Yellow-Shafted Flicker Woodpecker - Maryland Snow Birds

Winter Bird Photography Series

Today’s adventure took place in my own back yard. A snowy day and beautiful array of hungry birds. I’m trying not to be a bitter grouch all winter, but some days I swear I am cold-blooded and need my warming sun to survive. Maybe you can relate. Either way, these beauties bring some color and happiness to the dreary cold and for that I am thankful. Enjoy this chilly winter bird photography series.


For my fellow photographers, what are your tricks for capturing snowfall? Tips on bird photography? I would love to be able to capture them in flight, but I won’t yet share my sad attempts at that yet (Hint, the bird usually is no longer in the picture).


Keep exploring,



All photographs posted here are property of Becca Grogan and South Ranch Creative. Please do not use without contacting me first and obtaining permission. Thank you and enjoy!


Yellow-Shafted Flicker Woodpecker - Maryland Snow Bird Photography

Dove - Maryland Snow Bird Photography

Downy Woodpecker - Maryland Snow Bird Photography

Dove - Maryland Snow Bird Photography

Blue Jay - Maryland Snow Bird Photography

Yellow-Shafted Flicker Woodpecker - Maryland Snow Bird Photography

Maryland Snow Bird Photography

House Finch - Maryland Snow Bird Photography

Blue Jay - Maryland Snow Bird Photography

Cardinal - Maryland Snow Bird Photography


A snowy day and beautiful array of hungry birds. I’m trying not to be a bitter grouch all winter, but some days I swear I am cold-blooded and need my warming sun to survive. Maybe you can relate. Either way, these beauties bring some color and happiness to the dreary cold and for that I am thankful. Enjoy my little adventure in nature and bird photography.

A snowy day and beautiful array of hungry birds. I’m trying not to be a bitter grouch all winter, but some days I swear I am cold-blooded and need my warming sun to survive. Maybe you can relate. Either way, these beauties bring some color and happiness to the dreary cold and for that I am thankful. Enjoy my little adventure in nature and bird photography.


Martin Luther King Jr. Quote on injustice from Letter from a Birmingham Jail | Quotes that Matter Monday

Quotes that Matter Monday | Honoring Martin Luther King Jr.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”- Martin Luther King Jr, Letter from a Birmingham Jail


It scares me how relevant this quote is today. “Anyone who lives in the United States can never be considered an outsider within its bounds.” Anyone. Sick. Poor. Of any religion or no religion. Of any race, gender, or sexual orientation. We cannot keep alienating our people. Because they are OUR people. Our criminals are ours as are our smartest scientists and our richest business persons. The law doesn’t change based on of these differentiations. Because “we the people” should mean all of us.


I read Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail for the first time in it’s entirety today. I’m not proud that it’s taken this long, but I have a series of other quotes just as powerful as this one that I can’t help but share as well. These are but a few and all from the letter, but they are the ones I find most hard-hitting and sadly still very relevant today in more ways than one. I encourage you to read the full letter here.


“My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.” – Martin Luther King Jr, Letter from a Birmingham Jail


“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” – Martin Luther King Jr, Letter from a Birmingham Jail


“Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say ‘wait.'” – Martin Luther King Jr, Letter from a Birmingham Jail


“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” – Martin Luther King Jr, Letter from a Birmingham Jail


“So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice of the extension of justice?” – Martin Luther King Jr, Letter from a Birmingham Jail


I want to say more, to yell and scream and fight for others to see the injustices going on in America still today, but shouting before understanding can be a harmful thing. Today I just learn and reflect. But I will always stand up for what is right. I encourage you today to do more than just share a picture or an overused quote. There’s so much deeper. Look for it. Read. I am leaving only this here so that I may keep learning the rest of today. And every day.


Keep fighting.

In this third and final lesson for beginner modern calligraphy, you will learn your uppercase and lowercase alphabet as well as some tips just for fun!

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.


Learn uppercase capital letters | Modern Calligraphy Basics


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!


Learn uppercase capital letters | Modern Calligraphy Basics


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!

Lowercase Alphabet


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!


Learn lowercase alphabet | Modern Calligraphy Basics


Just check out these three simple ways you can change the look and feel of your calligraphy:


Tips and Tricks | Modern Calligraphy Basics


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.


Learn lowercase alphabet | Modern Calligraphy Basics


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.


Alternative lowercase f and r | Modern Calligraphy Basics


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!


How to create flourishes | Modern Calligraphy Basics


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!


Flourishing examples | Modern Calligraphy Basics Flourishing examples | Modern Calligraphy Basics


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!

Keep practicing,


"The world's big and I want to get a good look at it before it gets dark." -John Muir quote

Quotes that Matter Monday | The World is Big

Sometimes fear takes over. It is paralyzing. It is big. The world and life can be overwhelming at times, and that’s before any extra hardships are added in. This week’s quote that matters is by environmentalist and author, John Muir. You know that quote, “The mountains are calling and I must go”? Yeah, that was a John Muir quote.


“The world’s big and I want to get a good look at it before it gets dark.” -John Muir

As part of my new year’s resolution, I’m trying not to let the world get the best of me. I want to just do. Not debate. Not consider. Not imagine. I will have already missed the moment if I stop to do these things. And this year is about living.


