Modern Calligraphy. What is modern calligraphy and how do you learn it? Find out in this detailed blog post on the stunning art form.
How to Do Modern Calligraphy
It was so hard at first. I almost gave up. I’m a lefty, and though I am a hand-lettering artist, I never had much luck with getting calligraphy with a traditional pen to look like anything more than a hot mess.
Then I tried brush pen calligraphy. Practicing that started to make using pressure to control my stroke become second nature. So, when I picked up a dip pen again, it just clicked.
And now, lettering and calligraphy are my full-time freelance career.
What is Modern Calligraphy?
Modern calligraphy is a contemporary version of traditional calligraphy.
While you use pressure to control the varying widths of your stroke in both types of calligraphy, the modern version allows the penman much more creative freedom.
In essence, we break many traditional calligraphy rules and create calligraphy that shows a lot of personal styles.
This more casual calligraphic style gives a lot of freedom and fun.
What Type of Pens Can I Use?
There are three main categories of “pens” you can use.
Dip Pen/Pointed Pen
The most traditional tool is a dip pen fitted with a pointed nib. I also think this one is the most challenging to learn.
Some of my favorite nibs to work with are the Nikko G, the Brause Steno 361 (a.k.a. the Blue Pumpkin), and the Leonardt 40.
A brush pen with a flexible nib is another option. These popular pens come in a wide variety of options, and they’re both affordable and beginner-friendly.
For brush calligraphy, I primarily use Tombow Brush Pens and Karin Brush Marker PROs.
The magic trio of the iPad, Apple Pencil, and Procreate App have changed modern calligraphy, allowing calligraphers to create stunning calligraphy digitally.
My workflow is super streamlined thanks to being able to do digital calligraphy. You can usually find me with an Apple Pencil in one hand and coffee in the other.
Even though caffeine and calligraphy don’t mix well.
Which Should Tool I Start With?
I recommend starting with a small nibbed brush pen.
The most beginner-friendly option is the Tombow Fudenosuke. It comes in hard tip and soft tip options. Both are flexible but to varying degrees.
Grab the combo pack to see which you prefer. I regularly use both of them.
A small tipped brush pen is much easier to control and thus easier to learn with. The photo below shows how much larger the tip of a Tombow Dual Tip Brush Pen is than a Tombow Fudenosuke.
Basic Modern Calligraphy Supplies
We’ve talked about the pens, but there are a few more tools to discuss to learn and practice.
You don’t need the fanciest stuff to begin. These are fairly inexpensive but not so cheap that they don’t work.
I’m a bigger believer in the value of purchasing quality art supplies!
Dip Pen Supplies
Calligraphy Straight Pen and Nib Set – This is the set I started out with. My favorite nib in the set is the pointed 512. I find it easiest to work with as a beginner.
Oblique Pen Holder – They say the straight pen holder is better for lefties, but I find the oblique much easier to work with.
Strathmore Calligraphy Pad – This pad is designed to work well with calligraphy pens inks.
Sumi Ink – There are so many lovely inks you can use for calligraphy, but this basic one is perfect for getting started.
Liquid Gum Arabic – This helps prep your nibs so the ink coats them properly. I didn’t have it to start but invested in it recently, and oh, what a difference it makes!
Pen Cleaner – Pretty self-explanatory. This is for cleaning your nibs.
Brush Pen Supplies
Paper matters big time when it comes to brush pens. Nylon tips are durable, but felt-tipped brush pens will fray if you don’t use the proper paper.
HP Premium 32 – This is ultra-smooth copy paper and what I use for practice 99% of the time.
Rhodia Dot Pad – I use this pad a lot for sketching and practice. The little dots are perfect for keeping your calligraphy straight.
Apple Pencil Supplies
I’ve covered the main supplies, but practice sheets and fun Procreate brushes are a huge part of learning iPad Calligraphy.
Check out my shop for a bunch of five-star rated resources to help you get started!
How to Prep your Dip Pen Nibs
If you choose to do calligraphy with a Dip Pen, you’ll need to prep your pointed nibs first.
New nibs are coated to keep them from rusting.
- Prep a new nib by briefly running it through a candle’s flame or scrubbing it with a toothpaste and toothbrush.
- Rinse and dry it. Your ink should coat the nib smoothly if the nib is properly prepped.
- If it beads, try running it through the flame of a candle very briefly or scrubbing it with a toothpaste and toothbrush once more.
How to Use Your Dip Pen
Dip it in the liquid gum arabic and gently wipe clean before dipping it into your ink.
This helps the ink flow smoothly and prevents the nib from catching on the paper.
It’s especially useful for thicker inks like the FineTec Metallic Mica Gold Paints I’ve used in some photos in this post.
Now, it’s time to practice.
Practice, Practice, and Practice Some More!
Again, I recommend you begin learning modern calligraphy using a brush pen. Start by doing drills to get the hang of doing basic strokes using pressure.
Here are some free practice sheets to get you started.
Don’t worry if your strokes and letters don’t match up perfectly with mine. What matters most is just that you practice. Get used to using pressure to control your stroke width.
Practice as often as you can, even if it’s just a few minutes a day. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you improve just by doing it!
Once you get the basic strokes and drills down, then move on to letters. When letters get easier, then you can move on to words and sentences.
