Would you love to learn modern calligraphy with a pointed pen and/or more traditional pointed pen styles like copperplate? This post will get you started with tips on supplies, books, and more.
Pointed pen calligraphy lends itself to so many projects – letters, notes, wall art, envelope art, tags, invitations, card making, and more. It makes beautiful grocery lists too! (Seriously, that’s a great way to practice…) These days, modern calligraphy has made the process so much fun.
What is Pointed Pen Calligraphy?
With pointed pen calligraphy, a pointed nib is used (unlike nibs used for broad edge styles like italic.) The pointed nib allows for curvy script lettering.
Modern calligraphy, which is a pointed pen calligraphy, has opened up a whole new world, in that it allows for more freedom, less structure, and fewer rules than traditional pointed pen calligraphy, like copperplate. Copperplate is still one of my favorite pointed pen styles too, though!
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(Photo by Cottonbro from Pexels)
How Does a Pointed Nib Work?
Basically, when you apply pressure on a pointed nib, the two tines of the nib spread apart, allowing more ink to flow. When the pressure is released, the tines snap together, and less ink flows. So, the amount of pressure you apply will determine how thin or thick the strokes will be. Light pressure on the upstrokes, more pressure on the downstrokes. (If you have ever done brush lettering with brush markers, you will have had some experience with that concept.)
The supplies are the same for modern pointed pen calligraphy as for more formal styles like copperplate.
All you need to begin is a dip pen (also called a pen holder or nib holder), some nibs (pointed style), ink, and paper. (The nibs are purchased separately from the pen.) See my resources, below.
Not an expensive hobby! I try to purchase some of my calligraphy supplies at a local art supply store, but the choices can be limited locally. So, I find many of my supplies at Amazon, Pen and Ink Arts, and John Neal Bookseller.
- Dip Pens: You will see both straight and “oblique” pen holders. (The pen that holds the nib.)
The straight wooden holders with cork barrels are very comfortable. Not all holders hold all nibs, but this one holds most nibs. Straight holders are a bit easier to use, especially for beginners and left handers. If you want to write the tradtional styles with a heavy slant like Copperplate, though, it will be more difficult to get a heavy slant with a straight holder.
I started with an oblique holder, which can be slightly more intimidating. I love the slant I can get with it, though, and I prefer it to the straight holder. Personal preference plays a part here. If you are starting out with a traditional pointed pen style, like Copperplate, you will need an oblique holder, but if you will only be doing the less formal modern calligraphy, a straight holder will be fine.
- Fountain Pens: Recently, I’ve discovered the fun of doing modern calligraphy with flex fountain pens. I have used both my Himalaya V2 fountain pen with an ultra flex nib. I’ve also used my BlueDew fountain pen that has a a proprietary nib that is much like a dip pen nib.
- Nibs: The Nikko G nib is widely recommended for beginners, and it will also fit many standard pen holders. The Zebra G nib is another one that is recommended for beginners. (Full disclosure, here – I honestly don’t remember which nib I started with, as it’s been several years! But, the 2 nibs above are typically the most commonly recommended ones for beginners.) As you progress, you may want to try a more flexible nib. I really like the Leondardt Extra Fine Principal nib, because of its flexibility. But, at first, the firmer nibs are a bit easier to use.
Note! The nibs will have a protective oil coating on them when new. The coating needs to be removed for the ink to perform well in the nib. To remove the coating, I use some toothpaste (paste, NOT gel) and gently rub the paste on the nib with a soft toothbrush, then rinse and dry gently. I have heard that wiping on some nail polish remover or setting the nib in a little window cleaner will also work, but I haven’t tried those yet! You can even stick the nib in a potato for about 15 minutes, but I haven’t tried that yet, either! (Be careful when you stick the nib into the potato, as I’ve heard that the more delicate, flexible nibs could be damaged if you are too rough.)
- Ink: There are a lot of inks that work in dip pens, and it’s fun to explore. Dr. PhMartin’s Bombay India ink in Black is a good one to start with, as is Speedball Super Black India Ink. Dr. Ph Martin’s Bleedproof White is great for dark papers. It is very thick and needs to be diluted before using, though.
- Paper: A lot of papers are too rough for calligraphy, and the nib will catch. For practice, I use HP Premium 32. This paper is heavier and much more smooth than regular printer paper. The Rhodia pads are also great for practice. They have a very smooth, satiny finish, and most inks won’t bleed on it. Strathmore Bristol Smooth paper is nice for artwork. It’s very smooth and white. Some heavy drawing papers work well, too.
- Light Box: A light box isn’t necessary for learning or practicing calligraphy, but if you are serious about calligraphy, you might find it very helpful. I wrote a post about lightboxes here.
I have the books below and love them. They each give good info about supplies and how to get started.
I learned traditional copperplate first, and then I learned to modify and loosen up to a more modern calligraphy style. It’s nice to know both.
But, if you want to start out only with a more free-form, modern look, then you may want to start with the first book.
- If you want to start with a non-traditional, free-from modern approach and skip the traditional method, Modern Calligraphy by Molly Suber Thorpe is a good book for you. This book shows many different variations of each letter and is a great book for those who are interested in starting with modern script calligraphy, without learning the more formal approach first.
- If you would like to learn the more formal copperplate style first, either of the following 2 books would be great choices: Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy by Eleanor Winters or the shorter, Copperplate Calligraphy from A to Z by Sarah Richardson. Learning the strokes of copperplate, a traditional pointed pen calligraphy style, was the perfect foundation for branching off into modern calligraphy because copperplate is the basis for modern forms of pointed pen and brush calligraphy. I learned this traditional method first, and I then took what I learned and loosened up the style to a more modern, freeform look.
I hope you’ll try pointed pen calligraphy. It’s a beautiful way to add fun and elegance to your art projects and correspondence.
Please don’t worry if you don’t have good handwriting. Calligraphy is done one stroke at a time.
(Please share, and thanks!)
And, remember, it’s always nice to have a snuggly buddy nearby as you practice!