elving into new projects is one of my favorite things. So much possibility! New skills to learn! Beautiful things to gift to people! Beautiful things to keep at home! It’s simply the best.
Goals for the new year have been on my mind, and this is an endeavor that has my heart spinning in excitement (do hearts spin?).
(Please note how Graham was practically BLOWN AWAY by this ingenious idea. He can hardly WAIT to get in on the craftiness.)
For each month of this upcoming year, I’m going to learn a new skill. Many will be crafty, some cooking related, and some may just be in the genre of making life better. I’m using “making” rather freely here…but my number one priority is to focus on the skill for a full 30 days so I at least get a good grasp on it and then can incorporate it into future endeavors.
The title of this post gave away month one…but just pretend you didn’t read it fully and then guess what I’ll be learning for the inaugural skill…
What’s that I hear you saying? “Why Grace, those are the most beautiful scratches and squiggles I’ve ever seen! Gasp! You must be learning CALLIGRAPHY!”
Ding, ding, ding! Yes, I’m going to learn calligraphy for the month of January. I actually got a (necessary) head start on it because I wanted to use it on this year’s Christmas cards (reveal on those coming tomorrow) – so calligraphy got lucky and is getting a month and a half of TLC from me.
When I told my mother-in-law, Gini, about my goal, she got so excited and immediately offered to take me shopping to get me set up with supplies. (Nowadays, I’ll go craft shopping over clothes shopping ANY day.) She’s simply the best and I feel incredibly spoiled by her.
We found some various inks, some little plastic containers to house the inks, a pack of two straight pen-holders, a few different packs of nibs, and some notebooks with heavier weighted (but smooth) paper. Oh, and we found that adorably perfect wooden box to house it all so I can cart my supplies to a coffee shop.
Can we just take a second to pay homage to the packaging for these inks? Mr. Spider is obviously superior (he gets along well with my folk-art animals) but I like the others, too.
Gini also gifted me the book pictured above, which has been helpful because I can look at various alphabet examples to get started (you can find it here online). However, I also found some free printables online which have been helpful and could take the place of the book if need be. I printed off a large number of this lowercase alphabet, this uppercase alphabet (scroll to the bottom where she has “Additional Resources”), and this grid.
If you’d like to undertake a similar challenge of learning calligraphy this new year but aren’t sure if you can go splurge on all those supplies, I think I’ve narrowed it down to the essentials needed to get started. Pair these with the free printables I linked to and you’ll be ready to address wedding invites in no time (ha, well maybe birthday party invitations at the very least).
Please keep in mind that I’m a total non-expert at this point. Sometimes I like to get the 4-1-1 from someone who’s just a couple steps ahead of me, though – someone who’s just been through the confusion and walked through the fire personally. So if you feel similarly, here are my recommendations for starter supplies (please note, many of these are affiliate links, but I’m using all of these supplies or something very similar to them – so I fully believe in all of them!).
- One notebook with heavily weighted paper (you don’t want the ink to bleed through the pages). Make sure the paper is very smooth, otherwise your nib will snag and ruin the fun. Upon the recommendation of my brother, I recently picked up a pad of this glorious stuff and it’s SO nice.
- A couple pen holders, one for larger nibs and one for very small nibs (NOT oblique, which is a style of holder for when you’re more advanced from what I’ve gathered). I found a pack like this and it has worked perfectly (note: many of the nibs in this pack were not helpful to me since I want to do modern calligraphy which calls for nibs that are pointed – however, this still seemed to be the best deal to get two pen holders at once).
- A few packs of nibs to get started. I really didn’t know anything about nibs when we were roaming the aisles of the craft store…so some of the nibs we got may be nice in the future but are sitting untouched right now. If you want to do modern calligraphy (basically the fancy, whimsical, beautiful stuff that is found on just about every Pinterest-worthy wedding invitation these days) then you just need to get some pointed nibs to get started. I’ve had the most success with the 102 sized pointed nib that fits into the shorter, skinnier pen holder.
- Higgins Eternal Black Ink. From what I’ve read, this seems to be the tried-and-true ink.
- Pen Cleaner to keep your nibs in shape for as long as possible.
- Old toothbrush and some toothpaste to gently scrub the nibs after you initially take them out of the package. I discovered that you CANNOT skip this step, otherwise the ink just balls up and doesn’t fill up the nib correctly. Apparently, the nibs are coated with some chemicals before being packaged up so that they don’t rust in the package. You have to scrub those chemicals off before use. Who knew?!?
