7/14 Update: Shop all beginner supplies in this post
All of my favorite supplies and books are now listed in one place in my shop. Click to view in a new window.
I will be teaching a calligraphy class this Fall for a lovely shop in Charlottesville. More details and signup will be announced as soon as they are hammered out. As I've prepared for the class and teaching it, I've been thinking it would be helpful to others to post a quick and easy guide to some basic supplies and materials. I'm excited to share some things I have learned on my own trial and error, and through classes, in a condensed and straightforward way.
FINDING MATERIALS FOR BEGINNING CALLIGRAPHY
When I started doing calligraphy I had no guide to follow for procuring the right materials to even see if I liked it! It is surprisingly hard to figure all of this out without taking a class with a reputable calligraphy guild or experienced penman. There are also few guides online that pertain to the pointed pen. I thought that I could head up to the local art store and that it would be a pretty straightforward purchase of the supplies. I was wrong! Not all materials are created equal. Having the right supplies is crucial to getting started on the right foot and not ending your first foray into calligraphy like I did: piles of crumpled-up paper with bleeding, amateurish "scripts" all over the page. I hope to add to this series with posts on paper basics, fluid basics, and other pens and lettering resources to help others start off on the right foot and avoid some of the wrong paths that I went down in order to get started.
The first major tip I will give anyone is to have a dedicated space set aside for your calligraphy work, with all of your supplies and materials set up in the proper way. This ensures that when the inspiration strikes you are not taking a last-minute trip out to the art store, or hunting down paper and making a big mess on your kitchen table. Talk about an inspiration-killer! When you feel like doing calligraphy it should all be waiting for you somewhere (preferably with music available at the flip of a switch); even if it's a desk set-up in your basement or garage. All you have to do is show up and start writing. Margaret Shepherds book (link below) is great for tips on setting up your "studio" space.
LEARNING CALLIGRAPHY: YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY
Once you've tried calligraphy, with the right tools, and you've realized you love it, what comes next? Here's where I get on my big ole soapbox with a side of disclaimer: "your mileage may vary" or, many paths may lead to an outcome. Buuuuut this is my feeling about it. The smoothest, surest way to get there, if you are serious about calligraphy and see it as a lifetime practice, than it is of cardinal significance that you take a class in the fundamentals of copperplate from a seasoned pro, with your local guild or the IAMPETH conference. Before you can riff and create your own personal styles, it's important that your hand learns the architecture of each letter in the alphabet and how they relate to each other. How quickly you can feel confident in your understanding of copperplate will determine when you feel the sureness to strike out in your own style.
There are people who do not have any interest in investing time and money into mastering copperplate and would just like to do "calligraphy-lite". Here's where I break it down into two levels of involvement: professional and enthusiast. Everyone should be able to create beautiful things for the people they love. We live in a world where not all supplies are created equal (and there is an over-abundance of junk in the world) so the enthusiast can, unfortunately, end up with a bag full of crap from a big box craft store, waste a bunch of paper and ink, and hate calligraphy. I think a basic, newbie class to learn a style (like the introductory class I'm teaching at RPS) is a wonderful option for getting into calligraphy. Lots of modern calligraphers are doing this and there are options all across the country. That's where this basic list of supplies comes in, but it's for all of us; new, seasoned or dabbler.
So! Long disclaimer there, I hope that all makes sense (comment if you have any questions and I'll be happy to respond). And at the bottom of this post are a number of online resources that I think are worth checking out.
BEGINNER SUPPLIES (MY FAVORITES)
- Water jar and old toothbrush for cleaning your nib
- Linen cloth for drying your nibs
- Recommended oblique pen holder (much nicer, adjustable and a bit more expensive than the basic one above.)
- Hunt 22 nib is another great nib for Copperplate calligraphy. Creates thicker down strokes than the Nikko G nib and is more flexible and delicate.
MY FAVORITE BOOKS
EXCELLENT ONLINE RESOURCES
- Zanerian.com: Dr. Joe Vitolo's site chock full of tutorials, lessons, guides, you-name-it, he's got it covered!
- Dr. Joe Vitolo on IAMPETH: Complete video series on learning Copperplate
- Tristan B. of Besotted Brand has put together some amazing and in depth posts that should not be missed when you are starting out and which go into much more detail than I have here on supplies.
- IAMPETH: The go-to for all-things pointed pen
- Classes in your area: Maybelle Imasa-Stukulus (my calligra-pal and just an amazingly talented calligrapher) offers classes all over the country (and has recently gone International). Check out your local guild for information on local classes.
- A Place to Flourish has a nice round-up of US Guilds to check out and tips for beginners!