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Welcome back for another tutorial!
This is a beginner’s guide for those looking to learn more about modern calligraphy.
Here is a brief sum-up of what you are going to learn in this tutorial –
- What is modern calligraphy, and how does it differ from traditional calligraphy?
- What tools do you need for modern calligraphy – recommendations.
- How to start with modern calligraphy? Basic strokes
- A few fundamental rules about modern calligraphy to keep in mind.
- FREE downloadable practice sheets.
- Popular modern calligraphy techniques – 3 different styles in order to get you started!
- BONUS – How to effectively practice modern calligraphy.
Without any further delays, let’s begin!
What is modern calligraphy?
Modern calligraphy is any calligraphy style that does not follow the fundamental rules of traditional calligraphy scripts such as Copperplate, Spencerian, Italic, Blackletter, etc. Modern calligraphy relies on certain principles of traditional calligraphy. However, it can provide you with more creative freedom.
How does modern calligraphy differ from traditional calligraphy?
Traditional calligraphic scripts (such as the ones mentioned above) are governed by specific, structured, individual strokes that form different letters.
Let’s have a look at some examples.
This is an example of the Copperplate script--
Here is another example of the Spencerian script –
Finally here is another example of a broad-edged script – the Italic hand.
Traditional scripts are done with specific tools, and with precise measures of heights and angles.
On the other hand, modern calligraphy has more freedom in its performance.
Don’t get me wrong,
you can’t just scribble whatever you want on a piece of paper and call it calligraphy.
There are some basic ground rules that should be applied in order to maintain visual harmony.
These rules may seem complicated and overwhelming, especially for beginners, however, I strongly urge you to stick to them and learn how to practice calligraphy properly from the very beginning.
I will do my best and try to stick to the very essentials in order to make an easier learning experience for you.
Before we jump to these rules, let’s have a quick overview of the tools that we need!
What tools do I need for modern calligraphy?
Now that we know the basic difference between traditional calligraphy and modern calligraphy, it’s time to review some of the essential items that we will need.
Modern calligraphy can be practiced with a whole variety of different tools, such as –
- Brush pens
- Classic dip pens
- Broad nib pens (Parallel Pen)
However, if you are a total beginner I would advise you to start practicing calligraphy with either a pencil brush pen simply because it is much easier to learn how to work with compared to the traditional dip pen.
I am also going to recommend specific products so you don’t have to waste time looking around for them.
Here is a list of some of the most popular tools for modern calligraphy
1. Brush pens!
As i just mentioned, the brush pens are the easiest tool to start off with.
The reason is that the brush pen has a flexible (felt) nib which allows you to create nice thick and thin lines with ease.
This is essential for calligraphy, and we are going to come to that part right after the tool recommendations.
Here is a recommendation for brush pens –
- Tombow Dual Tip brush pen
- Tombow Fudenosuke
- Crayola Markers
- Ecoline brush pens
- Lyra brush pens
- Artline Stix
- Pentel fude touch sign pen
- Sharpie brush pens
If you want to find out more about the different kinds of brush pens, you can check out this review post.
2. Traditional dip pens
Traditional dip pens consist of two parts –
- The nib
- The holder
The holder can either be a straight holder or an oblique holder (check the image below)
Working with dip pens takes a bit longer to learn, and here is why –
When you work with a dip pen you need to hold it on a specific angle in order for the tines of the nib to open up equally, thus creating a thicker stroke (aka shade).
On top of that, you need to hold it to a certain angle in order to avoid your tip getting stuck in the paper when you create hairlines (thin upstrokes).
We also have a dedicated tutorial on how to get started with dip pen calligraphy if you want to find out more about it.
As you can see in the picture above, this set comes with an oblique holder, the nibs (with great flexibility), and a bottle of ink.
This is a great set for beginners that gives you everything you need to get started.
Keep in mind that with this tool you will need to constantly dip your pen in the ink, it will require more maintenance with the nibs, etc.
Taking that into consideration, once again I would recommend starting off with a brush pen (like the above-mentioned)
3. The Pencil
This tool is such an essential part of ANY lettering/calligraphy toolbox.
In modern calligraphy, we are mainly using pencil to sketch out rough concepts and create guidelines.
However, the pencil is also a great tool for practicing calligraphy since it can create thick and thin lines based on the amount of pressure you add as you write.
