As my second wedding anniversary approaches, so does my third year doing calligraphy! My love for calligraphy began with my desire to address my wedding invitations. Though this has been a rewarding journey, it’s also brought some challenges along the way. Every once in a while I wish I could go back and give my beginner self a few pieces of calligraphy advice. That’s why in this blog post I’m sharing with you five things you need to know before starting calligraphy.
1. You need to start at the beginning, don’t skip the basics.
Well, duh! Where else would I start?
While this might seem pretty obvious, it was not the way I started. I’m almost positive I’m not the only one who has skipped the basics. I wanted to do pointed pen calligraphy because I saw beautiful wedding envelopes on Pinterest. So the first thing I thought, I can do that! I went to Michaels and bought a set that said “calligraphy kit.” I was going to do calligraphy, and it’s going to look just like those envelopes on Pinterest! (or so I thought). I didn’t know how to insert the nib (the metal thing you put on the pen had a name, WHO KNEW!) to the pen. Once I finally figured out how to do it, my new challenge was getting the ink to flow correctly. Ugh! One word for it: Disaster!!! I gave up shortly after I started it. It’s not that the calligraphy kit wasn’t any good, I didn’t know how to use it properly.
I decided to go for a brush pen instead. I thought that using a brush pen to do calligraphy was going to be as easy as all the Instagram videos made it seem. They didn’t look as complicated. But then again, I was utterly wrong! So there I was trying calligraphy still, this time with a brush pen. My first attempt at brush-lettering look nothing like the videos I saw on Instagram. I couldn’t get the brush pen to do thin and thick lines. It was another disaster. I gave up on using brush pens as well.
Please save yourself some frustration and don’t skip ahead. My #1 calligraphy advice I’d give my beginner self: start at the beginning!
So how exactly do I do that?
I’m glad you asked! Here is what I’d say…
- Start simple. You most likely already own the necessary tools to start doing calligraphy: pencil (or pen) and paper. Yes, that’s all you need to start. Check this blog post if you want to learn how.
- Learn Faux Calligraphy. In this blog post, I tell you what faux calligraphy is and how you can learn how to make it. And in this one, I give you some (very) important reasons why you need to learn faux calligraphy first.
- Study the letterforms. What makes up a letter? The downstrokes (when your pen goes down) and the upstrokes, (when your pen goes up).
- Get the right tools. You don’t need ALL the tools. You just need the right ones to start. In this blog post, I tell you exactly what you need to start learning pointed pen calligraphy. If you want to get started with brush pen calligraphy, then this blog post will guide you on the right supplies you need to get started.
- Practice Calligraphy Drills. Calligraphy drills are a MOST! Drills will give you the foundation you need to do calligraphy.
Learning calligraphy is acquiring a new skill. Like any other skill, you need to learn the basics, the drills, and the foundation that makes up the bigger picture. It’s like wanting to be Michael Jordan without even knowing how to dribble the basketball. You wouldn’t say oh let me buy a ball, and I’ll start playing like Michael! Right? Then don’t do the same with calligraphy.
Here is an easier example: do you remember when you were learning to write? You didn’t just grab a pen and started writing words. You first learned how to hold the pen. Then you did a TON of exercises to get your hand used to the shapes of the letters. And then you began to do letters, words, and even sentences. Learning calligraphy is the same.
2. You need to get the right tools.
As I mentioned before, you don’t need ALL the tools. You just need the right ones to start. You already know that to start learning calligraphy all you need is pen and paper. Once you know the basics, it’s essential that you get the right calligraphy tools and lettering supplies. In here, I tell you the supplies you need to start.
All pen holders, brush pens, nibs, and inks are not the same. Each serves a specific purpose. You will save yourself a lot of frustration, time, and money by getting the right tools. I’m not going to lie, having ALL the calligraphy supplies is highly satisfying, you don’t need them all, just the right ones, especially to start learning calligraphy. Once you’ve learned to use and master the ones you already have, by all means, get more. Fair warning! The truth is, getting new supplies can be HIGHLY addictive. At least for me, there is something so satisfying about opening a new package of new lettering supplies. Ahh!
3. You will need to practice, A LOT!
I wish there were a more natural way to get better at calligraphy, but there is not. There is no one magic tool to become a better calligrapher. The magic is in practice! Getting ALL the brush pens, latest gadgets, and supplies won’t matter or make you any better if you don’t practice. For the longest time, I bought every single pen I saw on displayed on Instagram thinking it was THE ONE that finally was going to make my calligraphy get to the next level, but that never happened.
If you want to become a great calligrapher, you will need to practice, practice, and then practice some more.
4. Don’t compare yourself to others.
Comparison is the thief of joy. Theodore Roosevelt.
Stop comparing yourself to others. This statement even applies to life in general. Even though is easier said than done, I’ve learned to appreciate other people’s journey. For me, seeing calligraphy videos on Instagram was the main reason I thought I could do calligraphy. It was also the same reason why I stop doing it for a while. I went on a rabbit hole of comparison, and it took all the joy calligraphy had brought to me. Watching calligraphy videos didn’t inspire me anymore. It brought all my insecurities to life, over and over again.
It can be so overwhelming to see accounts posting fantastic work every single day when you can barely manage to do ONE decent thing in a whole week. Sometimes even a month. It took me a while to realize that the 20-second calligraphy video I saw on Instagram, probably took more than 20 tries and a lot of hours of practice before it got to that point.
Please don’t compare yourself to others. It’s okay if your calligraphy doesn’t look like the rest of the work you see on the internet. First of all, it’s not supposed to. Your work is supposed to look different, it should be unique. Second, their current chapter in this calligraphy journey might be different than yours. Their life situation might be different as well.
Don’t compare your chapter 1 to someone else’s chapter 20!
So just DO YOU! Do what makes you happy. The only thing you need to worry is about your journey. If you want to become a better calligrapher, then practice. You don’t have to post only a finished product, post about your process. Always, strive to do your best, but even when you think it’s not your best work, share it anyway. You never know when you are inspiring someone. I need to remind myself of this constantly!
5. Give yourself grace!
There will be blocks on your road to learning calligraphy, that is FOR SURE! Learning something new can be frustrating. It usually is! When you don’t learn something right away, it’s easier to stop and walk away than to keep trying. But remember why you started! Remember why you decided to learn and keep learning calligraphy or lettering.
It’s ok if sometimes you think your calligraphy sucks, or it’s not as perfect as you want it to be. You are going to have moments where you love everything you do. And then there are those times that you can’t even create one thing right to save your life. It happens to everyone, at any point on their calligraphy journey. No matter how much of an expert you consider yourself to be, there will be roadblocks and downtimes. Your curiosity for calligraphy is what got you started. Let that same curiosity help you to keep going.
Give yourself grace and open your mind to the learning process. Give yourself a chance time and time again to learn something new. To make mistakes (a lot of them), and to rediscover and reinvent your self in this calligraphy journey. Make time to learn, but make it fun! Don’t let the frustration take over the fun it can be to learn something new.
Michael Jordan is popularly known for the saying,
I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot but missed. I’ve failed over and over and over in my life. And that is why I succeed.
Now when I look back on my calligraphy journey and see how I started, the biggest thing I see is potential. I still don’t have it all figured out and have a long way to go in learning about calligraphy and more so about life. But I’m glad I decided to start learning something new. All the great things, the frustration, and even the self-doubt have given me experiences that I can learn from and share with others. And that’s pretty cool!
Thank you for reading today’s post. I hope you find some inspiration and helpful things you can apply to your calligraphy journey.