Modern Calligraphy 101: The Basic Supplies you’ll need to get started with practicing + free practice sheets!
Modern Calligraphy 101 + Free Practice Sheets
When I shared this video of me playing with some gold calligraphy the other day, the questions I received made me think I should do a post on the basics of getting started with Modern Calligraphy. The main reason I wanted to share the basics with you is because I really believe anyone can learn this art form if they want to!
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 chicken scratch.
And then I learned brush lettering. Practicing that started to make using pressure to control my stroke become second nature. So I decided to give Modern Calligraphy another shot and it just clicked. I still practice a ton and I also still consider myself a beginner in learning this lovely art form, so this post will cover the very basis: supplies, basic strokes, and practice worksheets for letters with flourishes.
Let’s get started with what you’ll need 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!
- Modern Calligraphy by Molly Suber Thorpe – When I decided I wanted to learn Modern Calligraphy I bought this book. It’s wonderfully informative, has beautiful letter sample pages, and even has a ton of project ideas to make with your calligraphy.
- Strathmore Calligraphy Pad – This pad is designed to work well with calligraphy pens inks.
- Rhodia Dot Pad – You see me use this pad a lot in the videos I do. The little dots are perfect for keeping your lettering straight at the baseline yet slanted italic style.
- 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 actually find the oblique much easier to work with.
- India 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.
- Ink Set – For playing with colored inks. Just plain fun!
Prep your Nibs
New nibs are coated to keep them from rusting. Prep a new nib by running it through the flame of a candle very briefly 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.
Dip it in the liquid gum arabic and gently wipe clean before dipping into your ink. This helps the ink flow smoothly and prevent 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. (I’ll touch on that in a coming post, but you apply it to the nib with a small paintbrush.)
Start by getting the hang of basic strokes using pressure. There are three types of strokes to use for basic practice:
- Diagonal strokes: Go up with light pressure for thin line and down with heavier pressure for thick lines
- Loops: Practice using various pressure in a continuous motion to achieve loops as shown below.
- Simple Flourishes: Again practice using various pressure in a continuous motion to achieve loops as shown below.
Then practice letters! I put together 9 sheets you can use to practice letters with flourishes. Don’t worry if your letters don’t match up perfectly. All that matters to start is getting in practice, getting used to using pressure to control your stroke with, and practicing as often as you can. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you improve just by doing it!
Download the free Modern Calligraphy practice sheets here.
Once letters get easier, then move on to words and sentences.
Check out all my tips on Hand Lettering including basics, brush lettering, cheater calligraphy, book recommendations and more here.