a personal preference.
When you’re getting started, I suggest ordering several inexpensive pen holders. Though the black plastic is certainly not as sexy as carved rosewood or marble, having several keeps you from having to swap nibs as you practice – saving your nibs from damage and you from a bunch of irritation. The Speedball Standard Black Holder is my go-to. You can either order them with your nibs from Paper & Ink Arts, or add them onto an order from Blick (as it feels like I’m doing constantly).
To get started you’ll want a basic black ink. Non-waterproof inks are much easier to use at the beginning, so I recommend Higgins Eternal Black Ink. You’ll go through a LOT of ink practicing, so don’t invest in anything fancy to start. This is a great option because it’s very smooth and can be used straight from the container. The deep black color makes it ideal for scanning and digitizing your lettering. I usually order it from Blick, since I'm usually putting in a larger order and taking advantage of a coupon or free shipping, but Paper & Ink Arts carries it as well. If it's urgent, it's available via Amazon Prime (hellooo two-day shipping!), but it's a couple of dollars more expensive.
We’ll cover more advanced ink and watercolor techniques another day, but if you just can’t wait, I recommend Dr. Ph Martin’s Iridescent Colors. These inks are beautiful and very easy to work with; just shake carefully and do not allow them to dry on your nibs. The Copperplate Gold is a legendary favorite among calligraphers.
After nibs, choosing a suitable practice paper is the most critical to success with modern calligraphy. Traditional sketch books have more tooth and will cause snagging, regular printer paper will cause serious bleeding. To get started, I highly recommend a layout marker pad. Its smooth surface helps prevent snags and the level of transparency is great for tracing practice sheets or following slant and size guides placed below. The bright white finish is fantastic for scanning and digitizing. I recommend the Canson Pro Layout Marker Pad - best ordered via Amazon Prime.
To get started, you really just need pen holders, nibs, ink and some suitable paper, but there are a few other tools that can help make things easier. I recommend having on hand:
- Drawing pencils
- Jar (for rinsing water)
- Flour sack towels (for cleaning nibs)
- Lighter (for burning the wax off new nibs)
Get those supplies ordered, and meet me back here next week for some great instructional resources! (Want to be sure you don't miss a single post? Sign up for our newsletter here!)
Friends, what are your favorite calligraphy supplies and materials? What questions do you have about getting started with modern calligraphy? What do you wish you'd been told early on?