So whether you’re a creative, a dreamer, an adventurer, an activist, or all of the above, never loose track of what excites you. Keep exploring. Keep wandering. You will never know everything about the subject you are passionate about, so always keep looking. It will keep you strong and open-minded and humble. Take criticism, but don’t be crippled by it. Your haters are your biggest cheerleaders. Dream big, but don’t lose sight of the ground. The ground is where you will grow and make progress.


Stay curious.


A lesson for beginners who have never tried calligraphy before on how to hold the pen, the basic strokes that create letterforms, and alphabet I use when doing modern calligraphy.

An Introduction to Modern Calligraphy Basics: Holding the Pen and Basic Strokes

Last week, I posted about the tools I use as a calligrapher and some of the tips and tricks I wish I had known when I was first starting out with modern calligraphy two summers ago. This week, I want to teach beginners who have never tried calligraphy before how to hold the pen, the basic strokes that create letterforms, and alphabet I use when doing modern calligraphy. If you don’t know what supplies you need or where to begin, you can check out part 1 of this introduction here.


Step 1: Holding the Pen and Nib Placement


Learning how to hold your calligraphy pen is a crucial step to modern calligraphy success that you might be tempted to overlook. Many times when first learning I would be having trouble with uneven strokes or the nib skipping on the paper and thought I was just using the wrong paper or nib or just needed more practice. In fact, it was my nib that wasn’t inserted correctly into my pen holder that was causing a lot of headache and not very pretty writing.


Anatomy of your calligraphy tools: Oblique pen holder and flex nib


First you will need to know a little bit about the anatomy of your pen. The tool you will be using for pointed pen calligraphy to hold your nib is called an oblique pen holder. The little doohickey coming out to the side at the end of the pen is called a flange, and that is what holds your nib and enables you to write at different angles so that the pressure and direction of your downstrokes are consistent and parallel with the angle of the nib. You may also instead choose to use a straight pen holder depending on your natural hand position when writing or if you are left handed you may find it more comfortable and natural to use to get the correct angle. Disclaimer: I am right handed and although I may point out some tips and tricks I’ve learned for left-handed calligraphers, you may want to seek out more specific lessons for how to hold your pen from a fellow left-handed calligrapher. Youtube is a great resource. You might check out this video here on left handed calligraphy. Once you’ve learned how to hold your pen, the instructions below for forming strokes and letterforms will be the same!


Now let’s talk about nibs. The nib is the metal piece that you dip into ink and write with. For pointed pen calligraphy, we will be using a point, or flex nib, which means that the tip of the nib comes apart when you press it to the paper, creating the thick downstrokes in your writing. Those two pieces that form the tip of your nib are called tines. They are tough but can break or come apart over time after lots of use or applying too much pressure on them against the paper. You can find stiffer or more flexible nibs that make it easier or harder to separate the tines to create thicker strokes. I prefer somewhere in the middle. You can check out my most-used nibs and a short description of them here. Now the other most important part of the nib you’ll need to know about is the vent hole or breather hole. That is the hold in the center of your nib at the end of the slit. This hole serves dual purposes. First, it gives your ink a place to collect and feed continuously to the tip of your nib as you’re writing. Without it, the flow of ink would be very inconsistent and it would too quickly come off the pen and dump out into a blob on your paper. The second, and equally important purpose of the vent hole is to reduce the pressure on the tines as they separate on the paper during downstrokes. Without the hole, the tines would be more prone to breaking or splitting.


Learning how to hold your oblique pen


Now that you know the pieces of the puzzle, we can start putting it together by preparing and holding your pen. First, insert the base of your nib into your pen holder. You want the convex curve of the nib facing up at you, so that the side of the nib with the imprinted nib I.D. is readable. From a point where the nib is parallel to the plane of the flange, you will want to rotate the nib slightly inward, turning to the right (see picture below). This is a crucial step and varies to every calligrapher’s individual hand position as they write. The reason for turning the nib is because when you hold the pen, the plane of the flange will very likely be angled downward horizontally as well as vertically vertically from the base of the pen. The horizontal downward angle of the flange causes us to need to rotate the nib in the opposite direction to offset that angle. That way when you’re writing, the tines will touch the paper at the exact same time to create straight, consistent strokes. You may notice a jagged edge or curve in what is supposed to be your straight downward stroke otherwise. I know this may sound complicated, but trust me, when you get the hang of holding the pen and practicing strokes, you will easily notice when the nib is out of line and be able to correct it accordingly.


Anatomy of your calligraphy tools


Learning how to hold your oblique pen


Step 2: Basic Strokes of Modern Calligraphy


Congratulations! It’s finally time to make a mark on paper. We will start by practicing some basic strokes that are used in almost every letterform you will make when writing pointed pen modern calligraphy. It’s important to practice these strokes often, until and even after they become second nature to you. It’s a good warm-up to any calligraphy session.


Learning the Strokes


I’ve highlighted eight commonly used strokes that I use when creating letterforms in this style of modern calligraphy. I’ve numbered them 1-8 so that later on you can see how I put the individual strokes together to form letters. Remember, the thick strokes are created when you are pulling the pen downward. The thin strokes are created with upward movements.

Learn basic strokes for modern calligraphy

Learn basic strokes for modern calligraphy

Learn basic strokes for modern calligraphy

Learn basic strokes for modern calligraphy

    • Stroke 1: This is your most basic downstroke. Practice making a perfectly vertical stroke that is a consistent thickness the whole way down. This will teach you sensitivity to the pressure you are putting on your nib and help you create consistent strokes throughout your writing.


