Modern Calligraphy - Beginner's Supply Kit
Learning modern calligraphy can be extremely fun and honestly quite cathartic. However, without the proper guidance, it can also be downright overwhelming. As a newbie myself, I just 'officially' started my calligraphy journey in December of last year. I say 'officially' because it wasn't the first time I tried to start learning, but it is the first time I actually stuck with it.
In my previous attempts, I allowed the stress of too many choices and not enough direction overwhelm me to the point of throwing my hands in the air and walking away. From decisions on what nib to use, what ink to purchase, what paper to practice on, and everything in between - it all just felt like I was shooting in the dark. Not to mention the fact that once I had my supplies, I had no idea where to start, in terms of using them.
But now that those false starts are a thing of the past, I can't wait to share the list of tools that finally led me towards a path of consistent practice and learning. These are my recommendations on the tools you'll need to kick off your calligraphy adventure and what is best in class for us eager beginners. Hopefully, this will help you skip the heebie jeebie 'decision making' stage and kick you straight into your 'official' start!
WHAT YOU'LL NEED
Nibs can be tricky little devils when you are first learning calligraphy and they are only made trickier by the fact that some nibs aren't very beginner friendly. The good news is they are extremely inexpensive, so if you wind up picking a few that don't suit you, you won't be out a huge investment. However, if you don't want to burn through 10 nibs before finding one that works for you, my recommendation would be to grab a couple Nikko G nibs and call it a day. These guys are medium-flex, so they can withstand the extra pressure that us newbies tend to exert, while also allowing enough flexibility to practice those thick downstrokes. This is the nib I use most frequently and even though it's beginner approved, it's also well loved by seasoned vets, who have been calligraphing for years.
The biggest question when it comes to holders is 'should I start with an oblique holder or straight one?" And the answer is that you really can't go wrong either way - it all comes down to personal preference. However, I do think that a straight holder is less intimidating for beginners and puts you less outside your comfort zone. I started out using a cork-tipped calligraphy pen and absolutely love it. It's not the sexiest looking pen on the market, but the cork grip makes it extremely comfortable to use for long periods of time, which is great when you are working through practice pages. It also has a universal insert, meaning it can accommodate a wide range of nibs.
HP Premium Choice Laser Paper
Using the proper paper makes a world of difference when it comes to getting started with calligraphy. I found this out the hard way, by using the wrong kind and wondering why my ink was bleeding all over the place and how my nib was full of paper fibers. Let's just say it wasn't pretty. However, it's not hard to find paper that works great. The most common recommendation that I've stumbled upon is Rhodia pads. And while I completely agree that these pads are great, they start to become a little pricey, if you're running through a bunch of practice pages. My go-to has become HP Premium Choice Laser Paper. The paper is extremely smooth and it winds up being a more affordable option than Rhodia pads. It also has the added advantage of being able to go into your printer - meaning any digital guides or workbooks you purchase can be printed onto the paper and then directly written on with your pointed pen. I found this to be much easier than trying to trace over my workbooks.
While it's extremely tempting to immediately scoop up every color of ink you can imagine, I'm going to be the debbie downer that tells you to stick with the basics and start using only black ink. I know, I know - I didn't like the idea at first, either. BUT that was before I became aware of how finicky colored ink can be. Because of the various pigments used and the different formulations that brands carry, colored ink can be a straight up pain to deal with. Many advanced calligraphers don't even bother purchasing colored inks, but rather mix up their own concoctions, so they can create a formula that works for them. On the other hand, when it comes to black ink, there are a number of great options to choose from. My favorite being Yasutomo Sumi Ink. This ink is jet black and velvety smooth, making it great for beginners, but also beautiful for final products. The only downside is that it takes a while to dry, so you have to be mindful of smearing your beautiful masterpiece.
An ink jar is an absolute necessity, but really the only 'rules' you need to keep in mind is finding a container that is small and has a screw-on lid. I've seen people use cosmetics jars, small jam jars, and even baby food jars. Personally, I use these little plastic ink jars that Ashley Bush sells (if you haven't already heard of her, go check her out! She's amazing.) These guys are a perfect size and super affordable, so I can stock up without feeling bad. I also have this tilted ink holder from her shop. Both sides are great for keeping your jar from tipping over and the tilted side is perfect for when you're nearing the end of your pot and need a little bit of an angle in order to fully submerge your nib in ink.
I'm sure you're laughing at this one, but it's honestly just as important to me as the rest of the supplies on this list! One thing to note about your nibs when you first get them is that they'll need a good cleaning before you start using them. This is because they are coated in manufacture's oil, prior to being packaged, so that they don't rust, while waiting to be sold. However, getting this oil off can be a bit of a headache. That is unless you have handy dandy Windex! Windex helps break down these oils and leaves your nib squeaky clean. I use it as an everyday cleaner, but also when I feel like my nib is acting finicky. If I notice that my ink isn't flowing well, or isn't adhering to my nib properly, I'll give it a quick Windex and it's good as new. Learning this little trick has been a lifesaver for me and also has me thinking that the dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding may have been onto something!