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Words can be beautiful in meaning—but they can also be visually appealing. If you’re new to lettering as an art form, this guide will help you get started with examples of different modern calligraphy alphabets and styles, a rundown of the tools you need, and step-by-step instructions to get started.
What Is Modern Calligraphy?
Modern calligraphy is sometimes also referred to as hand lettering. Essentially, it’s an art form that consists of creating artistic lettering using repetitive upstrokes, downstrokes, and repeating shapes. There are many modern calligraphy fonts and styles to choose from, including faux calligraphy, bounce lettering, and brush lettering.
Skillshare instructor Peggy Dean illustrates the power of modern calligraphy to make words both beautiful and powerful.
Modern Calligraphy Examples
There are many modern calligraphy alphabets to emulate, but one of the most unique—and exciting—aspects of this art form is that you can put your own twist on an alphabet, rather than striving to precisely copy it. However, it can be helpful for beginners to become familiar with some common calligraphy styles, like the three below.
Like traditional calligraphy, brush lettering is characterized by thick downstrokes and thin upstrokes on letters. However, instead of using a nib and ink like you would with traditional calligraphy, brush calligraphy is typically created using brush pens. These pens have a flexible felt tip, which responds well to pressure. When you put more pressure on the pen—during the downstrokes—you create a thicker line. When you ease up on the pressure, you create a thin line. Some artists choose to create brush lettering with a paintbrush, which works in a similar way.
Bounce lettering puts a playful, whimsical spin on brush lettering. While the foundational technique is similar to brush lettering—with increased pressure on the downstrokes and light pressure on the upstrokes—bounce lettering is much more freeform.
There are many different stylistic approaches to bounce lettering, but ultimately, it requires you to work outside of the typical restraints for calligraphy. That might mean raising the bottom of a letter above the baseline or extending a portion of the letter beyond the typical upper and lower guidelines. Ultimately, unlike brush lettering, your letters won’t all be on the same straight line—instead, they’ll look “bouncy.”
Faux calligraphy is a great way to get started with modern calligraphy. Faux calligraphy imitates the thick downstrokes and thin upstrokes of traditional calligraphy, but without actually changing the weight of your pen. In this style, you use a thin pen to form the letters, then manually draw in the thick parts of each letter and fill in those spaces—ultimately creating letters that look like true calligraphy.
Steps to Learning Modern Calligraphy
Learning modern calligraphy takes time, patience, and practice. However, the art form requires minimal tools, so the barrier to entry is low. Follow these steps to get started.
Step 1: Gather Your Tools
Before sitting down to learn how to create modern calligraphy, you need a few tools:
While you can use nearly any type of paper for modern calligraphy, high quality paper can extend the life of your pens and brushes. Laser jet paper will provide a smooth surface for your lettering, while inkjet paper contains tiny fibers that, over time, can snag and fray your pen tips. You may also choose a pad of paper that comes pre-printed with dots, lines or grids, which can provide a reference guide for how to place and align your letters. (Or, of course, you can print your own guidelines onto the laser jet paper if you have a printer at home.)
There are a wide variety of pens that you can use for modern calligraphy, based on your personal preferences and style. Pens vary based on their tip size and tip flexibility. Pens with a longer tip and more flexibility will be more suited for larger writing, while a smaller tip will allow you to create smaller, more precise letters.
While you won’t use a pencil very often when you’re learning the basics of forming letters, it may be helpful for later projects. When adding modern calligraphy to an envelope, for example, you may want to sketch out the placement of the writing before you begin, so you can ensure that the name and address is centered. Once you’ve written the words with your pen, you can erase the pencil lines with a kneaded eraser.
Along with pencils, a ruler can help you add some guidelines to your paper, envelope, or other medium before you begin lettering. Even if you’re practicing a more freeform style of modern calligraphy, such as bounce lettering, you’ll want to have an established, straight baseline to work from, especially as a beginner.
