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It’s easy to understand the allure of calligraphy. Calligraphy is a rare analog form of visual expression—one that’s often described as meditative and conducive to other creative pursuits as well.
There are also many different styles of calligraphy, which can appeal to a wide range of tastes. Whether you lean toward the traditional, time-honored style of Arabic calligraphy or more modern, creative hand lettering, there’s a style of calligraphy for just about everyone.
But if you have little or no experience with hand lettering, where should you begin? We’ve rounded up a few basic calligraphy exercises and resources to put you on the right track. We also provide an overview of essential tools that will have you practicing this art form in no time.
It’s no wonder that calligraphy exercises are often referred to as “calligraphy drills”—deliberate, repetitive practice is required to learn the art of beautiful and expressive hand lettering. Here are some exercises to get you on the right path:
Warm-Up Calligraphy Drills
Warm-up calligraphy exercises are designed to help you connect with the particular tool you’re using to draw. As you move between different markers and pens, warm-up calligraphy drills can help you get a feel for that instrument. Even the most accomplished calligraphers rely on warm-up exercises before tackling an important project.
Warm-up exercises tend to consist of creating basic shapes, like Xs, vertical or horizontal lines, or key lower-case letters like u, m, and n, which include elemental calligraphy forms.
Brush lettering and calligraphy are characterized by thin upstrokes and thick downstrokes, which are used as building blocks for individual letters. In addition to those basic strokes, you must learn entrance strokes, the thin, curved upstrokes that begin each lower case letter. For a beginning exercise, fill your page with entrance strokes, striving to maintain uniformity in line, curve, and spacing throughout.
Calligraphy Practice Sheets
There are many calligraphy practice sheets available that make it easy to practice strokes and letters in a number of different styles. Worksheets typically include easy-to-follow directions and grid lines to keep your letters uniform and straight. This worksheet includes everything from warm-up calligraphy drills to practice words. Or, for more traditional calligraphy practice, this worksheet can guide your practice with a pointed nib.
Create Your Own Guidelines
Rather than following a worksheet, you can also create and work within your own guidelines. In the class, “Calligraphy Essentials: From First Script to Final Flourish,” teacher Seb Lester explains how to create guidelines for the traditional style of calligraphy. For example, a lowercase letter is the height of five nib-widths of your broad-nib pen, while an uppercase letter is seven nib-widths tall. By creating your own guidelines, you’ll come to better understand the proper proportions of your letters.
As you get more comfortable with the basic strokes of your chosen calligraphy style, you can move toward writing individual letters—and eventually, an entire calligraphy alphabet. Focus on the connection points between letters, and try to make the transitions as seamless as possible.
Use Mood as Inspiration
Eventually, you will move on to lettering full words and phrases. Now, you can begin to experiment with different moods and emotions within your handwriting practice. To start, choose a single word—like “calligraphy.” Then, write it using a variety of adjectives as inspiration. For example, an “elegant” version of the word will end up looking much different than an “expressive” version. Leaning into these different emotions can help you explore your creativity and define your unique lettering style.
To execute any of these calligraphy exercises, of course, you’ll need a few supplies. Fortunately, many calligraphy instructors recommend that beginners and those with limited experience simply use a brush pen and paper—which means essentially, you only need two types of supplies (and minimal investment) to get started.
Brush pens are widely used by calligraphers and illustrators because they are responsive to various levels of pressure and make it easy to create lines of varying thickness. Tombow’s Dual Brush Pen ranks high among calligraphy pens because it combines a flexible brush tip and fine tip in one instrument.
Dotted or graph papers are ideal for novices because they provide guidelines for both horizontal and vertical spacing. You don’t need expensive paper to get started, but a smooth paper will help prevent the tip of your brush pen from fraying. Laserjet paper is very smooth and inexpensive enough to be used for daily practice by calligraphers at all levels of expertise.
Before You Begin: Best Tools for Newbies
Many calligraphy instructors (and students) recommend that beginners and those with limited experience use a brush pen and paper — which means you really only need two types of supplies (and minimal investment) to get started. Brush pens are widely used by calligraphers and illustrators because they are responsive to various levels of pressure and make it easy to create lines of varying thickness. Tombow’s Dual Brush Pen ranks high among calligraphy pens because it combines a flexible brush tip and fine tip in one instrument.
Dotted or graph papers are ideal for novices because they help you replicate both horizontal and vertical spacing. You don’t need expensive paper to get started, but a smooth paper will keep you from fraying the tip of your brush pen. Laserjet paper is very smooth and inexpensive enough to be used for daily practice by calligraphers at all levels of expertise.
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