First Things First…
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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.
I have a FREE course all about the basic strokes! I walk you through everything, step by step. Sign up for Show Me Your Drills here!
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 supplies options? Check out my previous comparison on brush pens or download my free Supplies Guide.
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.
I also have a community of over 40 THOUSAND artists and calligraphers over on Facebook. Join today and connect with other artists from all over the world!
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!
If you’re interested in learning all about modern calligraphy and basic strokes, join my FREE Show My Your Drills course!
I also have hundreds of free videos on my YouTube channel. Make sure you subscribe – I post two new tutorials every week!
Thank you so msweet choir the great tips and encouragement! I am definitely guilty of #2 ?. The graphic design class I took in college and the one calligraphy elective I took in junior high (years and years ago!!) probably made me feel overly confident. I’ll definitely get back to basics!
Hi Lisa!! I think a ton of people are guilty of it- but it’s just because they don’t realize they’re doing it! I’m the same as you- I took design classes in college and calligraphy in high school… but my work definitely improved when I started deliberately practicing the basics! 🙂
Thanks for reading and for your comment!
P.S- I’m in the process of making some guidesheets for the basics. Stay tuned!
wow.. did not expect to run into a comment by Becca right after seeing the workshop she has organised.
Would love to learn calligraphy!!
Your words are so inspiring and I really love your lettering work! I am new to the calligraphy/lettering world and this post was just what I needed to read! I will keep practicing, thanks for the inspiration!
Hi Hailey! So glad my words can help you 🙂 Stick to the practice and you’ll see steady improvements- I promise!
This post made me more motivated to keep going 🙂 thank you!
So glad I could help!!! 🙂 🙂
Thank you for this great advice! I am new to hand lettering/calligraphy and this has given me good direction on where and how to start. Thank you! I am guilty of trying(key word, "trying" lol) to create words from watching other peoples videos. Lol. Thank you for this post!
P.s. Your Instagram feed is really great! Beautiful work!
Thanks so much for the nice words!! I am so glad I could help 🙂
Stay tuned- I’ll have "basics" guidesheets so, so soon!!
I’m a beginner in hand lettering , thanks alot for this blog, about the item 5 Connect with others as much as you can.
This idea is new for me, I never think to direct message the artist that her works was inspired me. this is really new idea.
Thank you ?. I came across your Instagram account through Black Chalk account that was "suggested" on my Instagram about a month ago. Since then I have started another Instagram strictly for art and it’s so freeing! I am signed up for your #showmeyourdrills session starting in a few days and I’ve been reading your blog and facebook and Instagram- okay pretty much stalker status at this point ?. I have found instead of buying "all the things" I’m taking your advice of 1 pen 1 paper and go from there even though I have a super tough time not buying anything that has color. You have motivated and inspired me and it could not have come at a better time in my life, so thank you.
Look forward to learning and communicating and most importantly lettering until the ink runs dry ?
I’m having a read of your blog before I dive into the lessons (I subscribed). The drills are very familiar since they remind me of the "springs" my Mom (a now retired teacher) had me do day after day after my Grade 2 teacher told her that my cursive handwriting wasn’t up to par. I drew springs til my hand cramped. But now, even at 51, people comment on how nice my handwriting is. Thanks Mom!
One question for you: I noticed the links to the supplies are on Amazon, and most of them don’t ship here. Are these available locally in Ottawa (Michaels, Wallacks) ?
Thank you for sharing your wealth of information and talent
Hi Becca, I’m 78 years old and have just taken up calligraphy. Really looking forward to starting your course next week. X
Thanks so much for the heads up about learning the basic strokes! It was your blog where I first heard about them and it is making calligraphy seem so much more understandable knowing how the individual letters are formed.
whoah this blog is great i love reading your articles. Keep up the great work! You know, many people are hunting around for this information, you could help them greatly.
I am happy to practice.
A very helpful blog!! The things you mentioned about modern calligraphy are truly impressive. I am a Modern calligraphy learner and the tips you shared are very much helpful to me. Thanks for sharing this..:)
Thank you for sharing your knowledge on calligraphy. God bless you more.
