My Calligraphy Essentials

by Amanda

I think I talk about my calligraphy enough for it to deserve its own section, heh. I’ll share with you some of the items in my set that I consider my must-haves for calligraphy. Some are actual essentials, but some are just extras that I have just to make my calligraphy journey a little bit more exciting. Learning calligraphy can be a bit tedious and I’ll admit I lose a lot of motivation sometimes, but seeing the end result is extremely rewarding! Keep in mind that this page isn’t an “intro to calligraphy” sort of thing. Just a “here’s the stuff I like to use often and a little bit about them.” :relaxed:

the secret of getting ahead is getting started - calligraphy quote

I like to mix up practicing traditional styles with more modern styles. Modern styles tend to be more fun and open for creativity. Let’s get started! I’ll be linking the items to where I got them from, however if you want to search elsewhere, here are my top sites for purchasing calligraphy supplies: Paper & Ink Arts, Jet Pens, John Neal Booksellers, and your local art store! I got one of my Finetec Pearl palettes from the Art Supply Warehouse in Westminster, CA.

Paper

Paper is the most important for starting out, for so many reasons. I feel so guilty wasting so much paper when I’m practicing. 😥

paper pads

rhodia dot pad

My favorite is the Rhodia Dot Pad (right). It’s a bit pricey (~$12 per pad), but the paper is an amazing quality. I’ve never had any trouble with feathering ink so far. In addition to that, the lightly dotted pattern makes for a great guideline. If you scan or take a picture of your work (like I do), it’s really easy to adjust the brightness in the picture so the dots don’t show up at all. The majority of my pointed pen practice is done with the dot pad. I have two, but I haven’t even finished using up one full one.

The other book (left) is a spiral bound mixed media sketchbook that I got from Michael’s. The paper is heavy and good quality. It holds ink especially well. I use it mostly for watercolor and brush pen practice.

In general, you would want at least 32lb paper. It will hold wet ink much better than your average printer paper. I have a 500 sheet ream of HP Premium Choice Laserjet paper that works wonders for just regular single-sheet practice. Sometimes working with a notebook gets irritating and it’s a lot easier to practice on single sheets. It’ll be nice too if you want to frame your work later on. 🙂

Ink

For now, I only use a couple of inks for practice. The full list of ink you can use for calligraphy definitely does not end here. You can use all kinds of mediums as calligraphy ink. The technique for mixing the other types get a bit specific so I’ve yet to learn (or attempt) to mix other types of ink.

practice ink

From right to left is Moon Palace Sumi Ink, Walnut Ink, and a jumbo Dinky Dip. I use the dinky dip to hold my ink for use. It holds about ~2mL of ink which lasts quite long for a practice session. You can use pipettes to transfer the ink from its original container into the dinky dip wells. The sumi ink, however, has a nozzle on top (green) that can dispense ink by itself. Yay, for saving pipettes.

I absolutely love sumi ink for practice and it works beautifully for final-draft works as well. It dries a gorgeous slightly glossy black. It does smell a bit (at least I think it does) so it takes a little to get used to. Once you get used to it, you’ll barely notice it.

Walnut ink is my next favorite. Sometimes, practicing in black ins just not good enough. Walnut ink is a vintage-y brown that is fantastic. Most mixes are water based, so it does feather on some papers. I can tell you for certain that it holds extremely well on the Rhodia Dot Pad (mentioned above) with absolutely no feathering at all.

jumbo dinky dip

The dinky dip is an awesome tool and I highly recommend it. If not to hold you inks and easily switch out, then it looks awesome in pictures. :stuck_out_tongue: It’s pretty much just a block of wood with holes drilled out. If you don’t feel like buying one, you can make your own! I originally had a smaller, unfinished dinky dip, but the ink doesn’t wipe off unfinished wood and it turns out the small size (holds ~1mL) is much too small for me. I much prefer the larger, jumbo size with finished wood. Looks much cleaner as well. :smiley:

The one I have also has velcro glued to the bottom of the containers and at the bottom of each well to secure the containers. It keeps it from shifting around and getting lost or tipped over when stored. As far as I’ve noticed, only the jumbo ones I bought come with the velcro (I have a few, heh).

