I’ve been asked a few times how to get started in calligraphy. I’m still very much a beginner myself, with only a few months under my belt, but here is my story.
I wasn’t actually interested in calligraphy at first – I wanted to draw letter forms, and copperplate style calligraphy was one of many styles of lettering that I was interested in. I bought a few lettering books, one specifically on copperplate calligraphy, and began sketching out words using them as a reference. It didn’t take long for me to become interested in doing it the proper way, with a dip pen and ink rather than a pencil.
The book I worked from is Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy: A Step-By-Step Manual by Eleanor Winters, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone interested in beginning calligraphy – even if you want to write in a modern rather than traditional style. Winters doesn’t just break down each letter into strokes and common mistakes – there’s also essential information about the space between letters, how to lay out a composition, how to create guide sheets and all the little things that you wouldn’t think were necessary until you read them. I’d liken practicing calligraphy in a very stylised style to stylised drawings of people – if your aim is to draw very simple cartoon people, then maybe you don’t need to study human anatomy and how bodies move. But having that base knowledge will only inform your stylisation, and will mean you’re not rationalising bad design by saying “But that’s just my style!”.
That book helped me to slow down and not try to run before I could walk. Practicing for an hour every day (sadly I haven’t been able to keep up that level of vigilance), I spent a good couple of days just drawing the basic strokes. Yep, not even letters – just lines and curves, which eventually led into miniscules (the lowercase alphabet), uppercase, variations of both, and special characters. Then it was learning how to connect different letters and control the space between them so that words flow naturally – this involved writing out every miniscule letter connected to every other miniscule letter. Even the ones that don’t make sense connected together, just for the sake of completion and practice.
Since then it’s been practicing by writing phrases and words, and experimenting with different styles. I really enjoyed Molly Jacques’ Introduction to the Art of Modern Calligraphy class on Skillshare to try out a more modern style, and have started following other calligraphers and lettering artists on Instagram, where videos are amazingly useful. Sometimes without intending to, I absorb influences both from calligraphy and from type in general, and slowly my style is starting to deviate from the traditional copperplate style beginnings.
I’ve been practicing for nine months now, at least a few hours a week, and I still feel like I’m barely brushing the surface. I’ve found that the more I learn, the more I realise I still have to learn – I compare myself to the amazing work I see from others and feel like I’ll never compare. But looking back at where I started, actually I think I have come a long way!
Calligraphy is nothing to do with talent, and everything to do with practice and perseverance. If you can write (even badly) and have oodles of patience, you can become good at calligraphy. If you don’t have those things, all the talent in the world will not help you. I have a bit of a head start from a background in drawing, design and typography, but really it’s the hard slog that makes all the difference.
I’ll be posting more calligraphy tips and answering some common questions I get, so if you want to know anything in particular please do let me know!