We’ve been so inspired by all the calligraphy and hand lettering we’ve been seeing lately, we’ve put together some guides and inspiration on how to get started. It’s a skill anyone can learn, it’s not expensive and you’ll be sending the best looking cards in your circle!

In this post we share some more background on calligraphy styles, techniques and some practice sheets you can use to build your skills. (This post is a continuation of Part one on how to get started with calligraphy and hand lettering.)

card with calligraphy

Image Source: Rose and Twig on Etsy

STYLES: Modern calligraphy (with flex nibs)

We let out a sigh of relief when we realised not all calligraphy has to be formal and traditional – we do enjoy breaking some rules and experimenting with modern looks!

If you’re in the same boat as us –- wanting to create calligraphy but have no idea where to start, then this blog post by Lindsey from The Postman’s Knock is a great start. Lindsey takes us through what supplies to buy, how to clean your nibs, what paper is best utilised, how to hold the pen, how to practice and a couple of tips and tricks –- faux calligraphy, anyone?

There are a lot of styles you can experiment with in Modern Calligraphy. Practice sheets really are a great way to get started. There are many free options online to give you a taste, like this Beth Style or Kaitlin Style by The Postman’s Knock.

Meanwhile, we’re already thinking ahead about how incredible our special invitations and greeting cards are going to look!

Sample: Copperplate

One of our favourites is a beautiful style of calligraphic writing called Copperplate. This style requires a pointed steel nib or quill to produce a style of lettering characterised by both thick and thin strokes.

Copperplate calligraphy style

Credit: Iampeth.com

For those who prefer a visual (our hands are up!) take a look at this YouTube clip by Hamid Reza Ebrahimi. Simply beautiful.

Iampeth.com has a terrific page on how to get started using the Copperplate style, as well as downloadable Copperplate practice guide sheets which are a great help.

Brause - Assorted Calligraphy Nibs Set of 8 - Edition No.1

Brause Assorted Calligraphy Flex Nibs, Set of 8, Edition No.1

STYLES: Traditional calligraphy (with itallic nibs)

These are a range of beautiful scripts that you can create with itallic nibs and a more formal calligraphy style, like gothic. It’s the style of calligraphy you’re used to seeing on certificates and more traditional invitations. If you’d like to understand some of the history, this is a great piece on the origins of latin calligraphy styles.

Sample: Roman Capitals
roman-capiralz

Image source: Photo of page from “Italic calligraphy & handwriting” by Lloyd J.Reynolds

Tips on getting started with calligraphy techniques

Try some faux calligraphy

This is such a great tip from The Postman’s Knock and, having given it a go, we think it’s worth trying if you’re a novice calligrapher. It’s essentially just using a standard ballpoint pen and paper to create the look of modern calligraphy. You write some words and then ‘fake’ your thicker strokes. When you try it, it does give you a feel for letter shapes and what you might be able to create with more ‘serious’ tools like flex nibs.

Cheating calligraphy tutorial

Image source: The Postman’s Knock blog

Which inks to use…and not to use

It’s advisable to use quality calligraphy ink like J.Herbin. (Many cheaper inks are made with additives like gum arabic or shellac that may clog your nibs. However, if you have used it on your nibs, ensure you wash nibs thoroughly and regularly with warm water.)

Preparing your nibs

Prior to working with your nib, we recommend that you clean and prepare it as follows:

1) Wash the nib with water (and also a little soap only if you’re using a dip pen and non-water based inks)
2) Dry the nib; dip it in the ink
3) Write 2 or 3 words then dry your nib again

Your nib is ready and set to go!

How to hold your hand or nib

When preparing to experiment with calligraphy, you want a clean workspace and to be sitting upright at a desk or table and face it straight on (not at an angle). When you hold the pen, the thumb and first finger are used to grip and the pen should rest on your middle finger, not in the crease of your hand. You may like to check out this video on how to hold a calligraphy pen.

Angles and slants in your lettering are the key to achieving a look in almost all calligraphy styles. The angles will vary based on the look you’re trying to achieve, but much of formal calligraphy has vertical strokes at a 45 degree angle (of pen to paper). You should also generally use pressure in the downstrokes, not the upstroke. Practice sheets will often provide some guidance on this, as will courses…and practice!

Using an oblique pen holder can give you a lovely slant with minimal effort, so whilst they look a little awkward, many calligraphers favour them. They’re also apparently great for left-handers.

Instagram inspiration

Image Source: Instagram images tagged with “Modern Calligraphy”

Practice makes perfect

You can luckily find many practice books and sheets online. We have a lovely copy book from J.Herbin at Milligram you may like to try or you can purchase more detailed calligraphy books at your local bookstore or online.

We’re so grateful to Lindsey from The Postman’s Knock who has put together some worksheets that have letters for you to try out:

Julia Bausenhardt has also kindly put together some free calligraphy practice sheets that include entire alphabets and punctuation for several styles.

practice calligraphy

Beyond calligraphy to hand lettering

Hand lettering work sheet

Hand lettering worksheet by Ian Barnard

Other resources on calligraphy and hand lettering

IAMPETH – a website dedicated to penmanship, with several free lessons.

JetPens - a web store dedicated to providing unique, high-quality writing instruments and stationery

The Postman’s Knock – a blog dedicated to providing inspiration and tutorials on art and calligraphy

Creative Marketa website platform for handcrafted design content from independent creatives around the world. 

Looking for some inspiration on calligraphy and links to lots of workshops and downloads? Check our our Milligram Pinterest Board.

Classes / Workshops:

The First Steps of Hand-Lettering: Concept to Sketch (Lettering I) - online

Work-Shop - a website full of varying creative classes for curious minds

Australian Society of Calligraphers – an organisation who hold workshops all-year-round

Shop calligraphy and hand lettering supplies at Milligram