The first rule in learning pointed pen calligraphy is this: PRACTICE WITH THE RIGHT TOOLS. This blog post has a free download of the ultimate calligraphy supplies checklist, and I have listed the tools I used myself when I was starting out. Nobody taught me at first—I was at my wit’s end—and so I’m passing to you what I’ve learned so you wouldn’t be pulling your hair in frustration just like I did so many years ago.
Practicing with the right tools saved my (calligraphy) life.
See, 6 years ago, modern calligraphy wasn’t so popular yet. There were no workshops to go to, even online classes were zilch. I had no choice but to read blogs and scour Pinterest for any little tip I might find. I ordered some of the basic tools on top of the kit my husband got for me. It was from Paper and Ink Arts (circa 2012, before they updated their website!) and I had to wait more than 2 weeks to receive the items.
When I learned about the right tools for beginners, I was able to practice and make progress. I realised that having the right tools is the key to getting started. The paper, nib, ink and holder you choose need to work well together so you can concentrate on your letter forms.
Calligraphy beginners, let’s get started, shall we? I have prepared the ultimate checklist for calligraphy supplies, and it’ll be delivered straight to your inbox! Don’t forget to check your Bulk or Marketing folders just in case that’s where it ends up (ouch!). Here ya go!
A trip to Art Bar PH should definitely be on your list when you’re visiting Manila, Philippines. First, you can immerse yourself in art books and hoard art supplies. Second, there are so many things to see, eat and do around the area. Did I say eat? Yup, but that’s another story.
I was in my hometown of Manila recently, and I’m telling you, every time I step foot in its familiar soil, I always find something new. One of them is Art Bar PH at Serendra, Bonifacio Global City (more commonly known to locals as simply ‘BGC’). It was boarded up the last time I was there, but in its place now stood a smallish yet eye-catching arts and crafts supply store.
There are quite a lot of pens to choose from, and they’re actually carrying Palomino Blackwing pencils! Near the staircase and one of the shelves on the first level are a few calligraphy supplies. It’s a modest selection, but still adequate for those starting out. There are different brush pens stacked in one of the shelves as well.
For those looking for different pads, be it for watercolour or calligraphy, there is a wide selection of local products. As far as I know, you won’t find these in Singapore.
The highlight is on the second level! Oh, I loved the sunlight streaming onto the book shelves. There are huge glass display cabinets with Winsor and Newton products. They also have Arches watercolour paper in blocks.
I saw quite a lot of art books here, from hand-lettering to interior design. They also carry locally-printed titles and books by Filipino artists. Surrounded by the arched bookshelf is a cozy work table meant for workshops. I imagine it to be a great venue for a calligraphy or brush lettering class.
I can stay up on the second level for hours, browsing through the books. Aside from that, I checked out the paint brushes and got myself my first Princeton brush. There are a few other paintbrush brands as well.
So I went home with a bunch of pads and a Princeton paint brush. I’ll let you in on the pads I got next time. Overall, I’d say Art Bar PH is worth your while when you’re in Manila. You don’t really need to hoard tons of supplies—I got myself a pretty decent haul even if it’s not much. The best part is I left feeling exhilarated and inspired and looking forward to start doing something creative again.
Are you a beginner who wants to get better in calligraphy? I’ve a question for you. Since you began your sojourn, have you become better and more confident with your pen? Or do you think there are too many mistakes and you’re ready to give it up?
I’m telling you—don’t give up just yet.
In 2011, modern calligraphy was starting to infiltrate my Pinterest feed, and I was curious. I was lucky enough to receive replies from popular calligraphers, telling me what tools they used. I excitedly ordered them from the US (this was a time when there were no calligraphy tools here in Singapore; Straits Art didn’t even have Higgins Eternal!). When I started using those so-called awesome nibs and inks, I realised I couldn’t get them to work.
But I didn’t give up. I learned from my mistakes. And here I’m sharing with you how I’ve learned from the mistakes I’ve made so that you, too, would get better at calligraphy.
1:: Keep your first few calligraphy attempts
You’d think the first time you tried to write a few strokes was terrible, right? I did, too. There were no workshops at the time in Singapore so I had no choice but to self-study. My experience with dip pens were in college, but we used broad edge. That’s a different beast right there, so when I used the pointed pen, I was floored.
But I kept the pad I used at the time. That jotter pad that didn’t know anything else but feather everything I write on it. I even tried to write what nibs I used (which of course, didn’t help). It’s good to keep your first attempts at writing calligraphy, so you can go back and see how far you’ve come. That in itself, is enough to give you the inspiration to keep going.
Eeep! If I stopped here, I wouldn’t know that I wasn’t a hopeless case.
2:: Write the dates on your practice sheets
The good thing about writing the date is that you will look at it a few months later, and realise you have improved. And for those who don’t practice often, it’s a good reminder that you should DO YOUR DRILLS!
