Modern Calligraphy: Design A Flourished Script Layout in Procreate | Molly Suber Thorpe | Skillshare

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Modern Calligraphy: Design A Flourished Script Layout in Procreate

teacher avatar Molly Suber Thorpe, Calligrapher & Designer

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Welcome to Class!


    • 2.

      Download Your Free Tools


    • 3.

      Set Up Your Canvas


    • 4.

      Start A Rough Sketch


    • 5.

      Understand Calligraphy Guidelines


    • 6.

      Complete Your Rough Sketch


    • 7.

      Start Plotting Flourishes


    • 8.

      Complete Your Flourish Sketch


    • 9.

      Understand Your Calligraphy Brush


    • 10.

      Ink Your Manuscript


    • 11.

      Recolor Your Finished Artwork


    • 12.

      Discover More Learning Resources


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About This Class

Draw a wildly-flourished, full-page calligraphy layout from start to finish!

This project-based class is a detailed tutorial for a large, flourished calligraphy layout. You will learn how to combine 10+ lines of pointed pen calligraphy into a cohesive, stunning composition that you can then print, share online, and apply to products.

I share my florid script design process every step of the way, including how to:

  • set up calligraphy guidelines,
  • make a pencil sketch to determine line breaks and spacing,
  • plot out flourishes to make the most of negative space,
  • “ink” the calligraphy using a customized Procreate pointed pen brush,
  • polish the final design,
  • and recolor the finished artwork.

 No iPad? No problem!

While I am using an iPad Pro and the Procreate app in the demonstration, you can follow along with paper, pencil, and pen if you prefer! Just print out the free guideline sheet I’ve included, rather than use it digitally.

 Free downloads:

The Procreate calligraphy brush and calligraphy guide sheet I use in class are available as free downloads right here in the Projects & Resources section. They are intended for personal use only. I’ve also included a Resources Guide with links to my favorite tools, books, brushes, classes, and more.

Here’s the artwork I create in my class demonstration:

➤ About Me

I’m Molly Suber Thorpe. I’ve been a professional hand lettering artist and teacher since 2009. , specializing in modern styles and, more recently, digital techniques. I have published ten popular how-to guides and workbooks on pointed pen calligraphy, brush lettering, and cursive.

I have a particular passion for teaching because I simply love helping other artists hone their skills, opening doors to new creative opportunities and profitable freelance careers. 

As a Top Teacher here on the Skillshare platform, I offer lots of classes about calligraphy, typography, Procreate, Adobe Photoshop, and creative freelancing. Check out my other classes here or visit my website to learn more about what I do.

You might also be interested in…

Meet Your Teacher

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Molly Suber Thorpe

Calligrapher & Designer

Top Teacher

I design custom lettering for brands and individuals, Procreate brushes for artists, fonts for designers, and freelancing tools for creatives. I’m the author of four books for lettering artists and teach the craft both online and in person.



I’m lucky to have worked with some awesome clients over the years, including Google Arts & Culture, Martha Stewart, Fendi, and Michael Kors. My work and words have been featured in such publications as The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, Martha Stewart Weddings, LA Times, and Buzzfeed.

I love connecting with my students so please please share your projects with me. If you do so on Instagram, tag me with @mollysuberthorpe so I’m sure to see it!&nb... See full profile

