How to Get Started
Soon, your signature will look prettier than ever.
Just do it! "Pick up a pen or pencil and paper and start drawing letters in your own handwriting," says Kelly Klapstein, a self-taught calligrapher who shares her work and teaches workshops under her brand Kelly Creates. "Start with what you know, look online for images to replicate, and then invest in a dip pen in ink."
Think of when you first started learning how to write as a kid: you traced letters, wrote slowly, and paid attention to how letters are formed. Think of learning calligraphy, or even just improving your handwriting, as relearning how to write. And then, consider investing in some of the tools that will help you to create covetable calligraphed masterpieces.
The Tools You Need
It depends how serious you want to be and what style lettering you'd like to create. "More-traditional calligraphy dip pens use ink, nibs, and holders, but many contemporary calligraphy artists use brush pens that have flexible nibs and come in different sizes," says Klapstein. "The key with any writing instrument and calligraphy is creating thin and thick strokes to form letters."
These are some of her favorite brushes.
The Terms to Know
Quick! Can you identify all the different movements in this video?
Upstroke: a thin line drawn in an upward direction with light pressure
Downstroke: a thick line drawn in a downward direction with heavy pressure
Baseline: the bottom line your letters sit on
Pressure: pushing down on the pen to draw a thick stroke
Release: letting go of pressure to draw a thin stroke
Transition: the critical point of changing pressure from a thin stroke to a thick stroke and vice versa
The Mistakes To Avoid
1. Thinking of Calligraphy as Just Writing
Be very, very careful.
OK, yes, practicing calligraphy can give you good handwriting. But just because you already have good handwriting doesn't mean you can jump into calligraphy without a bit of practice. "Calligraphy is the art of drawing letters with deliberate strokes, which takes lots and lots of practice," explains Klapstein. "It's not just writing in fancy letters."
2. Holding the Brush Incorrectly
Hold it nice and high.
Sure, we all hold our pens and pencils a little differently—but there is a right way to hold a calligraphy brush. "Brush pens are gripped further up the barrel and held at a slanted angle, not vertically," says Klapstein.
3. Diving Into Full Words First
Take it one letter at a time.
"Start learning basic shapes and strokes, then letters, then words," says Klapstein. "Babies first sit up, then crawl, take their first steps, and finally walk and run." Be patient, and practice the very basics until you've nailed them: once you start writing full letters and then words, you'll be much more satisfied with your results.
4. Using the Wrong Paper
If you're serious about those strokes, then good-quality paper is worth the extra investment. "Regular copy paper is too rough and will break down a brush pen quite quickly," says Klapstein. "Heavyweight laser jet printer paper is commonly used by calligraphers for practice, as are specialty paper pads designed specifically for calligraphy."
5. Going Quickly
Yes, this video is sped up.
"Breathe and slow down...slooooow down that pen," says Klapstein. "If you watch calligraphy videos online, 99% of the time, they are sped up. Your brush pen should move across the paper slowly and deliberately, almost like a ballet."
Take It a Step Further
How sweet it is.
Learning a new art takes time, patience, and passion. "Some days are better than others," says Klapstein. "Even I have days or times when I can't draw a straight, beautiful line or curve. If I am stressed out, had too much caffeine or am hungry, usually my letters will show this."
If you want to learn more about calligraphy and refine your technique, Klapstein recommends using practice worksheets or taking online classes, both of which she offers at kellycreates.ca. You can also join her newsletter for free monthly practice sheets, and follow her on Instagram (@kellycreates) for tips, tricks and plenty of inspiration.