The Calligrapher's Life

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Who decides you’re a professional calligrapher?

option trading Pictures, Images and Photos

Anyone who’s glanced through the glossy pages of a wedding magazine or stumbled across an online wedding site should have noticed ads speckled throughout featuring freelance calligraphy services. These calligraphers offer fancy lettering for anything from invitation design to addressing envelopes.

As I reviewed a few calligraphers’ websites, I wondered how long they practiced the craft before launching their business.

Prior to starting calligraphy a few years ago, I dreamed. I dreamed big.  Visions of grandeur popped into my mind on a regular basis. I imagined hanging out my shingle for freelance calligraphy services. I fantasized about lining up brides to be, wedding planners and party hosts to address envelopes for them in Copperplate, Spencerian and italics.

Reality set in after one week of practice. My dreams shattered like a wine glass slipping to concrete.  How could I imagine handwriting professionally when I struggled helplessly week after week no matter what writing tool I used?

Time passed. I practiced more. I saw progress in my calligraphy, yet I still had doubt I could exchange my services for pay. Although I received compliments on envelopes I addressed for family and friends, the doubt remained and I held onto the lingering question—how much practice is required to become a pro calligrapher?

Over the years, no single concrete answer presented itself about the length of time required to leap into the pros.  Even sitting amongst amateur and professional calligraphers alike in class and society meetings failed to reveal a solid answer for me. Months later, I got the impression that if I were to consider myself a calligrapher, it possibly required ten or more years of dedicated calligraphy practice.

What a feat to accomplish. My dreams were set further back until I read Stuart David’s book called “How to Become a Professional Calligrapher”. In this slim “how-to” book, Mr. David explains how hobbyists can turn their passion for calligraphy into profit. His words offer guidance and positive direction stating that any artist with enough drive, practice and talent can break into the pros.

What I love most about the book is that he doesn’t set a timetable for mastering calligraphy. This relieves a heavy burden from any budding lettering artist who’s confident in their talent. He also offers sage advice on how to gage your skill before going pro, so you’re prepared before moving too deep without a net.

From the book, I took away bits of knowledge to apply to my goals for going pro that will help you:

  • Show off your portfolio.
  • Address envelopes for a friend or family member.
  • Time your handwriting to see if you’re skilled and quick enough to earn a living wage.
  • Soak in all the compliments to gain added confidence.

So, who decides when you’re a professional calligraher? Only you can answer that for yourself. Take stock in your skill and confidence and it’s possible to take on the challenge of running a business doing what you love.

Were you ever told how long it would take to master calligraphy? If so, how long did they say?


5 Things I Wouldn’t Do Before Working with “Real” Paper

Paper Pictures, Images and Photos

When you’ve written on 16 lb. layout bond paper consistently for three years, like I have, it becomes a cowardice habit. After three and half years into this art, I’m still working to muster up enough nerve to dish out the cash on a few sheets of Arches® or Fabriano® brand paper.

But, deep inside the fear sets in. Either I’m worried about starting a project or ruining one. For me, writing on the quality paper means a prime project is on the horizon, but I don’t get seem to get that far.

While fellow artists drive my urge to write on the “good stuff” with their creative pieces, I simply gaze at the buttery, textured paper of their completed work thinking, Next time… I’ll buy that paper for my own creative project.

It hasn’t happened yet. Why? I’m afraid of the past repeating itself.

Blame it on arrogance, ignorance or fatigue, but I’ve completed haphazard work on my fair share of class projects that will never see the light of day again.

But, learning the hard way helped me adopt important rules to live by. Though no artist escapes errors, it’s vital we keep a back-up plan in place, so I’ve noted five areas where the mistakes could have been avoided.

In my beginner’s bliss, I’ve wasted quality paper because I didn’t…

Test a scrap of the finer paper: In my eagerness to complete the project, I saw no reason to test the paper. Well, if I spent about ten minutes stroking the paper with various inks and pain, I’d know which worked better on the paper. Plus, I’d help to know how much pressure could be applied with certain nibs based on the paper’s weight and texture.