Pointed Pens

Okay, it almost looks like I forgot about the actual calligraphy tool, but I so didn’t. Pointed pens! The most gorgeous of all pens. I only have the basic oblique holder (top, dark brown) because I’m still getting used to using oblique holders. You can find all sorts of nib holders around and also have some custom made just for you! I’ve yet to get the hang of it, though so I’ll be holding off on that. It’s pretty pricey, but they’re so beautiful I just want to buy a bunch just to stare at them.

pointed pens

The bottom holder (blue grip) is a Tachikawa straight holder. The best thing about it is that it has a grip (which will help you, I promise) and a cap in case you don’t want to be constantly taking your nib off.

The nibs pictured are my go-to nibs for practicing and just general use. From left to right is: Brause 66EF, Hunt 101, Nikko G, and Brause 361 Steno Blue Pumpkin. You have to be very light-handed to use the 66EF and the 361 well (my personal opinion). I’m quite heavy-handed so using them for me is difficult. I always accidentally press a bit too hard and dump out all the ink at once which gets frustrating. I keep using them, however, because it’s best to learn how to be a little light with my writing. It gets better with practice, but I’ve got a long way to go before I can use them well.

My favorite to use is the Nikko G. It’s great for my heavy-handedness. Light pressing gives gorgeous hairlines and moderate-heavy pressure gives beautiful swells. Highly recommended for beginners as I find it isn’t a delicate nib. It’ll take a good amount of accidental “oops, I pressed really hard” to break this one. In fact, I still haven’t broken my first one.

Broad Edge Pens

broad pens

I’m not much for dip broad edge pens right now. I prefer using Pilot Parallel pens for broad edge work. They’re so much more portable and the refills are cheap. You can also mix colors by touching the tips of the pens together to get a gradient on your work. I have a set of all the sizes available (that I know of). From top to bottom are: 6.0mm, 3.8mm, 2.4mm, and 1.5mm. I use the 2.4mm size most often. My favorite scripts with broad edge are: black letter, uncial, and italic. I use the panda case (pictured) to carry around my parallel pens so I can practice wherever and whenever I feel like it!

Tombow Brush Pens for myself. You’re not limited to brush pens, obviously! You can use actual brushes. For watercolor brush calligraphy, I often use my Pentel Aquash pens with my Sakura Watercolor Palette. Watercolor gives such a nice, soft gradient and when mixed with brush calligraphy creates beautiful works of art.

tombow brush pens

Miscellaneous Tools

While I love to use paper with pre-printed guidelines, sometimes those just aren’t appropriate. I use a gridded rule and also a stainless steel ruler to help me make my guidelines.

guideline tools

I have a Staedtler Technical Pencil with 2B lead for drawing guidelines. You can use any pencil you’d like, I just have a technical pencil because I use it for sketching. 2B lead is also great since it’s fairly hard and makes it easy to get very light lines. I also have a lead sharpener as well for that fine pointed tip.

To erase guidelines, I use a plastic eraser or a kneaded eraser. I have a love-hate relationship with my kneaded eraser. Use one and you’ll see why. :laughing:

finetec palettes

If you ever get bored of just using black or brown ink, might I recommend some shiny watercolors? Finetec palettes are seriously the love of my life. They gorgeously packed with color. Just a little bit is enough to get a beautiful metallic or pearl finish. The smaller palette (top left) is one I got from a local art store, but you can find it anywhere online as well! The gold palette (bottom right) is my absolute favorite gold.

You apply ink by dipping a brush in water, swiping it in the pan, and then brushing it onto the bottom side of your pen nib. It gets a bit tedious, so I just mix up a well of water with some bits of the pan to create my own ink solution. I’d rather just dip the pen nib in as usual. Faster for writing too!

Books

I picked up quite a few calligraphy books when I first started out. I used them to first learn proper basic technique for holding a pen and as a guideline for buying tools. Afterwards, I just started using them as script references to see how my letterforms should be.

A couple of my favorites are:
Mastering Calligraphy: The Complete Guide to Hand Lettering by Gaye Godfrey-Nicholls — I mostly use this for broad pen script references. It has wonderful exemplars!
Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy by Eleanor Winters — It’s pretty old, but an all around well recommended book for copperplate. It has step-by-step on how to learn each part of the letter needed for copperplate.

I have plenty more calligraphy tools, but these are my most frequently used ones. I’m always looking for things to add to my toolbox because reasons, haha. I have a somewhat ridiculous hobby-shopping problem. I just like to know I have the tools available should I ever need to use them! :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: