An Introduction to Modern Calligraphy Basics: Let’s Learn our AaBbCc’s
Now that you’re a calligraphy beginner-master at holding your pen and forming the basics strokes of modern calligraphy, we’re ready to dive in to two different capital alphabets, the lowercase alphabet, and some fun little additions just to get your wheels really turning. If you missed out on our first two modern calligraphy lessons, you can find lesson one on the tools here and lesson two on forming basic strokes and letterforms here.
Uppercase Alphabet #1
I like to call this version my “business uppercase”. They are close to your simply standard print letters, and they are great if you’re going for a look that isn’t overly feminine or is a bit cleaner. Now that you know how to make thick and thin strokes, try practicing these letterforms and see if you can figure out how each stroke is made.
Uppercase Alphabet #2
Accordingly, I like to call this version my “party uppercase” because they are a little more playful and more closely resemble some sort of script or cursive alphabet. The great part about all these alphabets are that they are completely flexible to what you want to do! If you want to add a bunch of curlicues at the end of every letter to make your writing ultra playful and fanciful, go for it!
One of my favorite things to do–you guessed it–is to mix together the use of my business and party capitals. And while mullets may have yet to come back in style, I promise you this looks pretty cool! Be sure that all your capitals and lowercase aren’t too different in style, however, because it won’t give a consistent look across your writing. That’s why in these alphabets you’ll notice a lot of similar beginning or ending strokes coming off the letters. Repetition creates harmony, folks!
While we saw in my last lesson how to form each letter in the lowercase alphabet, I wanted to show you them all together here. I do this because again you will notice similar styles in how I form the letters. Things like the bowls of my b’s q’s and d’s all have a similar but not perfectly round shape. There are so many different ways to do calligraphy, it’s overwhelming. Seriously, just do a quick Google search for “modern calligraphy” and look at all the different styles, and tools, and applications, oh my! So while it may be easiest to copy what you see in the beginning of your practices, don’t be afraid to get out there and do your own thing!
Just check out these three simple ways you can change the look and feel of your calligraphy:
The first a is my standard lowercase a. But to give a softer, more traditional feel, you can use a more perfect oval to form the bowl of your a. Do this for any of your lowercase letters that would use that shape and you get an entirely different feel! Another thing you can try is italicizing your calligraphy. Traditional pointed pen scripts like Copperplate or Spencerian are all written on a slant, and it does tend to give a more elegant, traditional appeal. I’m just touching the surface of things you can do in hopes of encouraging you to go beyond your comfort zone and always try to learn new things.
Practicing words, flourishes, and other fun calligraphy things
What I want you to do now is finally start practicing your words and sentences! This is an important step because while you are just forming together a string of letters to create a word, sometimes that string that connects the words can get a little confusing. Don’t worry, nine out of ten times it’s as easy as one of those angled, upward strokes that happens naturally at the end of your letter. But some can get a bit tricky, and what do you even do about capital letters connecting?
For me, I go back and forth connecting my capitals to the following lowercase letter or not. It really just depends on your preference and which letter it is. I find that, for example, a capital C connects really easily to my lowercase letter because the end of the stroke ends a lot like many of the lowercase do. On the other hand, I don’t normally connect my capital Bs because I like the ending stroke to come up a bit higher than where my lowercase letters start. Try doing both for ever capital letter in the alphabet and what you come up with, which you prefer, and which look more natural.
As for some of the lowercase letters that don’t always connect nicely, sometimes you can alter the letterforms slightly if you’re finding a really awkward connection. For example, the ending stroke of a lowercase o will typically occur much higher up from the baseline than most lowercase letters. This isn’t usually a problem unless you’re connecting to another odd letter like an r. Because coming from an o, the r wouldn’t start at the baseline, it can get really hard to read the r as an r. To offset this, I will drop down my final loop of the o a little lower, and draw up the first stroke of the r a little higher just to exaggerate the forms enough to make it clearly readable. Even I have trouble with this sometimes still. Just check out my connection of w and x, yuck! I don’t know when you would ever see that combination of letters but it’s good to challenge oneself! Now I don’t know all the awkward combinations off the top of my head, and chances are some will bother you while others you’ll think completely fine. This is a lesson of time and practice. The more words you try out, the better you’ll get at writing and connecting specific letters and the more confident your calligraphy will look overall.
I also want to show you a few alternative ways to write some of the lowercase letters. Of course there are more than just these, but these are the ones I switch out most often depending on the circumstances.
I tend to prefer the first f pictured here and the second r. But what makes these two letters specifically difficult to use is the fact that their ending stroke does not necessarily connect to the following lowercase letter. It can be done, but it can also end up looking really awkward in the process. For that reason, I tend to only use this r when it occurs as the last letter in a word, so I don’t have to connect it to anything!
Now to the Fun Part: Flourishing!
If you’ve seen calligraphy before and are anything like me, the absolutely most mesmerizing, beautiful, I-want-to-learn-this part is the flourishing. Flourishing is where you the beginning or end strokes in your letters to create decorative lines, or flourishes, that can add a certain personality or mood to your calligraphy. It is also one of the hardest things ever to do, which is why my section on this is short. I’m just a beginner too!
Flourishing is typically seen in shorter sentences, phrases, or single words. It would look a little odd to heavily flourish a whole paragraph of writing! It’s less mechanical and functional and more decorative. The most important thing I’ve learned about flourishing is that you need to be consistent with the style of your flourishes across a piece. And this was (and is!) incredibly difficult for me as easy as it sounds. This isn’t to say that all your flourishes should look the exact same… that would be quite boring! But they do need to exhibit some of the same features. If you have several loops on a flourish that gradually get smaller in size as you finish the stroke, be sure to have loops that continue in this manner in your other flourishes. Think about the angle of your loops. The first flourish below has almost no angle at all, while the third flourish has about a 45 degree angle to the horizontal. It won’t always be easy to describe or know why exactly your flourishes don’t seem to fit, but trust me when I say you will definitely know that something is off. Below are a few examples of some styles that I tend to use often in my work. Anything goes here so give it your all!
Well, congratulations friends! You’ve officially completed my introductory course on modern calligraphy and I hope you’ve been inspired to give it a try! I’d love to see what you come up with and hear about any troubles you are having. Don’t worry, this isn’t the end. As I learn, you learn, and I can’t wait to do more tutorials in the future!