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Learning Calligraphy

This page is a guide to help you get started in calligraphy, containing info on tools, materials, techniques and resources.

1.) Where do I start if I want to learn Calligraphy?  2.) Also, do you use dip pens, or pens with cartridges, or both? 3.) What books would you recommend to a beginner?

1). My first recommendation would be that you find a calligraphy society in your area and scout out a good teacher. I think John Neal Books can be of some help here.
If not possible or you want to get started right now, I’ve made some recommendations about books and materials . (Check the links to the right for more info.)

2.) Dip pens or fountain pens? (update)
Since I wrote the below paragraph, Pilot has come out with it’s Parallel Pen. A great practice tool that some have used for finished work.
Fountain pens are used for writing correspondence and practice and sometimes a teaching device.
The inks in cartridges are not permanent for serious work meant to last and the nibs (tips) usually need to be worked a little bit (sharpened & polished). if sufficient interest comes of this I will explain in more detail.
Fountain pens are sometimes used for convenience by scribes who address a lot of envelopes. In the hands of experienced scribes, fountain pens can yield beautiful results.

However to gain the most control and understanding of writing with a broad edged pen, one needs to learn to handle a dip pen*. Metal nibs by Mitchell or Brause are the most commonly used. Others include: Speedball, Automatic, Coit. Of course we need to mention the reed and quill. Quills are cut from feathers, and reed or bamboo pens are cut from these 2 materials. Info on reeds and quills will be featured in another article.
One can fill the dip pen by actually dipping or feeding the reservoir with a brush.

Inks / Pigments
Higgens Eternal, Pelikan 4001, are good bets for beginners.

Bond paper that is fairly smooth and doesn’t bleed are good for practice. Nekoosa Bond, Mohawk superfine can be gotten from printers and/ or their paper suppliers.
Higher quality ( and more expensive) papers are used for finished work. There is a vast array of writing surfaces including handmade paper and vellum (skin). New York Central is a great source as is John Neal. Twinrocker is a hand made paper mill and can be reached from our links page.

All of these materials can be ordered from John Neal Books & Paper & Ink Books

Here are 2 free calligraphy exemplars:

Italic lowercase (minuscules)

Italic Capitals

Letterforms or Alphabets
is a vast subject, which is why I have recommended books. However, most people start with either italic ( chancery cursive) or some variation of Roman book hand ( foundational, book hand, humanist, etc.) I would steer a student away from learning Blackletter (Olde English) as their first foray into the subject.

Workshops and Learning opportunities
It is advisable that you take advantage of the many opportunities to learn. You can start by checking to see if there is a calligraphy society in your area. They usually hold workshops on a regular basis. There is also the annual conferences. There are 2 this year, (1999) and One in SanFrancisco 2000 “Experiment”. There are also several held in Europe.

Cheerio A week- long workshop / retreat. A relaxing environment, yet intensive study.

Graphò Calligraphy correspondence courses with Thomas Ingmire & Monica Dengo

Calligraphy Centre occasionally has workshops for beginners

Societies / Publications
Letter Arts Review
Scripsit (The Washington Calligraphy Guild Journal)
publishes a Journal several times a year. Shown are Volune 21 #1 Summer 1998 about John Stevens 6 month class ( edit. Rose Folsom)
The other one is Winter 1999 Vol 21#2 edited by Michael Clark. This issue features work from a variety of scribes and their specialties. John Stevens’ is an article about the Brush.
Are of two types: One person or a group of people are having one for a limited time or there are places to see original calligraphy on a ongoing basis:
The British Museum, the V&A (London), The Klingspor (Germany) The Pierpont Morgan Library & New York Public Library (NY), The San Francisco Public Library, The Getty (Los Angeles) The Cary Library (RIT, Buffalo,NY), The Newberry Library (Chicago)

Video Below

Useful Links | Beginners

Scroll to bottom to view video

Calligraphy Blog

Beginning Classes


3.) How-to Books

Foundations of Calligraphy

Sheila Waters

ISBN-13: 978-0966530513

2006, Concealed spiral binding, Hardcover, 126pp.

