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Hey there lettering lovers! Welcome back for another article 🙂
Today we are going to talk about some common mistakes we see calligraphy beginners doing. Some of these have a small impact on your calligraphy progress while others have a HUUGEE impact.
Even if you have been making these mistakes it’s not too late to correct them and start practicing the correct way.
After all, becoming better is all about learning from your own mistakes we are here just to give you a slight push.
Before we jump into it, let’s have a quick look on what exactly are we going to talk today –
- Holding the pen incorrectly
- Frayed brush pens
- Going to fast
- Not lifting the pen
- Working with the wrong tools
- Expectations – comparing yourself
- Not using guidelines
Don’t get overwhelmed if you are doing most of these wrong, chillax, clear you head and start over. I just wanted to point out that for some of these points it’s going to be hard to stop doing them and instead learning it from scratch – but on a long run, you will be happy that you decided to do it correctly!
HOLDING THE PEN INCORRECTLY
Ok, so this is probably one of the single biggest mistakes we constantly see calligraphy beginners doing (and not only beginners).
Holding a brush incorrectly with the excuse of being used to hold it like that is not an excuse at all.
There is a correct way of holding a writing tool and there is a incorrect way – simple as that.
The photo on the left is an example of how you should hold the brush pen while you practice while the one on the right is a hold that creates unnecessary tension in your hand.
You see, the thing is that the process is a bit more complex than just a simple up thin and down thick.
We use a set of different muscles in our fingers, hands, forearms, shoulders etc.
It is essential to accommodate the pen in a way that your muscles won’t suffer and that will allow you to get the most out of each and single stroke.
Considering that calligraphy can be performed with different tools (depending on the script) let’s have a quick overview on some common tools and their correct way of holding them.
The brush pen –
The brush pen is usually held a bit above the tip, this allows you to take the most out of the thick strokes without adding too much pressure or breaking your hand while doing it.
The brush should sit between your thumb and your index finger with an angle of 10-20 degrees (depending on the size of your hand)
It’s also very important to mention how the hand should be placed when you are actually trying to write something.
As you can see in the photo below, the hand comes from the right side and the tip facing towards the upper left.
This not only allows the whole forearm to be rested on the table but also get the right thickness on the downstrokes.
On the other hand if you would try to keep your hand underneath you wouldn’t be able to get a nice thickness from the brush pen + it would be quite difficult to get used to letter like this –
Dip pens –
Working with a dip pen requires a different hold and a different arm position.
When you apply pressure the nib separates creating the thicker strokes.
It is essential that equal pressure is applied both to the left and right side, otherwise you won’t be able to do much with it.
You will see that it is much easier to operate with an oblique pen holder due to the side nib holder. With an oblique holder you won’t have to bend that much your hand like with a straight holder.
We will definitely create a more extensive post on dip pen calligraphy in the near future, where we are going to elaborate on this topic much more in depth.
Flat nib pens (parallel pen and others) –
this all depends on what kind of script you are trying to learn. If you are interested in getting started with flat nib calligraphy, I definitely recommend checking this step-by-step guide on blackletter calligraphy.
Another thing that is important to remember is to avoid shifting positions of the pen in your hand – by just changing the position once you can already change the stroke consistency, and that’s something you want to avoid.
This is something very fundamental and i really recommend you taking the time to get used to a proper pen hold before doing any practice.
We already talked about the posture in the past, and it’s definitely something it’s getting completely overlooked. Having a bad posture while doing calligraphy can have a seriously negative impact on the outcome.
How to fix this?
Actually quite simple 😀
Sit straight, keep the writing surface in front of you (not to far and not to close) and have plenty of room for your arm to move – your whole forearm should be touching the surface of the table.
If you are like me you probably never paid any attention to this at the beginning, and believe me when i say that the sudden change will make you feel like a total noob again.
it may feel weird at the beginning but if you stick to it, you will definitely see the benefit on a long run.
Check out this video by Paul Antonio where he talks about the importance of good posture and how to do it.
