Getting Started with Calligraphy - the Materials

With the incredible abundance of calligraphy supplies and tools available, it's a head-spinning task for a beginner to figure out what she or he needs.  The suggested materials list can differ among experienced calligraphers, but it's at least helpful to start with our recommendations and discover what works best for you based on them.  When teaching, I provide my students with materials that I am comfortable using on a daily basis, but that are also beginner-friendly.  Here is my go-to list for the beginner:

My recommended materials list for the aspiring calligrapher

My recommended materials list for the aspiring calligrapher

  • Pen Holder - Speedball Oblique Pen Holder (top pen holder shown) for right-handed calligraphers, or a straight holder for left-handed calligraphers. This is what you'll insert your nib into. 
  • Black ink- I prefer Moon Palace Sumi ink, but Yasutomo Sumi ink is more readily available in art supply stores (beware, it eats your nibs).  You'll need a small 1/2 oz. - 1 oz. container, or a dappen dish, to pour the ink into- make sure the mouth is wide enough for an oblique holder to fit into, if you're right-handed.   Your ink choice will significantly impact the quality of your work, and an unsuitable ink will make even a perfectly drawn line look unsatisfactory.  Note:  not all sumi inks are created equal.
  • Hunt 22B, Hunt 101 or Tachikawa G nib - I recommend buying a variety of nibs to start off with.  The Hunt nibs are more flexible and sharp, which may cause trouble if you're very heavy handed.  If you're using them and cannot get an upstroke without snagging, lighten up your pressure and slow down.  Your pen should just glide on the paper on the upstroke.  If you still really are struggling, try a less sharp Tachikawa G, but make sure you can move on to a more flexible nib to prevent being too heavy-handed.  The G nibs require more pressure to produce swells, which is strenuous and exhausting on your hands over time.  Make sure to buy a few nibs at a time - they do get dull with use, and you'll need to replace them.
  • Borden & Riley #37 Translucent Marker Layout Paper or Canson Marker Layout (smoother) - you can slip a guide sheet under a sheet and practice this way.  Excellent for practice while you're acquainting yourself with the appropriate slant of the letters on a guide sheet, if you're practicing copperplate.  Rhodia Pads are also wonderful for practice once you can ween yourself away from the diagonal guidelines. You can also practice on HP Premium Choice Laser Paper and print my lined guide sheet on them.
  • A guide sheet - you can download mine from this previous blog post.  This is what you'll slip under your sheet of the marker layout paper or print onto the HP Laser Paper (use these grey lines instead if you print your own- it's easier to see your work this way).

All of these materials, aside from the guide sheet and laser paper, are available at John Neal and Paper and Ink Arts.  There you will also find great instructional books, such as Eleanor Winter's Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy.  I also recommend checking out Dr. Joseph M. Vitolo's iBook, which he has generously provided free of charge.  I refer to it often myself.  

Ink on.  xo, bianca