Level: All Levels

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1. Welcome to Class!: Hi. I'm Molly Super thorp. I've been a professional Calgrapher and type designer since 2009, creating custom lettering for brands and individuals around the world and designing digital assets for other artists. I've also written a number of books for people who want to learn modern pointed pen Calgraphy. Today I'll be demonstrating how to draw an intricately flourished script Calgraphy layout from start to finish in Procreate, right on the iPad. You will learn how to combine lines of pointed pen calligraphy into a cohesive, wildly flourished composition that you'll then be able to print, apply to products, share online, et. I'm going to share my design process every step of the way, including how to set up my guidelines, make a pencil sketch, plot out my flourishes, ink the calligraphy using a procreate pointed pen brush, polish the final design, and then even recolor it. Even though this demonstration is done digitally, many if not most of the design principles I'm sharing today, such as drawing interlocking flourishes or balancing negative space, apply to script calligraphy in any medium. In other words, when it comes to the key core considerations for creating a successful flourished layout, the same basic principles can be applied, whether you're designing on a screen or on paper. While I will be demonstrating on my iPad using the Procreate app, you can follow along with paper, pencil, and pen if you prefer. If you are using Procreate like I am, be sure to download the free Procreate Calgraphy brush I've included as a class freebie. It's the same one that I'll be using to demonstrate, and whatever medium you're using, I've also provided a free downloadable guide sheet in case you want to use the same guideline layout that I do. You can either import it as an image to procreate or print it out at home. Thank you so much for being here. I am excited for us to get started. 2. Download Your Free Tools: I personally love using my iPad to relax with calligraphy, especially because it's so portable and doesn't require any setup. Plus, I treat my iPad more as an art tool than a computer, basically, as if it's digital paper. I don't have any notifications setup on it or anything else that might disrupt my workflow. So if you're using an iPad for this exercise, I suggest simply turning off the WiFi and data temporarily, so it becomes merely a screen rather than a device connecting you to the outside world. I 3. Set Up Your Canvas: The first step is, of course, to set up our canvas and to add the calligraphy guidelines that we're going to be using. Today, I'm going to create an 8.5 by 11 inch canvas. Now, I recommend using a very high resolution, maybe the highest you can get away with on your iPad or at least 300 DPI, but probably higher. I like to go with something like 500 or 600. I'll do 500 in this case. This higher resolution means that not only will I be able to print this artwork at even larger size later, should I want to, but that as I work, I'll be able to zoom in and really look at my fine details without pixelation. So the benefits of working at a high DPI aren't just limited to print factors. It really has a lot to do with how much you can zoom and how much detail you can see in the digital work as well. Now, with a blank canvas in front of us, we'll need to add some guidelines before diving into the calligraphy itself. To add these guides, you can either import the guideline JPEG that I've included with the class, and that works with any software, or if you're familiar with drawing your own or importing your own and you have a guide setup that you prefer, that will work just fine for this exercise too. But I'm going to import my own guide sheet. So I'm coming over here to actions, Insert a photo. If you have yours saved to the cloud, then you'll just do insert a file instead. And now the guide sheet has placed, and I will just enlarge it to fit my 8.5 by 11 canvas perfectly. And then I'll add a new blank layer on top of my guidelines layer. 4. Start A Rough Sketch: This is going to be the layer now where I sketch out my initial composition. I make sure that the number of words that I need fit on the appropriate lines. I figure out where line breaks need to go. I do some basic centering, and just overall, see how much text I can fit for my manuscript on the single page. If you're struggling to find a text that inspires you, consider a song or poem that you love, a page from your favorite book, or even an excerpt from your own journal. Today, I've chosen a passage from my all time favorite author and one of my favorites of all her books, the waves by Virginia Wolf. So now, I have my text here. And I've already roughly looked at where I think I want the line brakes to go. But I'm going to see if that's going to work out now when I actually sketch it onto the paper or the screen. So let's get out a pencil brush to do that. You can use any pencil brush that comes with procreate. I'm using one that I design myself called Molly's favorite letter sketching pencil, and it's one that I like specifically for this purpose. Oh, and I'm using a contrasting color. I'm not using black yet. I like, for some reason to sketch in a contrasting color. It makes it feel less permanent. It's also a little bit more fun. And then when I go over it later