Calligraphy – Drills and Warm-ups

On February 24, 2013 I wrote a post titled,”Ladders, Angles and Drills Oh My!”  Where I covered some basic terms, ladders, pen angles and some basic drills.  I included a picture that had the uncial alphabet written with 2 different pen angles.The other two posts are on doing pen ladders; and on analyzing the alphabet.

Today, we will get more in depth with the picture and how to analyze calligraphy.  I will be making three posts so that each part can be looked at by itself and thereby won’t run the risk of being information overload.  The end goal being that you will be able to start analyzing your own (and perhaps other’s’) work so that you can see what you are doing well at, and what you can improve upon.  I cut up the picture I took and we will be using that familiar picture as we move forward.

Any picture you see you can click on and get a larger image of it.  You will probably want to take advantage of doing that.  I can only make the pictures so large on this page before they become distorted.

I’m pretty sure some of you already found some of the errors and problems from that picture.  Good for you!  Now I’m going to expose those errors to everyone.  Many of these errors were on purpose, some were not.

Doing drills and warm-ups

Drills and warm ups help get your mind and your muscles where they need to be for writing your calligraphy. Warm-ups also help you to maintain excellent control of your pen and your ink as you get started doing your calligraphy work.  It also helps you to determine what specific things you need to work on to improve your calligraphy.  Just like in the graphic above, green is good, red means it needs improvement.

Drill Lines

Getting your pen to move where you want to move when you want it to move is the most important thing to being a calligrapher.  Control of your pen is just as important to forming your letters correctly as it is for a sculptor to control their chisel and a painter to control their brush.  Drills help you to learn how to get that control and how to maintain that control.

Perpendicular Strokes:

In section A the 45 degree line (top line,) we see the first stroke the pen took control.  Halfway through the stroke the pen slid slight to the left causing the letter to have a bend in its side.  Why did the pen slip left?  Broad tipped pens want to take the path of least resistance.  Since the pen is being pulled down and the angle of the pen is 45 degrees leaning toward the end of the line, the pen is going to want to pull to the left.  In the second and third stroke we see that I did not let the pen do that again.

As we look at the 30 degrees section of A (the bottom line,) we see that the first stroke looks great.  However the next two strokes present two different mistakes.  The middle stroke presents the same problem as the first stroke in the top line.  the pen pulled the hand away from where the hand was supposed to go.  So a dip was created in the line.  The third stroke is leaning forward.  This problem is mostly a judgment error on the part of the calligrapher.  “I thought I was pulling straight down but instead it was at an angle.”   There are several ways to cure this.  One is making sure you have your arm directly below and in line with where you want the pen to go. This helps ensure that you are keeping your arm and hand in line instead of moving your arm like a windshield wiper when you are writing..  A second way to fix this problem is to draw an imaginary straight line with your eye from the top line to the bottom line. This imaginary guide can really help to keep your hand moving where your hand need to be while making the stroke.

To warm up I draw two full lines of these perpendicular strokes.

Horizontal Lines:

In section B we see three horizontal strokes one above another.  In the top line we see several different problems.  The top stroke is acceptable.

The middle stroke shows us what happens when the pen suddenly changes angle in the middle of the stroke and then is changed back.  In this case the angle of the pen decreased from 45 degrees to a shallower angle and then back up to 45 degrees.  While changing pen angle in the middle of a stroke is a valid technique, I do not suggest it for beginners.  More importantly for our purposes, that is not what was being practiced in these strokes.  So what happened?  In this case I pushed the pen too hard and caught the bottom corner of the nib.  This caused the bottom corner of the nib to slow, while the top corner continued on and this pulled the top corner down slightly.  This caused the pen angle change.  I lightened up the pressure I was putting on the pen and my fingers moved the nib back to the correct angle.  Too late, the damage was done and the stroke is marred.

The number one solution to this problem is to not press down hard on the nib.  Act as if you are trying to pull the ink out of the paper.  This will also save your nibs as pressing down on your nibs is hard on them and they wear out and die more quickly if you press down hard on them.  The solution to the stork being marred if the ink you are using will allow it, is to put the pen down exactly at the same starting point and redo the stroke.  This is not an easy thing to get exactly right.  You run the risk of making the stroke look longer and fatter when you do this, so be careful.

The bottom stroke in the top line of section B shows us a different mistake.  The pen is once again asserting its control over the hand.  Well in this case it is having an argument with the hand and the hand over reacted.  The pen is being pulled to the right and the pen is at a 45 degree angle to the bottom line.  It will naturally want to pull up and away from the bottom line.  The way to compensate for this is to ensure that your hand uses the proper pressure to keep the line straight.  When you feel the pen tip want to slide up there is a temptation to add pressure toward the bottom of the line.  When you put too much pressure toward the bottom of the line (as when you over react,) you, not the pen, cause the pen to dip down.  Of course you realize this immediately and let up the pressure.  This causes the horizontal stroke to have a bit of a wave to it.  Also a valid stroke, but only when you mean to be making that stroke. In this case that was not what was being practiced.

Okay so how did the bottom line horizontal strokes do?

Each stroke is good.  All three are flat and level.  See I really can control my pen and draw the strokes correctly.

Curves to the Right:

In section C we see curves to the right, or what it often though of as the closing stroke for the letter “o”. While that is true other letters use this stroke more than you might think.  In both the top and bottom strokes for this section we see that the bottom has some red circles showing a stroke coming off the curve.  This is a valid technique to use but is not what was being practiced here.  It is important to make sure that you do not fall into habits that will end up putting the wrong thing in the wrong spot.  It is important to keep your strokes crisp and clean and to control your pen.  In this case I pulled the pen away from the bottom of the stroke as I was lifting the pen.  This caused the extra unwanted mark(s).  The solution is to simply lift your pen off the paper before you move your hand to the next stroke.

Curves to the Left:

In section D we see curves to the left or what is often thought of as the first half of the letter “o”.  While this is true other letter use this stroke more than you might think as well.  In the top line we see three good curve to the left strokes.  While each stroke is not exactly like the stroke next to the strokes were not done by a type writer. They were done by hand and the beauty of calligraphy comes from the process of being hand done.

The bottom line of section D however shows some errors.  The first one shows two flat spots in the curve as shown by the red lines.  This happens when you carry the stroke on for too long in one direction and then attempt to compensate by going straight back to where you meant to be, causing another flat stroke and thus the second red line.  When drawing curves you should have no flat spots.  The solution is to pay attention and curve your stroke.

The second stroke is a good example of the correct way to draw this stroke.

The third stroke at first glance seems to have no errors but somehow does not look right.  That is because the starting and ending strokes are too long. They are throwing off the proportion of the stroke.  And these beginning and ending parts being too long make it difficult to make a connecting stroke to form the letter.  So avoid this mistake.


I included examples of the diagonal strokes so that you can see how the pen angle can drastically change the look of the stroke you are drawing.  The problems and solutions you have drawing diagonals are solved by using solutions you have already been given.  Control your pen, understand it will naturally want to go places you may not want it to go, anticipate and work to put the pen where it belongs.

5 responses to “Calligraphy – Drills and Warm-ups

  1. Pingback: Ladders, Angles, and Drills Oh My! | scribescribbling·

  2. Pingback: Common Strokes in Your Script | scribescribbling·

  3. Pingback: Ladders, Angles, and Drills Oh My! | scribescribbling·

  4. Pingback: A Deeper Analysis of Calligraphy – Pen Ladders | scribescribbling·

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