Plan a layout on a separate piece: Throughout months of practicing a hand, I never thought about creating an interesting layout for the project. Of course, I made minor sketches to determine a brief visual idea. Normally, I was content if I drew even lines across the page that looked halfway decent.

Again, I simply needed scratch paper with similar dimensions to my final piece. Then, I’d plan a visually pleasing layout to ensure the words matched evenly and centered well on the page.

Cover work with blotter paper: Talk about dotted papers and smeared lines. From the beginning, I disliked working with blotter paper for practice. Unfortunately, I adopted this bad habit and my projects suffered as a result. Believe me; I learned this the hard way— a few times. Now, I work carefully with the blotter paper and my latest projects are working out fabulously.

Tape paper securely on your desk or slant board: In the beginning, I had no idea what drafting paper was exactly. In the past, it’s saved me from making mistakes, but I’ve taken my chances with a few assignments, that I won’t try again.

To ensure the paper has no chance to move unless I want it to, I tape one inch drafting tape pieces to each corner. Securing the edges guarantees even lines, instead of a medley of even and slanted lines.

Prepare for mistakes: Like I said earlier, we all make mistakes. In my last project, the wrong flick of the nib created an error. Having absorbent paper nearby helped soak up excess paint. On another project, using an eraser and X-acto knife assisted to rid a tiny mistake.

Though it’s not possible to avoid all mistakes, it’s good to be prepared just in case.

It’s easy to worry over making errors with the “real” paper, but I’ve learned it’s like anything else in life, it takes practice and patience to overcome my fear to create my own awesome art projects.

What type of paper do you like to work with? Any steps you use to avoid ruining your “good” paper?

Photo credit: Alex Basil/Photobucket

Taking a Crack at Illumination

modern illuminated proj
If I were to say that I found the nerve to start this project from my inspiration and self-study, I’d be fibbing. When I caught my first glimpse at illuminated lettering in a new calligraphy book, I couldn’t wrap my head around sitting down to try it on my own. So, guess what? As usual, it took my art class to force me out of my “scary zone”.

Illuminating letters can be serious, scary stuff for a newbie. Most calligraphy books that touch on the subject, display artists working with paints, inks, gold leaf and gesso. That can be very intimidating. And, unless a newbie is truly enthusiastic about illuminated lettering, she’ll balk at its complexity and move on.

But, illuminating letters doesn’t always have to be “scary”. Actually, artists can create illuminated letters simply designing them with a few colors or covering them in complex drawings that’ll usually make a novice’s head spin.

Illuminated manuscripts gained popularity in the 7th century to document stories and events in the era. Calligraphers use the term to describe brightly colored pages highlighted in gold. The illuminated letter is meant to attract the eye to the page with various designs and colors among dark, gothic-style lettering.

When I finally practiced this letter, I grew fascinated with its versatility. Creating large letters with an endless supply of colors and design varieties brought hours of fun and experimenting with paint. But, I most enjoyed working with the gold gouache.

The gold goauche lit up the page making it look fairly similar to the ancient manuscripts I tried to emulate.

Any calligraphers ready to try illumination don’t need to start on a full-size project like I did (see photo above). Try one letter first, like an initial. It’s much easier to get acquainted with illumination with a small project and, then gradually build onto it with a favorite gothic-style lettering for a simulated manuscript like mine.

Note: All images are copyright and must not be used without permission

Why I Dropped My Parallel Pen

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I could write beautifully with a broad-edge nib until recently.

Of course, Parallel Pens gave me the courage to write italics regularly and easily with its stationary broad-edge tip, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about lettering with a dip pen and a removable broad-edge nib.

As much as I love Parallel Pens, I’ve become equally smitten with the Brause nibs and growing fond of the Speedball C-series nibs with every use.

But, I wasn’t always this happy practicing with the broad edge nib.

Early in my calligraphy practice, I fumbled recklessly with calligraphy markers and refillable ink pens. I hopelessly tried the Speedball nibs, but loss interest quickly because I had no idea what I was doing.