3:: Mark your mistakes
I have learned that writing continuously is pointless if you don’t refer to an exemplar. This Engrossers’ Script exemplar from IAMPETH is perfect. Always have your alphabet guide in front of you so you can compare it against your own. Then review your practice strokes or words, and make little notes on your sheet. This will help you remember which parts have to be improved. It can be as simple as a loop that’s too big, or a descender with a line variation that wasn’t done smooth enough. Mark it, and make it better.
4:: Join A Calligraphy Community
This is also called, ‘find your tribe’. Or form your own cheering squad. Join a local guild if there’s one, or socialize with like-minded enthusiasts on social media and take it to the next level and meet in person! Having friends who like the same things you do are priceless human beings who will contribute to your growth as a calligrapher. Heck, they will also help you grow as a person. Friends who support each other in sickness and in health, through group purchases and art jams, are the best kind of friends if you ask me.
They will tell you when your letter form just ain’t right, the logo you made looked funny, or convince you that yes, the Blanzy nib works well on handmade paper.
If a local community is non-existent, connect with other calligraphers online instead. Flourish Forum is an amazing online community where everybody lends a helping hand.
So there you have it. Challenges in the world of calligraphy is never ending, that’s why learning is contiuous, too. If you’re just starting out, keep on practicing and don’t give up. Use the mistakes to your advantage and trust me, after a months of serious practice, you’ll laugh at how your first attempts looked like. I sure did. And it felt good.
Hey everyone! I’ve been busy last month setting up shop over at Creative Market, and it’s still an ongoing process. CM is a great source of design inspiration, and a very busy marketplace for creatives. There are tons of graphic design elements that one can use for a myriad of design projects. Oh, and did I say that thay have a bazillion calligraphy fonts (like this one right here) available as well?
As a designer and artist, I was thinking of ways to make other designers’ lives easier—and that is by supplying digital artworks that they can use for their own designs. Finally, I found the time to open up a shop and paint and paint and paint, and turn those watercolours into digital backgrounds (not easy!).
Insider Tip: You get 6 free product downloads every week. That’s where I get most of my free fonts and patterns. You need to be a member to access the free goodies, and signing up is easy peasy. Just click the Sign Up button on the top right.
I know my shop is still quite sparse, and I’ve got a looooong way to go before I can fill it to the brim. But let me share with you 3 quality products that I have so far—hope you like ‘em!
Give your website a dose of personality with these custom illustrated brush lettering elements. Build your brand by using these hand-lettered goodies on your marketing collateral. Use these as buttons and headers on your blog, or as overlays on your photos.
All hand-painted in rich watercolour which is perfect for your marketing, stationery, branding and personal projects. Use each background on its own, or put 2 or 3 together for a different effect — the possibilities are endless and it’s all up to you!
So you’ve digitized your gorgeous calligraphy. It’s pretty. You can print as many pieces as you want to give to friends and family. But have you ever wondered what’s the next step to scanning your calligraphy and adjusting the contrast in Photoshop? Well, I got news for y’all, and it’s something I’ve only done recently. How about adding (digitally) some seamless patterns on your calligraphy?
This requires some basic knowledge in either Photoshop or Illustrator, but once you get the hang of it, this will make your calligraphy extra pretty. The digital version of the above calligraphy piece was all done in 10 minutes, tops, excluding the writing part which takes waaaaayyy longer.
This is really easy-peasy, take a look at the steps below. Please note that a working knowledge on Adobe Illustrator is required to be able to follow the tutorial. We will be using a pre-made vector pattern downloaded from the internet. I got mine from here. First thing you need to do is have your seamless pattern open in AI (this will be in either .eps or .ai format).
1 :: Copy and paste your vector pattern on a new file. I used an A4 sized art board. If the graphic’s too big, use the Free Transform tool from the left tool bar to scale to your desired size.
2 :: Make the vector graphic into a pattern. Click on the Object pull-down menu from the top, select Pattern, and click on Make.
3 :: Save your pattern. Click OK, and delete the existing graphics from your art board. This will give you a clean slate.
4 :: Create a full background using your newly-created pattern. Wee!
Now this background is ready for use! For the Elizabeth Gilbert quote I’ve written, I just placed a black rectangle over the background, pasted and live-traced the jpeg scan of my calligraphy, did a bit of clean up, and saved it as an A4-sized poster. There are so many possibilities with patterns and I cannot wait to try them out!
Hope you’ll have as much fun as I have! Here are some of my favourite premium patterns from Creative Market:
Full disclosure: I've recently become part of Creative Market's Partner Program, and I get commissions for purchases made through the links below.
