What a week it’s been! So many lovely things to make and plan; so little time! As a thank you for all of your wonderful comments and for supporting my little calligraphy business, I am extending the sale of my 2019 calligraphy workshops until Friday!
With less than nine weeks until Christmas, we’re busy making plans and stocking up (pun not intended!) on gift tags and calligraphy kits for the festive season!
I’ve been working on some exercises for those of you learning calligraphy, and shared this Christmas card design on my social media. I love it because it’s deceptively easy to write, and teaches 3 important aspects of modern calligraphy:
1 – the technique of moving smoothly from a thin to a thick stroke
2 – the trick of seeing through the window* when your ink is about to run out
3 – the importance of not rushing! (this video is a time lapse – it actually takes over 3 minutes to create this card design)
It’s also wonderfully Christmassy!
I’ll be teaching this as a practice technique AND a Christmas card design in my calligraphy class on 7th December in Manchester. There are still tickets available and I’d love to see you there!
When I decided to start a calligraphy business one of my reasons was the low setup cost. Writing costs almost nothing – the main investment is your time. But what are the very, very basics you’ll need to try calligraphy?
I wanted to write a short & sweet guide to learning modern calligraphy from scratch. I hope it might help and encourage you to dip your toes in calligraphic waters!
Day 1: your kit
If you were to start calligraphy as a brand new hobby next weekend, this is what you couldn’t do without – your most basic shopping list.
Decent printer / copier paper (at least 100gsm)
A dip pen and nib (straight or oblique penholder and a pointed nib – I recommend the Nikko G)
Ink or paint – basic ‘Calli’ ink, or watercolour / gouache paint
Your total spend for that first day doesn’t need to be much more than the price of your lunch.
Making those first marks on paper is simple – but you absolutely must have the right nib (a pointed one with the right amount of flex for beginners – most ‘G’ nibs are fine) – and a penholder it will fit.
I like Nikko G nibs – they’re reliable, well made and not too sharp, so they’re easy to use.
Speedball oblique or straight penholders – the black plastic ones – are affordable, comfortable to hold and easy to use.
Paper is important. Cheap papers (80 or 90gsm) will cause your ink to ‘bleed’ on the page, which is so frustrating when you’re trying to practise.
Likewise inks can cause bleed issues. I recommend Calli inks because they’re widely available even in high street craft and art shops. They’re OK quality wise, and certainly good enough for practice. Avoid cheap fountain pen inks and Indian inks though – some are very poor quality and will cause bleed on your paper.
If you’re arty and have watercolour paint or gouache lying around at home, these work just as well as ink. Mix to a runny consistency with water and off you go!
Find beginners modern calligraphy tutorials online and enjoy!
I wonder how many of us have a hobby we do for our own artistic pleasure, and which no one ever sees. In my online workshops I make a point of framing little pieces of work – it’s very much about celebrating every small victory and seeing your own progress – but I wonder if anyone actually does this, or if we all pack away our practice sheets and stick them in a box or drawer until next time…
I have a little challenge for you. Next time you’re in a charity shop, antique shop – or even in a high street store which sells cheap frames – buy one. If it has a mount, even better. Keep it with your calligraphy stuff.
Then at the end of your next practice session, get a single sheet of A4 paper, draw a rough circle right in the middle (the size of a roll of sellotape), and write a tiny quote inside it. Song lyrics or titles are great for this. Let your ink dry for a minute, trim the edges, pop it in your frame and hang it on your wall.
Calligraphy should be seen. It doesn’t have to be perfect as you learn – so display and be proud of what you’re learning!
If you have children in your family, write their names in calligraphy. My 10 year old niece loved seeing her name on a card! A delighted smile is so encouraging – and we all need positive feedback like this as we hone our calligraphy talent.
Write envelopes – and send them. Post them to your friends and distant relatives, to companies (Innocent, Lush and Aussie packaging all mention how much they love letters!) – anyone you can think of!
Calligraphy isn’t something to hide away. People love it – and by sharing your talent you might just inspire someone else to have a go. More importantly, you’ll grow and enjoy your lettering more with a little positive feedback.
If you’re not already putting your calligraphy online, do. Pop a photo on instagram with a calligraphy hashtag ( #learncalligraphy #lovecalligraphy) and join a group or forum (@flourishforum) for inspiration and to meet other new calligraphers.
Ready to stop hiding your calligraphy? Go find your frame, and have fun!
