THE BASIC CALLIGRAPHY STROKES GUIDE (+FREE WORKSHEETS)

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The basic calligraphy strokes are the best way to learn calligraphy as a beginner.

In fact, the number one struggle for beginners I most commonly see is not learning and practicing the basic calligraphy strokes. 

This tutorial will teach you everything you need to know about basic calligraphy strokes. 

I’ve included some free basic calligraphy strokes worksheets, so be sure to stick around until the end of this tutorial. 

Here is a quick overview of the article –  

  1. Tools needed to practice the basic calligraphy strokes
  2. What are basic strokes in calligraphy? How many basic strokes does calligraphy have?
  3. Basic calligraphy strokes breakdown
  4. Basic calligraphy strokes alphabet demonstration
  5. Basic calligraphy strokes worksheet
  6. Quick recap + final words

Without any further delays, let’s jump straight into this tutorial.

Tools needed to practice the basic calligraphy strokes.

To practice the basic calligraphy strokes, you’ll need a very basic calligraphy tool setup (links to Amazon) –  

Overview of basic calligraphy tools

Pens

You can practice the basic calligraphy strokes using a brush pen, pointed nib, or even a regular pencil. 

If you’re just getting started, I recommend (links to Amazon) –  

Small brush pens and 2B pencil for calligraphy

You might also be interested in reading my review on the best brush pens for calligraphy beginners.

Paper

Aside from your writing tool, you’ll need some paper. 

If you use a brush pen or a dip pen + pointed nib, you will need specific papers; otherwise, you risk ruining the tips of your brush pens or ink bleeds. 

I recommend the following papers (links to Amazon) –  

If you choose a pencil, you can use any type of paper that you want/have.

Recommended paper for calligraphy

Ruler 

You’ll need the ruler to create calligraphy guidelines to keep your basic strokes accurate and consistent.  

I have a whole separate tutorial on how to create calligraphy guidelines that you can read here.

I highly recommend that you do. 

For guidelines, I always use and recommend the rolling ruler. 

Rolling ruler for calligraphy guidelines

Pencil 

We need the pencil to create our guidelines.

I work with an HB mechanical pencil, but you can use whatever you have at hand.

What are basic strokes in calligraphy? 

The basic calligraphy strokes are the building blocks of calligraphy letters. These are individual strokes that, when put together, form different letters of the lowercase alphabet. 

basic calligraphy strokes overview

We use basic strokes in both modern and traditional calligraphy.

In fact, I talk about the basic calligraphy strokes in my modern calligraphy tutorial for beginners.

Any style created with a pointed nib or a brush pen. 

Let me give you a bit of context as to why these basic strokes are so important. 

To the untrained eye, a word in calligraphy may seem that has been created in one take without lifting the pen.

Similar to cursive writing. 

However, calligraphy and cursive writing are two very different things. 

  • Calligraphy is done slowly, the pen is lifted often, and each stroke is created with focus and precision. The strokes also vary in thickness.
  • Cursive writing, on the other hand, is more fluid, done quickly, and the pen is lifted less frequently. 
difference between cursive and calligraphy.

It’s essential to understand this difference because the basic calligraphy strokes allow you to drastically improve the precision and consistency of your calligraphy. 

The basic calligraphy strokes also help us learn how to write the whole alphabet and to identify when we should lift the pen after each stroke. 

In this way, you dont have to memorize the letters individually and guess when to lift the pen. 

How many basic strokes does calligraphy have?

There are 8 basic calligraphy strokes, and they are –  

  1. The entry stroke
  2. The underturn
  3. The overturn
  4. The compound curve
  5. The oval 
  6. The reverse oval
  7. The ascending loop
  8. The descending loop
demonstration of the basic calligraphy strokes.

Some letters of the alphabet are an exception to these basic strokes.

I’ll get to them later in the article. 

Here are a few quick examples of how we use these basic strokes to combine different letters. 