    • Stroke 2: This is stroke, or a variation of it, is of the most commonly used strokes you will make. It is found in several of lowercase letters such as a, i, m, n, and u. Start by making a downstroke, then right as you get towards the bottom, start to release some of the pressure as you begin drawing your pen around and back upwards at an angle.


    • Stroke 3: This is the opposite of stroke 2 and also very commonly used. This time, begin with an upstroke, putting very little pressure on the nib so that the tines are still touching each other. Then as you round the top, begin to add pressure and do a downstroke.


    • Stroke 4: This is sort of a combination of 2 and 3. Create individual shapes to start, and when you begin to get the hang of it, try creating a continuous wavy line and see how consistent you can get it to look. Try to keep the angled upward strokes all at the same angle and the thick downward slopes all perfectly vertical.


    • Stroke 5: Stretch out your stroke 4 to create an approximately 90 degree angle between your upward and downward strokes. Again, try creating a continuous line of this and see how consistent you can get it to be.


    • Stroke 6: Stroke 6 is the shape I like to use to create the counter, or enclosed circular shape in a lot of my lowercase letters. Think about the a, b, d, g, p, and q. You can use this shape or stroke 7 to create round enclosed area. I prefer this slightly more funky shape to give my modern calligraphy a little bit of character.


    • Stroke 7: In addition to using this stroke in place of stroke 6 for all the uses listed above, it is also necessary for your o and a good way to practice consistent transitioning from upward to downward strokes.


    • Stroke 8: The final and most complicated of my basic strokes will help you get the feel for creating the ascenders and descenders of letterforms like b, d, or q. While you’ll never make this stroke exactly, it will help you get in a rhythm and practice your ascenders and descenders at the same time.


Applying the Strokes


Now that you have a bit of a sense for the pen and the motions your hand will be frequently making, lets combine a few of these basics strokes to make letters! I’ve added directional arrows to each stroke and labeled any strokes that are the basic ones you learned above (1-8) to help memorize the motions. If you only see one form, that means I created the whole letter without picking up my pen. If you get lost, start at the red dot and follow the directional arrows to understand how to create the form.


How to create letterforms with pointed pen modern calligraphy. Lowercase a, lowercase b, lowercase c.

How to create letterforms with pointed pen modern calligraphy

How to create letterforms with pointed pen modern calligraphy. Lowercase g, lowercase h.

How to create letterforms with pointed pen modern calligraphy. Lowercase i, lowercase j, lowercase k.

How to create letterforms with pointed pen modern calligraphy. Lowercase l, lowercase m.

How to create letterforms with pointed pen modern calligraphy. Lowercase n, lowercase o.

How to create letterforms with pointed pen modern calligraphy. Lowercase p, lowercase q, lowercase r.

How to create letterforms with pointed pen modern calligraphy. Lowercase s, lowercase t. \How to create letterforms with pointed pen modern calligraphy. Lowercase u, lowercase v, lowercase w.

How to create letterforms with pointed pen modern calligraphy. Lowercase x.

How to create letterforms with pointed pen modern calligraphy. Lowercase y, lowercase z.


Awesome work friends! Now you know your ABCs of modern calligraphy! I don’t want us to get too far ahead of ourselves, so in part 3 of this lesson, I will show you my whole lowercase alphabet together, and two variations of a capital alphabet. I’ll also go over some variations you can apply to your letters and talk briefly about flourishing! So practice your strokes and your lowercase ABCs once you get comfortable with that. Let me know what questions you have; I’d love to answer them!


Practice makes perfect.
Practice makes better.


A starting point for beginners in the quest to learning the tricks and tools of modern calligraphy. Includes exact supplies and suggestions on where to buy!

An Introduction to Modern Calligraphy Basics: The Tools

This lesson aims to teach the basics and “need-to-knows” about beginning modern calligraphy, which has seen a huge resurgence in popularity over the past couple years in everything from weddings to logos to home decor. One of my goals for the new year is to start posting more tutorials on the blog for creative individuals at the beginner level. This doesn’t mean you have to be an artist or designer to follow them (though of course you are welcome if you are!), just a creative-minded individual who’s doodled in their notebook a time or two.


So let’s get started.


What does modern calligraphy even mean?

Modern calligraphy put simply uses the techniques and materials of traditional calligraphy (pen holder, nibs, ink, etc.) but doesn’t follow the strict guidelines as to how to write in different script styles (such as Copperplate, Roman, or Spencerian). In modern calligraphy, you can make up any style you like!


For this tutorial, I will be focusing on pointed-pen modern calligraphy, which means that thick and thin lines are created by the pressure you put the nib to the paper as you write rather than the direction and angle you hold the pen. This type of calligraphy requires a certain type of nib. Which brings me to…


A starting point for beginners in the quest to learning the tricks and tools of modern calligraphy.

What on Earth do I need to get started doing modern calligraphy?

I know other calligraphers who swear by certain supplies might hate me for saying this, but from my own experience first starting out and trying new things, the exact materials you use don’t bear a huge amount of significance. I purchased the cheapo Speedball oblique pen calligraphy kit from Amazon and still use it today! There’s no point in buying expensive materials to start out if you come to decide that you don’t like modern calligraphy at all! One possible exception to this rule is ink. Your average craft store will likely only have a few kinds, mainly dominated by small containers of Speedball ink in different colors, which I’ve personally found to be awful probably because they’ve been sitting on the shelves for quite some time and have separated and hardened. Others swear by Speedball ink. I will tell you all the supplies that I use, but I encourage you to play around and try your own materials!


