Starting Calligraphy: Stocking up on Supplies
I think that it is safe to say when I get an idea in my head, I usually like to go for it. But, very rarely do I go so all out that it is virtually all I can think about. Well, I mentioned at the start of July (which, weirdly already feels like weeks ago!) that I wanted to learn a new skill. And, in just a few short days, I have become completely and utterly besotted with modern calligraphy!
For the longest time I have been stalking out the Instagram feeds of some super talented calligraphers, fawning over their amazing scripts and lettering. As a girl with perhaps the scrappiest daily handwriting on the planet, I always thought that such striking handwriting was just something that was always going to be beyond my reach. Then I realised how many times I have said to folks in my stitching workshops, “you don’t know if you’ll enjoy it or what you can achieve if you don’t try!” Yes! I say that to so many people that tell me they’s love to sew but they aren’t very creative/don’t have much free time/are scared to use a sewing machine. And, yes, it is about time I took a dose of my own medicine – if that theory is good enough for others then its good enough for me!
I decided that I would give it a go! I mean really what do I have to loose? Nothing. Nada. Zip. So, decided to set aside half an hour each day to work on some calligraphy drills, letter forms and work construction and see if this is something that I might – one day – be able to master.
I had no idea when I set myself this little creative task, just how addictive this learning process would be. In all honesty I had expected that I would be spending months and months trying to get to grips with the pen and ink, forcing myself to be disciplined enough to repeat countless penmanship drills each day. But, far from it. The half an hour I had set aside to work on my first practise session soon ran in to an hour…then two…then I was hooked!
I think about working on my lettering almost every minute of every day – whenever I find I have a spare few moments, I find myself with my pen in hand working on a couple of words or letter shapes. I never for a second thought that the process of learning calligraphy would be so enjoyable – I had always assumed that the learning phase would be dull, require lots of effort and would be perpetually counting down to the day that I could say that I had finally mastered it and could let the real fun begin!
Ha! Was I ever a fool on that front! I started out just using an italic tipped fountain pen that I’ve had for close to two decades in my pencil case (and it’s barely seen the light of day!) and I soon realised that the results I wanted to achieve might need more specialist supplies. I am not one for suggesting that you shell out a fortune on new supplies for a new hobby that you have no clue whether you’ll enjoy or even want to continue in a weeks time so I set a budget of £10 and got hunting down some entry level tools. As soon as these arrived the letter practice and drills that I had been painstaking working on suddenly made a heap more sense (after all these were designed with a dip pen in mind!) So, I thought that I would share the beginners calligraphy supplies I’ve stocked up on, because trust me, as a complete novice, these are a real game changer!
It’s all in the nib. Seems obvious to me now, but it didn’t dawn on me that the fine lines and contrasting deep swells created in copperplate lettering were created with the use of a fine, yet flexible nib. The Gillot 404 nib is recommended on a number of essential resources for beginners classes and courses online – so this is where I decided to start. This nib his a very fine point for drawing out the super thin lines of the upper sections of the letters, yet is is so flexible that when pressure is applied you are able to create dramatic sweeping lines that form the lower part of the letter. Instantly, my letter forms were transformed.
A little more research into supplies brought me to the oblique pen holder. This strange jointed pen holder looks like more of a torture device than a writing tool. But, this is all part of the magic! The angle at which the nib is held in the pen holder allows it to come into contact with the paper at just the right angle to enhance the swirling fluid shapes of copperplate lettering. Neat, huh? I know what you’re thinking – that can’t be comfortable to use! Quite the opposite in fact! The curved shape of the pen holder fits neatly into your hand and the joined section sits comfortably to the side. I say this as a right-handed person who usually holds the pen in between my thumb and middle finger with the index finger resting on, or curled over the top of the pen to support it. The oblique penholder not only helped me to find the correct position of the nib on the paper but to also grip the pen in the correct place and with the correct amount of pressure – which is surprisingly less that you think it would be!
There are hundreds of inks to choose from, and I am sure that this will be something that I will be spending a lot of my pocket money on in future. But, in the interest of keeping things in check I decided to opt for a a classic black ink. There is a lot out there to read up on for the different qualities of inks and their suitabilities for different styles of calligraphy and papers – and don’t even get me into all the different colours and finished available! After much debate (and having to force myself to pick only one as a starting point!) I opted for Higgins Eternal Ink as this has the perfect consistency for use with dip pens and for creating those dramatic contrasting strokes seen in copperplate lettering styles. And black goes with everything, right!
Virtual basket full. Grand total of £8.74 and I’m good to go!
A number of dedicated calligraphy sites suggested beginners work with standard printer paper as a cheaper way to get practising, marking out lines and guides with a pencil and ruler. Perhaps I have the wrong type of printer paper – as this turned into a huge mess of bleeding inks for me. Back to the drawing board (!) and armed with a ream of craft papers, cards, notebooks and scrapbooking supplies (conveniently all stowed in the studio!) I was back in business!
I still have a long way to go, but the satisfaction on seeing these small improvements through using a selection of more suitable tools has really spurred me on. I never thought that this would be come such a compelling craft for me! Now, just to find a calligraphy ink-friendly sketch book so that I can keep all my practise works in one place and really track and build on my progress! Any calligraphers or artists out there with a fave brand or recommendation – be sure to share your sketch book suggestions in the comments!