I know the world of pointed pen calligraphy can be intimidating, especially because the supplies alone are a lot to figure out if you are teaching yourself like I did. I have put together a list of 5 basic supplies you need to get started, and have included some resources on where to find them online (links included!). My suggestion here follows the same rule as the illustration supplies, which is to buy the best you can afford. Luckily, calligraphy supplies are relatively inexpensive which means you can try a few things out to see what suits you best!
1. A Calligraphy Pen
I typically recommend a straight pen holder for beginners as they work for left or right handed writers. I love the Manuscript pens from Paper & Ink Arts or the General Pencil Cork Tipped Penholder which features a cushioned comfort grip. Try to avoid the plastic holders (I know—they’re so tempting at under $2 a piece). They really won’t do you any favors, especially as a beginner. I learned this the hard way—once I invested in a nicer, wooden holder I quickly saw much better results.
Another option is the all mysterious Oblique pen. Oblique pens feature a flange on the side (on the left for right-handed writers, and on the right for left-handed writers). It is ideal for achieving a nice slant, particularly for right-handed writers who have more difficulty in that arena. My favorite is the Deco Oblique Holder from Paper & Ink Arts. These beautiful wooden holders have an art deco inspired end. Made in the US, they are sleek and have an adjustable flange. I have this pen and I love it!
Note: Check to see if your flange is adjustable or if it can only fit a specific style of nib! You may need a pair of needle nose pliers to adjust the brass flange.
2. A Pointed Pen Nib
The Nikko G nib is my go to, especially for those learning calligraphy for the first time. It is strong, but flexible and can cold quite a bit of ink so you won't have to refill quite as often. It also fits in just about any pen holder and is sturdy and long lasting. Try a few different nibs out, and see which you like best! They usually range from $1-$2, so you can try a variety without a huge investment. The biggest difference is in the flexibility—some will release ink with just the slightest pressure while some are rather inflexible.
3. Sumi or India Ink
These are both opaque black inks with a smooth viscosity. The consistency of these inks makes them ideal for beginners and they are very cost effective as well! I like to use little glass jam jars to put my India ink in as I often buy a larger bottle that you can’t dip in to. As you branch out and start using other inks (with color!) make sure you don’t get ink meant for a fountain pen. Try Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay India Inks!
4. Practice Paper
Your practice paper needs to be heavy weight and smooth so that your ink won’t bleed and your nib won't catch on the paper. Buying a bulk pack of laser jet printer paper allows you to practice freely without worrying about wasting expensive paper! My go to is #32 Laserjet Paper—I just order it in bulk on Amazon so I have plenty to use for practice drills and alphabets!
5. A Cup of Water and a Non-Fibrous Cloth
You will notice the ink can dry quickly on your nib and start to build up. You will want to periodically clean off your nib as you are working. When you are done, make sure to fully clean the ink off your nib and dry it separately from your pen holder. Leaving it in the pen with moisture can cause it to rust.
The cloth is for drying off your nib after you clean it in water. You will want a non-fibrous cloth so that your nib doesn’t catch on any little fibers and then drag ink across your paper. Soft, old kitchen towels work great!
Where to get these supplies:
This website changed the game for me! They have just about every calligraphy supply you could want! A huge assortment of pen holders, nibs, inks, and more- all in one place! I order the majority of my supplies here and love their wide selection.
Blick has tons of stores nationwide and a great online assortment. I usually stock up on my India or Sumi ink here, and they have a great selection of colorful inks as well. Avoid the Speedball packaged sets, and instead build your own kit from the materials suggested here! Bonus: They often have weekly promos!
4. Paper Source
Paper Source won’t have your nibs, inks or pens, but they have cards and envelopes in every color under the rainbow! Their paper bar has good quality, smooth options and are my go-to for envelopes! They have a wide assortment of sizes and colors— stock up on a variety, mix and match, and send out some seriously stunning snail mail!
Etsy is an online marketplace for handmade and vintage items. There are some beautiful, hand painted pen holders available on Etsy and I encourage you to browse around! You can find my shop, featuring some of my hand lettered illustrated prints, at www.thescribblist.etsy.com
Tips for getting started:
Go slow and be patient with yourself! Calligraphy requires us to slow down. The tools will actually rebel if you try to go too quickly! Use your practice time as a chance to relax and enjoy yourself. I like to grab a cup of hot tea, put on some good music, and get cozy when I sit down to practice or work on a project. If you find yourself tensing up or getting stuck on a particularly tough letter, take a break to stretch. The key to learning calligraphy is a mixture of practice and patience. Most importantly, have fun!
If you’re in the Portland area, be sure to check our Events page for upcoming workshops! Learning is more fun with a friend!
Note on Affiliate Links: The links for Paper Source, Amazon and Blick Art Materials are affiliate links, which means The Scribblist profits from you shopping these items through those links. I only recommend products I have tried, used consistently and love. It’s an added bonus that these brands share the love with the people that use and recommend them. Thank you for supporting the brands that support The Scribblist.