This list contains all the supplies I use for practicing modern calligraphy. You do not need all of it to get started! Even if you don’t have any of the supplies yet, you can get started with just a soft pencil (preferably not mechanical) and some printer paper and just start practicing the movements and the letterforms!

All the supplies listed below are linked to one of my preferred sites for buying art supplies. I would suggest checking a few for the lowest price before purchasing! If I don’t buy in-store, I typically purchase from one of the following: Amazon, Plaza Art, Paper & Ink Arts, or DickBlick. For simplicity, I’ve linked all the items to a listing on Amazon as every item can be found there, but it’s not necessarily the lowest price!



Higgins Eternal Black Ink: Higgins Eternal is a classic and well known calligraphy ink that is great for practice and those just starting out! Speedball Super Black India Ink is also a common starter ink that I’ve tried and have had decent success with.

Holbein Artists’ Gouache (in various colors): Gouache is one of my absolute favorite mediums to use. It is a paint that I liken most closely to watercolor with its ability to be watered down and used as a beautiful ink! It has a beautifully matte finish and comes in vivid colors. My favorites are pearl gold, jet black, and turquoise green but I also have the primary CMYK set which I use frequently as well.

There’s endless amounts of ink and paints out there to use and practice with, but I recommend you start with a black liquid ink. Mixing the right amount of water and gouache, water and watercolor, or water and an ink stick can be tricky business if you’re new to it, and it will help with troubleshooting problems if you don’t have to add ink to the potential problem list!


Rhodia Dot Pad 16.5” x 12.5”: I absolutely love my Rhodia dot pads and graph paper. The paper works great with the inks I’ve specified above and doesn’t buckle or get caught on the smooth paper. I purchased this large pad because I’m one of those people that hates to rip pages out of a sketchbook and I can fit in tons of practice on a single page with this size. That means I spend less time waiting around for the ink to dry before I can fold back the page and start on a new one.

Borden & Riley #37 Bright White Translucent Bond Paper: This paper is great if you prefer a dot or line-free paper to practice on. I simply use a sheet of pre-lined graph paper underneath that shows through the translucent paper to use as a guide for writing. Or, if I’m looking to create a looser style, I use no grid at all. It’s extra important on this paper to use a spare sheet of paper under your hand to protect the paper as you write. Any spare blank printer paper will do. Although I recommend doing this with any paper you are writing on, I’ve found this one to be especially sensitive to the oils in your hand which can cause weird things to happen when you write over it like the ink not appearing to “stick” to the paper.

8×8 to the inch Gridded Graph Paper: I recommend graph paper that has 8×8 squares to the inch because it forms a great and proportional guide for practicing calligraphy. You can practice straight on the paper (if it works with calligraphy ink) or use it under your translucent paper as a guide. Unfortunately the squares on the Rhodia pads are not to this scale, but the great thing about modern calligraphy is that you can make up the rules to the proportions and height of your letters to fit whatever style you like!


Hunt 101

Tachikawa G

Nikko G

These are the three nibs I’ve used most frequently since beginning my exploration into pointed pen calligraphy. Now I’m far from an expert on nibs (there are literally thousands of different kinds), but I tend to like slightly more flexible nibs because they allow for wider strokes with less pressure. The Hunt 101 is probably the most flexible of the nibs, then the Tachikawa G, then the Nikko G. The Nikko and Tachikawa produce very crisp lines. The Hunt 101 can be very fun and create a lot of personality in the writing, but can sometimes be a little finicky releasing ink.


Speedball Oblique Penholder

Speedball Straight Penholder

These is the cheapest, most basic black plastic pen holder you will probably come by and I’ve used them exclusively as I’ve been learning and teaching myself calligraphy. Bottom line: they work, they’re easy to clean, and they’re cheap. If you tend to get clammy hands like I do, you may want to look for a wood or higher quality penholder in the long run because this slick plastic could get slippery. Still, I would recommend it for beginners because of the price unless you know this is something you will be interested in for the long term.

The oblique holder I use for all my pointed pen (flex nib) calligraphy and the straight holder I use for all my italic (flat nib) calligraphy. The oblique holder looks scary, but it allows you to write at the proper angle to create thick and thin strokes. To my left handed friends: the oblique versus straight pen scenario is not so cut and dry for you. I have heard of people using the straight pen for what a right handed person would use an oblique pen for, but I’ve also seen others use the oblique pen fine. My recommendation is to get one of each and try out what you feel most comfortable with. I will be going over how to hold the pen in part II of this lesson.


Staedtler Mars Technico Lead Holder (and lead!): I love my Staedtler and it’s a great pencil, but honestly any pencil will do fine. When it comes to calligraphy, I’m only using this to create my grid lines on my dot pad or graph paper.

Palomino Blackwing Pencil: Another instance where I have found a specific brand I like, but any will do. A non-mechanical pencil that is HB or softer works great for practicing calligraphy before you even get your supplies. You can practice the motions and the letterforms and even the thick and thin strokes by pressing down hard or light as you’re writing.

