It’s been almost a year since I started learning calligraphy. Here are 5 things I wish I had been told at the very beginning.
1. Learning calligraphy is going to take a ton of practice. There is no way around that.
At the beginning, it can be discouraging to be starting from the ground up, practicing mundane ‘drills’ and feeling like your skills will never be as advanced as you’d like. But calligraphy and lettering are specialized skills. And just like you wouldn’t pick up an instrument and know how to play a song right away, you can’t just pick up a brush pen and be a master at calligraphy or lettering. You need to practice. A lot. Dedicate time for practice every single day, and you will get better. I promise. As long as you…
2. Don’t skip the calligraphy BASICS.
I get questions from frustrated people all the time who just can’t seem to ‘get it right’ with their calligraphy. And the reason is simple.
You know how to write, you own some brush pens, and you’ve watched tons and tons of Instagram videos. You should be able to wing it, right? Wrong.
With lettering and calligraphy getting increasingly popular, and lots of awesome artists posting their ‘lettering worksheets’ for sale, it’s tempting to jump right in and start writing words. The problem with that, is that you’re just copying someone else’s style without learning the basics.
If we go back to the example of the musical instrument- picking up a brush pen and copying someone’s else’s style would be like picking up an instrument and learning a song without knowing how to play each note. You could eventually figure out how to play the song by copying the sounds, but if someone asked you to play them a ‘G minor’, you wouldn’t know how. You skipped a step.
In calligraphy, you need to start with the very, very basics. These are referred to as ‘strokes’. All of your letters are made up of strokes. So, practice the strokes- over, and over, and over again- until they’re consistent. The more consistent your strokes, the more consistent your letters. You should not be attempting letters and words until you master the strokes. Simple.
It’s on my list to create an in depth blog post on this topic, but for now, my girl Sharisse of
Pieces Calligraphy has an awesome series of tutorials on all of the brush calligraphy basic strokes. Check them out, and then get practicing.
3. Get the right lettering supplies.
Yes, some will argue and say that you can practice at the beginning with cheap supplies- just until you know what you’re doing enough to get the expensive ones. And this is true- to an extent. You can practice with any supplies you want at the beginning- a pencil, a ballpoint pen, Crayola markers, your kids colouring supplies- but when you want to get serious, you need the right supplies.
The simple reason: brush pens, inks, nibs, and papers are not created equal. If you use the wrong ones, you will frustrate yourself and ruin your supplies.
If I had to break it down really quickly, here’s what I’d recommend for any beginner (these links are clickable!)
Pencil: Palomino Blackwing Pearl
Brush Pen: Tombow Fudenosuke Hard Tip
Pen Holder: Speedball Straight Holder
Nib: Zebra G or Nikko G
Ink: Zig Sumi
Paper (*this one’s important. DON’T USE BAD PAPER**): Rhodia Grid Pad
Want more brush pen options? Check out my previous comparison on brush pens.
4. Don’t get overwhelmed by Instagram- use it to your advantage.
Instagram only shows you the best of the best. It can be incredibly overwhelming, even to someone who feels fairly confident in their abilities. To use it to its fullest, here are the rules I use.
-follow accounts that inspire you
-search relevant hashtags and see what others are doing
-save/screenshot things that you love, and use them for inspiration- copy them, learn from them, figure out what it is you like about what they did, and recreate it. (Just don’t ever copy without crediting!)
-like, comment and engage with others- tell people when they’ve done something you loved!
-follow an account that everyone else seems to be following, if they don’t inspire you personally
-be afraid to post anything of your own for fear of people’s opinions
-post negative comments on anyone’s work
-copy people’s work without giving them credit. If you use someone’s work to learn from, and are proud of your recreation, then by all means- post it! But make sure you give the person credit.
-follow a million accounts, and never interact with them. It’s better to follow a couple that really inspire you, and engage with them.
5. Connect with others as much as you can.
As much as calligraphy & lettering are trendy, the community of artists who are doing it on Instagram is pretty tight. When you browse hashtags and look through your search page, you start to come across the same people over and over again. If you find someone whose style you really love, or who you think you’d get along with in real life, MESSAGE THEM! Be genuine- tell them what you love about their work, ask questions, and start a conversation. Learning calligraphy & lettering is tough, and it’s so nice to have other like-minded people on your side. I am a firm, firm believer in community over competition. So reach out to others- engage with them, tell them when you like their stuff. It really does go far. That’s precisely how I met my best “calligrafriend”, Emma (of Black Chalk Collective) who is on the other side of the world. And a month later, we started the Letter Archive together! Great things happen when you reach out.
Hopefully this reaches someone who is just getting started, and gives them that extra push to do it. It really is an awesome community to be a part of- so get started and join in!
Enjoy this post? Are you a beginner yourself, and have questions? Or are you an expert, and have more tips for beginners? I’d LOVE to hear from you in the comments!