It is no secret that our culture today is ruled by technology, busyness, and accomplishments. It’s a constant challenge not to be consumed by this mindset, even when attempting to emulate a life of simplicity and unhurriedness as Jesus did. Calligraphy has become a surprising place of refuge for me—a precious time to slow-down and step away from the frenzy of everyday life. It gives me space to breathe slowly, think about what I’m actually feeling, and spend time with God. It doesn’t hurt that I can make some pretty pieces while doing it! I have found calligraphy to be a wonderful spiritual tool and would love to share it with you, with the hope that you can use it to cultivate beauty and make space for God to speak into your life as well.
There are only a few tools you need to get started, all of which should be available at your local art or craft store.
● INDIA INK: I usually use the cheapest brand available. This ink is permanent, so be careful with the clothes you wear while using it.
● ZEBRA G NIBS: Nibs are the part of a dip pen which deposits ink onto the page. There are many different types, shapes, and sizes. These are my standard-go-to nibs that I use every day. They are super durable and last a long time. If you can’t find this exact model, go for any pointed nib that you can find.
● SPEEDBALL STANDARD PEN HOLDER: This is a great basic pen holder that you can use with a variety of calligraphy nibs.
● BLANK RHODIA PAPER: This is my favorite paper! It is so smooth—which makes it great for beginners, but you can work with any smooth craft/art paper you may have. Try to avoid paper with fibers that can get caught on your pointed pen (e.g. printer paper, construction paper).
Now that you have your supplies, let’s get started!
1 | SET UP YOUR PEN
Grab your nib and insert the non-pointed end into the round opening at the top of your penholder. While holding the nib still, twist the pen until you feel enough tension that your nib won’t fall out when held upside down and will stay put when you apply pressure on it. Don’t push your nib too far into the penholder—it’s best to have 1” of the nib visible. This is how you’ll set up your pen and nib each time you write with it.
2 | PREP YOUR NIB
Nibs come coated in manufacturer’s oil, which interferes with how ink adheres to it. You’ll want to clean this oil off so you can have a smooth ink flow. Dip the nib into the ink and use a paper towel to wipe the ink and oil off. (Feel free to take the nib out of the penholder as you clean.) The ink should coat your nib now. You’ll want to do this for all the new nibs you use.
3 | REINSERT YOUR NIB
Reinsert your nib per the instructions in step one.
4 | UNDERSTANDING THE DYNAMICS
While traditional calligraphy is defined by rules, modern calligraphy has no rules and is only defined by thick downstrokes and thin upstrokes. Ensuring you can make those thick downstrokes is key to your modern calligraphy skills, so be sure to spend some time on it. To practice, without using any ink, move the penholder down your paper and apply enough pressure that the point of your nib opens up into the two tines it consists of. This is how you will make those thick downstrokes with a tiny pointed nib. With a nib and ink, it’s all about pulling your pen across the page with enough pressure to open the tines, as opposed to when you use a pen and have to press harder on the tip to make a thicker stroke. With that understanding, let’s start writing!
5 | INK IT UP
Dip your nib into the ink and try not to get any ink on the actual pen holder. Gently tap your nib against the lip of your ink jar to shake off any excess ink. Sitting with a straight back, use your non-writing arm’s elbow to stabilize your body. Arrange your paper at a 45° angle, angled up toward your writing hand. Hold the pen at a 45° angle, with the oval hole of the nib (called the reservoir) always positioned at the top of the penholder. You should be able to see the reservoir whenever you’re writing. Put the nib to paper, and move your hand down the page, apply pressure so the tines open up and you’re able to get a thick stroke.
6 | WORK ON STROKES
You made your first stroke. Practice making more thick strokes, playing around with the length and thickness of each. Try to make the thickest stroke possible—don’t worry, you won’t break your nib! Once you’re comfortable with that, try making strokes without applying pressure. You should be able to make thin hairlines with your pointed nib, keeping the tines together. Once you are comfortable making thick and thin strokes, have fun playing around with your new tool by making doodles. Then, move on to practicing the exercises shown.
7 | PRACTICE
Practice, practice, practice! Each letter can be broken down into the strokes you’ve gone over in the exercises. Once you’ve mastered the exercise strokes, letters will be easy-as-pie!
8 | ABCs
Use the alphabet guide included here to begin practicing letters. Feel free to pick up your pen when making a letter, but try to make it look like a seamless stroke as best you can. As you become more proficient with these letters, try to put your own personal spin on each one as you continue to practice.
9 | MAKING WORDS
Connect your letters in a cursive style to start making words. I look at where the letter ends and where the next one begins to determine the easiest way to connect them—usually some sort of fun loop that’ll bring them all together. I try to only disconnect my letters once per word, or else I find it looks too choppy and incohesive, but don’t let that limit you!
Calligraphy may seem like a difficult skill to learn, but you can do it—it’s simply a matter of granting it enough time and practice. Spend time on these nine steps and you will soon get a solid handle on nib and ink calligraphy — and make some beautiful art in the process.
Use this time doing calligraphy to slow down and have a heart-to-heart with God after a long day, or gather some girlfriends and enjoy learning it together. If you run out of ideas of what to practice, Scripture is always my go-to! Spend some time in the Word, let it speak goodness into your life, and maybe even memorize some verses! Whatever you do, I hope you can enjoy these moments of beauty and creativity and allow them to pour into all aspects of your life.
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