Thanks for your nice article on calligraphy writing. Just started learning about a month ago. I realised that it requires lots of hard work and of a good pen and supplies . I was struggling with a not so good pen . Are there special inks for practising this art ?
Thanks once again for your inspiring article.
Chennai, India ??
How long does it take to learn for someone who is just starting? Like… Me!
Even experienced calligraphers still practice and learn. 🙂 Show Me Your Drills is a four week course and is the best foundation for starting out: https://www.thehappyevercrafter.com/show-me-your-drills/
I enjoyed reading the above content. Thank you. I am a very, very new to caligraphy. I received a caligraphy set as a gift last holiday season. I am just getting it out and practicing. Im now overwhelmed a bit. Not sure what to do or where to go next. Im not doing to well with my practicing. I have a lots of questions about how IM holding the pen, why it always feels like it is dragging on the paper,, etc etc… Any advice on where to go now would be greatly appreciated. While, I like the little kit I received, it is limited on instruction. I’m not set on it, and would be open to starting in some other way.
https://www.thehappyevercrafter.com/show-me-your-drills/ is a great place to start! It’s totally free, and the next session starts in January!
Enchanting post. Great work I believe you have observed some very interesting points , appreciate it for the post.
I just ran across this post (and started to follow you on IG) and I love your message. I first took an Engrosser’s Script class locally almost 2 years ago. While I have progressed, it hasn’t been fast or easy and I doubt my abilities a lot. You’re right that IG is intimidating and not everyone is helpful or nice. I work full time and don’t practice every day and I’m at the point where I’m starting to wonder what I’m going to actually DO with this skill besides practice, lol.
I’ve accidentally came across your post and so glad I did. I have always wanted to learn calligraphy but life got so busy with work, house chores, kids (I know!) but now that kids are a bit older I have ‘me time’ back! I’m going to buy the items you’ve suggested and practice. I’d love to be able to do something as adorable as calligraphy- it’s like having a special zing! An ability for life x
Yay so glad you’re here!
I have been curious about calligraphy for a long time. I’m nervous to try it because I’m left handed and that often leads to smudgy writing. Do you have any tips for lefies?
Here’s a great leftie tutorial with The Inky Hand: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3GjfwNKSSo
Love from India… I love your artworks and they’re so inspiring. In quarantine, I learnt calligraphy from the YouTube Channel and this site. I am almost perfect at it. Just, we don’t find perfect supplies for calligraphy in India.
I have loved calligraphy for as long as I can remember and decided do get serious about learning it last year. I took a workshop with Sylvia (viacalligraphy) and it was amazing. I watched two YouTube videos that you did together and thoroughly enjoyed them. I have to say, I’m guilty of rushing to write words but will be slowing down to master the basics. The musical instrument analogy was perfect – looking forward to learning more from you!
Lovely and very encouraging post Becca. Your post definitely helped me to get a better clarity on starting off with calligraphy
Wao I absolutely loved this article on calligraphy. I truly love the art and it is wonderful that you share your precious wisdom with us. If you wish to expand and teach other enthusiasts the skill of calligraphy, I suggest you checkout our skills exchange platform Kool Stories. Thank you so much for the insightful article 🙂
Very informative, especially for a beginner like myself. Thank you
Thank you for sharing. I had a double mastectomy in December after a diagnosis of fast growing cancer and the BRAC positive gene. I live by myself and because of Covid, I have very few visitors. I need a hobby and something to take me away from the world I am in presently. I’ve always loved Calligraphy but never thought I was artsy enough. Please send me some good names of books that would help “not so gifted folks”. Thank you very much and again, thank you for this message.
I want to learn good penmenship IS WAY COOL AND
I love how you explain everything here to the tee and how you express yourself. I’m a beginner and I do not have the supplies yet but I’m hoping I can scratch up some money to get the basics mentioned above by July. You give me hope. Thank you. Stay blessed.
Am considering teaching the basics of calligraphy to some homeschool students and am wondering if, with all the computer fonts available today, there really would be interest in calligraphy? I like how it can be incorporated as an art form both in beauty of form and layout creativity, but not sure whether to offer it or not. 8 lessons could give them the basics and some practice but could I really be giving them something that would be of real benefit in that time?