Brush Calligraphy Free Video LessonS
Getting Started with Brush Calligraphy
Watch More Free Brush Calligraphy Video Lessons
Facebook // Pinterest // Instagram // Shop
What a great post Dawn! My goal for this upcoming year is to improve in the area of lettering and calligraphy, which I know so very little about. This post is a great motivation to get started! Hope you and your family had a great Christmas 🙂
Dawn Nicole says
Thanks Lauren! I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas too! 🙂
Jackie Freeman says
Took calligraphy years ago from scribes with the San Antonio Calligraohers Guild. My teacher assistants, at the time, encouraged me to try. I fell in love with it… I especially loved Copperplate…and took a workshop from a Gentleman that designed and scribed invitations for President and Mrs.Regan…. Way before computers were in the mix. My teacher assistant friends, one a lefty, did gorgeous work and juried pieces. I was still a newbie… Life got busier and I gradually stopped lettering and enjoying relaxing while creating. I must get out my old pens, nibs and try again. ❤️
Sarah Alves says
Another awesome resource, Dawn! I really appreciate all the work you put into these posts. You have helped me become a more confident letterer! After discovering Lindsey Bugbee (of The Postman’s Knock) last summer, I purchased some basic pointed pen supplies and started trying to learn calligraphy. I am with you though – it just never “clicked.” I kept at it for a while, but then lost interest. Then, when Lindsey did a post this past summer about using Tombows, I just KNEW that’s what I should be using. Brush lettering has been so much easier for me to practice and get better at, and now I find myself wanting to attempt the pointed pen again! It’s funny how things come back around!
I too am a lefty just getting started in calligraphy. I’ve played around with straight and oblique pens, but can’t seem to keep the nibs from scratching and getting poor results. (The angle is all wrong LOL.) I just purchased a set of lefty nibs but haven’t had the chance to try them yet.
I am looking forward to trying some of your tips to get better results (flame the nibs & using liquid gum Arabic).
I just picked up a copy of “Left-Handed Calligraphy” and it’s less than desirable. I was interested in what approach you took taking those ‘right-handed’ resource materials and what success you’ve learned (not in the book)?
Any other good tips/tricks for us leftys?
Dawn Nicole says
Hi! I find that the main thing being a lefty requires is simple: more practice! Letterer Shawn Wes has a great motto: Show up daily. I found getting brush calligraphy down with brush markers first helped me “get” modern calligraphy. I also started with just basic practice strokes (diagonal lines/loops/etc) and then moved to practicing letters, and then words. But mostly it’s just about practice, practice and more practice. I also think for lefties, we have to break some “rules” and find what works for us. For example, the oblique style pen holder is really for right-handed people but I found it works great for me! 🙂
Donna Rose says
Thank You! You have started me back on one of my favorite things to do!! xo
fellow leftie says
Thanks Dawn! I can recall taking calligraphy classes in grade school, it was actually mandatory and it did improve our penmanship. Sadly in a world of technology, handwritten anything is a lost form. I look forward to practicing again. =)
Jamii Granada says
Awesome post! I’d like to use this as a guideline to my calligraphy practice. Is it ok with you if I upload my practices and progress online? Will definitly give you credits for the worksheet.
Dawn Nicole says
Sure, thanks Jamil! 🙂
Thank you so much for sharing this!
Raeesah Mahomed says
Thank you for the practice sheets! have been trying to perfect my skill level and found these most useful!
Dawn Nicole says
Hi Raeesah! You’re so very welcome. I’m so happy you found them helpful! Happy practicing!
Thank you for the information and the practice sheets. I will be doing a fun, short, calligraphy unit study with my kids during our medieval history studies! 🙂 Well, I think it will be fun, not sure how they will feel about it! 😉
Hello! Can I use printer ink? Because indian ink is little bit expensive and hard to find in my city.. I think I can use printer ink?
Dawn Nicole says
I wouldn’t use printer ink for calligraphy but any kind of black ink that’s meant for calligraphy will be fine to use!
WalMart carries a very economical black ink that works good for starting out.
Claudia Guerrero says
I’m sorry if this question has been asked to you before, but what do you think is the best nib/pen holder for a lefty? I’ve started with a regular straight nib holder but I’m having trouble using it for flourishes.
Any advice would be great!!!
Dawn Nicole says
Hi Claudia! I used a straight one first. Oblique holders are actually meant for righties but I love them and had good luck with them. I recommend trying both to see what works best for you (I started with the inexpensive Speedball versions of both). I alternate between both styles of holders still!
Great! I really appreciate you taking the time to respond.
Thanks again and happy lettering!
Kellie Robinson says
First and foremost thank you so much for all your instructive help with lettering. I have decided to start trying straight pen calligraphy and love your practice sheets. I do have one problem though I find that my pen runs out of ink quickly and am trying to figure out what I am doing wrong. Do you know why this would happen and what the solution would be ?
I have all the good supplies (Nikko nibs, speedball inks, Rhodia pads) and I STILL can’t get the nibs to stop catching and skipping, mainly upstroking. After practicing daily and making a HUGE mess, I bought some Tombows and am IN LOVE with lettering. I’ve been at it daily for almost a year and am starting to have people ask me to make things for them. I dragged out my nibs again the other day to have a go at it, and decided that dip pens are just not for me. My penmanship is just so much more fluid and I am able to vary my style so much more with brush pens. My question though…if someone asked me to calligraph wedding envelopes, is it considered cheating if I use a Tombow Fude?? Does calligraphy HAVE to be done with a dip pen to be considered “real calligraphy”? Thanks for all of your inspiration and hard work to keep us going!
Dawn Nicole says
Hi Jordan! It’s not cheating at all. I’d just specify that you do “Brush Calligraphy” is all! 🙂
Oh whew, thanks for that! I was really feeling bad that I would be insulting the talented dip pen artists. I have much respect for them, and for the art itself.
How can I use these to practice in my Procreate app like your other sheets…. thank you?
Dawn Nicole says
Hi Janice! This is how I do it: 1️⃣ Upload the PDF to Dropbox (or email it to yourself). 2️⃣ Open it on your iPad. 3️⃣ Take a screenshot of the page you want to practice. 4️⃣ Open in Procreate and practice the worksheet (on a new layer)!