Small Inkwell: When I first started calligraphy, I was brushing the ink or paint onto my nib with a brush because the vial, dish, or container I was drawing my ink from was either too large to dip into (I always ended up getting ink all over my holder) or too shallow to dip in. This may seem like an exaggeration and I promise you it’s not, but the best move I ever made was getting a small vial to keep my ink in so that I could dip my pens rather than brushing the ink on. It saves loads of time and frustration with trying to brush with your non-dominant hand and you don’t have to have your whole ink bottle open and drying out as you work. Any tiny plastic or glass container will do, but I recommend buying one made for calligraphy as it will be the perfect height to dip in your nib but not too far and should come with a lid for easy transport!

Small plastic pipette: A necessary addition to using an inkwell. There would be nothing worse than trying to pour from a huge ink bottle into a tiny vial and losing about half your ink when you spill it everywhere. Trust me.

Scrap Paper: To use as a guard to protect your paper from your hand as you work. Plain printer paper works great.

Paper towel or small scrap towel: To wipe up any spills, clean your nib, wipe your fingers on. I promise you will use this in some way or another, particularly as you are learning to use your tools.

Adjustable Table Lamp: Not a necessity, but can be helpful to have a consistent light source! I recommend an adjustable table lamp so that you can place it in the proper position as to not create any shadows where you are writing. For someone right-handed, you want to position the lamp in the left upper corner of your workspace pointing towards your hand. That way as you write, your hand or penholder won’t cast a shadow over where you are writing.

Ruler: For drawing grid lines. I love my metal, cork-bottomed ruler. I recommend a 12 or 18 inch ruler. I use 18” because it’s big enough for my Rhodia dot pad but small enough to not be unwieldy.


Overwhelmed yet? I hope not! As I said at the beginning, don’t panic that you don’t know or have the perfect supplies yet; all that will come in time. Luckily, it is easy to find cheap, beginner materials that work great and many that are of great quality. Starting out in modern calligraphy is not a huge investment, so don’t feel the pressure to get everything perfect like I did!

If you’re still feeling a bit lost or uncomfortable, the materials I use specifically for the upcoming tutorial are as follows: 2 ½ fl.oz. Higgins Eternal Black Ink, Tachikawa G nib, Speedball Oblique Penholder, Staedtler Mars Technico mechanical pencil, Dinky Dips inkwell with wood holder, and the last five items under “Other” section (no specific brand although I hear that Bounty is in fact the quilted, quicker picker-upper).


A starting point for beginners in the quest to learning the tricks and tools of modern calligraphy.

What’s next?

Next week, I will teach you the basics of holding the pen, practicing basic forms, and writing your first alphabet with modern calligraphy! So gather your supplies, and leave any questions in the comments so I can get back to you before we begin!

Keep learning.

Over are the days of comparing myself, degrading myself, and wishing I was different from the person I am. If I want to change for myself, then I will do it.

A Year to Do No Harm. My 2016 New Year’s Resolution.

Ironically, a couple of weeks ago, as I was scouring an antique warehouse (as I like to do in my free time), I came across a set of wood-carved monkeys. One had its hands over its eyes, one had its hands over its ears, and one had its hands over its mouth. See no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no evil. They were sitting on a woven patterned placemat on the bottom shelf of one seller’s block in this giant warehouse. Invisible. I bought them on the spot, and the woven placemat too.


I had been mulling over my New Year’s resolution for some time now, and had gotten tripped up by the idea of “do no harm.” It was simple, but multifaceted. Do no harm to myself. Do no harm to others. Do no harm to my environment. See no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no evil. But what did it have in common? Why was I drawn to it? What did it mean to me?


The three wise monkeys, Mizaru (see no evil), Kikazaru (hear no evil), and Iwazaru (speak no evil) originate out of 17th-century (or earlier) Japanese artwork and carvings. I don’t know for certain much about these three little guys other than that they were messengers, reminding people to remain good and just and moral. Strange that today we often twist the concept to support turning a blind eye to things that are not good, unjust, or immoral. The world today desperately needs a resurgence of the exact opposite, which is why I will focusing with more awareness and intensity on what is right, what is just, and what is moral in 2016 and onward.


So how do I bring it together?


See no evil in how I look, talk, or act. Over are the days of comparing myself, degrading myself, and wishing I was different from the person I am. If I want to change for myself, then I will do it.


Speak no evil to myself. It is easy to be one’s hardest critic. It is hard to show oneself the respect and support you would to a friend, family member, or even stranger.


Hear no evil towards myself. Don’t let others’ negative words towards me affect what I think and how I view myself.


See no evil done towards others. Volunteer. Help a friend. Be kind. It is so easy to fall into the trap of self-absorption, and putting others creates a chain reaction of selflessness over selfishness.


Speak no evil to others. I can be quick to react sharply when annoyed or provoked, but there is nothing positive that comes out of speaking negatively about others. Whether it is to their face, behind their backs, or in my head, it is often harmful to the other person and always harmful to me to speak or think that way.


Hear no evil towards others. It’s not enough anymore to just oppose racism, discrimination, sexism, human rights abuses. I must speak up when I see wrongdoings in order to make progress and change.


See no evil done to Earth where I do not consider what a more sustainable alternative might be.  Put as many in practice as I can.


