Getting Started in Pointed Pen Calligraphy- Part I

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The question I get asked the most is "What supplies would you recommend for beginners?". It can be a bit overwhelming if you are just getting your feet wet in the world of calligraphy, so to save you time, research, AND money, here are some of my personal favorites! Please note that all of the following recommendations/tips are solely from my personal experience.  

1. PAPER

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Paper does matter! It's important to practice on the right kind of paper to relieve frustration when writing. My first paper purchase was Strathmore's Calligraphy pad and I had such a hard time writing on textured paper. These are some of my favorite paper to practice with:

  1. HP Premium Choice Laser Paper- 500 pages for $20, you can't go wrong with this paper! Download guide sheets and print them right onto this paper. Thick and smooth.
  2. Rhodia Pads- Really smooth. I like practicing on their graph paper and lined pads. I also use their blank pads for when I need to digitize my work
  3. Copperplate Practice Pad- This is a graph paper with slant lines. I love using this for sketching out designs and for practicing my letterforms

1. NIBS

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When I first started my journey, I bought the "Pointed Nib Sampler" from John Neal Books, which had 30 different nibs that are commonly used for Copperplate/Spencerian. I still haven't gotten through all of them, but here are some of my personal favorites!

Top Row (L-R): Nikko G, Zebra G, Gillot 404, Hunt 22 Bottom Row (L-R): Brause 361, Blanzy 552, Brause 66ef, Hunt 101

The top row of nibs are really sturdy with medium flex. They are great for beginners and I've included these for my beginners workshops. The G nibs are a bit stiff, but because of my heavy hand, I like writing with them. The Brause 361 and Blanzy 552 nibs work well on more textured paper. Keep in mind that the Brause 361 is not as sharp, so it won't give you those fine hairlines. Brause 66ef is a great nib that will give you the fine hairlines and thick shades. However, you will have the dip often with this one! Lastly, the Hunt 101 will give you the most flex out of the ones pictured, but this one has a very sharp point so may tend to snag on the paper if you have a heavy hand.

My advice would be: Try a couple of different nibs and see what works for you! Everyone has a different hand, so it might take a bit of trial & error before you find one that you love :)

3. INK

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For black ink, these are the only inks I've tried:

  • Moon Palace Sumi Black Ink
  • Old World Iron Gall
  • McCaffery's Penman's Ink

The Moon Palace is thicker than the other two, but I love the richness of that ink. I bought the other two when I took a Spencerian class, and they both flow out of my nib smoothly. You will be able to achieve finer hairlines with the Iron Gall and Penman's Ink. They write slightly translucent, but darken as they dry. I've also heard good things about Kuretake Ink.

4. PEN HOLDER

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These are all the holders I own. I have two straight holders and two oblique holders. As a left handed calligrapher, when I first took a workshop, I was given an oblique holder. However, trying to figure out the right pen hold, paper angle, AND attempt to write proper letterforms was a challenge. So, I quickly changed to a straight holder and have enjoyed my journey in focusing on my letterforms with the paper turned 45 degrees to the right. Now, after a year of writing, I recently picked up an oblique pen again after meeting Michael Sull. I am still learning, but I do see some benefits of writing with a right oblique holder as a left hander (more on this for a separate post).  I also noticed that the transition from a straight to an oblique wasn't as hard this time because I knew what the letters should look like. It was a matter of re-adjusting my paper angle and pen hold.

Some things to consider when buying a penholder:

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  • Not all straight holders are the same. Some have a metal ring and 4 prongs (pictured above on the left) and others just have a circle. I personally find that the left one can fit more nib sizes because of the metal prongs.
  • With an oblique pen, you can start with a Speedball plastic penholder or upgrade to a wooden one with a metal flange. I don't have any problems with the Speedball plastic penholder. Just make sure to get the right nibs so that the point of the nib aligns as close as possible to the center of the penholder. With the metal flange, you will be able to customize it more to your specific hand.

Give both a try! There's no right or wrong penholder to use. Just make sure when you are writing, the eye of the nib is parallel to the slant line.

Happy Writing, Younghae


I'll be sharing some other favorite calligraphy supplies! Stay tuned for Part II!