Calligraphy 101: Creating Words & Troubleshooting

Wow! I can't believe that January came and went so quickly. Happy February 1st everyone! This is my final installment of the January Calligraphy 101 series. I hope you've gained a little more confidence in your ability to tackle calligraphy and overcome your barriers to getting started!

So the final  thing I am going to share with you is how to begin connecting your letters to form words. For those of you that took cursive growing up, this may come quite naturally for you. For those of you that did not, no worries! At the end of the day, you'll develop a connecting style that works best for you. The biggest trick in going from drawing letters to connecting them into words is keeping your wrist steady as your nib flows across the page. Unlike holding a traditional pen where you bend and move your wrist to write, with a nib, you actually hold your wrist as steady as possible to maintain the 45 degree angle with your page and keep that ink flowing. I've demonstrated this for you in the video below. 

The key to learning to write words in calligraphy is to break them down into their individual letters. As you get more comfortable, things will flow more naturally, but in the beginning, you can practice by over exaggerating your pen lift after each letter. Watch the video below as I write the word love using this method.

To help you get started with your practice, I've created a free downloadable worksheet that includes a few capital letters, some lowercase letters, a few words, as well as some blank lines for you to play with! I recommend printing this on heavier weight card stock (60lb+) so that the ink doesn't bleed. The Calligrpahy 101 worksheet can be downloaded here.

Some of the most common issues that I've run into over my time doing calligraphy are thinning ink, blotchy /bleeding ink, and issues with ink flowing from my nib. Below are a few solutions for things that I've found worked well to fix those!

  1. Thinning Ink - Get yourself some Gum Arabic. It's actually for water color, but it works really well to help thicken up your ink when you find that it's too runny. Note, this stuff is potent so you really only need to add a drop or two. I would say start with a very small amount, test it, and keep mixing it in until you find the consistency you're going for.
  2. Blotchy/Bleeding Ink - The splatters and the less than straight lines can be cause by one of two things. First, your putting far too much pressure on your nib to get the ink to flow. Try easing up on the pressure to see if this helps. If you're already applying the light pressure, the issue might actually be the paper you're using. Papers that are too thin will cause the ink to bleed. This is why I recommend thicker card stocks or even multipurpose media papers. Just keep in mind that the smoother the paper, the easier it will be for the ink on your nib to flow!
  3. Ink Not Flowing from Your Nib - You've prepped your nib and ink still isn't flowing from it? Maybe it's your ink and not your nib! Some inks that you can purchase start off on the thin side, while others (like the gold Winsor &Newton Ink that I like to use) can sometimes get a little thicker over time. Use water to thin out your ink (again, using this sparingly) until to you get it to a consistency in which it more easily flows. Eventually you'll find the consistency that works best for you and your various nibs!

If you still have specific questions about issues you're running into, or if there's a topic that you'd like for me to cover that I didn't, leave me a note in the comments below! I would love to continue this series throughout the year if y'all are finding it useful :) In the meantime, if your passion for learning calligraphy has been ignited, I would highly encourage you to sign up for an in person workshop with a local calligrapher or visit The Postman's Knock for a slew of great hand lettering resources. Good luck, friends. Thanks for following along! I hope you enjoy the adventure that learning calligraphy brings!