I lose myself in writing. Pen and paper is my happy place. Many of you will too – there is often a moment, halfway through a calligraphy workshop, where I’ll look around and see a calm has settled on the class.
Calligraphy kind of needs concentration and the ability to drift off in equal measure. A little focus is essential in those first hours of learning. But once you understand how your pen feels as it flexes in your hand and glides across the paper to make letters, you can relax a little and let instinct take over.
Your lettering will love you for it.
I don’t know if this is mindfulness – it almost seems contradictory to the notion of self-awareness, to lose oneself in lettering. But to allow your thoughts to drift as you write is a good – a wonderful – thing.
Consider: at first students try super hard to ‘master’ the calligraphy pen. It’s tricky at first to know just where to apply pressure, to add ink, to turn the corner in a letter. But in my workshops I encourage conversation. I comment on students’ work to build confidence. I ask questions; students ask me questions about my background and life, and conversations flow… and while we talk, we relax… that initial focus on every detail of a letter becomes more instinctive, more natural.
I really find it helps to think of other things when I practise calligraphy. My escape is a musical backdrop – soothing or thought-provoking as fits my mood.
A relaxed environment helps too – a glass of wine, an empty desk, a cosy jumper – because soft sleeves just glide across a tabletop! – and will help you to focus on our letter shapes or think of other things as you write in your little oasis of calligraphic calm.
Calligraphy has its very own kind of focus – and it’s a very natural, peaceful one. During my workshops students will often misspell words, even their own names. It’s a good thing! Following the movement and flow of a nib is kind of hypnotic: watching it flex and glide from one letter to another is distracting in the most wonderful way! And for me, focusing on that beautiful flow instead of the order of letters an achievement in itself.
The art of modern calligraphy isn’t all about precision – it’s about beauty, and relaxation, and the pure enjoyment of lettering.
In my last blog post I explained about calligraphy pens, how they work and the different types. Today let’s have a look at the nib itself.
Nibs are pointy little silver magic wands. A genius combination of design and gravity makes a pointed calligraphy nib one of my favourite inventions in the world.
The curve of the nib is what holds the ink up. It’s a simple trick of gravity, surface tension and viscosity – you can even ‘scoop’ ink up with your nib as if it were a spoon!
Modern calligraphy nibs are split down the centre, and the two halves of a nib are the ‘tines‘. Ink flows down the centre slit to make marks on the paper.
As pressure is applied to the tip of the nib, the tines split and it’s the distance between them which determines the width of your letterforms.
The shoulders of a nib affect flexibility. The broader the shoulders, the less flexible your nib will be. Some of my favourite nibs have shoulder slits – the Blue Pumpkin for example. Shoulder slits add flexibility by effectively narrowing the shoulders of the nib.
The final part of a nib is the vent. This is a tiny hole in the centre of the nib, designed for air and ink flow – but actually forming a magic little ‘window’ to indicate when ink is about to run out. Just before you need to re-dip your nib, the ink in the window will ‘pop’ like a bubble, leaving the window clear.
I’m so proud of this kit – we’ve sold them worldwide to calligraphy beginners and crafty folks, on Etsy and Not On The High Street – I think they’re the best modern calligraphy sets around.
Designed for absolute beginners, my calligraphy set includes pen, nib and ink; a 32 page instruction book full of letters, exercises and tips; a personalised journal with your name on, a set of gift tags, practice papers and a brush lettering pen. It’s all beautifully presented in a gold foiled gift box – perfect for birthdays! 😉
If you’d rather learn calligraphy in person there are spaces available at my Manchester calligraphy workshop on Saturday the 26th of May. Come & join me! Details here: www.etsy.com/uk/listing/553429806
As always, I offered a discount to any wedding photographers who’d like to come along to my last calligraphy workshop, and I’m thrilled lovely Emma Pilkington could join us on Friday! She took some gorgeous shots of all you new modern calligraphers at work – I thought I’d share the gallery with you here today.
If you’d like to join me for a modern calligraphy class this year, the next date is April 6th (online booking here) then we have more workshops in May, September, October and December. They’re all in Manchester – the photos show the classroom where you’ll learn the art of beautiful lettering!
Join me for a modern calligraphy workshop on one of these 2018 dates!
All workshops begin at one o’clock and finish at half past three. Click the links above to book, or see all workshops.
I’ll send you a booking confirmation in the post as soon as you’ve booked your place online. You’ll find the workshops in our little classroom at the Craft & Design Centre, around 10 minutes’ walk from Manchester Piccadilly station for easy accessibility from anywhere in the north of England.
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