I create a whole separate tutorial on how to do calligraphy using a pencil.
Just remember not to underestimate the value of the pencil!
Aside from the pencil, you will also need a ruler in order to create your calligraphy guidelines.
The best ruler for calligraphers is the rolling ruler.
The rolling ruler allows you to quickly draw parallel lines as well as other shapes with ease
Check out this quick video about the rolling ruler and all the different things it can do –
4. Various markers and ballpoint pens
Mostly used for creating Faux Calligraphy and other styles of modern calligraphy, these markers can indeed be a great addition to your lettering.
Adding effects, patterns, colors, and pretty much anything that comes to your mind, is one of the benefits when working with modern calligraphy.
Since there are a ton of different pens and brands you could use, we are just going to list a few of our favorites –
How to start with modern calligraphy – basic strokes
How to hold a brush pen?
First things first let’s just quickly cover this part because I often see beginners struggling with how to hold a brush correctly.
Different people like to hold the pen in different ways but the most important thing is the angle at which you hold it.
Check out the reference image below –
Holding the pen too upright will not give you the desired effect (thick and thin contrast) and it will also damage the tip of your pen.
That being said, the next important part is to know where to apply thin strokes and where to apply the thick strokes. (if you already know this feel free to skip to the next section)
The general rule is that your strokes going up are thin while the ones going down are thick.
The thick down strokes are created by applying pressure while the upstrokes are done with the tip of the pen – without applying any pressure
Check this image reference –
If you are a complete beginner it is essential that you first get familiar with the brush pen and how to use it.
Before even thinking to start writing letters and words, try to get comfortable creating thin lines when going up and thick lines when going down.
This will help you to get to know the tool and you will start developing a feeling for it in your hand –
something that is also known as muscle memory
Stick to the end of this article to find out more about what muscle memory is.
The basic calligraphy strokes
Once you feel comfortable enough using the brush pen, we can move forward and start learning the basic calligraphy strokes.
In case you haven’t noticed, a lot of letters contain similar shapes.
There are 7 basic strokes and by combing these basic strokes we can create nearly any letter of the lowercase alphabet.
Here are the basic shapes I would like you to practice before you jump straight into the letters.
And here is a quick example of combining the different basic strokes in order to create letters and even words.
In the video below, I demonstrate how you can use these basic strokes to create the whole lowercase alphabet.
I use different colors for each separate stroke so you can clearly see the distinction.
A few fundamental rules about modern calligraphy to keep in mind
I know that from a beginner’s perspective this might already seem overwhelming, but there are just a couple more things that i must mention before we proceed (for your own good!)
There are a lot of things to talk about and explain, but it would be really hard to fit everything in a single tutorial.
Also, I promised at the beginning of the tutorial that I will try to keep things simple.
So the two basic and fundamental rules I want you to start implementing in your practice are Consistency and Spacing.
Let’s dive in!
Keeping our letters consistent helps to increase the overall visual harmony. (something pleasing to the eye)
In order to keep your letters consistent, you MUST use calligraphy guidelines.
I see a way too often beginners discrediting guidelines and simply trying to eyeball the heights, angles, etc.
When I talk about consistency in modern calligraphy I don’t mean that you have to aim for perfection and mathematical precision.
As you can see in the example below, it has plenty of imperfections, however, the letters do follow the same height and angle.
All you need to achieve more consistency in your letters is a pencil and a ruler.
Using the ruler and the pencil create the baseline and the mean line (to create the x-height).
Add the ascender line, the descender line, and the slant lines that will determine the angle of your letters.
I often get the question –
What sizes should I use?
Considering we are talking about modern calligraphy here – you are free to determine the height, size, and angles of your letters.
Check out this example below –
I cover all of this and more, in my how to create calligraphy guidelines tutorial.
Avoid doing this –
Here is an example of what you should avoid doing.
This is what happens when you don’t use guidelines.
I’ve added the lines later in Photoshop to show you how inconsistent this actually is.
Good spacing between the letters helps you to keep a high level of legibility.
If the letters are too squished together that could have a negative impact on your calligraphy – of course, we want to avoid that.
In order to maintain a good and consistent spacing, you need to go slower, lift your pen between each stroke, and also keep an eye on the space of the previous letter pair.
Again, this is something that will just improve with time and practice.
FREE worksheets – basic strokes + lowercase alphabet
As I mentioned previously you probably managed to notice that some letters are similar to others, and the good news is that we can use this to our advantage!