From my beginner-status experience, those are the essentials to purchase. You can start learning this skill for a grand total of $31.95! Or splurge on a few more nibs and you’re still hovering around just $35. Not bad! (Or you could always gift these essentials to a friend who may love to learn – I honestly can’t believe I never tried before now and would have leapt for joy if someone had given me a starter kit as a thoughtful, unexpected gift.)
I had every intention of building a solid foundation and going slowly, just a couple letters at a time. I was going to studiously watch this free, Skillshare video. I was going to be the poster child for Slow and Steady Wins the Race.
And then I got totally antsy and just wanted to start making letters and lots of them. So I abandoned the Skillshare videos and just STARTED.
Honestly, my first attempt was pretty bad. It was basically like my normal cursive handwriting, just in darker ink. I couldn’t get the thick and thin lines and it looked FAR from what I had been dreaming about.
That photo makes it look all artsy and much better than it actually was, don’t be fooled. I’m getting better, though! Once I reveal our Christmas cards, I think you’ll agree.
Twelve Months of Making, I think we’re going to get along. Let the calligraphy commence!
Ahhh! I’ve always wanted to learn calligraphy too! I’ve got a lot of supplies sitting around here and there from when I’ve ventured into art stores thinking I would eventually find the time, but I haven’t gotten to it yet.
That box of supplies is so cool! I remember one of my friends having an art supply box made from an old cigar box that I thought was the greatest thing.
It’s very nifty! I hope you get around to some coffee shop calligraphying. :)
Best of luck in your endeavors! I’m looking forward to seeing the results.
I’m feeling lucky to finally have some time to dive fully into it – I definitely understand the feeling of wanting to learn something new but having absolutely NO time (particularly in the teaching world…it seems your work is never done, as I know you’ll agree). But hopefully you can learn vicariously through me and then pull out those supplies at some point in the future once things have calmed down a bit! I have a feeling that you’d take to it quickly. ;)
Great post, Grace! As another non-expert, though one who has played around with calligraphy off and on for a few years, I have a couple of preferences I’d like to share, too.
1) The specific type of paper I’ve found to work best is “Smooth Bristol,” at around 100 lbs. This is likely what you’ve found, but that name will help others pinpoint it at the store. It allows for smooth writing, and won’t absorb or let ink run and spread. Beautiful, even if you really lay on thick swaths of ink.
2) I personally love “Sumi” eternal black ink (I think that’s the name – it comes in a green bottle with japanese writing). It’s thick and will maintain a 3-dimensional structure when written with. So cool!
3) I love oblique pen holders! They make it so much easier to emphasize the right part of the stroke, I think.
4) I have a slight quibble with calling this post’s particular style “modern calligraphy,” because there are just so many different styles of modern calligraphy, I think. Blackletter, chancery italics, lining pen, neuland, etc. Many originated a long time ago, but are still very much written and beautiful. I think this post’s writing could be called “roundhand,” or I’ve also seen it called “storyteller script.” But then again, “modern” in this sense may be referring to the European Rennaissance, with its “modern” typefaces. I need to research this!
Love the post. Keep this art up!
Stephen, this is awesome! So glad to get your advice and thoughts. I actually had a strangely tough time finding the right paper and still don’t think my notebook is perfect (tends to snag sometimes) – so I will definitely be looking for the Smoot Bristol paper. And that’s so cool to hear about the Sumi eternal black ink. I’m intrigued by the 3D structure! You’ll have to tell me more about the oblique pen holders – everything that I was reading was saying that they’re hard for beginners. Did you start off with them or gradually move over to it? Super interesting to get your take on the term “modern calligraphy” – I trust you, since you’re a typography guy, though I do think that lots of people are basically referring to anything that’s not Gothic as modern. Is that an accurate assessment? I could be totally off base on that, though. It’s just what I’ve seen in lots of books, tutorials etc.
Thanks again for all of the advice – it’s definitely of benefit to me and I’m sure will do the same for others who are reading! xoxo
This was such a neat post, Grace! And great timing for me and Juan with our upcoming nuptials in May. Rather than send our wedding invites to a calligrapher for addressing, my parents gifted me a lovely Pelican calligraphy pen with the idea that I could learn to address them myself. They will be far from perfect, but at least they will be done with love personally by the bride-to-be. And, bonus!, I have a beautiful pen as a keepsake from this special time in life!
Hope all is well with you. Loving your blog… Keep up the posts!
Lizzie, that is SO cool! It’s great to hear from you, totally made my day. :) I love that you’ll be doing your own wedding invite calligraphy – I think guests will treasure that! Will you send me a picture of one of your addressed envelopes at some point? It would be so fun to see! And YES, the pen will be such a pretty keepsake to have for the rest of your life. Love to you and Juan as you prepare for May – so exciting!