calligraphy for the handwriting-challenged
December 26, 2014 8:36 PM   Subscribe

I got an amazing calligraphy set for Christmas. I have never done anything of the sort before. Where do I start?

It was a Secret Santa gift, and while calligraphy is something I'd been idly curious about for a while, I'd never actually seriously explored it - mostly because my handwriting is crap, and it seemed like such an expensive hobby. Now that I have this set, though, I'd like to give it a shot.

What do I do with all these nibs? Which should I use when? How do I start writing things? I don't want to fuck around with the set and then accidentally break something. Where are good places to learn calligraphy?
posted by divabat to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
That's a lovely set.

I've got good news for you. You don't need to have good handwriting to do calligraphy. That's because instead of writing fluid letters you'll be building patterns of strokes that will, when you are done, fool people into thinking they are letters.
posted by bq at 8:50 PM on December 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a friend who recently started learning calligraphy, and she really enjoyed this site ~ Julie Blanner - Learn Calligraphy Basics. It looks like just some pretty blog pictures, but scroll on down the page for the links to the instructional series.

Also, it may seem simplistic, but try searching Pinterest for tons of resources and inspiration.
posted by susanaudrey at 8:54 PM on December 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

I learned copperplate calligraphy to do my wedding invitations and place settings, and ended up doing my wedding license and holiday cards in it, too. I taught myself through this Dover Press book by Eleanor Winters.

Basically, I sat down for a few hours each night for a week, and I went through the first three or four chapters to learn the basic glyphs, working my way up to the more stylized capital letters. Like the lost art of learning cursive in elementary school, there's no real substitute for sitting down and doing the same glyphs over and over. It will help build a flowing, connected calligraphic expression with consistent weight and angle, which is the key to a nice end result.

Another tip is to get some nice paper (John Neal is a great supplier of calligraphy gear) and just practice, practice, practice. You want high-quality, heavy paper that is smooth and will absorb ink. Rough, cheap, thin paper will catch the nib tip and you'll just get frustrated, spraying ink everywhere.

Finally, keep the nibs clean. Soak them in ink cleaner and then use a paper towel to wipe them clean. When you use them next, use a scrap piece of calligraphy paper to do some practice glyphs. This will help clean any latent crud out of the vent, slit and nib tip before you do any real writing, as well as "warm up" your arm and wrist.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 8:55 PM on December 26, 2014

Calligraphy is all about taking time to form your letters. Your day-to-day handwriting is probably crap because you're hurrying.

There are endless calligraphy tutor books in any art store, and some of them even come with a pad of nice paper and some ruling guides so you letters won't wander all over the page. If you want some of the discipline of calligraphy to be reflected in your normal writing, then Write Now is a great guide to readable italic handwriting.

It's probably worth getting some decent paper, such as a French-ruled Clairefontaine notebook. These are nicely finished for ink, but are cheap enough you won't worry about burning through some pages. Most North American office paper pads don't take ink well.

One thing you have to do with new nibs is clean the rustproof coating off. Here's one way of doing it: Care and Feeding of the Calligraphy Dip Pen. Art stores will have replacement nibs, so don't be afraid to use the heck out of the ones you've got.
posted by scruss at 9:00 PM on December 26, 2014

You might check out the Flourish Forum for ideas. If you register there are tutorials with worksheets for copperplate and also videos.

IAMPETH has lessons and videos.

Paper Ink Arts is also good for supplies. You will probably wear out / break nibs as you learn and that's ok. It's better to replace them if they're bent / not working rather than try to work with a wonky nib.

Local calligraphy guilds can also be helpful.
posted by oneear at 9:10 PM on December 26, 2014

I actually taught myself calligraphy (using a crappy "Here's how to do calligraphy!" one-page insert included in the set) as a way of improving my handwriting in general, because I was tired of teachers telling me I had horrible handwriting. (And that worked as a strategy; I get compliments on my handwriting a lot now.)

It takes some practice, but it's not quite as fussy as it seems. If you're really scared about breaking something, though, you could always go buy a cheap calligraphy marker and start practicing first with it, then move up to the nicer pens.
posted by jaguar at 2:18 AM on December 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

There's a really nice "Calligraphy for Dummies" book.

(Your pen set is beautiful, btw).
posted by Chitownfats at 2:59 AM on December 27, 2014

Practice, practice, practice. You have recommendations for good books for learning, and once you've mastered the basics, you just keep practicing. My father is dyslexic and had terrible handwriting. But he's also an artist, so he taught himself calligraphy. Now his handwriting is stylized, based on his calligraphy.

So practice calligraphy, and your printing/cursive.

Having poor handwriting is arrogant in a way. It either excludes others from reading your notes, or you force them to squint and hassle through them.

I used to teach English.

Have fun with your present!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:51 AM on December 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

No need to be scared of breaking your nibs. If you can get hold of slender canes, like the sort used as handles for a feather duster, you can cut your own with a sharp knife. A pen nib is a small cylinder with a wedge cut out of it and a small split down the middle of the pen shape. What have you got growing near you? Any thick, pithy stem will do. Remember hi-falutin plumy quills are nothing more than a large feather appropriately trimmed. Birds shed them all the time, they didn't cost hardly anything.

So you can get a whole lot of different sizes and rigidities of writing implement together at hardly any cost at all, and these will show you the principles involved and let you practice with cheap ink. The stem or rod you use has to be hollow with the pith cleaned out, this is to provide a reservoir for the ink.

Good luck. I learned calligraphy from a lovely book many years ago but I have a feeling it was by that nasty old abusive pervert Eric Gill whose wiki article is nothing but a disgusting apologia) which began with making pens from reeds and it is dead easy, I was a kid at the time when I did it. You probably could find old lettering handbooks and manuals online for free, sorry I can't recommend any, but lettering used to be one of the basic skills of a graphic designer so I think there will be plenty of old information around.

Now that people aren't really taught handwriting skills anymore maybe it will be worth your while to go through a couple of handwriting primers just to familiarise yourself with the discipline of forming regular letters.
posted by glasseyes at 7:06 AM on December 27, 2014

I taught myself years ago. What worked for me was printing out a nice alphabet in calligraphy from the computer, then overlaying it with paper thin enough to see through, and tracing each letter over and over. After a while, I felt confident enough to begin writing on my own. It was a LOT of fun. Enjoy!
posted by harrietthespy at 9:58 AM on December 27, 2014

From my own experience: I suggest that in the beginning you not think of calligraphy as writing, but rather as drawing lines while holding the pen at a particular angle. That way your brain won't be as likely to lead your hand astray.
posted by wryly at 10:34 AM on December 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

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