with black ink, it has a really nice cool effect. Now, I'm just doing a rough sketch here. I'm not going to worry too much about flourishes, about the acenders, the decenders none of that, but I want to get the space that the words take up set down on the canvas. So a lot will look very unfinished. And in fact, for my ascenders and the ends of my decenders, I'm going to leave them completely raw like this. Not going to put any loops whatsoever. No flourishes, nothing. I'll just space out my words and leave the ascenders hanging. Crossbar of this t, I'm not even going to add it because I know I'm going to flourish that later, and it doesn't really relate at all to the horizontal space taken up on the line. So here is the first line that I drew. And first of all, already, I know that I'm going to want to reduce the spacing right here a little bit and increase it over here. So I'm using my selection tool to just sort of nudge some of these things because I know that I will do this later. So I'll save myself some time later on, and when I realize an issue like that, I will immediately fix it. And now I can go about centering each line as I go here, and I do sometimes like to do that, especially because then I can have some sense of where my ascenders and D senders might hit each other between the lines. So I can just hit this selection tool, which selects all the contents of the layer. Once the selection is made, you can come and hit snapping. And if snapping itself is turned on, not magnetics, but snapping, then you can move this and a golden line will appear. The blue lines are your magnetic guidelines, and the gold ones are your snapping guides. So this gold line now snaps this perfectly into the center of the page. But as cligraphers, we know that true mathematical centering often optically is not centered. So use that only as a very rough way to center your lines. Don't sort of center them that way and assume that the naked eye will perceive it as centered, especially when we put flourishes and end strokes and exit strokes onto our lines, the center of gravity, if you will, of the line can look like it's shifted more to the left or the right, even if it's mathematically centered. So anyway, I'm just doing this very roughly to begin with, but phase two is where all of the finessing is going to come in. Now, I have a very strict rule whenever I'm designing any multi line manuscripton procreate. And that is one line, one layer. Okay? So we had this new layer for this first line. If I turn that on and off, all of this text goes away. But now for line number two, I'm going to make a new layer. I want to keep every single line on its own layer so that I can adjust them separately. So that when I'm creating flourishes that overlap, I'm not going to have them sort of melded together on a single layer. I really prefer to work this way. So new layer, new line. And now I'm just coming back and I'm repeating the same process all the way down the page. Here's line number two done, and it's already basically centered in that it's taken out most of the space of the line or most of the length of the line. So again, third line means new layer. 5. Understand Calligraphy Guidelines: Now, you can probably see that the lettering guides that I've chosen to use are quite simple. Let's look at them here real quick. We have a guideline bar with the base line here, x height, cap height or ascender height, and decender line, and they're all equal in ratio. So all these lengths equal each other. And I designed it that way because personally, that's my own personal style, adheres often to this ratio. I tend not to have extremely large variations in the ratio between my acenders capitals, decenders and x height. However, I do sometimes and I like to play with that. But when I'm making an extremely flourished layout like this, one thing that's important for me is to have a pretty sizable x height. And that's because I don't want the flourishes to become so full in the composition that they will overwhelm the actual letters and make the words ilgible. So I tend to create a style that if it's unflourished, looks pretty chunky, to be honest, looks relatively substantial for the lower case letters and doesn't have huge variations in the ratio of the height. Here to here or even here to here to here, pretty equal. And in that sense, I'm able to have a lot more fun later, adding flourishes and really going crazy with them without worrying that the legibility of the letters will be compromised because even at a small size, these letters are big enough to pop out and they will remain really legible. We're not talking about an extremely small script here or a scrawl. 6. Complete Your Rough Sketch: This line ends a sentence, and so even though I have some more space here, I'm just going to stop and start the new sentence on the next line. Okay. Now I have completed my layout of my initial sketch. Now I have over here all of the layers for the individual lines, and I'm just going to group them together by selecting any of them and then swiping right on all the rest and then tapping group. 