Throughout the pain and frustration of creating horribly designed letters, I missed out on opportunities to practice a larger variety of broad lettering styles other than traditional italics, like Gothicized italics or Blackletter.

Naturally, I chickened out and stuck with the basics for nearly a year.

In the interim, something exciting happened in my calligraphy discovery. I realized how much my lettering improved with pointed pen nibs. After the initial struggle with learning how to properly adjust the amount of ink for the dip pen, I felt comfortable enough to tackle nibs such as: Hunt 22, Esterbrook 356 and Nikko G.

With my new found skill, it only seemed fair to give the Speedball nibs another try, and to my surprise, it ended with a delightful result.

Recently, when I practiced Gothicized italics for the first time, I pulled out my trusty Parallel Pen for lettering with less hassle. Then, I noticed a classmate lettering with the dip pen and nib, which encouraged me to desert my pen for a moment and test the Speedball nib again.

Immediately, I noticed how easily this nib achieved a traditional letter with extreme thick to thin lines adding an elegant flair to capital and lower case letters that’s significant for the Gothicized italic hand.

Although it’s easy to love broad edge pens for italic lettering, the detachable dip pen nib offered a greater writing versatility than the Parallel Pens could accomplish for this letter, so I found a good reason to drop my dependency on the Parallel Pen.

Now I work easily between the two style pens (as needed) which makes calligraphy much more fun!

What about Chinese Calligraphy?

Chinese calligraphy certainly isn’t like the American and European handwriting I’ve come to respect over the decades. But, as an artist, I’m in awe of every stroke it takes to create Chinese characters.

Throughout the years, I’ve admired the dark, heavy strokes twisted and altered into intriguing designs on tattoos, tapestries, rubber stamps, paintings, and clothing without any notion what the characters meant.  Before my passion for calligraphic arts grew, I think I’ve been exposed to countless examples of Chinese calligraphy without realizing its form and beauty.

Now that’s it’s caught some serious attention from me-I wonder-am I ready for such a challenging art? Well, I guess anything’s possible.

Like American and European calligraphy, Chinese handwriting was originally designed to create uniformity across China for all personal and business communications.

In fact, Chinese calligraphy originated around the 2nd to 4th centuries and then it was memorialized in theoretical books to transfer the handwriting to later generations. Eventually, this writing gained popularity with additional countries across the Orient, such as Korea, Japan and Singapore, for art pieces and paintings, which developed a strong American appreciation over decades.

Within the past year, I’ve practiced calligraphy styles like italics, uncial, Copperplate, and Spencerian, but Chinese calligraphy piqued my interest over the summer. So, I checked into it and discovered some great ways to start. In my research, I found several video demos and online courses to aide in transferring my current calligraphy skill into practicing beautiful Chinese handwriting.

While checking for “how-to” videos, I stumbled across a couple of Chinese calligraphy video demonstrations and I watched in awe as the artists transformed each piece into a fabulous work of art, no matter what tool they were using. Immediately, I wondered how long it would take a novice (like me) to learn.

In one video, the artist used a simple brush on paper. In the second video, a calligrapher dipped a mop into a large bucket of ink drawing heavy dark strokes on a large piece of paper stretched across the floor.

Both Chinese artists created steady, yet focused strokes and lines while earning my full respect.

Shortly after the demonstrations, I was humbled. As much as I enjoy a good calligraphy challenge, I quickly changed my mind about practicing this fine art solo at this stage in my calligraphy skill. But, I do plan to give it a try in the future.

For now, I suggest seasoned calligraphers or extremely daring novices try their skill with this interesting art for a new project or challenge.

If you want to learn Chinese calligraphy, take full advantage of the resources on the web. To find out more visit this site for additional links to online courses.

Photo credit

4 Keys to Unlock Artist’s Block

Do you ever sit at your art desk and stare at a blank page until you’re cross-eyed?

I’ve done it. Whether I’m about to write a page or sketch a drawing or practice calligraphy, I have days when I’m absolutely clueless about what to do and where to start. It’s called “the block”. Writers call it writer’s block and artists call it artist’s block.