FRAYED BRUSH PENS
Brush pens start to get their tips frayed due to the usage of wrong paper (in most cases) Once that happens, do yourself a favor and stop using them.
Not only that the frayed tips will be a nightmare for your lettering practice but the tip loses it’s cohesion and its elasticity which will manifest on poor transitions between the thick and thin.
Check this example below to have a better understanding why frayed brush tips are not the best choice to work with.
Also, if you want to stop your brush pens from fraying, I highly suggest you to stop using the wrong paper and instead learn about the different kinds of paper and how they can affect your brush pens.
GOING TOO FAST
Woooow! Slow down! 😀
Calligraphy is not a race take your time with it!
Most of the videos you see on instagram and other platforms are speeded up – otherwise they would be to long 😀
Don’t get me wrong im not telling you to go suuuuper slow, but slow down just so you can focus on getting a consistent thickness, spacing, angle etc.
Faster strokes are required for other things such as flourishes at the end. Soon we will talk also about that!
NOT LIFTING THE PEN
When you are using your normal handwriting (in cursive) you probably don’t lift the pen that often, instead you are just trying to write down something as quickly as possible.
Well, with calligraphy this is not the case ( we just talked about slowing down) you want to stop after each stroke and lift the pen.
This will help you with the consistency and with the precision of your strokes – also because some strokes simply begin from a different place where other end.
Check the reference photos below –
Sometimes you make a bad purchase, it’s not the end of the world.
Unfortunately not every brush pen is made for lettering and it’s pointless trying to work with them.
A few months ago i picked up some brush pens from a local shop and it turned out to be a poor investment 🙁
If you are just starting out stick to the known products and brands that have been recommended over and over again, and with time feel free to experiment with new products.
Same thing goes for calligraphy nibs – you want nibs that get a decent thick and thin contrast.
Besides picking the right nibs you also need the right combination of paper and ink this can seem a bit overwhelming but Paul Antonio explained all of this in his recently published manual for copperplate calligraphy which we definitely recommend you checking out!
Here are Paul’s suggested interactions –
REMEMBER – there is no tool that will magically improve your calligraphy skills. They are all different and require time and effort to learn how to use them.
EXPECTATIONS – COMPARING YOURSELF
Being relaxed and confident are kinda the perfect combo for learning and perfecting a new skill.
Well, if you keep giving yourself some sort of expectations you are going to keep disappoint yourself which will keep you away from your goal.
Leave these expectations behind and learn how to be curious and have fun just like a child.
The same thing goes for comparing yourself to others. This is not necessarily a bad thing but if everything revolves around constant comparison you better get ready for a very slow and painful development.
There is actually an interesting quote that goes –
‘’Comparison is the thief of joy’’
Leave any expectations behind and stop comparing your work with others. Learn how to have fun, be curious, explore and with time YOU WILL IMPROVE!!
NOT USING GUIDELINES
Ah does guidelines. Start using them!!! 😀
You are not a computer and it’s hard for a beginner to keep everything the same size, height and angle. Stop being lazy and take the 20 seconds and draw some guidelines before you start with your calligraphy practice.
This will help you A LOT!
In fact even if you do a quick guideline with a free hand it will work.
When you are practicing you have to think about your posture, the way you hold your pen etc. Why would you want to add the spacing, heights, angles in that equation?
Simply take a ruler draw the base line, the x height and some parallel lines that will determine your angle.
BOOM! Now all of the sudden you don’t need to think about those things and you can totally focus on the other important elements.
Talking about working smart here!
FINAL WORDS ON CALLIGRAPHY MISTAKES
We all make mistakes, its what helps us grow every single day. Don’t be intimidated by your mistakes, but rather embrace them and try to learn the most out of them.
What other mistakes do you think we forgot to mention? If you have some questions or some comments you are always more than welcome to reach out and have a chat with us 🙂
Until the next time,
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Lettering Daily is an online community that provides educational and inspirational content for hand lettering and calligraphy beginners. Our mission is to help artists and enthusiasts from all around the world to learn and improve their hand lettering and calligraphy skills.