7. Start Plotting Flourishes: If your iPad or the file size that you're using doesn't allow for a lot of layers. You can actually just make sure that you've properly centered things here and spaced them how you want, and then you can merge this group. So flatten it, tapping it once and hit flatten and now everything is on one layer. Now I'm making a new blank layer on top of this, and I'm choosing a darker contrasting color. Still, I'm not going to use black. I'll use something fun, but I want it to really contrast the turquoise I used originally. I start by looking at the negative space. This is the area where flourishing is possible. And I don't always fill it in. I'm just doing this for demonstration purposes. But usually above your x heights and in between your lines, sometimes on either side of a line, like, especially a shorter line. You have a lot of opportunities in those regions to flourish. Especially in an area like this, keep your eye out for moments where you're going to encounter an ascender and a decender that almost intersect. Rather than thinking of this as a problem or trying to space them out further, we're going to look at ways that we can interlock the flourishes or design flourishes that naturally pull the ascender and decender apart visually. So we can deal with these nearly intersecting strokes without having them look like points of tension where, you know, they interact because they're just too squished together. So now I'll get started drawing in some flourish concepts, and I'll just go into all of these flourishable areas or sometimes even the letter strokes themselves that I originally drew, and I'll just elongate them or make them fancier or add some loops or flourishes within the letter form. If I see letters that aren't shaped very well or don't adhere well to the guides, I will also go in and refine them at this stage. Moments like this S, for example, are a great opportunity to think about what you can bring down into this negative space, especially because in this region on the next line, there aren't any ascenders here, and there aren't any more decenders here. So we're going to have to get creative with the way that we flourish when we get to the next line. But no harm in starting to fill up that space a bit now. So sometimes I go through and I just re sketch over the whole thing. Sometimes I just go and I sketch the flourish areas. So because I want to make this super wildly flourished, I'm going to actually try to fill up the majority of the negative space. But of course, leaving nice spacing in between my flourishes because you don't want to have what I would call points of tension where flourishes just get much too close together, and it looks like a mistake. The naked eye is then immediately drawn to the spot, and it looks like, was that meant to be so close, either they should overlap or they should have breathing room. So thinking about how we have three ascenders here. Actually four pretty close to each other. We're going to want to maybe play with this a little bit, maybe intersect some of them or create one flourish for some of them. Yeah, I can do that here, make the A sender of this D, intersect the t and use the H flourish. Yes, use the H flourish to come back into this region. I get out my eraser quite a lot at this stage because I'll do a lot of experimenting. Here, I can interlock flourishes quite nicely. Sometimes when there are two Ts that aren't next to each other, but they're a bit down the line. You can create really nice a really nice interlocking moment between the end of one and the beginning of the next crossbar. At the end of a line, when you don't have an ascender or a decender to flourish. You can always bring that final exit stroke of most letters out out or up. You could bring them down, but we have a lot of ascenders to work with here for filling all of this space and this space. So to fill up some of this space, I'm going to use my exit stroke and bring it up here. Here I have two a senders, and I still haven't even gotten to this D sender because I wanted to wait for that y and t moment until I got to the T. I'm going to use the D to fill up this space and the t and y somewhere over here only. Okay. Yeah. Now here, we have options. We can make these separate and have them look parallel. We could drop the t down a little bit, make it maybe more about there, and then give the y some space here. That feels too close together to me. I'm thinking of something like this. Yeah. Right now, that's what I like. I'm going to take away that drop down stroke and use this H to fill up this region. Okay. 8. Complete Your Flourish Sketch: I should also say, you don't have to flourish every ascender or D sender. Very important point. It's actually sometimes better to leave something unflourished, and then build up bigger flourishes around it. Too many flourishes, especially if they're small, are going to make the composition just too busy. I'm seeing up here immediately caught my eye that I don't like how empty that is. I really want to go all the way with this design today. Yeah, I'm liking that better. Another thing I like to be sure of is that I don't repeat the exact same flourish design too close together in the composition. So for example, whereas here on this K, I could have made the same big outward loop that I did on the H, but that would start to look for meoic I want to keep this as organic as possible. So I try to mix things up and not repeat the same exact flourish too many times. Flourishing should be fun. It's about decoration. It's about taste. So I really urge you to let loose and try a bunch of things, especially on the iPad. You can just undo