Whatever you want to call it, it’s the worst experience imaginable for creative types, especially when it’s the way you make your living.

Novices and pros alike are known to suffer from this common ill for creating. And, strangely, I find comfort in knowing “the block” doesn’t play favorites based on years of experience.

Whether you’re a painter, sketch artist, or calligrapher, when inspiration strikes, you feel on fire. You know the feeling when you’re creating and you’re in a groove feeling like it can go on forever and nothing’s stopping you? It’s fabulous when you’re in those moments, but you can’t help but hear the nagging thought in the back of your mind to take full advantage of the moment, because it won’t last forever.

Contrary to non-artists beliefs, turning on inspiration to create doesn’t work like turning on a faucet.

On the bad days, you’re riddled with a blank mind, doubting your capabilities and spiraling into despair when you’re unable to find an idea that clicks. No matter how hard you try, you couldn’t come up with another original idea for an art project, if your life depended on it.

What happens when you lose your inspiration? Do you discount the day or do something about it?

What to Try                                                                                                                                                                                   Veteran writers and experts suggest that when writers experience a creative block it’s better to write anything that comes to mind and eventually something useful springs onto the page.

What if you’re an artist and you get blocked? Doodling on an expensive canvas isn’t cost-effective and neither is ruining a $15.00 sheet of paper. Even if you’re determined to put pen to paper and doodle, why risk the paper…that’s unless you’ve got the money to burn.

Although every artist works with a different style, consider these suggestions to get your art motivated, especially if you’re in a structured art class or earning a living as an artist.

  • Do as writers do and grab a journal. Pick up a 70-page spiral notebook or one of those student composition books; you know the kind used for handwriting in grade school with the black and white speckle blend?
  • Commit to using your journal every day. Set aside 20 minutes every morning to sketch and take notes when your mind is fresh from a good night’s sleep.
  • Carry your journal with you or keep a spare in your car. As inspiration comes throughout the day, write notes or sketch ideas.
  • Remember to date to the pages. It’s great for reference and shows your progression as an artist. You’d be amazed at how much you can blend in your project when you jot notes wherever inspiration strikes.

With your handy notepads filled with daily ideas and inspiration, the next time you sit at your art desk, you won’t have an excuse for feeling “the block”.

Flipping through your journal pages will come as a welcome treat when you’re looking for the inspiration. You’ll be ready to grab your pen or paint brush and create with no limits.  Now gather those ideas and spring your imagination into action.

Volunteer and Inspire

Where can you go to do what you love while helping your favorite cause?

Show appreciation for your preferred charity and join me this month as I show off my calligraphy skills for an event run by a national organization called  

Last semester, a calligraphy classmate who volunteers for the annual event called Walk for Hope, introduced the organization to our class. She recognized our ability as calligraphers, both novice and professional, could make an impact with our artistry during this one-day walk event.

Our class instructor loved the idea and encouraged each student to volunteer and submit a quote for this cause. She expressed her excitement about this opportunity for new calligraphers to challenge themselves while motivating walkers from the community. So, I’m taking on the challenge and I hope you would, too. welcomes volunteers to write a quote on an 18 x 24 inch of firm paper or cardstock (check the website for more details).  If you’re willing to help, please act now. The final date to submit your finished quote ends on Oct. 1, 2010.

If you’re not a calligrapher, it’s still okay to send in a neatly written quote. It would make a huge difference for the walk. The more the merrier.

Unable to volunteer? Take the opportunity to stroll through the lavish greenery and tranquil ponds with other inspired walkers at El Dorado Park in Long Beach on a Saturday morning, October 16, 2010.

Sound like fun? Feel free to register for the walk…it’s free. (Parking fees for park entrance.)

Walk for Hope, a one-day event, provides walkers of all fitness levels with an inspirational walk as they appreciate hand-lettered signs with motivational quotes posted throughout the park.

Visit and register for Walk for Hope in Long Beach, California today!

