SERIES: My Favourite Art Supplies - Calligraphy
This is part two of my favourite art supplies series, in this post I’m talking all about my must-haves for calligraphy!
Calligraphy is such a beautiful art form, and I actually haven’t been doing it for very long. When I started designing wedding stationery, lettering was really scary to me and I avoided it. I used cursive fonts in my first wedding season, but when I decided wedding stationery would be part of my business long term I realized that I had to learn how to do calligraphy in order to feel fully connected to the art I was creating.
At first I had a hard time getting the hang of it. This was 100% because I was using all the wrong tools. I started with a cheap kit including a fountain pen with ink cartridges you inserted into the pen (instead of a dip holder + nib). It was almost impossible to get the ink to flow consistently and to create varying stroke widths, both are crucial elements to calligraphy. I’m here now to tell you NOT to buy a kit, and that really good quality calligraphy tools are extremely affordable and often purchased separately from each other.
A nib holder is the shaft portion of your pen. There are so many different kinds to choose from and I would recommend trying several until you find one that feels the most comfortable.
My personal favourites are wooden oblique holders with an adjustable flange. I painted mine pink a few years ago haha.
I like this style because:
I find plastic holders too light in my hand, I prefer the slightly heavier wooden ones.
I’m right handed and I find oblique holders more natural feeling. They help keep a consistent angle amongst the letters. Some say left handed people do better with straight holders because of the angle their hand is already in while writing.
Adjustable flanges allow for all kinds of different nibs, not all nibs are the same shape at the base.
Looking at the options for nibs out there is very overwhelming. There are literally thousands of different shapes, sizes, and styles. However, you don’t have to do much digging to learn there are a handful of really popular nibs most calligraphers love and use often.
Nikko G: This is my go-to. The tines are stiffer which allows for very delicate hairline strokes. It’s also a really good starter nib because beginners tend to apply more pressure than needed, resulting in ink blobs. The stiffer body of the Nikko G helps you control the ink flow more than a flexible nib.
Blue Pumpkin (aka Brause Steno): This is my second favourite nib and the one I use while practicing and working on technique. It’s a lot more flexible than the Nikko G, resulting in thicker downstrokes with a small amount of pressure.
It’s rare for me to use colour with calligraphy. When I’m doing calligraphy it’s usually for wedding stationery, so typically I’m using white, black, or metallics. Here are my faves:
This ink is super thick so I make my own mixture of 1:1 ink and water.
Black: Winsor & Newton India Ink
I like a more diluted black, so I add a drop or two of water to it before I start.
Metallic: Dr. Ph. Martins
Metallic inks are more difficult to use because they have particles in the pigment resulting in inconsistent flow unless you’re constantly stirring it. You can actually buy a little machine to set your ink on that constantly vibrates / stirs your ink for you while you work.
When I started playing with calligraphy a few years ago, I used regular printer paper and that was a horrible idea. Printer paper is fibrous and lightweight so your nib will catch the paper and the ink will bleed.
I also enjoy lettering on the backside of watercolour paper. Watercolour paper is very heavyweight and I always have scraps laying around. Typically the back of the paper is smoother than the front, so your nib won’t catch as much.
OTHER TOOLS OF THE TRADE
Hands down my most asked question is “What is that tool with the light beam!?”. One of my favourite things ever is the Slider Writer, but the biggest devastation to the calligraphy world was when it got discontinued a few years ago. The Slider Writer is a plastic surface with a laser light secured to the side, shining a small beam across your paper to help write in a straight line. I was able to get one just before they stopped making them and I’m so grateful for it! Why hasn’t anyone made a Slider Writer 2.0 yet??
Good news though, I found this alternative laser guide that might just fit the bill.
These little inkwells in a wooden block make for easy dipping and ink mixing. The pots are the perfect size for a nib and I always make my own mixture in them rather than dipping directly in the original jar of ink.
At some point you may want to experiment with making your own inks or thicken your ink after adding too much water. Gum Arabic is a binding agent used to help thicken mixtures and allow the ink to run smooth. I don’t know if this is an official way to make ink, but when I feel like making my own colour I’ll use a little bit of watercolour pigment mixed with 1:1 water and Gum Arabic.
I hope these recommendations help get you started. They’ve certainly served me well since starting calligraphy. As mentioned earlier, calligraphy tools are generally inexpensive and because of the huge variety out there I recommend experimenting with different things until you find your own list of favourites.