Archive for December, 2008

The Art of Calligraphy

Welcome to the Calligraphy Pen blog!

This will be a series of informational blogs, tutorials and tips about the wonderful art of western-style calligraphy!

Calligraphy comes from the greek words “kallos” and “graphia” meaning “beautiful writing”.  Calligraphy also refers to the lettering produced with brushes (such as Asian and Arabic languages), but this blog will concentrate on western-style lettering produced with a variety of broad-nibbed pens.

Beyond the beauty of skillfully crafted lettering are the related arts of painting and gilding, and the world of illuminated manuscripts – all of which will be covered in subsequent writings.

So whether you are a seasoned artist, an absolute beginner, or just have an interest in calligraphy I hope these blogs will be of interest or inspiration.

So let’s get started!


Calligraphy can be considered “low tech” – no fancy equipment required (although that can change as one progresses!)

Note:  You might have to try a few different types of pen nibs, pen holders and inks before you find the “right” combination for your style of lettering – keep experimenting!

Basic equipment to start:

  • a broad-nibbed pen and pen holder
  • ink
  • graph paper

Pen Nibs

There are quite a variety of brands, styles and sizes available – I prefer the Brause nibs although the more common Speedball C-series nibs will do fine.  For Speedball nibs, sizes 0-3 are a good choice for beginners – the higher-numbered nibs tend to be small and are sometimes difficult for beginners to work with at first.

There are also a variety of left-handed nibs available – try a few different styles and pick one that works well for you and lets you letter freely without smearing.

Brause Nibs
My personal favorite!  These nibs have the reservoir on top and are sized in millimetres.  They produce very clean edges with just enough flexibility for flourishing.

Speedball Nibs
An excellent choice for beginners because of availability.  They also have a reservoir on top although heavy pressure will split the nib causing the reservoir to release excess ink.

William Mitchell Nibs
These nibs have a slip-on reservoir that feeds ink from under the nib and are a little shorter than the Brause and Speedball nibs.  An oblique-cut style is available for left-handed calligraphers.  The poster-sized nibs are great for large lettering.

Pen Holders

Pen holders are also a matter of personal preference – pick one that will hold the nib firmly without “wiggling” and feels comfortable and well-balanced.

My favorite is the Koh-I-Noor pen holder with the cork finger grip  – perfectly balanced for a wide range of nibs and nib sizes.


There is a whole world of inks out there – just about any type – aniline dye, pigment, waterproof, etc. or colour is available – start with a good quality black ink, preferably a pigment ink as it won’t show the pen strokes.

The best ink of all is stick ink, used for Chinese/Japanese painting and calligraphy.  Might be difficult to find in some locations and will also require an ink stone to properly grind the ink, but a good quality ink stick will allow you to grind ink to whatever consistency is required and produces beautiful, crisp letters.  Well worth the effort!

Winsor & Newton Calligraphy Ink is the ink I use most for general practice and lettering projects when I’m not using stick ink.

An alternative to dip pens and ink is a Calligraphy felt marker – usually available in a variety of sizes and colours if you don’t want the mess of ink when starting to learn calligraphy.   A second option is a “fountain pen” style of calligraphy pen.  However, I would encourage you to use a dip pen and ink at some point to learn the “feel” of the correct amount of ink to use and proper pen pressure, and the dip pens further open up a wider range of techniques and artistic expression.

Practice Paper

I always use plain graph paper pads for practice and layout.  There are a number of specialized Calligraphy Practice pads and papers, but good old graph paper works just as well, and since it is relatively inexpensive one is encouraged to use it up without worrying about “wasting” the more expensive paper.

One other “downside” to Calligraphy Practice papers besides the cost, is that most are ruled for a specific pen/pen nib size and are slanted for Italic lettering.  Not much use if you are interested in learning Gothic letter styles!

Graph paper pad, quad ruled, 4-5 squares/inch is approx. $1.50.

A few on-line calligraphy suppliers:

John Neal Bookseller
Wide varietyof calligraphy supplies including Brause, Speedball, Hiro nibs, pen holders, ink sticks, genuine vellum, full range of gilding supplies including gesso buttons for raised gesso gilding.

Natural Pigments
Painting and gilding supplies for Scribal Arts including genuine gold leaf, gesso supplies, burnishers and an incredible selection of dry pigments including rare Lapis Lazuli.

Daniel Smith
Calligraphy markers, Speedball nibs, pen holders, ink, wide variety of dry pigments and related painting supplies. 

Opus Framing
Calligraphy markers, ink, bamboo pens

There are many other excellent suppliers available; I have only listed a few that I ordered from in North America.


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