Image credit:

Copperplate Handwriting: Considering a Classic

What can I say about Copperplate handwriting? Well, for starters…it’s the most romantic, yet dramatic lettering, I’ve ever seen. Its flamboyant flourishing grabs the eye and steals your heart thinking about the time it took to create such a lovely word or line. Classic and dainty, it’s no wonder brides around the world consider it a “must-have”. I call the Copperplate hand “the letters of love”.

The ornate, delicate design looks like loads of love went into writing this hand. You certainly can’t scribble out a name in two seconds and get it to look graceful. Maybe that’s why Copperplate is synonymous for formal occasions, especially weddings.

A few years ago when I started my calligraphy journey, my original exposure to this art stemmed from a friend’s impending wedding and Copperplate writing became my ultimate goal. I’ve been hooked to calligraphy ever since.

As you develop your own calligraphy journey, add Copperplate handwriting to your list for hands to learn. It’s a beautiful and challenging art; you’ll take pride in learning.

What is Copperplate?          

Copperplate is a cursive handwriting developed in England, which spread quickly throughout the English speaking world around the 18th century. The lettering is characterized by looping majuscules (upper case letters) and minuscules (lower case letters), which are usually written with decorative flourishes.

Unlike Italic or Roman hands, Copperplate handwriting requires a 55 degree slope and they’re normally linked together since the release of the 1770 copy manual by John Sealy called “The Running Hand”. Although it’s an ornate and fancy letter, Copperplate started out with bolder lines for business use called “Round hand”. It’s counterpart we know and love today, offers lighter, narrower lines called “Italian” or “ladies” hand, which we use today for commercial and personal art.

When did it start?

Copperplate writing originated in the 16th century and grew in popularity in England around the 18th century. When Copperplate started, Americans wrote with feather quills to dip in ink for document preparation. Later, dip pens with sharp flexible nibs became popular.

Creating the slim, delicate lines and loops of the Copperplate letters worked better than the heavier nibs, which is common for the Italic hand. After the inception of the Declaration of Independence, the Americans used Copperplate handwriting for business and personal use until other hands like Spencerian prevailed in schools around the latter part of the 19th century.

What to use?

For most hand lettering, ink reigns. On the other hand, if you’re working with lightweight invitations or envelopes, depending on the grade of it, it might cause trouble. Certain paper grades (or weights) are too light to handle average calligraphy inks, so go with paints, like gouache. Gouache is versatile and fun for artists who don’t mind the added preparation for mixing paint (with distilled water) and placing it on the nib.

Although black and white inks offer dramatic and formal appeal, brides these days prefer color to matching wedding announcements with a specific theme.

Who should try Copperplate?

Any artist interested in learning Copperplate can do it. But, it’s not something you can master in one day. Whatever your skill level, dedicate yourself to practicing consistently to master this hand with confidence.

In my experience, I found classroom instruction worked better compared to using a practice manual. Unlike the italic hand, it’s not easy to learn Copperplate alone because you need to know where to place the thin and thick lines that characterize a proper Copperplate hand. And, believe me, class instruction helps, but frustration still reared its ugly head with me.

If you’re an extreme newbie to calligraphy, prepare yourself with mounds of patience and dedication. For the moderate artists with minor exposure to lettering, you’ll find Copperplate a joyful challenge.

Have you tried Copperplate writing before? If so, what was your initial experience like?

5 Things to Do When You’re Not Practicing Calligraphy

pen and paper Pictures, Images and Photos

Over a three year span, I’ve become very familiar and comfortable with the folding chair that’s tucked away in the corner of the family room. It’s my art station where creativity happens and stress melts away. Well…most stress, anyway.

When I started blogging about calligraphy, the weekly topics surfaced easily (thanks to my classroom experiences). Then, summer arrived leaving me with the assumption that I needed to practice calligraphy every day or at least every week to generate new ideas.

Some days, it’s like magic and ideas would come to me at a furious pace. On other days, I’d struggle with topics, especially if I missed a week of practice.

Anxious and worrisome, I think: What will I write about? Will it be interesting? Then, I let myself off the hook. Professional calligraphers must take breaks from calligraphy, so why shouldn’t I?

