I’m not a newbie to calligraphy anymore, but I’m certainly not an expert.
I first picked up a calligraphy pen about five or six years ago in a church basement in Hoover, Alabama. Over the course of six weeknight evenings, local celebrity and calligraphy guru, Deb Warnat, taught me and a group of about ten other aspiring letterers the basics of copperplate.
Since then, I’ve lettered thousands of envelopes, dozens of wedding invitations, and my fair share of place cards. The most important thing I've learned since beginning is that calligraphy and hand-lettering are perfected in their practice. Like in most things, getting good just requires repetition.
For those just dipping their toes in the water (or their nib in the ink), the resources and tutorials available can be quite overwhelming. I feel you. Pinterest, youtube, instagram, oh my. There are about as many techniques and opinions as there are individual artists.
With that information-overload in mind, I’ve done an inventory of my calligraphy cart and written a little guide to my favorite supplies. For what it’s worth, these are the inks, nibs, and pen holders that I keep on coming back to. Here’s hoping you find something helpful you too can adopt into your own calligraphy practice.
And for good measure, here are a few tips I've learned along the way:
Prepping the Nib
I use my tongue to moisten the nib and then rub with a paper towel to remove the initial coating.
Cleaning the Nib
I use Windex and a paper towel to clean ink off my nib between uses.
Cleaning Your Hands
When I’m letterpress printing, I use Fast Orange to clean my ink off my hands. It works great for calligraphy inks off my skin and out from under my nails, too. Keeping a scrub brush handy is advised.
Creating a Guide
Establish an “exemplar” of your lettering style as a reference, meaning create an entire alphabet with capital and lowercase letters for each of your developed styles. This can be a great way to narrow in on your unique style and maintain consistency when lettering.
Work From Paper
Print out your list of addresses. This works far better for me than trying to follow along on a screen. Of course, find a format that works best for you. I prefer putting names, address, apartment number, city/state, and zip each on their separate line so that I can copy as-is onto each envelope and not have to re-format as I go.
Checking Your Work
Find a proofreader! You may have laser-focus and a great low-mistake track record, but it’s always best to have two sets of eyes on your finished work.