Category Archives: Calligraphy

Modern Calligraphy

Even though technology today is giving us so many various things to do, sometimes we just feel the need to go back to the basics and try some old-school hobbies. It’s the case of the modern calligraphy that is both rewarding and relaxing, on so many levels.

The art of “beautiful writing” isn’t that difficult to learn, but you need to give it time and to practice as much as you can until you enjoy your results.

Modern calligraphy is fun and calming as you fill the pages with letters and curls. It may become even a Zen meditation to you, as long as you’re managing to isolate yourself from the surrounding world.

What you need

You do need some supplies to begin with. If you’re going to try modern calligraphy, do it right from the very beginning and spend the extra buck for some quality tools. Calligraphy isn’t an expensive hobby, but you do need high quality writing tools and surface to write on in order to get good results.

  1. The nibs

the nibs

This may be the first thing you do need when planning to try modern calligraphy. You need nibs with a pointed tip that are very flexible and able to create nice looking letters.

There are many types of nibs you may find out there, but you should start with the ones especially designed for the beginners. They are reliable and sturdy, which is what you want at first.


  1. The nib holder

The nib holderIn the beginning, a straight nib holder is going to serve you better. You may find nib holders made with wood or plastic and what you really need at first is quite cheap.

You should go for the models that feature a general holder. You insert the nib by wedging the back end of your nib between the metal ring and the inner prongs and check to see if it sits really tight. You never want to go between the prongs.

  • The paper

As a beginner, you should try a smooth paper at first that is even a tad transparent. You do want to see the guide sheet underneath.

You want the paper not to bleed and the surface to be smooth so that the nib doesn’t snag. Don’t use regular printer paper as the ink may bleed too much.

You may give it a go with layout paper, but you really should try a thick paper that it’s not too textured. Some types of watercolor papers, Bristol papers are also options to consider.

You should use a guide sheet in the beginning so that you write straight lines and there are plenty of models out there to choose from.

  1. Ink

You do need to use ink for calligraphy and it comes premixed an ready to go out of the bottle. Nevertheless, there are many and various inks to try as you perfect in modern calligraphy.

The Ink

  1. Some small stuff

You also need a soft piece of cloth, a bowl of water and rubbing alcohol or soap for cleaning the nib before you begin.

All of the things you need in the beginning are easy to find in a big art supply store.

Getting ready

All nibs have some chemical residue from manufacturing and you want to remove it so that you don’t get any problems later on. You simply dip the nib into alcohol or scrub it with some soapy water. Rub it with a cloth to remove the entire oil residue as well.

You need a lot of room so that you move your arms around freely. As you are moving a lot your arm, elbow including, it’s best to place the ink to your right (if you’re right-handed). Place the guide sheet under your layout paper and use some tape to fasten it.

Take your time, breath in and dip the nib into the ink so that it’s covered evenly, halfway up the nib’s well.

Practice makes perfect

This may sound oversold, but in modern calligraphy is very true. You should practice as much as you can the strokes, the curves until you get to the letters and words.

Calligraphy practice

Here are some useful tips:

  • You need to apply the pressure on the down strokes and not on the upstrokes
  • You control the weight of the down strokes with the pressure you’re using
  • It’s important to hold your pen at 45degree angle from the paper
  • Your upstrokes need to be thin and consistent
  • Make sure that the Baseline is always consistent
  • Always take a look at the ascender/descender height
  • Maintain the x-height and the cap height constant

Take time and practice the basic letter shapes and how to connect them together. Try to group them in familiar looking shapes. It’s easy to see the similarities between g, j, p, q, y, z (down strokes) or between b, d, f, h, k, l, t (upstrokes).

Be patient with the round letters (a, c, e, o ) and make sure that m, n, u, v, w look also nice every time.

dip pen calligraphy

If you’re thinking about trying the modern calligraphy, you need to go a bit over the basics of the tools that you’re going to have to use. It’s important to know something about your tool, if you want to get the best out of it.

The ABC on a dip pen

The dip pen, aka “nib”, is typically made with capillary channels, just like the fountain pen nibs are. It’s mounted in a handle or a holder, which is commonly made of wood.

The holder may also be made of bone, metal and plastic and there are pens even made of glass.

A dip pen doesn’t have an ink reservoir so you do need to recharge the ink from an ink bottle or ink bowl to keep on drawing and writing.

ABC on a dip pen

You may also use small tubular reservoirs to clip onto your dip pen, so you may draw for more minutes, without having to recharge the nib.

You may recharge by dipping into an inkwell, but most professionals (cartoonists, illustrators) are typically charging the pen with an eyedropper, a brush, getting more control over the amount of ink used. Therefore, dip pens aren’t dipped, hence the name “nib pens”.

How to use dip pens anyway

Even though the modern calligraphy seems so easy to the unexperienced eye, there’s a lot of effort put into it, especially if you’re at the beginning.

There are many types of dip pens that you can try that give various results. You may want to try an oblique calligraphy pen or a straight one as well, but the main principle is still the same: you do need to pay attention when applying the various degrees of pressure to the nib.

dip pen

You should begin by choosing your ink and the penholder, with a thin nib. A plastic penholder will do also. Some go for the India ink as it’s smooth and ensures less grief, with minor risk for bleeding. Little secret to keep in mind: it’s not difficult to get India ink in most art supply stores and the same goes for the dip pen holders.

You may continue with drawing some guidelines. When you go for “off-the-cuff” look though, you may skip this step.

It’s also important to center your calligraphy and to space it right. You need exactly where you’re going to write so why not use a pencil for some guidelines. If this isn’t for you, you can also try the Edwardian style of the oblique calligraphy.

Be prepared for some spitting, spatter ink though, and take time until you get to enjoy your results.

Keep in mind these tips

There’s no need to disappear and give up. Modern calligraphy looks amazing and it does require some patience and attention.

  • It’s better to hold the dip pen just like any other pen, but shouldn’t use it like a regular pen though.

It doesn’t quite make sense, we know. It’s important to vary the pressure you put on the nib. For instance, when you make a down stroke, it’s better to press hard. You do need to take off the pressure though when you make an upstroke. As a matter of fact, the nib should barely touch the paper.

You shouldn’t keep on pressing hard as you go up because the nib is going to catch in the paper, causing ink spatter.

  • The hole in the middle of the nib is just like a “well” for the ink. Therefore, when you dip the nib in the ink, you need to make sure you dip it just past the well.

Even though you feel like the well isn’t full, there’s always some reserve.

  • You need to make sure the tip of your pen is in the same position, facing the exact same way when you go up, sideways and so on.

Try not to ever turn the tip of your pen, as you’d do with an ordinary gel pen. Keep in mind that you always have to move your hand and not the pen.

  • It’s important that every now and then you wipe off the nib, for smoother flow.

You could easily keep a cup of water handy and use it when you notice the ink doesn’t flow as smooth as you want. Dip the pen in the water and wipe the excess off using a soft paper towel.

  • As soon as you dip the pen in ink, put the nib on the paper.

If otherwise, you may have to deal with the ink not flowing onto the paper. If the ink doesn’t flow though, tap the nib smoothly on your page to see if the ink comes out or not.

When ink still doesn’t flow, you need to re-dip and do it all over again.

The last tip

As we stated again, modern calligraphy takes time and patience. When you’re done, wait for 3 minutes or so (this relates a lot on your down strokes) so that the ink dries completely. Wait until the very end to erase the pencil lines and…sit back to admire your work!