Speak no evil by giving a voice to my purchases. With every product I buy, I am inherently supporting that company and its values. Be conscious as to what I buy and who I buy it from.


Hear no evil spoken in lies. Be more knowledgeable. Fight ignorance and hate.


So that is it. Nine resolutions. A year of the monkey. A year of doing no harm. Thinking about it now, this is an incredibly lofty goal, and I will make mistakes, and I will forget things. But it is a set up for a future that is bright and one that I want to move towards. I will apply this in business. Life. Everywhere. And I’ll let you know how it goes.


I’d love to hear your resolution for 2016. Do you even make a resolution? Have you followed through with one? I’ll be mulling over my biz-resolution in the coming weeks and set some important goals that I will hold myself accountable for.


Until then, have a happy and hopeful New Year!


None of us were born hating our bodies. Our skin color. Our sexual orientation. Our personality. None of us were born hating ourselves. We were taught it.

An Open Letter to Anyone Who’s Ever Felt That They’re Not Enough.

Dear anyone who’s ever felt that they’re not pretty enough, not smart enough, not skinny enough, not muscular enough, not successful enough, not outgoing enough, or just not enough:


You are Beautiful.


You do not need a mechanized scrubby brush to clean the pores on your face. Modern-day humans have been around for approximately 200,000 years. Our ancestors have been around for 6,000,000. Just like Darwin’s finches evolved to suit their food sources and habitat, humans have evolved too. It would be naive to say that our species has become or will ever be perfected; that’s just not what evolution is. But 6,000,000 years is a long time. And we’ve had pores since the beginning.


Your skin is one of the most amazing and certainly the most beautiful organ of your body. So why do so many people hate it? Because you have too much acne. Because you have too many freckles. Because it makes you look too different. But without skin, you’d be a heaping blob of mush, and nobody, no matter what you have too much or too little of, wants that. It keeps the rest of your organs safe. It filters out toxins and dirt and gross things. It lets you feel.


Pores are really pretty spectacular too. You have actually evolved, from whatever we came from, to have pores that clean themselves. You heard that right. Sebaceous glands inside your hair follicles release something called sebum that travels up your follicle and out your pore, carrying out all the dead skin cells and moisturizing your skin while it’s at it. Oily skin? You would be a hot, dry, cracked mess without this stuff. It just wouldn’t work. You wouldn’t have evolved after all this time with pores and follicles and sebum if you didn’t need it.


Now as I said earlier, we are not a perfect system. Wouldn’t it be boring if that were the case, anyway? We may have needed our skin to produce more oil thousands of years ago to protect us against the conditions we lived in, and our body just hasn’t caught up yet. Maybe. Regardless, there is nothing wrong with wanting to have clean, healthy skin and you should feel beautiful no matter what your skin is like or how you take care of it. Because it is your skin. And you are beautiful. But next time a company tries to sell you something by saying that YOU need it to feel beautiful, clean, healthy, fit, successful, or confident, just realize that it is the company that needs YOU to buy its products. You are the boss-lady or boss-man of your own body, and you were physically made and evolved to do this thing called life. You were born for it.


You are Enough.


Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” It’s hard to believe sometimes. Because people can be just plain mean. And you being affected by that viciousness just makes you human. It makes you beautiful because it means you rate the opinions of others highly. Even when they don’t deserve it. You value others, sometimes more than yourself. You may be more humble. You may be empathetic. Thoughtful. Passionate.


None of us were born hating our bodies. Our skin color. Our sexual orientation. Our personality. None of us were born hating ourselves. You may be be predisposed to depression or anxiety and I know that has other factors at hand. But by and large we were not born into hate. We were taught it. A parent might gasp at this, or feel offended. You might think, I would never teach my child to hate him/herself. It’s not that simple. And no one, no one, no one does it on purpose.


A child is told she must have her hair done and wear a new, uncomfortable outfit so that she’ll look pretty for her school pictures. Do you mean, then, to say that the child is not naturally pretty? What makes perfect sense to you means nothing to a child. A teenager starts to learn more about politics in school. He comes home to a father that goes on and on about how he hates those hippie, big government liberals that want everything for free and don’t want to work for it. Or those stuck up, religious, close-minded conservatives who support big money because they are big money. He feels that he can’t express himself because who he is isn’t right.


Let’s get a little tougher here. That homeless man with the sign at the intersection. You look away and your child asks why. Despite what the sign says, he’s probably addicted to drugs. He probably drinks. He’s lazy. He did this to himself. And you might be right. But you might not. If you knew of a friend or even an acquaintance that got laid off due to budget cuts, couldn’t pay rent and was forced out of his apartment and onto the streets where he couldn’t get hired because by the time he heard back from anywhere, because he had sold his car to pay for food and couldn’t clean himself to look presentable for an interview… would you spare a few dollars? Would you do more? What makes perfect sense to you means nothing to a child. Children are inherently trustful. And you’d better believe that cardboard sign has an impact on them. Are some people, even those lost, even those struggling with an addiction, not worth anything? What about criminals? Your child learns that some people are worthless. That some people could be him.


You Were Made for This.


Hatred has cousins and they probably live in the back of your brain. Envy. Greed. They are masters of disguise and they’re ugly. They make you human but they don’t make you you. The worst thing you can can do is deny them, pretend you never have envy, or greed, or hatred. Because you’ll be blind to it and thus breed envy, greed, and hatred. It’s hard and you don’t have to be perfect. I just hope you’ll try. Because when you see them, you get better at being you and not your emotions. And you is beautiful.