Publisher: JohnNeal Books

In the 110 pages of exemplar alphabets, instruction, and hints, Sheila shares with you the knowledge she has gathered over her decades of study and practice. She provides insightful analysis of forms and constructions and helps you learn and work toward mastery of the alphabets. The presentation is honed by her vast experience teaching calligraphers how to advance their skills and art. Sheila Waters is not only a master scribe, but a master teacher. She has made both her life’s work.


Pen Lettering

Ann Camp

ISBN-13: 978-0800862725 

1981, Paperback, 69pp.

Publisher: Taplinger Publishing Company


Calligraphy School

Gaynor Goffe and Anna Ravenscroft

ISBN-13: 978-0895775245

1994, Hardcover, 176pp.

Publisher: Readers Digest


The Anatomy of Letters

Charles Pearce

ISBN-13: 978-0800801991

1987, Paperback, 88 pp.

Publisher: Taplinger Pub Co.


Step-by-Step Calligraphy: A Complete Guide with Creative Projects

Susan Hufton

ISBN-13: 978-0806939872

1997, Paperback, 144 pp.

Publisher: Sterling


Writing and Illuminating and Lettering

Edward Johnston

ISBN-13: 978-0486285344

Revised 1995, Perpaerback, 480 pp.

Publisher: Dover Publications

This is in depth and considered the “Bible” by a scribe who is responsible for the calligraphy revival.


The Art & Craft of Hand Lettering: Techniques, Projects, Inspiration

Annie Cicale

ISBN-13: 978-0615466965

Revised 2011, Paperback,192pp.

Publisher: Bloomin books


Calligraphy in 24 Hours

Veiko Kespersaks

ISBN-13: 978-0764145063

2011, Paperback  160 pp.

Publisher: Barron’s Educational Series


Books of examples and more advanced or specialized but nevertheless- highly recommended.


Belle Lettere

Carlo Buffa (Editor) , Thomas Ingmire (Author) , Manfredo Massironi (Author)

ISBN-13: 978-8890022906

1997, Hardcover, 168pp.

A wonder book & collection of work from an exhibit held in Italy.


The Fine Art of Letters

Hermann Zapf

ISBN-13: 978-0910672351

2000, Hardcover

Publisher: The Grolier Club 

Catalogue of an exhibit at the Grolier Club by one of the great masters of all time.


Historical Scripts

Stan Knight

ISBN-13: 978-1884718564

, Hardcover, 110 pp.

Publisher: Oak Knoll Press

A must-have for anyone interested in learning more about writing (calligraphic styles) throughout history.
The historic approach is the one laid down by Edward Johnston, and still offers great inspiration and insight into calligraphy and western writing.

Of course one should also see manuscripts themselves, but good photos are very important, and this book has a bunch.


The Calligraphers Handbook

ISBN-13: 978-0800811983

1986, Paperback, 260 pp.

Publisher: Taplinger Publishing Company

A collection of articles written by many top calligraphers on methods and practice.


Calligraphy: The Art of Written Forms

Donald M. Anderson

ISBN-13: 978-0486272122

1992, Paperback, 367 pp.

Publisher: Dover Publications


Contemporary Calligraphy: Modern Scribes and Lettering Artists II

David Godine

ISBN13: 9780879238773


Publisher: David R. Godine Publisher


Lettering as Drawing

Nicolete Gray

ISBN-13: 978-0800847296

1982, Paperback, 195pp.

Publisher: Taplinger Publishing Company


Handbook of Type and Lettering

Hildegard Korger

ISBN-13: 978-0830618347

1991, Paperback, 254pp.

Publisher: Design Press


Mystic Art of Written Forms: An Illustrated Handbook for Lettering

Friedrich Neugebauer

ISBN-13: 978-0907234500

1981, Paperback, 144pp.

Publisher: Neugebauer Press


Scribe: Artist of the Written Word

John Stevens


2013, Hardcover, 264pp

Publisher: JohnNeal Books

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