Getting Started with Pointed Pen Modern Calligraphy
The essential tools you need to get going
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If you’ve ever wanted to create your own greeting cards for friends and family or beautifully lettered art work to display around your home then learning modern calligraphy with a dip pen and ink is a great place to start.
One of the benefits about getting started with this art form is that you don’t need many materials. Some you’ll no-doubt already have lying around at home and the ones that you do need to buy new won’t break the bank or take up too much space - unlike that exercise bike-now-clothes-horse!
Getting creative and taking the time to learn something new like calligraphy is also a wonderful antidote to the fast pace of modern life. We all need to slow down once in a while and be mindful of what we’re doing and practicing your hand lettering certainly encourages this.
I’ve rounded up my favourite materials (ones that I personally use) that you need for a calligraphy starter kit so you can get going and where to get them from so you can get started on your creative journey.
Materials for beginners
1. A pencil
Yes, I told you you’d have some of these tools already, and if a pencil is all you have then you’ve got enough to get started.
With a pencil you can practice applying pressure to those down strokes to create thick shaded lines and then releasing the pressure for those swoon-worthy ultra thin up strokes.
Grab the back of an envelope and swap your phone doodling to this and you’ll be away! It really is that instant and they’re portable too, not to mention clean; there’s no need to worry about getting ink everywhere with a trusty pencil.
2. Rhodia paper
Practicing on scraps of paper is fine when you’re using a pencil but you’re going to want something more suitable when you’re using ink, and I love the Rhodia layout pads.
They’re smooth enough to let the nib glide yet have the right amount of absorbency so that the ink doesn’t pool or feather out. It’s also thin enough to trace through whilst strong enough to hold its own. You can get pads that are plain as well as with lines, dots and squares should you want them.
3. A pen holder
So here you have a choice between a straight pen holder and an oblique pen (the one with the jutty-out bit, a.k.a. the flange). You’ll probably want to try them both out although left handers should be able to get away with the straight pen. This speedball pen is low-priced and will hold the suggested nibs securely, plus they’re really easy to insert.
I wouldn’t advise that you buy the plastic speedball oblique pen though, despite the tempting price - go for this one instead. It’s comfortable and will create that all-important angle. just shift your paper rather than your hand or seating position. For me, the switch from a straight pen to an oblique was a complete game-changer and I’ve never looked back since.
As a beginner you’ll want a nib that’s not too flexible but can still give you those thick and thin strokes whilst lettering the alphabet without too many problems. The Zebra G and the Manuscript G Handwriting Nib are both great options.
I’d suggest buying 2 or 3 so that you have another one on standby as, like with all nibs, they won’t last forever (no matter how hard you try!)
5. Window cleaning fluid
You’ll need to prepare your new nibs by removing the protective coating applied in the manufacturing stage which keeps them rust-free. Unfortunately it resists ink which isn’t what you want and will prevent the ink from flowing down the nib.
My favourite method is using window cleaner. Simply place the nib into the pen holder then dip it into the fluid for around 20 seconds then rinse it in water after.
Alternatively, gently scrub the nib with an old toothbrush and a little toothpaste or washing up liquid on both sides.
6. A pot of ink (or 2!)
Technically, you only need one pot of ink to get going – but I understand that it’s near-impossible to resist all of the colours, not to mention the metallics. I like the Winsor and Newton calligraphy ink in the round pots (not the small pots of drawing ink as I find it too thin).
It’s of a decent thickness so you shouldn’t need to refill the nib too often, plus it’s even in tone. If you’re going to treat yourself then go for gold. It shows up well on white and holds its shape well as it’s thicker.
7. A small paint brush
For some mystical reason unknown to me, there are some inks - designed for calligraphy - that come in pots which are too small to fit a nib attached to an oblique holder in. They’re fine for straight pens, but if you’re like me and don’t get on well with a straight pen you’ll be wanting a wider neck on the jar.
Applying the ink with a paint brush is an easy answer and you can use the end of it to stir those metallic inks that tend to separate.
8. A jar of water
Keeping an old jam jar of water on standby at all times is essential to ensure a smooth flow of ink through your nib. As you’re working, the ink will dry around the nib so they require cleaning every now and again, not just at the end. I like to keep an old toothbrush in the jar too to get every last bit of ink off.
9. A rag
Ideally use a cloth that’s tightly woven so that the fibres can’t catch on the nib and cause damage. Ensuring that your nib is cleaned and dried properly will prolong its life. I always take mine out of the holder so I can clean it along with the pen holder thoroughly. I learnt my lesson the hard way: my first nib is heavily welded in with ink into the holder that it’s there to stay forever!
Just a final note about setting everything up…I always place my water, ink and paintbrush to the side of my work on the same side as the hand I’m writing with; in my case, on the right.
If you do this you’ll avoid crossing your page with an inky pen and making more mess than you need to - always a bonus!
I hope that helps and solves the problem of ‘what do I need to get started?’
With just a small investment on a few key materials along with digging around some cupboards you’ll be raring to go in no time.
I’d love it if you could join me on Instagram and tag me @mirabellemakery so I can see how you’re getting on with your modern calligraphy adventure!
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