We’re counting down to the Easter weekend! While I’ll probably be out Easter egg hunting with my little humans, I’m looking forward to some down time this weekend. How about some DIY crafts that can either show off or complement your calligraphy skills? I’m all for crafts that do not take forever to make, and don’t cost a bomb either. A long list of materials needed are not very attractive to me (same thing when it comes to recipes… but that’s another story).
So I’ve searched high and low for crafts that would use calligraphy or lettering, and I’ve rounded up 4 of them. Here are some DIY calligraphy crafts to exercise those maker’s muscles!
1 :: Handmade Notebooks
Um, ok, I’m a self-confessed notebook hoarder. I have some that I bought from craft markets ages ago, tucked in the corner of my drawer. It’s no surprise that I will be putting this first on the list. Use some calligraphy-friendly paper for your notebook, and you have some pretty practice sheets to carry along. Find out how to make these notebooks from Paper & Stitch.
2 :: Lettering on a Frosted Vase
I am in awe at how pretty this is! It sounds too simple, given the minimal tools needed. But it can be a challenge to pencil in those words on a bottle. However, just look at how gorgeous the finished product will be, and I’m sure you’ll try it, too. Painting with acrylic and a teeny tiny brush will do the trick. I can’t wait to try this myself. Get the tutorial from the Minted blog.
3 :: Paint Watercolour Leaves
Now, nothing frames calligraphy better than a watercolour wreath. Florals are all the rage right now, but leaves have this subtle look that will not overpower your calligraphy. Learn from The Postman’s Knock here (bonus: it comes with 2 more tutorials!).
4 :: Lettering on Faux Leather Clutches
Doing brush lettering on faux leather is a brilliant idea. First, it’s faux leather, so I wouldn’t really cry if I messed the lettering up (ok, maybe just a little). Second, it’s lettering on a clutch. It’s a statement piece! Please tell me you’ll try it. Learn how from A Fabulous Fete.
That’s it! I hope we would all have time to unwind and craft, and spend time with the people we love this weekend. To those who are celebrating, Happy Easter to you!
I remember the time when I was on my diligent quest for the perfect white ink. I wanted something opaque, yet thin enough to flow through a variety of nibs. At some point I thought I’ve found it — I was happy with the PH Martins Pen White. It could be the stuffy weather here in Singapore, or it could be the way I was storing my inks (like all over the place… oops), but every time I pick up the bottle and open it, I had to add a few drops of water to thin the ink out. If I have to add water every single time, then it’s not so perfect after all, isn’t it?
Then I had to mix some custom ink colours for a project. Before I used gouache, I was using pre-mixed inks in various colours (note: I wouldn’t recommend that at all). Aside from the fact that I had to buy a bottle of ink for every colour I need, the pre-mixed inks just can’t do the job. They’re too watery (yes, I’m talking about you, Daler Rowney Calli!).
During that time, I’ve heard about calligraphers mixing their own gouache. It was intimidating, and I thought I had to leave that to the pros. But I’m glad I experimented! As with all experiments, the first try wasn’t as good. But… BUT! I got better with it, and I realised it’s not that difficult at all.
So now I mix my own white ink using gouache. What you’ll need is pretty simple actually:
:: tube of white gouache (I use Daler Rowney Designer Gouache)
:: plastic pipette
:: gum arabic powder (optional, I use Jacquard)
:: tap water
:: ink jar
Ok, so what do we do now? Before we mix everything up, let me give you some background about gum arabic. There is liquid gum arabic, and there’s powder. I use powder and dissolve it in warm tap water — I usually mix 1 part powder to 3 parts water, stir it and keep it in a small plastic jar for multiple uses. Warm water dissolves the powder easily and does not result in a clumpy mess. Gum arabic is basically a binder that controls viscosity and does a great job in preventing feathering. It’s optional because mixing gouache and water alone produces great results as well, depending on the paper used.
Mixing your own gouache is trial-and-error, and you’ll get better the more often you do this (pretty much like calligraphy!). So fill your jar with some white gouache, add a few drops of your gum arabic mixture, and a few drops of water. Mix it well and add a few drops of water until you reach the right consistency. Test it with your nib to see if your ink flows. If not, then it’s still too thick. Just keep on adding drops of water and testing till you get the consistency that works well for you.
And there you have it — solid white ink that’s better than store-bought ones! What’s your favourite white ink? Let me know in the comments!
I have this wish list of hand-lettering books that I’ve been meaning to share for some time now. I have quite a number of books on modern and copperplate calligraphy, but have not invested on as much lettering books as I can.
The good thing about books compared to seeking inspiration online, is that the motivation it gives is nothing fleeting. With numerous posts on lettering and art all over the internet, we tend to get lost in all this information overload that each ‘inspiration’ is trying to compete with another. Having a few select books on the shelf means you pick it up from time to time, read or browse, and get that feeling of enthusiasm every single time.
I already have a few of these by my tiny white desk, but I would like to tick every single book on my list. Hope these books inspire you to learn the art of hand-lettering!
