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,

-B

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.

-B