Calligraphy is a skill. That means as a practitioner of calligraphy you will need to regularly do calligraphy to remain good and improve at calligraphy. Like all skills the more you use it the better you can become. Can. Contrary to what we have been told, practice doesn’t make perfect. How you practice is how you will do in this case write. If your practice doesn’t help you improve, then simply put, you won’t improve. It takes work, a willingness to make mistakes in order to learn and watching what is happening as you do calligraphy and after you do calligraphy.
Three simple steps for the beginning calligrapher – A reminder for the rest of us.
1 – Do warm-ups. No, I don’t mean stretches and jumping jacks though there is evidence that says doing those kind of warm-ups can help. No, I mean do pen warm-ups. You might remember when I posted about warm-ups. Those are what I am talking about. Spend some time doing these warm-ups. They help get your brain thinking about calligraphy and they help to teach as well as fine-tune your muscle memory for controlling your pen.
Always do warm-ups. Warm-up before you draw even one letter. Warm-up before you practice, warm-up before you do projects. Do your warm-ups for everything. Why? Besides the reasons I gave above, it also helps you to find out how the ink is flowing that day, how your pen is writing that day, if you need to make any adjustments to anything. It helps you find out any hiccups or problems that may exist before they ruin a project you are working on.
2 – Practice using pangrams. What is a pangram? Pangrams are words or sentences containing every letter of the alphabet at least once. One of the most famous in English is “The quick brown fox jumped over a lazy dog.” Using pangrams let you practice your letter forms as well as inter-letter spacing, inter-word spacing and even practicing spacing paragraphs. In other words pangrams server multiple purposes at the same time in a rather organic way that is far less boring than writing the same letter over and over again and then switching to the next letter and writing that over and over again.
Some websites for pangrams.
– This is one of my favorites. It has pangrams in a large variety of languages.
– Or you could just google pangrams.
3 – Practice only for a short time each day. At first. When I started doing calligraphy I was told to practice for no more than 15 minutes a day. That seemed stupid to me at the time. Such a short time period, what use is that? Its all that is needed to develop the muscle memory and to learn to control the pen correctly. Going for longer than that for most beginners will cause arm fatigue as well as mental fatigue. When you are fatigued you start to do things wrong, not catch that and you end up developing muscle memory for doing it the wrong way. This causes you to take a much longer time to learn to do the calligraphy correctly. So for whatever you are working on, finished project, first draft or just doing pangrams and fooling around, keep to 15 minutes or whatever your fatigue limit is.
Once you can do 15 minutes of calligraphy without getting a fatigued hand, arm or brain add 5 minutes for at least a week. Then add another 5 minutes if you aren’t getting fatigued. Before you know it you will be writing for an hour or more. Is it imperative that you follow this suggestion exactly? No. What is important is that you recognize when you are about to get fatigued and that, as a beginner, you stop before you hit that point. This 15 minute advice is one of the best ways for a beginner to learn how to tell they are getting fatigued.
Tips that can really help
– When you stop doing calligraphy for whatever reason, potty break, your 15 minutes is up, try to stop at the end of a line. Why is that so important? Because oddly enough your calligraphy will change when you come back especially if you have been gone for 15 minutes or longer. Don’t believe me? Try it out. Write a half a line of calligraphy and stop. Come back the next day and write the other half of the line of calligraphy. Most of the time you will see a distinct (if small) difference between the two.
– Half a nib width, or how we try to make small things bigger than they actually are. Often our eye sees small things and our brain magnifies the difference. Many serifs and feet on words are not much bigger than a half a nib width. As a beginner I tried to make things bigger than they needed to be because my eye showed me something and my brain interpreted it as having to make it much bigger than it actually was. No surprise when you know that with the naked eye the human eye can see the difference in the length of a line down to 1/132 of an inch. For those that use metric that is 0.1924 mm.
One way a beginner can put things into perspective is to draw the letter and then hold it next to the ductus example. I did this and quickly changed how big I did things and then I was told about the half nib-width rule of thumb. Generally speaking serifs are not much more than a half a nib width and other variation seem to follow this rule of thumb. Keep in mind that a rule of thumb is not exact and is not a hard and fast rule. Its really more of a very useful guideline.
– Practice large, work small.
Larger nibs, generally Speedball 0, 1: Brause 4 mm, 5 mm and Mitchel 0 and 1 are the nibs to do your practice work with. You learn to control your nib better, you see how your strokes can be improved much more easily and you see how your connections are actually doing. Large work translates to small work very well. You do your work small and everything just works really well. However, small to large doesn’t work well at all. Small work hides your mistakes so when you go larger, your mistakes get magnified and now you have to overcome all that muscle memory you already developed. Just practice large and work small and you won’t have that frustration.
– Very importantly, have someone knowledgeable you trust look over your work and give constructive criticism as well as useful suggestions for improvement. Have them discuss how to see the things that need to be improved and importantly how to see the things you are doing very well. Like everyone else on the planet, you will have things you can improve. It doesn’t matter if you are a master calligrapher or a first day beginner or anything in between. There is always room for improvement and a second set of trusted eyes can be really useful in helping you do that. So there you have it, three steps and four tips on how to get better calligraphy for the beginner – a reminder for the rest of us. I hope this post was helpful to you.