something that doesn't look good and give things a try, see how they end up looking. Ultimately, legibility and whether or not you like it are the two most important factors. And then if other people like it too, great, that's a bonus. Now I have finished this sketch. And now what I do is I just come in. I do one final proof read because at this point, having a typo, it's already hard to fix, but it'll be even harder once we add the ink. And then I also make sure everything is legible. I look at spacing, spacing between letters. I make sure that there aren't strokes. Like, for example, this flourish here, it might be if it was moved down just a hair like that. And I basically go around and I make small adjustments like that so that when I do ink it, I'm going to be able to just ink it in one pass and not really think anymore about the layout itself. But you can see that already, if I turn off the guidelines, already this is looking really packed with flourishes, except that if you zoom out, you can still read it really clearly. I mean, the letters are not so small that they are consumed by the flourishes. 9. Understand Your Calligraphy Brush: So now it's time for the actual fun part, the inking. I'm going to come up here to my flourish sketch layer and just turn it down quite a lot. Make sure your guidelines are turned on and then make a new blank layer above it. We're going to go back now to the one line per layer situation because now that we're doing the final design, it's really going to be important that where we have overlapping flourishes, they aren't always connected into one layer. You'll still be able to move things around. To get to pure black and procreate, just double tap in this black region and it will snap to pure black. And we'll choose the free brush I've given you with the class, which is this classic pointed pen. Now, zoom in and making sure you're on that blank layer still. We're going to just make a few sample strokes to get the right size of the brush. So I think that this size will be good for me. If I tap it, this is at 10%, which will change based on your resolution. However, if you have 500 DPI like I do, then 10% will be the same size as what I'm using. Now, a couple of things about drawing in Procreate with calligraphy brushes. You can't move too quickly in ink on paper, that will cause pen snags, ink splatters, paper snags, all sorts of other issues, and you won't get smooth strokes. In procreate, while you don't have the issue of ink splatters and pen snags and stuff like that, you do have to move really slowly because the digital mechanism whereby this smooth glass screen and this slick plastic pencil tip have to combine to create really steady strokes. That is best when you move slowly. So basically, you achieve the smoothest, most precise strokes, the slower that you move. And just like a real pointed pen, this pen that I've designed is very pressure sensitive. So you get some really fine strokes. Very thick down strokes. If you want to just play with it for a little while, I recommend that just to get that up down thick thin stroke variation going. But really, you can have a lot of fun with this just like you can with a pointed pen, and the benefit is that there are no ink splatters to have to worry about. 10. Ink Your Manuscript: So I'm just going to start going over all of this with my brush, my ink, if you will. And of course, everything is undoable, but I still like to make it as perfect as I can as I go along because I don't like to have to go in and adjust later. Tracing can really be such a wonderful way to zone out and relax while building that muscle memory that will ultimately improve your free hand writing. Well, the pencil brush did have some pressure sensitivity. The Caligraphy brush pen has so much that that's what's now giving it the calligraphic look. Finally, this script lettering is really looking like calligraphy. As you write with a well designed procreate calligraphy pen, you will notice that there's some pull on it. That's a huge difference from a real pen because this again is a mechanism that kind of compensates for the tooth of paper without a paper tooth, even if you have an iPad screen protector, which I don't use simply because I don't like. You can't get that exact same kind of grip on the pen. It's just not possible with a glass screen and a plastic pencil tip. So for that reason, there are compensating mechanisms built into the pen brushes programming. Not all brushes have this. So again, as I say, you need to have one that's specifically designed for the type of writing that you're looking for so that it best emulates the real world tool. So, For a flexible metal dip pen, you're going to want something that creates much thicker strokes when you press down hard and very, very fine hair lines when you exert no pressure at all. This brush that I've given you does just that based on pressure. And the way that it grips the paper is through a setting that gets programmed into it called stabilization. The more you learn about procreate brushes, the more you can customize your own, which is really, really fun. But essentially what I'm telling you right now if you're a beginner to this is that there is a learning curve to working with the stabilized pen, to feeling this very slight drag as you write. But once you get the hang of it, you'll see that it really does allow you to