Calligraphy doesn’t require a big investment in either equipment or tools – these are a few of the basics needed to get started with lettering:
The photograph shows some of the basic tools:
Ink: pictured is Higgins Non-Waterproof Drawing Ink (Black), although I also use (a lot!) of Windsor & Newton Non-Waterproof India Ink.
Ruler: graph paper is great for practicing letter forms, but eventually you will want to letter something on “proper” paper. This will necessitate one of the least exciting parts of calligraphy – drawing lettering guidelines!
Of course, if you have a light table you can use guideline sheets under your paper, but light tables can be very expensive (although they can be made for less than the cost of purchasing if you’re handy) and you are limited to the size of the light table.
Since I’ve done a variety of commissioned work that is usually much larger than my light table, I rarely use it so I don’t consider it “essential” equipment (other calligraphers might not agree!)
The ruler pictured is a “Graphics” Ruler – it is transparent marked in 1/8″ squares (I believe metric is also available) and has a “zero” mark in the center. The “zero” mark is invaluable for marking guidelines for centered calligraphy. I have a few of these in a variety of lengths from 6″ for small work (lettering names on certificates) up to 24″ for large, multi-lined broadsheets.
Ames Lettering Guide: Another useful tool for drawing guidelines. It might look a little difficult to use, but it is actually quite easy. I used this a lot before I found the graphics ruler. Instructions for the Ames Lettering Guide can be found here.
Guidelines can also be purchased, and some can be downloaded. The Scribblers website has a Guideline Generator that will create a printable page of guidelines based on the body, ascender and descender pen size in millimeters. Margaret Shepherd, author of “Learn Calligraphy”, has sets of guidelines in various formats based on her book. Note that lettering with guidelines printed on standard printer paper will bleed ink and paper fibers might stick in the nib.
Pen Holders and Nibs: A well-used Koh-I-Noor wooden pen holder with cork finger grip and a plastic Speedball pen holder. Also shown are a variety of Mitchell pen nibs with slip-on reservoirs, and a Speedball C-2 pen nib.
When I first started calligraphy I ran out and bought all the nib sizes and fancy, specialty nibs I could find – they now reside in a box rarely, if ever, used. There are actually only 2 or 3 nib sizes I use for just about every project unless I need a particularly large nib for poster-sized work.
Pencil: Last, but not least, my favorite Rotring Art Pencil. An ordinary mechanical pencil is fine for drawing guidelines as long as the lead is not too soft (it will smudge.) An “H” or “F” lead works well – just don’t press too hard or it will indent the paper.
Paper: As I wrote previously, graph paper is fine for practicing letters and for layouts. An artist sketchbook is also great for free-style lettering and small projects. Sketchbooks very in quality; the best ones for calligraphy will have “sized” paper (unsized paper such as printer paper will cause the ink to run or “bleed”.) Any quality sketchbook for pen and ink drawing will work for calligraphy. Of course, you will have to draw guidelines!