Tips for Modern Calligraphy Beginners
Updated: Mar 3, 2020
Calligraphy takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and time. This is not a passion that can be learned overnight or even in a few weeks. This art form must be slowly tweaked and improved over many years. You will only see results if you put in the time to practice over and over again.
I have been drawing and writing letters for 5 years and I will forever be learning, evolving, and refining my style. You will not have your own 'style' of lettering at the beginning. You will be mimicking and practicing off of someone else's letters for some time— eventually your own personality will begin to shine through as you build your letterforms.
I hope you enjoy your lettering journey. It may be hard work, but it is also a lot of fun!
It is important to understand the differences between all fo these groups:
Lettering is the art of drawing custom letterforms by building up the letters using multiple strokes. These hand-drawn letters are arranged to create a visual representation of the message you’re trying to portray.
Calligraphy is the art of writing letters with a single pass of your pen or marker. In calligraphy you can use traditional techniques that adhere to very strict rules and specific alphabets— or a modern approach that allows you to break those rules.
Typography involves the art and technique of arranging pre-existing type to make written language legible, readable, and appealing when displayed. Designing typefaces for people to use requires even more skill and is a practice that can take years to develop one typeface.
A logotype, also called a wordmark, is a visual representation of a brand through the use of the letters that make up the organization’s name. Logotypes do not necessarily have to be customized through original hand lettering. Logotypes can use existing type.
The writing done with a writing instrument, such as a pen or pencil, in the hand. Handwriting includes both printing and cursive styles but it is not done with any intention or particular style. You do not need 'nice' handwriting to be do lettering or calligraphy.
The Anatomy of Typography
It is important to understand and be able to identify the different parts that make up a letter — you can better understand how to use these parts to create and critique your letterforms.
Ascender Elongated stems extending above the waistline
Baseline Invisible line on which the majority of letters rest
Bowl The curved shape that encloses the round part of a letter
Cross Stroke The horizontal stroke that crosses the letter’s stem
Counter The space within a fully or partially enclosed letter
Descender The elongated part of a letter that extends below the baseline
Entrance Stroke A hairline lead-in stroke with which the letter begins
Exit Stroke The hairline stroke with which the letter ends
Flourish A decorative element added to a letter that compliments the form and the letters surrounding it
Hairline The thinnest stroke–often the connector or entrance stroke–found in the letterform
Ligature Two or more letters combining to form one character
Majuscule An uppercase letter
Minuscule A lowercase letter
Overshoot The subtle amount to which a rounded letter extends higher than the x-height or lower than the baseline
Shoulder The connecting stroke (often curved) originating from the stem
Stem The primary, diagonal or upright stroke within the letter
Swash Similar to the flourish, the exaggerated added decorative element extending to the left or right of the first and last letter of a word
Terminal Either ends—straight, diagonal or curved—of any strokes
Waistline Also called the median, is the invisible line running across the top of lowercase letters
X-Height The height of the main body of a lowercase letter
To download a pdf of this info click or tap here.
A majority of you are probably coming to me for tips for either brush calligraphy or fountain pen calligraphy. These two are what I do most on my Instagram page @veronicaletters, so here are some quick tips for each one.
When it comes to brush lettering, size matters. The longer and larger brush tips are more difficult to control. As a beginner, shorter brush tips are easier to use and create your letters. My favorites are Karin brushmarkerPRO markers.
Broad tip/line markers are the best alternative to expensive brush markers and what I recommend everyone starts with. These markers are sold by Crayola, Cra-Z-Art, and Up&Up from Target. This kind of calligraphy is called Crayligraphy, or 'crazy calligraphy.'
For more tips on this kind of lettering please check out crayligraphy.com
Fountain Pen Lettering
Fountain pens require a lot more maintenance than a standard pen or marker. They will need to be flushed and detailed cleaned often. So for a beginner, I would recommend a dip pen where you can easily change out nibs and clean both parts. When it comes to fountain pen nibs, the more flex, the more difficult to control. For a beginner a semi-flex nib will be the easiest to use.
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Downstroke, Upstroke, Underturn, Overturn, Compound Curve, Oval, Ascending Loop and Descending Loop.
The basic strokes will be your foundation to all of your letters. A solid foundation is key to find success in your future lettering career! Please make sure to practice these strokes before moving on to the next step. I would recommend purchasing worksheets/workbooks from your favorite lettering artist to get started.
I have worksheets available in my Etsy shop at etsy.com/shop/veronicaletters. They're a digital copy (pdf file) that you download after purchase so you can print at home as many times as you'd like. I offer a wide variety of styles but I would suggest the brush script style to begin.
Lowercase letters are built using your basic strokes, this is why it is so important to practice those basics from the step above.
Connecting Lowercase Letters
Connecting Uppercase & Lowercase Letters
Words & Phrases
Once you are confident with your individual letters it's time to practice some words! You can start with two or three-letter words, then build yourself up from there. If you are not sure what words to use, try looking common words in your language to get started. I am also a fan of lettering while I am watching tv or movies at home. I sit with a pad of paper and a few markers on the couch and letter names of characters, locations, and interesting words or phrases.
All in all, where do you start? Where should you go after this? Check your home and see if you have some Crayola markers or any brand of broad line markers (if you have kids I'm sure there are plenty of these around the house). Head over crayligraphy.com and sign up for the newsletter email. Once you sign up, you will receive a free download for some quick practice sheets! Print them out and get to practicing! This is a cheap and easy way to start. It's important to feel it out before you invest in expensive markers and paper to make sure this is an art you want to dedicate your time to. If you prefer my style of script letters then please check out my downloadable worksheets on my etsy shop! You can easily use your broad line markers on these sheets too.
When you feel ready, start creating pieces to share on social media or just for friends and family. Make sure you keep some old work as you improve over time. It's tempting to throw it out because you will notice it's not as great as you first thought, but that's a good thing! That means you are improving! It's a great feeling to loo back at old work and see just how far you have come.
Even when you feel like you have modern calligraphy down, you will see a new style you'd like to pursue or maybe a new pen you want to try. Every time you pick up a new tool you will have to give yourself time to learn how to use it effectively. This art form is a constant loop of learning, practicing, and improving!
I hope this has helped.