So next time someone tries to sell you something because you don’t have something or another that you need. The next time you’re told directly or indirectly that you’re not enough. The next time you envy someone for being what you’re not, hate someone who is different, or have greed because you want something that you can’t or don’t have. Remember: You are enough. You are a perfectly imperfect specimen and you were born to do this. You were made to get through this, to overcome, to endure. And nobody can tell you otherwise.


Stay true.

Quotes that Matter Monday | Charlie Kaufman | "People are starving. They may not know it because they’re being fed mass produced garbage. The packaging is colourful and loud, but it’s produced in the same factories that make Pop Tarts and iPads, by people sitting around thinking, ‘What can we do to get people to buy more of these?’"

Quotes that Matter Monday – People are Starving

This is important. This lecture and quote are supposed to be about screenwriting but it applies to everyone. It really does. It’s a necessary excursion from the hum of daily life that we find ourselves trapped in. I actually listened to twice back to back. And then later a third time to write down quotes. I reconize I am a little crazy for that, and I know I’m a little behind because it’s from 2011 but that’s okay. You can read a transcript of the full lecture here or listen to it at the bottom of this post.

Charlie Kaufman, Screenwriters Lecture (September 2011)


“Here’s a recent quote that I found: ‘We do not talk, we bludgeon one another with facts and theories gleaned from cursory readings of newspapers, magazines and digests.’ That was actually written in 1945 by Henry Miller and I think it’s timely. I think what it says is that the world has been on its present course for a long time. People all over the world spend countless hours of their lives every week being fed entertainment in the form of movies, TV shows, newspapers, YouTube videos and the internet. And it’s ludicrous to believe that this stuff doesn’t alter our brains.


It’s also equally ludicrous to believe that – at the very least – this mass distraction and manipulation is not convenient for the people who are in charge. People are starving. They may not know it because they’re being fed mass produced garbage. The packaging is colourful and loud, but it’s produced in the same factories that make Pop Tarts and iPads, by people sitting around thinking, ‘What can we do to get people to buy more of these?’


And they’re very good at their jobs. But that’s what it is you’re getting, because that’s what they’re making. They’re selling you something. And the world is built on this now. Politics and government are built on this, corporations are built on this. Interpersonal relationships are built on this. And we’re starving, all of us, and we’re killing each other, and we’re hating each other, and we’re calling each other liars and evil because it’s all become marketing and we want to win because we’re lonely and empty and scared and we’re led to believe winning will change all that. But there is no winning.” –Charlie Kaufman


[soundcloud url=”″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]


Live intentionally,

The past four years have been the hardest of my life, in ways bigger than exams and essays and wandering out blindly into the “real world” after graduation. The funny thing about being enlightened, and the one that no one warns you about, is that you suffer so much more mental and emotional pain as a result of being a more aware, more empathetic, and more humble human being.

The Moment that Made the Millennial | Part 2

When I say that Invisible Children ruined my life in the best way possible, I don’t just say it because it’s a nice phrase. The past four years have been the hardest of my life, in ways bigger than exams and essays and wandering out blindly into the “real world” after graduation. The funny thing about being enlightened, and the one that no one warns you about, is that you suffer so much more mental and emotional pain as a result of being a more aware, more empathetic, and more humble human being.


If you haven’t caught up on the story of my life, go ahead and read The Moment That Made Me: Part 1. Go on, I wouldn’t want to ruin the story for you.


Now you might be thinking, wow, this sounds like a terrible thing, why would I want to deal with all that extra baggage on a day to day basis? But I would argue to say that I am living much more now than I ever was before. This experience helped me come to two important realizations:

1. This is my only life.

Why would I spend it just going through the motions of what I think I should be doing? That not only sounds boring, but also unproductive. I strongly believe that if you do work you care about, you will work harder, you will work quicker, and your work will be better because of it.


And for those of you that are shaking your heads at the impracticality of it all,  this doesn’t mean you have somehow have to find this amazing dream job with a nonprofit or for your favorite sports team or one that lets you travel across the world. A lot of times, finding a job you care about just means one where you can support their ethics and work environment. A small business. A company that has a ping pong table in the break room. One that encourages creativity and sharing ideas instead of stifling them. Or maybe it means you get the courage to break off on your own and stop feeling like it’s “just too far-fetched.”


2. I need to start thinking bigger than myself.

Seeing the suffering in other parts of the world that one evening and even more so with current events today made me realize not only that it’s selfish to develop all your thoughts and opinions solely around your own wants and needs, but also, in doing so, you are lacking forward thinking. We can see on a grander scale how “me me me” thinking has plagued the United States and the world already. Global warming is setting up future generations (and even this generation) for catastrophic consequences everywhere from the 6th global mass extinction to an increase in horrible and devastating natural disasters. We knew it was coming and we were too greedy to stop burning oil and look for alternative, possibly more costly options. We refuse to cut back on our excessive meat consumption, thus releasing incredible amounts of methane through grazing agriculture. We’ve known that discrimination and racism is wrong for over 100 years, yet somehow so many kids still grow up thinking it’s okay to judge someone based on their religion or the color of their skin, and even kill because of it.


