Please note: This article was originally posted on one of my former blogs; it was transitioned to this website on March 5, 2017. Graphics may still reflect the name of the former website.     

Some who’re interested in modern calligraphy pick up a brush pen with excitement, only to be met with disappointment and frustration a short time afterward.

Why? It looks simple, right? “But I have such good handwriting,” some say.

 

Guess what? Modern calligraphy isn’t simply handwriting. Regardless of what type you want to master – brush lettering, pointed pen calligraphy, or faux calligraphy – all of them are an art form. And they require you to learn the basics before you run out and purchase a bunch of brush pens.

 

I know it’s hard to resist. But try to put aside that desire for now.

And the good news is that since mastering modern calligraphy isn’t dependent upon perfect handwriting, anyone can develop this skill over time. 

 

What You’ll Need

Today I’m going to focus on the very basic of the basics. The only two supplies you’ll need are paper and a pencil (preferably soft lead, like 2B or 3B, but if you don’t have that use what you have on hand).

 

To start out, you can use any paper – copy paper, sketchbook paper, lined paper, or graph paper work well – use whatever you have on hand.

 

Next, you’ll need patience. Yep. It takes LOTS of practice. And some days you might get really discouraged. So you’ll need to be kind and patient with yourself.

 

Lastly, you’ll need to be willing to learn the anatomy of letters, the manner in which they relate to one another, and the eight basic strokes that apply to all forms of modern calligraphy.

 

But What If You’ve Already Purchased Supplies?

Have you already begun experimenting with brush pens, but you find that you’re frustrated or discouraged?

 

Don’t lose heart, my friend. Just lay them aside, pick up your pencil, pull out some paper, and then go back to the basics with me.

 

Who Am I to Ask You to Go Back to the Basics?

Well, I’m not a modern calligraphy expert, but I have put in LOTS of work. And I’ve come a LONG way from my first sets of modern calligraphy projects I completed.

 

I’m not here to break out a whip. Learning under that kind of pressure is no fun. I’m just here to share with you what I’ve learned and help you up your modern calligraphy game.

 

Are you ready?

 

Here’s the plan. First we’ll go over the anatomy of letters. Next we’ll look at their placement and ways they relate to one another. Then, I’ll go over the eight universal strokes for you to begin practicing.

 

It’ll all make sense once you begin practicing regularly. And your progression into letters and words will be more seamless.

 

Here we go…

The Anatomy of Letters

 

It makes total sense to use the term anatomy in relation to letters because many of their parts are named after human body parts.

 

Letters have shoulders, legs, ears, feet, arms, eyes, and even a spine.

 

Take a gander at the image above for reference. If you’d like to have a copy on hand, Invalid download ID..

 

Knowing this terminology will help you form your letters going forward. Will your “e’s” have a small or large eye? Will you refrain from adding an ear to your letter “g?” Will the leg of your “R” curve upwards or stick straight out?

 

These are questions you can ask yourself as you form your lettering style. There’s no rush to decide now, just keep these questions in the back of your head as you practice.

 

Letter Placement

Unless you’re working on a one-initial monogram, the letters you create will relate to one another. Their relationship can be close or distant. See the examples in the image below.

Close versus Spacious Lettering

There’s much more to learn about lettering and type, but I don’t think it’ll be that useful to discuss here. I’ll point to a free resource below if you’re interested in researching specifics about letters (written or digital).

But in short, the very basics you’ll need to know are:

Cap height = The uppermost part of a capital (uppercase) letter.

X-height = The top of a lowercase letter.

Ascender = Parts that extend above x-height.

Baseline = The common base amongst all letters.

Descender = Parts of letters that extend below the baseline.

Word space = How much space you allow between words.

Letter space = The amount of space that exists between letters.

With regards to modern calligraphy, you’ll focus more on letter placement once you begin to write and connect letters. As you go further, you’ll begin to play with varying the x-heights and baselines. But let’s s-l-o-w down first.

My hope is that by sharing the image above, you’ll be able to see the bigger picture.

Universal Modern Calligraphy Strokes

There’s one thing to keep in mind while practicing strokes: Downstrokes are thick and upstrokes are thin.

 

You can accomplish thin and thick strokes with pencil. I used a soft lead pencil in the image above. And in the image below, I used a typical #2 (HB lead) pencil. HB just means that it’s in the middle of the range of hard and soft pencil leads that are available.

HB Pencil Strokes Example

 

 

The eight strokes for you to practice are:

 

Downstroke

Upstroke

Curve Under (Underturn)

Curve Over (Overturn)

Oval

Curve Over, Under (Compound Curve)

Ascender Loop

Descender Loop

Work slowly and apply pressure as you follow down arrows, and reduce pressure as you follow up arrows.

Here’s a worksheet to help you. Print it as often as you’d like for personal use.

Practice these until you feel comfortable transitioning between thick and thin strokes. And then practice them some more. Even seasoned letterers and calligraphers still practice these basic strokes.

When Can You Pick Up A Brush Pen, You Ask?

I can’t prevent you from picking up a brush pen, but I strongly encourage you to hold off on that and work in pencil first.

 

Without a basic understanding of strokes and letterforms, a brush pen won’t help much.

 

I’ve learned the most from instructors that encourage you to work in pencil and practice your basic strokes daily. Only after that do you begin to practice letters, words, and so on.

 

In future posts, I’ll cover the process of creating letters, and then connecting them to create words. I’ll also cover flourishes and embellishments. Lastly, I’ll show you how I use brush pens. And if you want to get really wild and crazy, I can share the process I use to make vectors out of my own lettering.

 

How does that sound?

Resources

The three resources listed below have been most helpful to me in the process of learning modern calligraphy.

Introduction to Typography 

This class is offered by the California institute of Arts on Coursera.org. It’s part of their series of four Graphic Design Specialization courses. You can take the courses for free, and they also offer a specialization certificate for a fee.

This is a graphic design course. They don’t cover lettering or modern calligraphy, but they do extensively explain the history of type, the anatomy of letters, the difference between a typeface and a font, and so on. It’s an informative set of courses that will offer you a strong foundation if you plan to take your lettering or calligraphy further.

Hand Lettering: 4 Easy Steps to Modern Calligraphy

This class is taught on Skillshare by Peggy Dean. Peggy  is one of the first instructors I came across who emphasized the importance of practicing the basics before picking up a brush pen. She was right, and her class goes into more detail about letter formation.

Learn Modern Calligraphy!

Taught by Ale Lozano, she goes in great detail about forming and connecting letters. She also covers how to flourish letters and different brush lettering styles.

The last two classes mentioned are both on Skillshare.com. If you’re not a Skillshare member, the above links will give you 3 months access to Premium membership for less than one dollar. There are thousands of courses on Skillshare, and as a Premium member, you can take as many courses as you’d like, so this is a great deal.

All three classes will help you put lettering and modern calligraphy into perspective. And I’d love for you to return here for the remainder of my series on the topic.

The last two classes mentioned are both on Skillshare.com. If you’re not a Skillshare member, the above links will give you 3 months access to Premium membership for less than one dollar. There are thousands of courses on Skillshare, and as a Premium member, you can take as many courses as you’d like, so this is a great deal.

All three classes will help you put lettering and modern calligraphy into perspective. And I’d love for you to return here for the remainder of my series on the topic.

So…what do you think?

Should a person new to modern calligraphy pick up a brush pen right away? Or, do you think that learning the basics with pencil and paper is helpful?

 

 

The Very Basic Basics of Modern Calligraphy