  • The letter a is created with an entry stroke, an oval, and an underturn.
  • The letter n is made with an underturn and a compound curve. 
  • The letter b combines an entry stroke, an ascending loop, and a reverse oval. 
combining different basic calligraphy strokes to create letters.

Now let’s take a closer look at the basic calligraphy strokes. 

Basic calligraphy strokes breakdown

If you’re entirely new to calligraphy, it’s essential to understand the two basic motions. 

  • When you move upwards with your pen, your strokes should be thin (low pressure)
  • And when you move downwards, your strokes should be thick (more pressure).
Two fundamental calligraphy motions.

Ok, now I’m going to go over each stroke to give you a better overview of how to write them out. 

Once again, it is absolutely crucial to do this using calligraphy guidelines.

1. The Entry Stroke 

The entry stroke is a thin upstroke that starts from the baseline and slightly curves following the slant lines to the waistline.

In most instances, you won’t have to take it up to the waistline but rather to the middle or slightly above. 

The entry stroke

Here are a few examples of what you should try to avoid –

Entry strokes to avoid.

2. The Underturn

Begins at the top of the waistline as a thick stroke.

Then, it curves on the baseline and comes back up as a thin upstroke to the waistline.

Two important things to mention here. 

  1. The downstroke and upstroke are parallel to each other and follow the slant lines of our guidelines. 
  2. You begin to release the pressure slightly above the baseline to get a smooth, gradual transition. 
The underturn

Here you can see a few examples of what you should try to avoid doing –

Underturns to avoid.

3. The Overturn 

It is absolutely the same as the underturn, just in reverse.

You begin from the baseline with a thin upstroke, curve on the waistline, and come back down with a thicker downstroke to the baseline.

Again, both strokes are parallel and follow the slant lines.

Start applying the pressure gradually right after the curve. 

The overturn

Here are a few examples of what you should try to avoid –

Overturns you should avoid.

4. The Compound Curve

A combination of the two previous strokes.

Slightly more challenging.

Begin with a thin upstroke, curve at the waistline, come down with a thicker downstroke, curve on the baseline, and back up with a thin upstroke.

All three lines are parallel, following the slant lines. 

The compound curve

Try to avoid these mistakes –

Compound curves to avoid.

5. The Oval

Probably the trickiest basic calligraphy strokes.

Start slightly from the right side (2-3 o’clock) with a thin upstroke. Curve upwards (counterclockwise) into a thick downstroke which is also curved. Gradually transition on the baseline into a thin upstroke to join the oval.

The oval.

Avoid these common mistakes with the oval shape-

Ovals you should avoid creating.

Important note

Another important mention about the slant of the oval stroke.

I often see people confused about how to angle the oval correctly.

The best way to direct the oval is by using an axis line.

The axis line is basically a line that goes through the middle of an oval and splits it into two equal parts. 

Using the axis line to determine the direction of the oval.

Obviously, you can’t always stop mid-practice just to draw an axis line for your oval.

However, what you can do is imagine one and use that as a guide for the slant of your oval. 

6. The Reverse Oval

Pretty much the same thing as the oval, just in reverse.

Here you can also slightly modify it, and instead of joining the two strokes, the reverse oval can and in a half loop inside like this. 

Reverse oval.

7. The Ascending Loop 

The ascending loop begins at the waistline and extends in a curved thin upstroke to the ascending line.

At the ascending line, it curves back down towards the baseline following the slant angle.

As it curves, you gradually apply pressure to create a thick downstroke. 

Alternatively, you could start slightly above the waistline with light pressure that gradually becomes a thicker stroke all the way to the baseline and add the loop as a second stroke.

The ascending loop

This second method is often used for adding flourishes at the end.

Because with a closed-loop, your flourishing options are limited.

Both ways are good for closed loops, so use the one that suits you best. 

Here are a few examples of common mistakes you should try to avoid –

Avoid these ascending loops.

8. The Descending Loop

Pretty much the opposite of the ascending loop.

Start from the waistline with a thick stroke.

