Learning Calligraphy: 3 Things I Used to Start + 3 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started

I finally had a good reason to learn calligraphy after we got engaged in January 2015. That way I could address our invitation envelopes and letter some small paper goods for our wedding day. I had some notes I had taken from a friend with suggestions on how to learn on my own so I dug them out and that’s where I started. After completing all the calligraphy for our wedding day (which looking back at it now was definitely NOT great - see photo above!) I didn’t pick up the pointed pen again until the start of 2016.

After stepping away for more than 6 months, it was almost like I was starting over again. Except this time, I started a new instagram account just for calligraphy and discovered so many resources! I thought it would be helpful to share what resources I used when I first started learning compared to what I wish I knew when I started. Now, this doesn’t mean that the tools I used when I started were bad, I just think there are BETTER resources for someone that is just starting out.

I hope that you find the following information helpful! Of course, everything comes down to personal preference at the end of the day and what works for me may not work for you. In any case, learning new things should be fun. So however you get started, just starting is the most important thing!

The 3 Things I Used to Start Learning Calligraphy

  1. Skillshare Class: Molly Jacques (no longer available)  |  This was the class that was recommended to me. I enrolled in Skillshare and completed Molly’s class during the free trial period. Molly’s lettering style is beautiful and she is very talented. The class covered all the necessary basics: supplies, basic strokes and all the letters. Not a bad overview of calligraphy for beginners.
  2. Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy - Eleanor Winters  |  I can’t even remember why or when I bought this book, but I had this when I started learning but only referenced it for basic strokes since this was teaching a different script (Copperplate script). I had taken Molly’s class (Modern script) and wanted to letter in that style for our wedding. I did return to this and reference it when I learned Copperplate later and found it helpful.
  3. Basic Supplies  |  I bought basic supplies that Molly recommended in her Skillshare class. However, I would replace all of these with a "better" basic supply list that is only marginally more expensive (my list below + a helpful graphic). Starting with the right tools is very important and plays a huge part in whether or not learning calligraphy is enjoyable!

Total Cost: Approx $22

 3 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started

  1. Modern vs. Copperplate  |  I guess I knew I wanted to letter a modern script for our wedding so it made sense to learn how to use the tools and the basic strokes and be able to letter freely. But when I revisited calligraphy, I decided that having more structure behind my practice was important to me and a script like Copperplate (also called Engrosser’s Script) provides that. I am a technical-minded person that likes learning the rules before breaking them. If you appreciate framework around learning I would suggest starting with a script like Copperplate first and then move onto developing your own modern style. That way you have a great foundation to build on!

And just in case you didn't already know, below are visual examples of Modern vs. Copperplate:

MODERN (credit: Molly Jacques)

MODERN (credit: Molly Jacques)

COPPERPLATE (credit: Kei Haniya)

COPPERPLATE (credit: Kei Haniya)

2. Technical Teachers and Instructors  |  Paired with learning a script that has structure and rules, you’ll need instructors and teachers that are equally technical-minded. These are the people that will educate you about the history of the script, posture, tool usage, nib prep, tine control and all the other juicy technical details! I admire the list of people below for their passion and generosity with sharing their knowledge. If your budget and geographical location allows, attending one of their workshops would be an amazing learning experience!

3. Better Basic Supplies  |  Below are the supplies that I think are better to start with!  I created an easy graphic below for reference - like a visual shopping guide. 

  • HP Premium Laser Jet Paper - 500 sheets
  • Walnut Ink -What ink you use is actually a pretty big deal! Higgins feathers a lot and is thin and can be frustrating.  Many people opt for a black sumi ink. Walnut ink was suggested to me by Kei Haniya so I tried it and it continues to be my preferred practice ink! I've only used Daniel Smith walnut ink but have heard walnut crystals (mix with water to create ink) are more wallet friendly.
  • Sumi - I bought a bottle of Moon Palace Sumi and have not run out yet. Dilute with water - pour a small amount in a small jar and add a few drops at a time to get desired consistency. For dipping your pen and writing, these Dinky Dips are not required but useful.
  • E&M Straight Holder - I like these because it holds different nib sizes (the speedball cannot accommodate small nibs like the Brause EF66)
  • Yoke Pen Company - The Deuce Holder - This is a great oblique pen that can also be used as a straight holder as well. However when used as a straight holder it will not accept smaller nibs like the Brause EF66.
  • Zebra G Nib - I like this better than the Nikko G as it is a little more flexible.  If you are very heavy handed, then I would go with the Nikko G. Both G nibs are hearty nibs that will withstand lots of beginner calligraphy practice sessions.
  • Brause 66EF Nib - This is one of my favorite nibs because it is flexible and creates beautiful hairlines. If you’re heavy handed be careful with this little one! 

Total Cost: Approx $25-$35

I hope that you found this post helpful! If there are better basic supplies that you would recommend in addition or in lieu of these, please comment below and share your experiences!