I could go on but I think it’s unnecessary. The root cause of all of these things is a lack in forward thinking, because why should we care what happens to the world after we’re gone? Why should I, one person, feel responsible for helping people in a country devastated by a natural disaster halfway across the globe? To me it is all connected. No one wants to say that they don’t care about future generations or people who are suffering in another country. Most people would probably strongly refute it. But when it comes time to take action, to show up, to change your habits, to donate just a little bit of your paycheck, we often hold back. We don’t take that action that we say we support because “oh, I just donated XX amount to this other organization last month” or “well just changing my eating and waste habits aren’t going to make any difference in the grand scheme of things.”


Guess what? If everyone made these changes, it would make a difference. Not only would you encourage people around you to make little changes in how they live too, you would be setting up better and more sustainable habits for your children and future generations. That is how we create change. Saying your own habits and actions don’t matter is an excuse and it’s selfish and just generally not true.


So I want to leave you with a few words of encouragement based on what I’ve learned over the past four years. 


When in doubt, do.

Learning shouldn’t stop once you’re done with school. We’re better people if we continue challenging ourselves and trying out new things. But fear of failure, laziness, and fear of being outside of our comfort zone often scares us into inaction. Saying “yes” is often higher risk, but the reward is so much greater and it keeps us moving forward.

"The Moment That Made Me | Part 2" | by South Ranch Creative

Ever heard the phrase, “the world is your oyster”?

Take control over your life.

It’s impossible to be conscious of every little consequence of our day to day actions. But it doesn’t mean that they don’t matter or that we shouldn’t try. Next time you go out shopping, consider looking for locally made or fair trade products, so that you aren’t indirectly supporting sweatshops, poor working conditions, and unfair wages. Do you really need a giant hunk of meat with your dinner every day of the week? If so, can you purchase from a local farmer’s market instead? I’m not a vegetarian but I swear tofu is actually good, guys. Think a little bit more about the waste you are creating when you purchase items. Try to find one with recyclable, biodegradable, or just less packaging overall. Or consider if you really need the object at all. We are plagued by this drive to buy, buy, buy all the time, but it didn’t used to be that way and it doesn’t have to into the future. Small changes mean something. They add up. And everyone making small changes creates a movement.


Take control over your life. | "The Moment That Made Me | Part 2" | by South Ranch Creative

US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Powers, speaks about how influential young people are in society and why they should take greater action on issues they are passionate about at Invisible Children’s Fourth Estate Leadership Summit. 

Be more empathetic, stress less.

I’ve found that when I am more open to considering and trying to understand other opinions and actions that I disagree with, I tend to be calmer, happier, less angry, and less stressed. This applies to almost every situation, even when I think those other opinions or actions are absolutely absurd. Because I’m not necessarily changing my opinion on the absurdity, but I am choosing to take a more thought out, less aggressive approach. Let me give an example. Road rage is a serious and kind of terrifying thing. Driving up and down 81 for three hours every time I came home from college over the past four years caused me a lot of stress and a lot of anger. Because so many people are just terrible and angry drivers. And terrible and angry drivers make me a terrible and aggressive driver. And one day, driving home again on 81, I just decided that I was going to stop. I wasn’t going to get angry at bad or aggressive drivers anymore because I didn’t like how it made me feel or act. We can choose how we feel and how we react. It made a world of difference. I am more relaxed, and I’m a better driver because of it. It doesn’t mean I don’t still think people do stupid things on the road, but I try and be empathetic when possible and take control over my own driving so that someone doesn’t get angry at me for doing something stupid or aggressive.


One of the most important ways I’ve applied this tip is politically. As passionate as I am about my own views, a huge portion of the population views things differently. And for the most part, that’s okay. The majority of my family has hugely different political views, and they are great, well-intentioned people that I love. Promoting, explaining, and supporting your just beliefs is good. But being entirely close-minded to other beliefs and opinions is not good. I would argue that it can be devastating. If we aren’t willing to change, adapt, and compromise, we will never make progress. And the world (both the physical Earth and the people around us) are going to change and adapt and leave us behind. So empathize. I love this video by RSA , The Empathic Civilisation, that shows how we are hard-wired for empathy and how that does us good.



Value your own worth.

While there are a handful of people that value themselves a little too much (I’m looking at you, Mr. Trump), I would say the vast majority of people undervalue their skills, their opinions, and their impact. I have always done this, particularly when it comes to pricing my products and services, which you can read more about in my blog post, “What it’s really like graduating from college with a degree in ‘Art.’”


Why do I do it? I naturally assume other people are more of an expert on things than I am. I took a beginner calligraphy course on modern calligraphy recently, and while I had a great time and learned a lot, I realized that my skills were almost, or could be with a little practice, just as good as that of the instructor. And that’s not to put her down, she was awesome. It’s to say that if I took more progressive action on selling my skills, then I could be just as successful as she. I just haven’t made that jump yet. 


Another reason I undervalue myself is that I don’t want to come off as cocky or arrogant, but I have to keep reminding myself that it isn’t that black and white. Confidence lies between insecurity and arrogance, and that is the goal we should all shoot for. It makes us better people and we become more valued by ourself and those around us.



Value your own worth. | "The Moment That Made Me | Part 2" | by South Ranch Creative

Valuing you own worth breeds positive confidence which breeds success and action.


I live by the words: The future of the world hinges on our ability and willingness to stop at nothing.

Always take an active role in your own life.