Then, take it down to the descending line, and right before it, start releasing the pressure for a smooth thick, and thin transition.

Then, you curve it on the descending line and right back up in a curved, thin upstroke to the baseline. 

Descending loop.

Here are a few examples of what you should try to avoid –

Avoid these descending loops.

A note about counter spaces (important!)

If you don’t know what counters are, it’s basically the white space inside of the letters. 

We differ two types of counters – opened and closed. 

Difference between open and closed counter spaces.

To make your basic calligraphy strokes and your calligraphy, in general, more consistent, it’s important to keep an eye on your counter spaces. 

By maintaining an equal counter space (both open and closed), we get a much more consistent and balanced look. 

The example below shows that counters with equal space look much better than those without. 

Consistent vs. inconsistent negative space in calligraphy.

Obviously, it’s impossible to measure this perfectly, but it’s just something I wanted to point out. 

Basic calligraphy strokes alphabet demonstration

In the video below, I demonstrate how I use the basic calligraphy strokes to write out the whole lowercase (minuscules) alphabet.

Exception letters

As I mentioned earlier, some letters are an exception to these basic strokes.

Their shape is simply different and unique, and therefore you memorize them. 

These letters are – s, f, x,

Exception calligraphy letters.

However, some letters have a certain element of these basic strokes, with a slight variation or addition. 

Here are a few examples –

  • The letter t is an extended underturn (variation) with a horizontal/wavy crossbar (addition).
  • The letter k is an ascending loop with a small R shape below. 
  • The letters c, e, and o are variated ovals with a small addition. 
  • The letter q is composed of an oval and a reversed descending loop. 
Calligraphy letters with slight additions to the basic strokes.

Basic calligraphy strokes worksheets

I’ve created free printable worksheets to help you put the theory into practice. 

I highly recommend you practice these basic strokes before attempting to write letters, words, sentences, etc.

I promise that if you practice for just 15 minutes a day for 30 days (consistently), you will significantly improve your skills.

In these worksheets, you’ll find –  

  • The two fundamental strokes (up thin, down thick)
  • The 8 basic calligraphy strokes
Basic calligraphy strokes free worsksheets.

The worksheets, along with all the other freebies, are located inside the Lettering Crate.

If you’re new here, just sign up for the newsletter, follow the super easy instructions, and get instant access to the Lettering Crate.

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Stay updated with my tutorials and get instant access to the Lettering Crate –

A growing library of free lettering & calligraphy resources that includes – FREE downloadable practice sheets, Procreate brushes, the 30-day lettering planner, printables, and more!
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The Lettering Crate is an exclusive member area where I upload ALL free worksheets (and other freebies) to help you learn and improve your skills. 

Note – if you struggle to access the worksheets, email me rather than leave a comment below. 

Quick recap + final words

Let’s have a quick recap of everything we talked about in this tutorial –  

  • The basic calligraphy strokes are the building blocks of letters
  • There are 8 basic calligraphy strokes
  • Basic calligraphy strokes allow us to learn the whole alphabet and drastically improve our consistency
  • Calligraphy and cursive writing are not the same thing and should be approached differently
  • Some letters are an exception to these basic strokes
  • Some letters are slightly modified, and some have small additions to them
  • Always work with guidelines!
  • Keep an eye on your opened and closed counters
  • 15 minutes a day for 30 days (consistently) will do wonders for your calligraphy skills

And there you have it, friends.

I hope this tutorial helped shed some light on the basic calligraphy strokes and how to use them to learn calligraphy. 

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to drop a comment below or reach out via email.

Until the next one!

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8 thoughts on “THE BASIC CALLIGRAPHY STROKES GUIDE (+FREE WORKSHEETS)”

  1. Oh wow, my goodness, what a gem of a post! So thorough and at the same time such a pleasure to read. Thank you so much for this!!!

  2. Thank you. Your instructions are wonderfully clear and the examples are a joy to behold. As well as inspiring!

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