The single most important trick you need to know to master modern calligraphy

Are you struggling to refine your modern calligraphy technique? Do you have all the kit, but you just can’t quite get the technique despite watching every insta and youtube video going?

There’s one tip which I teach at the very beginning of all of my calligraphy workshops. It will make or break your calligraphy.

Getting this single thing wrong is the cause of scratchy noises, of jagged lines, of ink spatters and more. Sound familiar? I know – everyone does it unless they’re taught not to. It’s not the most obvious thing to spot on online videos.

But it is crucial to your calligraphy technique.

It’s your pen angle.

Image credit: Jenny Jones Photography

Your calligraphy nib HAS TO point in exactly the right direction. If your writing style slants to the right, then your nib should point to one o’clock on the paper.

If your lettering is straight up, ie vertical on the paper, then your nib HAS TO point in the same direction.

Because of the way a calligraphy nib splits as you write, it’s essential to put equal pressure on both sides of the nib (the tines) as you go. If you press too hard on one side, if your nib twists or rolls to one side as you write, you get a kind of scissor effect with the tines of the nib. Imagine cutting with scissors – the ends cross: that’s how they cut. It’s the LAST thing you want your calligraphy nib to be doing.

Naturally most of us hold a normal writing pen (biro, fountain pen) pointing towards about 10 o’clock on the paper. Using a calligraphy pen at this angle will make smooth lettering impossible.

If you find it hard to adjust the angle of your hand / pen / nib to point towards 12 or 1 o’clock, turn your paper. Mine tends to be at 90 degrees on the table when I’m practising modern calligraphy.

Have another look at those insta and youtube clips you love. You’ll see the calligraphers are all pointing their nibs in the direction of their writing.

This is the secret to mastering modern calligraphy, and I spend the first fifteen minutes of my calligraphy classes making absolutely sure everyone has this nailed. From then on, it’s pretty plain sailing!

Join me for calligraphy summer school at Manchester’s Ziferblat Edge St on the 18th of August. It’s only £35 for 90 minutes of calligraphy learning, aimed at absolute beginners. I’ll show you exactly how pen angles work (and we’ll talk about how vertical they should be too!) – and share more tips for mastering modern calligraphy.

Tickets here:

Header image by Zehra Jagani
Close ups by Jenny Jones Photography