3 Common Calligraphy Issues and How to Overcome Them

Oh boy, can I relate to this topic y’all. As a self taught calligrapher, I encountered just about every hiccup you could imagine in my calligraphy journey. Ink blob in the middle of your project? Check. Little to no variation in your strokes? Check. Finally got my ink flowing but now it’s bleeding all over my paper? Check and check. I’m here to help you troubleshoot these common issues for all of us embarking on the adventure of modern pointed pen calligraphy.

 
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Let’s start with the issue of ink flow. You can’t get very far at all if your ink won’t even flow onto the paper, am I right?! Pesky ink! This is likely due to one of two reasons. First, when you are working with a brand new nib it will still have the manufacturer’s oils that keep is shiny and prevent it from rusting on it. You need to wash off the oils before using your new nib for the first time. There are a few different techniques you can use for this:

  • Grab a potato (if you’re like me, there’s probably one just waiting patiently to be used someday already in your kitchen). Pierce your nib halfway into the potato for 15-20 minutes (your potato will be so happy to have it’s time to shine!). Next, take the nib out, wipe it off, and voila! It is ready to use.

  • Moving from the kitchen to the bathroom— you can use some toothpaste and a soft toothbrush to clean off the nib. Give it a gentle scrub, rinse, and use!

  • Fire! This is my least recommended option, but it will do in a pinch. Light a match and quickly run your nib through the flame. Watch your fingers! The fire will melt the oil off of the nib, but make sure to keep it quick as the exposure to the flame can make the nib brittle if it is in there too long.

The other reason your ink may not be flowing is that your ink could be too thick. The solution here is to add a little bit of water to your ink. I usually recommend keeping a few small jars around so that you can mix into that instead of directly into the ink bottle. If you have a dropper, that’s even better so that you can add just a couple of drops at a time. A little goes a long way, and you don’t want to dilute it too much. Keep adding the water until the ink starts flowing well for you.

Now that we have resolved the ink flow issue, let’s tackle the issue of the ink bleeding on the paper. This was always the most frustrating for me! You finally get the tools working properly, and now the paper is causing problems! This is likely happening because your paper is too porous causing it to absorb your ink. You have a few solutions here, starting with gum arabic. Gum arabic is a thickening agent that you can add to your ink (again, I recommend doing so in a small jar). Like the water, you will want to add this in just a little bit at a time, testing your ink until it no longer bleeds. This stuff is a LIFE SAVER. It truly works wonders.

The other option is to sadly ditch that paper and start again with something non-fibrous and a heavier weight. A lot of it is trial and error, so make sure to buy extra when you are trying out new supplies! The gum arabic is really a life saver though, especially if you are working on a project where you can’t swap the paper, like envelopes for an invitation suite!

The final common issue many of my beginner students encounter is a lack of variation between the thin upstrokes and thick downstrokes. Don’t stress, this is common if you’re new to calligraphy. Ideally, your upstrokes will be thin and your downstrokes thick, and all of this depends on pressure. I provide Nikko G nibs to my beginner students, which has medium flexibility. This is a great option to start with as you can really get a good feel for the variation needed in how much pressure you apply. Try using more pressure on your downstrokes (don’t be shy, but do make sure your pressure is being applied evenly!) and less pressure on your upstrokes (it should feel like barely any at all!). You can also experiment with different nibs! Flexible nibs provide the biggest contrast, but they can also be a little tricky when you’re first getting started (the tines spread much more easily). If you want to try one out, look for the Brause Rose!

I hope these tips have been helpful, and as always, leave a comment with any questions or other issues you may need help troubleshooting!