How To Learn Basic Calligraphy: 6 Steps Starting From Zero

Learning anything new can be a daunting task. Many times you don’t even know where to start or which terms to look for. By making this article, I want to offer stepping stones that you can start your calligraphy journey with.

From personal experience, these are the questions I asked and the knowledge I needed to get started on my own journey. When I first started, I didn’t even know which terms to use. I could have easily turned to Google and YouTube right away, and I did. The only problem was I couldn’t grasp what the videos were saying because I didn’t know the context.

I placed an interactive infographic at the bottom that outlines our recommended fountain pens for beginners, you might want to check it out!

1. Pick A Branch Of Calligraphy To Practice

The world of calligraphy is as wide as the world itself. Literally. Different scripts and styles have emerged from all corners of the globe, offering a large variety for you to choose from.

The three main branches of calligraphy are:

  • Islamic
  • Eastern
  • Western

The three branches of calligraphy are heavily influenced by two things: alphabets and locations.

It’s fairly obvious that Islamic Calligraphy is based on Arabic alphabet of Islamic cultures. Eastern Calligraphy focuses mainly on the characters of oriental cultures. Western Calligraphy focuses on the Roman alphabet, the alphabet English uses.

My recommendation for this step is to stick to what you know.

If you are more familiar with the Roman alphabet, then go with Western Calligraphy. If you are more familiar with Japanese or Korean, go with Eastern Calligraphy.

This lowers the barrier for entry and leaves you less to build up.

You’re already learning a new skill, learning a new language may not be the best thing to add on to it.

After picking a branch, it’s time to pick a specific script.

We’ve got a great guide for this that will go over, in detail, the different types of calligraphy you can practice and follow. You can find it by clicking here.

2. Pick A Script From That Branch Of Calligraphy

Each branch of calligraphy has many scripts classified under them.

For example, Western Calligraphy has pointed pen and broad edge scripts under it. From here there are many other scripts under the classification of Pointed Pen and Broad Edge Calligraphy.

For me personally, I chose the Copperplate script under Pointed Pen Calligraphy.

For this step, I recommended finding a script that you won’t tire of easily, a script that you don’t mind practicing for one to two hours a day. Trust me, to get better at a certain script, constant repetition, trial and error, and some exploration is needed. In other words, you’re going to be practicing this script a lot.

This step could actually be the most important of all these, as this could determine the amount of motivation that you’ll have throughout the process.

Of course, if you pick a style or script and discover that it’s not for you, or that you’re burning out, feel free to mix it up.

Practicing other styles is a great way to discover what’s the best suited for you. Just remember that you need to prioritize a script over the others to excel in that particular script.

One that I would suggest, and the one I personally focus on, is Copperplate Calligraphy. To find out more about it, click here.

3. Know The BASIC Tools For The Script You Pick

Now that you have something to focus on, it’s time to equip yourself with the tools to facilitate your growth – the BASIC tools to facilitate your growth. 

If you’re getting into calligraphy because you found a viral video on Instagram or YouTube, it’s easy to get carried away by the expert techniques that they use on the video.

One of the most common things I see is when they use unusual tools like forks, paper… even broccoli. Remember, these viral videos NEED something to set them apart, hence the out of the ordinary tools they use.

While I don’t want to detract from their skill or the overall awesomeness of what they can accomplish (because they are really skilled and really cool), that’s not necessarily the place for a beginner to start.

Know the basic tools for the script you have chosen and learn how to use them properly.

The fancy stuff is for later on. Focus on getting to know what you can do with the standard tools, because you can do A LOT if you know how to use them.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Amanda Cheng 🇭🇰 Calligrapher ✒ (@amandalmcheng)

For a beginner’s guide to traditional calligraphy tools like dip pens, click here.

4. Use Visual Platforms With Context

Now that you have your script and basic tools, the next step would be knowing how to properly use and apply them. For this step, visual platforms like Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube are your friends.

That said, I mentioned earlier that context is very important before diving into these. It’s important that you have a basic knowledge of what you are getting into before watching these, or else you’ll just be thoroughly confused.

Let me paint the picture for you.

You want to learn calligraphy, so you go to YouTube and type in “Learn Calligraphy” in the search bar. The page loads, and your feed is now inundated with tutorials for “broad edge” and “pointed pen” tutorials. 

If you’re starting from scratch, you wouldn’t even know the difference. I know I didn’t.

Anyway, you click the random video, and right off the bat you are battered with terms you don’t even know existed. You finish the video, having tried to absorb all you could in the 8 to 10 minute span of the video.

Now, you have information and a rudimentary visual familiarity of an art form you have zero knowledge on.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking YouTube courses, in fact it’s just the opposite.

What I’m telling you to do, is to gather a base of information through the previous steps. This will put everything in those videos into perspective and will actually help you learn quicker.

Don’t expect to “know” calligraphy with one video or one video series. Guys, you CANNOT LEARN EVERYTHING FROM ONE VIDEO, or one teacher in that case.

For this step, I encourage you to:

  • Find Your Favorite Calligraphers On The Platform
  • Find Different Exemplars
  • Find 2 to 3 Videos Or Video Series’ On How To Learn
  • Find 2 to 3 Solid Online/Offline Courses (If You Are Willing To Pay)
  • Take Notice of Different Processes and Styles

Exemplars, by the way, are just references for how the letters will look. See what I mean? This term, by itself, proves that you need some background before diving into the art form. by the way, You’ll find a lot of these exemplars throughout said visual platforms.

You also need to find your favorite Calligraphers if you really want to proceed faster. It makes all the difference when you’re trying to emulate someone you admire.

For the 2 to 3 video series’ or courses, you need a good base to go back to. The process of growth is one of learning and re-learning. Once you have a course that suits your style, you’ll want to go back occasionally and practice the basics and fundamentals.

5. Explore Different Styles (Different From Scripts)

Now, it’s typical for artists to want to have their own style. Don’t worry, you’ll get there. However, you do need to remember that an artist’s individual styles develop over time. You don’t develop a style right from the get go.

In the previous step, I urged you to find calligraphers you like. These artists will become great references and inspiration in your path to developing your own style. You need to emulate a lot of their processes, and to do that, you’ll need to follow them, appreciate their work, and study how they do it.

Don’t make too much of this step. Just follow them naturally. Follow their social media page, like or save their work, and try to emulate how they do it.

Take note, EMULATE, not copy. Sure, it’s fine to try and practice a certain letter or word they make, but don’t suddenly copy it and post it as your own.

From personal experience, let me tell you, it sucks.

6. Mix Work And Pleasure

I don’t think that I have been lacking in informing you that this journey will take a lot of practice. It will take many, many hours to get it right. Many have been practicing this art for years, but have never considered themselves a master.

Don’t let this intimidate you, or let you think it’s a wall.

The actual process itself is fun, and one that can make a good pastime. It’s also one you can mix with your other hobbies, like watching YouTube and having the videos go on auto-play for 4 to 5 hours.

For myself, I usually play music or random videos in the background while I practice. I go back and forth on the video and practice calligraphy, that way I can alleviate any signs of boredom or burnout before they even start.

Here’s the interactive infographic I promised, feel free to swipe left or right!

I’ll throw in an infographic you can share with your friends who want to start calligraphy as well!

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