I remind myself that I’m not committed to writing only about calligraphy unless I want to. This is my journey into an art form that’s much more than just making pen strokes on a piece of paper.

If you’re devoted to regular calligraphy practice and find yourself in a rut, take off a week or two to discover how these breaks offers productive treats and open new creative doors for your future calligraphy projects. Unwind from your usual lettering routine with the following tips:

Gather photos for scrapbooking

Relive old memories and make a special scrapbook page. Although scrapbooking takes time and planning, there’s no need to tackle a whole album at once. Check your art supplies or visit the craft store for a colorful and interesting background page that inspires your favorite photo or collection. Finish the page with your own handwritten letters, instead of computer-generated fonts.

 Take a card making workshop

Grabbing a colorful piece of card stock and adding rubber stamp designs or appliqués provide punch and a personal touch. Blend whimsical or elegant hand-lettering and turn your card making experiment into an example of friendship and love for a special family member or friend.

Brush up on watercolors

Pick up your paint brush and make a splash with watercolors. Relax at the park or in your own garden for inspiration. Watercolor subjects like flowers, shrubs or birds. Don’t worry about painting perfectly…you’re practicing for a potential project.

Doodle away on paper

Take your pencil to paper and draw whatever comes to mind. Or, sketch a natural and earthy object like a leaf in your yard or a shell from your beach visit. Eventually, your doodle drawings will spark your imagination and you’ll create something beautifully unexpected.

Check out an art book at the library or bookstore.

If it’s difficult to determine where to start, let books inspire your creativity. Browse the art section in the bookstore or library and flip through the pages. Expand your arts and crafts knowledge to pique your interests in other areas like ceramics, drawing, jewelry-making, or photography. Let another artist’s work arouse your imagination.

What do you do when you’re not practicing calligraphy?

6 Simple Ways to Care for Your Calligraphy Nibs

I’m guilty. Yes, guilty of being a lazy artist and ruining more calligraphy nibs than I can count. At first, I gave myself the benefit of the doubt because of ignorance, but shortly after receiving advice on how to care for my calligraphy nibs, I no longer had an excuse.

Like anything I start, the nibs received special care with proper cleaning and storage. Then laziness set in. With every project, I began with good intentions to return to my desk to complete it, only to leave my nibs resting overnight with dried ink or paint.

After allowing a few nibs to dry this way, I discovered that my nibs were no longer the same and my lettering became inadequate with each stroke. That’s when I decided to change my naughty habits.

Several months of experience and a few pointers from my calligraphy classmates helped me save a few nibs. If you’d like to avoid replacing nibs on a regular basis, check out the advice below for ways to protect your calligraphy nibs with everyday household items.

Save your old toothbrushes. These are great tools for cleaning your nibs gently and getting in between the crevices.

Locate your baking soda. For a low cost, natural cleanser, mix about a teaspoon of baking soda and ½ teaspoon of distilled water to clean your nibs. If you have a small tube of toothpaste with baking soda and peroxide, it works well for cleaning the nibs without the hassle of mixing.

Rinse and dry your nibs completely. After each use, it’s imperative that you rinse your nibs with soft water or distilled water to protect them from drying mediums. To avoid rusting, dry the nibs well with a soft lint free cloth.

Store your nibs separately. Choose a plastic container for your nibs or make sure they have their own special slot to avoid contact with heavier tools and supplies in your art box.

Cover your nibs. If you’re working on a large job or project don’t hassle with removing the nib from the penholder every time. Just clean as usual and cover them with cut up drinking straws. Cut one drinking straw about an inch to an inch and half to cover the entire nib, which protects it from dust, bending from a fall, or contact with another item.

Use recommended paint and ink only. Check with your art store or calligraphy instructor if you plan to use a medium other than usual standard calligraphy ink, gouache or watercolors. Some inks or paints might be too harsh or heavy for your nibs and cause the medium to flow poorly.

Take good care of your nibs and they’ll take good care of you and your project. You’ll constantly create smooth letters without having to spend a fortune on replacing nibs unless you want to.

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