Calligraphy is a wonderful hobby. You hardly need any tools, they'll cost you less than a dinner for two and will last you for years with just a little bit of care. You'll be able to write beautiful letters, wedding invitations or a special message for that special someone.
Let's go over the basic tools first and then I'll show you how to get started.
What you need
The most obvious tool you'll need is the pen holder. The letters will be at an angle, so I recommend buying a so called oblique pen holder.
The best ones are handmade from wood and can be quite expensive. Here's my advice though - buy a plastic one from Spedball. It's not the best and you should switch to a different one when you get better, but it costs almost nothing and it's a good beginners choice.
If you're left handed, a straight pen holder will be easier to work with.
The pen holder is designed for metal nibs. They'll hold the ink, but they're also flexible so that they can open up with pressure.
As you can imagine, there are a lot of different nibs to choose from, but you actually don't have to worry about that either; simply buy the Zebra Comic G and you'll never look back. They're wonderful to work with and a pack of 10 costs less than a dollar apiece.
Most nibs come with a protective coating that you'll have to clean off first. Toothpaste seems to work best, so grab a brush and gently clean the nib.
Here's an easy way to check if it's clean enough; dip it fully into the ink. If the ink doesn't stick then there's still some coating left, so clean it a bit more.
Here's how it should look like.
Speaking of ink there's one that's perfect in my opinion; the Tom Norton's Walnut ink. I have no idea who Tom Norton is, but the ink has a beautiful sepia colour, it flows as it should, you don't have to dilute it and it's not the most expensive one. If it was good enough for DaVinci, it's certainly good enough for us. As with the Zebra nib, it seems to hit the perfect spot for both beginners and professional users. And in case you're wondering, it's not actually made from walnuts any more.
You'll obviously need something to write on. This is a hard one and you'll just have to experiment a little. I don't want to recommend any speciality papers, because they're too expensive when you're just starting out. In fact, common office paper seems to work just fine.
Here's how you can do a quick test. Draw a line and see what happens. The nib should glide smoothly over the paper and the line should have a sharp edge.
Recycled paper is sadly not appropriate. It will absorb too much ink, causing blurry lines like this.
The next item isn't required, but I'd highly recommend buying this book. It's titled Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy by Eleanor Winters. It's aimed at total beginners and you won't find a better book to start with.
Not only will you learn how to write different strokes, it'll also show you how not to do them, which is just as important.
I've mentioned that you'll be writing at an angle, so you'll need some sort of a guide. Because office paper is transparent enough, you can print out the guide lines and place them underneath.
If you'll be working on a thicker paper, you'll need to draw the guide lines by hand. Winter's book has an entire section on how to do just that.
Now that you have everything, let's go over how you can actually get started.
How to practice
Just like there are various fonts on your computer, there are a lot of so called scripts to chose from when it comes to calligraphy. The copperplate script is probably what most people have in mind. It looks beautiful and you can use it in just about any project.
It might look similar to cursive hand writing, but it's actually not written in one go. In fact, most letters require at least two or three individual strokes. Copperplate is therefore written slowly, so don't be surprised that it takes longer than you'd expect.
The hardest thing to master is control of the pen, even though it works simple enough. The harder you press it down, the wider the line it creates.
There's really only one basic rule when it comes to copperplate; whenever the pen is moving upwards, known as an upstroke, it should barely touch the paper. You'll get a very thin line. When moving downwards, a downstroke, you should press harder so that the nib opens up and produces a thicker line.
This rhythmic opening and closing of the nib is what gives copperplate it's distinct and beautiful look.
I know, your lines will look terrible at first; uneven and probably not straight at all. But don't worry, it simply takes practice to develop the feel for it, so just keep going.
Because every letter is a combination of different strokes, you should spend most of your time learning those basic strokes first.
I know it's hard to resist the temptation and jump straight to letters or even words, but you'll only get frustrated when your work won't look good. The best advice I can give you is this; practice only a single basic stroke per day for the first two weeks or so.
Write out a full sheet of paper each day, but do it slowly and really concentrate on making it look right.
I realise how boring that sounds, believe me, but the basic strokes are the foundation of everything. The actual letters will be easy to write once you master the basic strokes.
When you're ready to move on to individual letters, keep doing it the same way. Work on just one letter at a time. One sheet of paper per day is just the right balance before you lose your concentration.
After about two months, I was able to write my own wedding invitations and I'll make a separate tutorial about doing those as well.
Until then, keep practising, but force yourself not to rush it. Make every stroke count and better than the last. Keep going and before long, you won't believe what you'll be able to create. It really is one of the most satisfying hobbies and one that's available to everybody.
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