What's the Difference Between Modern And Traditional Calligraphy?

Sooo, you wanna learn calligraphy- that fun, whimsical lettering you see all over prints, mugs and t-shirts at craft shows.

Cool, welcome to the club!

But did you even realize that the kind of calligraphy you're looking to learn is only one of maaaany kinds of calligraphy? It's important to know that what you're looking at is modern calligraphy, not traditional- because otherwise, you'll frustrate yourself immensely trying to learn! 

In the video below, I walk you through what calligraphy is, and how modern and traditional calligraphy styles are different. Feel free to watch the video, or check out my written synopsis below!

For one, the tools are different.

Calligraphy sections at art stores are generally stuffed full of traditional calligraphy tools- which, you likely didn't realize, are completely different than what you need for modern calligraphy. Modern calligraphy is that fun, bouncy and contemporary looking style you see all over the craft show stuff we talked about earlier. Traditional calligraphy, on the other hand, is that more classic, formal, fancy style you may see in fancy restaurants or in medieval scripts.

At the beginning of every modern calligraphy workshop I teach, I ask students a question.

"Raise your hand if you've ever gone to the calligraphy section at an art store and bought a 'calligraphy kit'- only to go home and try it, frustrating the crap out of yourself because you can't achieve that modern calligraphy look you see all over Instagram".

Without fail, at least one student raises their hand each class. At that's just the one who's brave enough to admit it.

Calligraphy kits, and the tools you find in a calligraphy section of the art store, are very rarely the tools you need for modern calligraphy. Granted, this is changing now as modern calligraphy gets more and more popular- but it's still important to know what to look for before you waste all of your money on the wrong supplies.

For traditional calligraphy, you'd use flat edged, broad edged or chisel tipped tools- which are flat on the top and not flexible. This would be in the form of a steel nib, or a chisel tipped pen. (See examples in the video!)

For modern calligraphy, you'd need a flexible tool- this would be either a "pointed pen" nib, or a brush pen. (See examples in the video!) Find my favourite brush pen here!

Secondly, modern calligraphy has no "rules".

Generally speaking, in modern calligraphy, there are no rules. This means you have free reign to style and modify your letters in any way you please. In traditional calligraphy, there are different rules for each style- these rules tell you how tall, short, slanted, straight, wide, narrow (you get the deal) your letters should be. Draw your letters a little differently, and your alphabet is now considered "wrong" in that style of letters.

Modern calligraphy is gaining popularity these days due to it's no rules classification- people like being able to stylize their alphabet however they want, and have their own artistic style.

(All of this being said, there are general guidelines and concepts in modern calligraphy- they're called basic strokes- and they're crucial! Check out more info on that here.)


Long story short, my number one recommendation when it comes to differentiating? If you're trying to achieve/learn modern calligraphy, just make sure your tool is FLEXIBLE. Got it?!

Learn more and watch me walk you through some examples in the video below!