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5 Things to Do When You’re Not Practicing Calligraphy

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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.

Spencerian – Fancy Pointed Pen for Beginners


Thinking about trying a flourished and fancy writing style to challenge your inner calligrapher? Have you tried any of the pointed pen styles? Well, there’s no need to freeze and panic like I did when I first started. If you’re excited about trying a formal style, like Spencerian or Copperplate, I’d suggest Spencerian. Once you begin this hand, you’ll discover Spencerian is not the easiest pointed pen style to learn, but if you’re a beginner looking for something fancy, I recommend it.

Before calligraphy class, I assumed Copperplate and Spencerian were the same, but they are very different. While writing in the Spencerian hand, the calligrapher must write gracefully holding the pointed pen light enough to show ink on the page. A heavy pen stroke throughout the word could confuse the style with Copperplate. The lowercase letters flow easy with a light touch, but the uppercase letters are a different matter. They demand more concentration with thin and thick lines similar to Copperplate, but with very different styling to characterize the hand.

The Spencerian hand originated in America in 1848 by Platt Rogers Spencer. He created a writing style that would be easier to use, faster to write, and more legible for business and education. Before the invention of typewriters in the early 20th century, students learned Spencerian as normal handwriting similar to the cursive writing that our school children learn today.

With the invention of the word processor, it seems like words are created at nearly the speed of light, so handwriting with a pen to paper shows care for its recipient. This is possibly why calligraphy has experienced a rise in popularity for formal occasions, like weddings and other exclusive engagements.

At first sight, the Spencerian hand looks intimidating with swirls and curls delicately surrounded with soft handwritten words. But, believe me; it’s easier to write than you think. If you practice the basics first, you’ll get the chance to improve your skill and dress up words with wildly ornate flourishes.

Spencerian is a beautiful hand to write, but I had a tough time trying to complete the uppercase letters. Uppercase lettering is important to learn because it provides the starting point to creating fabulous flourishes, but they require the most practice time compared to lowercase letters.

In my opinion, Spencerian is not a hand you want to learn alone. Of course, the lowercase letters are a snap to grasp, if cursive writing came easy as a child. But, the uppercase letters alone are worth spending time and money. In class, you receive instructor assistance and classmate encouragement, which helped me tremendously during my first practice hours.

For calligraphers who’ve practiced other pointed pen styles, working solo with an instructional video or book on how to write in Spencerian hand should be simple.

Now, stop reading, grab your pen and ink and give the Spencerian hand a try. If you’ve tried before, start practicing. You’ll fall in love with it all over again. And, for the beginner, once you’ve practiced for a week, you’ll see exactly what I mean.

Have you tried this hand before or one similar? Feel free to share your work. I’d like to see it.

Thinking About Italics?

With the end of my calligraphy class, I’ve started the summer with a chance to take on new projects and learn new styles. After reviewing a few hands from another calligraphy book, I’ve taken the joy in learning three styles that favor the italic hand. At first, I practiced all three in one weekend and then practiced each one every week. Right now, my art desk is covered with paper and a variety of pens in multiple-sized nibs.

The semi-casual italic styles I’m working with resembles the italic hand with a fun yet fancy flair and I’m sure they’d look great for addressing envelopes or even offer visual appeal in an art project. But, the entire process got me thinking about traditional italics. I wondered if I could actually still write this letter well.

Lately, I’ve tried traditional italics with my broad edge Parallel Pens and, I’m happy to report, I haven’t lost my touch.

During my calligraphy journey, the italic style was the first style I tried to see if I’d really enjoy writing the alphabet with a weird pen. But, during the 12-month period, I discovered my love/hate relationship with italics and by then, I was already hooked. A special bond developed with this style until I dropped it completely to focus on learning uncial, Copperplate and Spencerian during my calligraphy class.

Italic handwriting is possibly the best hand for any new calligrapher to learn. Obviously, most people think about italics when they think about calligraphy. It’s possible they’re envisioning a beautifully flourished italic word with its delicate slopes and broad edge lines.

Though modern–age technology replaced handwriting significantly in the early 20th century, italics is one hand that’s survived since the 15th century. This style developed in Italy and emerged in manuscripts and scrolls. Today, italic handwriting also graces scrolls, but it’s also found on certificates, invitations, signs, envelopes, as well as, art projects.

In my opinion, any novice calligrapher would enjoy learning italics. Compared to other hands, its broad edge lines are forgiving when it comes to those unavoidable mistakes. And, if you’re too nervous to invest in dip pens and nibs, a fountain pen set already complete with broad edge nibs and interchangeable color cartridges make it fun and easy to learn whether you’re 9 or 90.

You’ll enjoy the challenge and benefits italics bring if you join a class, or even if you learn solo. Believe me, with time and patience, you’ll see results.

When did you first learn calligraphy? Did you try italics or another lettering style?

Beginners…It’s Time to Try Something New

Like many artists and crafters, there’s nothing better than learning new techniques to pique creative ideas for exciting new art projects. Mixing varieties of medium for added textures and visual interests are so much fun that it’s not hard to lose track of time.

From drawing to sculpture to web design, there’s endless information ready to absorb at our fingertips. Unfortunately, we get so caught up with creating that it’s easy to neglect expanding our horizons into new medium.

In recent years, I attempted watercolors and scrapbooking and didn’t realize calligraphy provided an enhanced and customized look for my projects. Skimming books and practicing solo, failed to impress the idea of mixed media for projects.

Using pencil for sketching and paint for color was the closest I’ve ever come to mixing more than one medium. It wasn’t until I attended the calligraphy class that I discovered calligraphy offers more than addressing envelopes. I learned the benefits of changing things up, so all this time, I really missed out on creating some nice stuff.

But, if you’re a fairly new artist or crafter, I have news for you.

Calligraphy beginners and enthusiasts are in for a real treat. Next month, one of Southern California’s popular lettering artists, Barbara Close, will instruct a two-part course at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana. You’ll have an opportunity to try hand lettering while getting a dose of its history.

Whether you desire to learn the origin of calligraphy or test the waters before taking a full length course, I recommend for beginners and artists looking for a new medium to try. Although it’s a two-part workshop, you have the option to take it one day or both days. Plus, Ms. Close provides materials for the course, so . All you need to bring is patience, creativity and a love for calligraphy. She’ll do the rest. Go ahead and explore a new skill.

Please note: The workshops start on July 13 and 20 at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, CA. Visit http://www.bowers.org for fees and additional details.

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