Calligraphy 101: Using Your Nib For the First Time

Sorry for the one week delay on this post, friends. I'm sure the suspense was no fun. By now, I'm sure you're an expert on fauxligraphy, right? A cold wreaked havoc on our household last week, but I'm happy to report that we're all almost back to normal health :) Ok, on to the good stuff! 

It's time to finally get some ink on your nib and see what it can do! As I mentioned before, my first nib that I ever used was the Blue Pumpkin and it's still one of my favorite nibs to use, today! If this is your first time using your nib, go ahead and take a toothbrush a little dish detergent (you can also use toothpaste!) and gently wipe it down under running water. This primes the nib for use and removes oils left behind during manufacturing. It should also help improve the initial ink flow. To prep your pen for calligraphy, grab your holder and insert the rounded end of your nib (also known as the base) into the circular part of the holder. Be careful with the pointed end of your nib (or the tines) as you do this so as not to bend them because this will make getting ink flowing nearly impossible.

Your inserted nib should look a little something like this.

Your inserted nib should look a little something like this.

Now for the fun part, the ink! Get your water cup ready (I recommend putting a towel or something underneath it) and your ink holding vessel and pour enough ink in there so we can coat the appropriate part of the nib without having to tip it over. You'll notice that we'll end up gripping the holder the same way you would a pen, the biggest difference will be in you wrist, but we'll get to that in a second. My husband's currently in his first year of medical school and they recently started anatomy lab, so I thought it would be pretty appropriate to do a quick bit on nib anatomy. Ta da!

Nib Anatomy 101

Nib Anatomy 101

Now that we're all better versed on the various parts of the nib, grab your holder and insert the nib into your ink so that you coat about 3/4 of the nib leaving about a 1/4 of the vent untouched. Holding your pen at an approximately 45 degree angle from your paper push down gently. You'll notice that when you do, the tines will separate ever so slightly and if you get your ink flowing properly, the ink will create those thick lines we talked about in the fauxligraphy post! Note: You do not and should not have to push hard to get ink to flow. If your ink is not easily flowing from the nib, either you don't have enough ink on it or you may need to prime your nib a bit more.

Now the key to writing with a calligraphy pen that is different from a regular pen is that you don't move your wrist to make the strokes. Instead, you keep your wrist steady so the pen stays at the same angle with the paper and instead move your entire hand. You can see an example of this as I write my name in the video below. I know the videography is a bit rough,  bare with me.

So one of the first things you need to master when you start calligraphy, is getting consistent ink flow and learning how to create different thicknesses in your strokes. As we discussed in the fauxligraphy post, you want to create thick lines on your downstrokes and thinner lines on your upstrokes. To do this, you'll put a little pressure on your nib on your downstrokes and take some of that pressure off on your upstroke. Practicing this looks something like creating a lot of goofy lines on a piece of paper.

I've found the blue pumpkin nib to be quite forgiving in this regard. The blue pumpkin is a great beginner nib because the ink tends to flow really easily off of it, but you'll find that other nibs will give you thinner up strokes. The blue pumpkin tends to air on the thicker side and is therefore, a little less delicate.

Your homework for this week is to practice making lines so that you are confident in your ability to create lines of varying thicknesses. For those of you who are eager to do more, start playing with letters and see if you can connect them into words! If your own penmanship isn't your favorite, print out letters in a favorite font and practice tracing the letters creating thick downstrokes and thin upstrokes. This will also slowly train your hand to draw letters this way!

In my last post of the series, I'll tackle connecting letters to create words. I'll also share a few solutions to common issues I've run into and some resources for places that you can go to learn more. Happy lettering!