How to Learn Calligraphy (or Fancy Writing)

When writing prayer cards, scripture booklets, or poetry, it seems fitting to make the words look as delicious on the page as they are to read.

Calligraphy was created for that purpose!

From ancient illuminated manuscripts to funny Happy Birthday cards, there is something about lovely handwriting that invites repeated reads. That is exactly what we want when inviting children to pray, meditate, and listen to God’s Word:

repeated reads.

While making booklets for a new Good Shepherd atrium yesterday, my fellow catechists asked how I learned calligraphy. I taught myself. With some time & effort, you can make life just a little more beautiful with your writing.

This post is in response to Mia, Sarah, the Darbys, and the dozens of people over the years who have asked me where I learned this unprofitable, time consuming, conversation starting, and 1000%-worth-it skill. Thanks for asking! I’m happy to spread the joy of this craft.

Trace Beautiful Writing

Handwriting is a skill your hand has to learn (or unlearn!).

CHEAP WAY TO START: Find some lovely letters or words and trace them.

Add lots of practice, and that’s really all there is to learning calligraphy. Well, that and watching YouTube videos.

Just like learning printing (or cursive), it works best to start calligraphy by practicing the alphabet, then work your way into words and sentences. After tracing dozens of times, eventually your hand will learn the slants and spacing to write that alphabet freehand.

To learn how to write and space your fancy English alphabet, I recommend this Calligraphy Paper, which looks just like the set I picked up twenty years ago when first learning calligraphy.

Beginners can use the same technique to write sentences and passages as professional calligraphers (and yes, that is actually a job):

  1. Type a passage into Microsoft Word (or other Word processor).
  2. Select the font and size you want to imitate.
  3. Print.
  4. Place a blank sheet on top.
  5. Copy.

Voila! Lovely handwriting!

For a lot of pre-printed practice along with tips and inspiration on using everyday pens to make lovely script, I highly recommend Written by Hand by Erica Tighe. It’s a great place to start, but make sure to buy your own book… don’t write in the library’s copy!!!

Buy Pens

Notice that this step is second. Until your hand knows how to make lovely script with a regular pen, it’s pointless to buy the fancy ones.

WARNING: Once you start buying fancy pens, it never stops!

This could be you:

My Writing Kit currently has 6 different brands in it. I started off with a version of this Staedtler Calligraphy Pen Set. It came with instruction booklets and a practice pad as well.

Just looking at this set brings back memories of hours sitting at my white writing desk, trying to slant the pen just right so that the ink flowed cleanly and the nib (metal end) did not rip the paper.

To be honest, it was frustrating, especially at first. Any set with nibs is very challenging because you have to hold the pen at just the right angle… but that’s exactly the point!

If you can learn to control a fountain pen, then you will be able to write with any pen. I’ve even used a quill! With an ink well! (It was messy) That experience is definitely worth the effort.

But you won’t see any fountain pens in my Writing Kit today. I prefer dual tip calligraphy pens to quickly switch back and forth between thick and thin lines, for projects like this:

Repeated reads! (haha)

My favorite calligraphy pen these days is my black Tombow Dual Brush Pen. It does a great job of imitating the brush style of Eastern calligraphy without dripping ink all over your paper. You can get Tombow Brush Pens in a variety of colors, even up to a 108-piece set so you always have the perfect color.

Another favorite dual-tip pen I really like is the archival quality Zig Calligraphy Pen. This is the one you see in my “Found Sheep” scripture booklet photo above (taken yesterday!). I use this fade proof option for prayer cards and book titles that I know will be exposed to the sunlight.

What projects would you like to make lovely with calligraphy?

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