create what you can do without the digital element with a real pen. So I consider it to be really necessary in the digital pen to compensate for the shortcomings of the iPad. Now, there are lots of benefits to the iPad too. I actually am not a person who prefers one over the other, or will demonize digital tools over traditional ones. I love both, and I see huge benefits to both. So this is really a matter of personal preference and really understanding what you can do the same with both and what really has to be done differently. The skills are certainly overlapping, but they're not exactly the same. Let's focus for a moment now on writing speed. What you're watching now is my actual writing speed in all the calligraphy that I do, even on the iPad where mistakes can easily be undone and there's no risk of ink splatters or pen snags. This speed allows me to look ahead as my pen approaches directional changes and to focus on varying my pen pressure throughout an individual stroke. Just like with writing on paper, and even when I've already drawn my initial sketch, I pause a lot to consider where to begin my next stroke, and I'll sometimes even trace out the shape in the air so that before I put my pen down or my apple pencil, my arm already kind of has the movement prepared. When I'm doing flourishing, I try not to do much erasing because I'm in procreate and I can easily undo. And because flourishes really benefit from just having one single movement rather than any knit picking afterward, I would rather just completely undo the flourish and draw it again than erase a bit of it and try to fix it. So that's why you'll see me drawing a whole flourish. And then if I don't like it, I erase the entire thing. And of course, I do do some refining as I go at this point. I think that there's only so much refining you can even do with a pencil. Once you have the ability to get the really thick and thin strokes, then small details in regard to spacing and just little finest details, those start to come together. Especially if you're a beginner using this as a form of practice to improve your writing or just starting to get into flourishing. You're really training yourself in some new hand eye coordination here and training those fine motor skills in your arm to be at once relaxed and precise. All right. So now I've turned off my sketch, my guidelines, everything, and I just have my ink layer here. Now, I go through and I just see little things like ops. I forgot to do my eye there. Just go through and do all of your double checking, and then in a moment we're going to recolor it. I'll show you how to change the background and the lettering color if you want. 11. Recolor Your Finished Artwork: In order to recolor the lettering here, it's much easier if all of the lettering is on one single layer. I'm going to tap this group now and hit flatten. So now on one layer here, I have all of my lettering. And I'm going to start by making a new blank layer on top of my lettering layer. I'm just going to call this lettering so that the layer names aren't confusing. So this is my new blank layer. And I'm going to tap it once and click clipping mask. And you should see that it immediately bumps over to the right and then there's an arrow pointing down to the layer below it. That just means that essentially everything I do in this new blank layer will affect only the contents or the pixels on the layer below it. So now if we choose a new color, let's choose something really bold and vibrant. If we pick a new color and I tap this again the blank layer and I say, fill layer, it will fill the layer with pink, but the pink is only going to affect the lettering on the layer below it. So do that again with another color. Tap fill layer. Now you have easily changed all of the contents of that layer, all of the lettering. So let's change this to white. Just like with black where you can double tap over here. If you double tap in this region, it's going to snap to pure white. So I'll set it to pure white and fill the layer. Now it's invisible because my background is white. If I come over to my background, appropriate to change your background color, you don't have to do fills. All you have to do is tap the background, and then you can change the color right in here. Let's zoom in. Okay. I could bring this to a on, which I have to admit is probably my favorite color combination of all time especially for flourished work. Look how nice that is. But you can have a lot of fun here. You could do something actually a bit lighter and make a more ethereal looking design. Maybe a pale blue. 12. Discover More Learning Resources: Thank you so much for following along. My sincere hope is that this class has inspired you to get experimental with your flourishing and even try out procreate if you haven't already. Remember to check out the resources guide that I've also provided as a PDF, which includes links to other classes, video lessons, tutorials, blog posts, books, downloadable resources, all sorts of things to keep you going with flourishing, various modern calligraphy lettering styles, and even more procreate learning resources. I invite you to share images of your work by tagging me on Instagram. I love to see the many creative ways that my students interpret my lessons, and I really hope to hear a little bit more about your experience doing this particular technique.