5. In Progress: See Inside a Lettering Artist’s Sketchbook and Process, from Pencil to Vector | Jessica Hische
6. Drawing Type: An Introduction to Illustrating Letterforms | Alex Fowkes
7. Scripts: Elegant Lettering from Design’s Golden Age | Steven Heller & Louise Fili
There you have it! Wish I have the financial capacity to purchase this lot in one go, but looks like I need to set priorities for now. Happy book shopping! Are there any awesome lettering books that I missed? Let me know in the comments below, and this hungry artist will appreciate it heaps.
For me this year, the peak season for wedding calligraphy started on the later part of the 3rd quarter. I was on my first trimester of pregnancy at the time, and I was feeling extra emotional and tired. After tucking my daughter to sleep, I couldn’t get myself to work some more. I thought, how will I get through the wedding season if I was tired all the time? I was worried, but sleep always got the better of me. I hit the sack a couple of hours earlier than usual.
Then I worry again the next day because of the work that has been piling up.
Calligraphy and lettering is something I do because I love doing it. I like writing, and drawing letters, ever since I was a little girl. So why is this whole thing, the thing I’m supposed to love, is stressing me out? Now that I’m well into my second trimester and down to my last calligraphy addressing project for the year, I’m feeling much better and excited for what the coming year has to bring. I was able to accomplish the invitation suites for December weddings (and even one for March!), delivered place cards right on time, and also had a few large-sized calligraphy done for some clients. Let me share with you some of the things that kept me motivated — and sane — during the time when the work load was almost too much to handle.
FOCUS ON YOUR GOALS I was able to do this by listing my goals down on paper. Seeing it on my wall makes it more ‘real’, and I was able to focus on my priorities instead of procrastinating and doing less important things. Focus on your daily or weekly goals and stick to it.
So yes, it’s important to get work done, but you’re headed for burn out if you don’t take a breather once in a while. There was a 250-word poem that I had to rewrite 3 times because of some silly mistakes I’ve made and it was frustrating! There was one evening when everything seemed to go wrong. I knocked my ink over, the envelope drying rack tumbled, and my hand was shaky. Why not take a break? Making watercolour washes on my pad relaxes me, and scribbling with my brush pens calms me down. Trust me, it works. By the time I got back to writing, it was so much better.
CHECK YOUR WORK
I’m lucky to have a husband who designs as well, and was willing to give his creative input into my work. Having another pair of eyes look through your finished work is better because he/she may see things differently than you do. Having someone else proofread is also a good idea. However, some of us would prefer to do things on our own and if this is the case, carefully check your work before sending it out. It saves time because you don’t have to do things over again, and you’ll have happy clients all the way.
ACCEPT YOUR LIMITATIONS
I had to give up some calligraphy workshops during this period. As much as I love to teach this craft, and I get emails asking when my next class would be, I knew I couldn’t handle it. Take a step back and see how your work load is, and learn to say no if you simply cannot handle any more. Your clients will thank you because you’ll be able to churn out better work.
REMEMBER WHY YOU’RE DOING THIS IN THE FIRST PLACE
When work gets too much for you to handle, pause and ask yourself why you’re working so hard for this anyway. I pick up my pen and dip it in ink and get lost in pointed pen bliss because it makes me happy. I’m passionate about this craft, and I want to share the beauty of calligraphy. What makes you do what you do? Think about it, and it’ll put a smile on your lips. Now check your daily goals and focus on them because believe me, it feels pretty good to get some work done.
My first impression of this ink was, how come it’s so watery? I’ve always used sumi ink, which is a thicker, darker kind of black than this one. Sumi has the perfect viscosity in my opinion. So the first time I dipped my Nikko G into McCaffery’s, I was surprised that not much ink stayed in the reservoir.
I didn’t give up, of course. It wrote quite smoothly, but I found myself in another situation. The ink wasn’t black enough! How can this be penman’s black if it’s a weak grey? I waited for the ink to dry, and realised that the ink actually gets darker as it dries. Problem solved! It still has slight gradients just like walnut ink, specially on the downstrokes, but I liked the effect nonetheless.
Another good thing about this ink is that it’s super smooth to write with. It behaves like Higgins Eternal, but with a ‘silky’ flow. It gives super fine hairlines that you won’t get with sumi ink. Though I wouldn’t recommend this for artwork that you will scan eventually (your scanner might not be able to catch the hairlines), it’s a lovely ink to write with. It gives your calligraphy some character, and it dries beautifully.
The only downside is that you need to wash your nibs with water right after use — which was a bit difficult for me because I leave my nibs to dry for hours. McCaffery’s ink would eat your nibs, so make sure you wash it after use.
The verdict? Smooth, silky, deep grey ink, that gives my calligraphy some character. I would definitely recommend this ink.