Our guide to calligraphy
Hotcourses Editor

Our guide to calligraphy

First published date January 30 2014 Amended date January 30 2014

In our high-tech age of buzzing computers, never ending emails and constant text messages, there really is nothing more pleasurable than the sight of a few lines of handwritten letters and words. While the grace and flourish of beautiful cursive script is one thing, the ancient art of calligraphy with its dexterous strokes and classical inscriptions is something to truly admire. It is also a significant art form which, thankfully, hasn't been ousted by our increasingly electronic modern-day life. So grab your pen and paper (more on that later) and let your artistic juices (or inks) flow at one of the many varied online and college-based calligraphy courses on offer around the country.


Calligraphy today

Translated from Ancient Greek, the word calligraphy means kallos ‘beauty’ and graphia ‘writing’. While such beautiful writing is indeed centuries old, calligraphy continues to prosper in the 21st century. There will always be call for the work of a seasoned calligrapher for wedding and formal invitations, official documents, announcements, testimonials and birth and death certificates. Other less obvious, but thoroughly contemporary uses, include font design, typography, hand-lettered logos and sometimes, imagery for film and television. Computer generated words, letters and documents are undeniably quick and efficient but the impersonal nature of such hi-tech production has made the hand written strokes of calligraphic work even more special.


Where to start?

Even if you had the neatest, joined up writing in school, don't be fooled into thinking that calligraphy is simply one step on from this – because it isn't. Calligraphy is the disciplined art of hand-drawn lettering using a broad tip instrument such as a special felt pen or brush in one stroke – and it takes masses of practice and dedication to get it right. Luckily, there are lots of calligraphy courses available for beginners, improvers and more specialised areas of this art form, either face-to-face at dedicated sites around the country or by distance learning. A part time, beginners’ course will introduce you to the essential techniques of calligraphy with both brushes and nibs using inks, papers, pigments and the basics of gilding. Complete novices are welcome, and all you need is bags of enthusiasm for the world of lettering design and decoration. Other courses will allow more experienced students to refresh and refine scripts and basic lettering such as Roman Capitals and Italics and introduce historic and contemporary examples of calligraphy for a real grasp and contextual understanding of this unique art form. If you've been bitten with the calligraphy bug and are keen to learn more, try an intensive week-long course under the tutelage of a Master Calligrapher or plump for a more specific area of this ancient craft such as a course in Chinese calligraphy (covering Chinese scripts, characters and writing brush). Calligraphy courses are often taken as fun evening or weekend classes with some full time options if you'd like to explore the idea of calligraphy as a career choice.


Tools of the trade

Do check if equipment is provided on your chosen course or whether you need to invest in some basic tools of the trade. Today, there are a wide range of tools and materials on offer, allowing the 21st century calligrapher to produce really beautiful decorative writing. Try hobby shops and art supply stores as well as speciality e-stores on the web.


PEN: The most important tool for calligraphy is the pen. Cartridge or fountain pens allow you to change nibs (wider nibs create larger letters while narrower nibs are good for smaller print) and switch the ink colour easily. Refillable pens are dipped into the ink to fill the reservoir before writing and can be used with a variety of different nib sizes and styles, with versions for left and right handed calligraphers. Quills, bamboo stalks and reeds are a natural product alternative, but can be challenging to use. Felt-tip pens are great for the beginner as they are reasonable, easy to handle and usually come with just one ink and two different nibs.


INK: is generally water-based as it is much thinner than the oil-based inks used for printing. Non-waterproof inks allow for improved flow and less clogging. Speciality calligraphy inks are available for use with a dip pen or fountain pen and come in a vibrant palette, from scarlet and leaf green to silver and gold.


PAPER: Graph paper or an artist's sketch book are good for practice work and freestyle lettering while finished pieces need any sort of paper that will not feather, bleed, scratch or wrinkle. Smooth cartridge paper or hot pressed water colour paper will allow a pen or brush to move evenly and smoothly over the surface.


A trio of calligraphic fonts

Strokes, brushes and fine art writing are what traditional calligraphy is all about, but this ancient art form has also had a 'computer' makeover in recent years. Be inspired by our top three calligraphy fonts:

Burgues Script – a very famous font inspired by the work of skilled American penman Louis Madarasz

Aphrodite Pro – a handmade font full of curves and flourishes, perfect for romantic words and verses

Corinthia Pro – a simple, clean-lined calligraphic font with beautiful cursive details


By Lara Sargent

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