Step 2: Learn the Anatomy of Modern Calligraphy Letters
Once you have your tools, you’ll need a good understanding of how letters are formed. For most types of calligraphy, you’ll start with four lines:
- Ascender: This marks the height of capital letters and tall lowercase letters (like a d or h)
- X-height: This represents the height of a lowercase x (and most other lowercase letters)
- Baseline: Generally, all letters will sit on this line.
- Descender: This is where the bottom parts of letters (or “descenders”) end—like the tail of a lowercase g or y.
Step 3: Practice Basic Brush Strokes
Before you move straight to creating letters, you’ll need to master the basic strokes of modern calligraphy: thin upstrokes and thick downstrokes. This can be trickier than it sounds, so it’s worth spending some time on seemingly simple calligraphy exercises to get used to your pen, as well as the angle of your hand and the paper.
Some warm-up drills may include all down strokes, all upstrokes, alternating upstrokes and downstrokes, and curved lines that allow you to incorporate both types of strokes into one continuous line. If you need help getting started, this practice sheet can guide you through some common drills.
Step 4: Write a Modern Calligraphy Alphabet
Now, you can move onto individual letters. You can use a practice worksheet that illustrates how each letter is formed, or check out a Skillshare class that walks you through each letter, with the goal of creating a full modern calligraphy alphabet. Generally, you’ll first learn lowercase letters, then move on to uppercase letters.
Brush Lettering 2: Alphabet Basics With Peggy Dean
Master the Modern Calligraphy Alphabet
Step 5: Learn to Connect Letters
Once you have an understanding of how to form individual letters, you need to learn how to connect them. This usually requires a little finessing of the letters’ entrance and exit strokes (also known as connectors), so that each letter flows together.
Step 6: Experiment With Words and Phrases
Now comes the real fun: practicing. Mastering modern calligraphy requires repetition and finesse; it can take a while to figure out the angles you like and the exact pressure you need to create the right weight on your letters.
Start by writing a range of different words or phrases. Experiment with the size and weight of your letters, the amount of “bounce” you use, and other styles of lettering (like all uppercase or even block letters). Play with the composition of your piece—in other words, you don’t have to write words in a straight line, like the page of a book. Center a phrase in the middle of your paper, write in a circle, or stagger words to create an interesting visual effect. Remember, modern calligraphy is all about breaking the rules—so have fun with it!
Modern Calligraphy Books
For more inspiration, there are many modern calligraphy books that can walk you through additional exercises and project ideas and help you turn your calligraphy hobby into a serious art practice. Here are a few of our favorites:
This instructional book doubles as a workbook, so you can practice as you learn. This book in particular can be helpful if you want to learn how to master a few different styles of modern calligraphy; it teaches five different modern calligraphy fonts, so you’ll walk away with more options than ever to create beautiful and unique lettering projects.
The Ultimate Brush Lettering Guide: A Complete Step-by-Step Creative Workbook to Jump-Start Modern Calligraphy Skills
Written by Peggy Dean, Skillshare instructor and nationally recognized freelance artist, this book walks you through everything you need to know about modern calligraphy, from the basics of forming letters to flourishes, composition tips, and ideas for DIY projects.
The Ultimate Guide to Modern Calligraphy & Hand Lettering for Beginners: Learn to Letter: A Hand Lettering Workbook with Tips, Techniques, Practice Pages, and Projects
This easy-to-follow book is perfect for those who are just starting out on their modern calligraphy journeys. It incorporates practical tips—like how to grip your pen and angle your paper—with practice sheets for individual letters, flourishes, and words.
Learning the art of modern calligraphy can open up endless artistic doors for you. Just think of the beautiful projects you can create: framed prints of inspirational phrases, wooden signs, wedding place cards or invitations—the list goes on. And best of all, because modern calligraphy seeks to break the rules of traditional calligraphy, you have the opportunity to add your own spin on your lettering and create something truly unique.
Learn the Basics of Modern Calligraphy
Anyone Can Brush Letter: Modern Calligraphy For Complete Beginners