To improve your practice efficiency I’ve divided the letters into separate groups based on their similarities.
So, we have 5 different letter groups –
- Straight letters – i, l, t, f,
- Branching letters – n, m, h, b, p, k, r
- Reverse Branching letters – u, y, a, d, g, q
- Oval letters – o, c, e
- Diagonal letters – s, v, w, x, z
Be sure to check out the bonus section on how to practice effectively before you start using these sheets.
You can download 2 different types of practice sheets depending on the size of the brush pen you prefer to work with.
We have practice sheets for both smaller and bigger brush pens.
Big brush pens – Tombow Dual brush pen, Lyra, Artline Stix, Sharpie, etc.
Small brush pens – Tombow Fudenosuke, Pentel Fude Touch Sign pen, Zebra brush pen, etc.
Drop your email below, follow the instructions, and you will get instant access to these worksheets as well as other worksheets currently available in the Lettering Crate.
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!
Popular modern calligraphy techniques (step by step)
Once you feel confident with basic strokes you can start experimenting with different styles.
In this section, I am going to guide you step-by-step on how you can create 3 different (popular) modern calligraphy styles.
1. Bounce lettering
Bounce lettering has become quite popular and it can be seen all over the internet.
It is called bounce lettering because that’s exactly how it looks like – the letters bounce up and down!
This style is a perfect example of modern calligraphy since it defies the rules of traditional calligraphy.
What tools do you need for bounce lettering?
- Brush pen
Let’s jump right into the step-by-step on how to do bounce lettering so get your tools ready!
Step 1 –
draw some light guidelines using a ruler and a pencil.
We are going to draw the baseline, the mean line as well as some lines for the angle of our letters (keeping up with the consistency)
Feel free to determine the sizes by yourself – if you want the letters to be bigger or smaller, straight or slanted, that’s completely up to you.
Step 2 –
With your pencil, gently write the base of the word.
This step will only be necessary at the very beginning, once you have practiced a lot and you finally developed a feeling for it, you won’t need to sketch out your word every time.
Here is the key to bounce lettering –
As mentioned earlier, bounce lettering is called that because the letters bounce up and down.
In order to achieve this, we are going to write every consecutive letter above and below the baseline.
Check out the image below –
Once you gained a bit more experience you can play around and experiment with the bouncy pattern.
Step 3 –
Now that we have our word sketched out with the proper bouncy pattern, it’s time to go over it with our brush pen!
Remember – our up strokes are thin while our down strokes are thick!
Great job, in case it didn’t turn out as good as you expected –
DO NOT WORRY!
Grab your tools and repeat the process again. Calligraphy is all about repetition and building muscle memory –
The more you do it the better you become at it!
2. Distant lettering
Not really sure if there is a different name for this technique (if there is, be sure to drop a comment below)
I named it distant lettering since its main characteristic is that the letters have a large space between each other.
What do you need for distant lettering?
- Brush pen
The process of this technique is fairly similar to the bounce lettering that we just did.
Step 1 –
This style has more of a ”flowy” feel to it, therefore instead of drawing a straight grid im just going to keep a hand-drawn underline and with the ruler, i’ll make some straight angle lines (keeping the slant consistent)
Step 2 –
Using your pencil start writing a rough sketch of your letters, only this time extend the ending strokes of the letters.
Like this –
Step 3 –
Try to keep a consistent amount of spacing between each letter – it doesn’t need to be perfect, just don’t make it too obvious!
Once you are done writing with your pencil it’s time to grab your brush pen and go over the pencil sketch.
Once again, if you are not satisfied with the result, simply start over and then do it again, and again, and again…. you get the point 😀
3. Faux calligraphy
Faux or fake calligraphy is awesome because it can be done with any kind of writing tool!
On top of that, it’s very easy to learn.
Due to its popularity we decided to create a separate tutorial for faux calligraphy where we dive into this topic more in-depth.
We also included some free practice sheets and if you want to learn more about faux calligraphy I highly recommend you check out this tutorial.
(BONUS) 4. Creating your own unique style
One of the best parts about modern calligraphy is that you can deviate and create something unique.
Try to create something that you like, simply by following your own intuition.
Just keep in mind the rules that we talked about (consistency, balance, and spacing) and keep exploring your creativity.
A golden tip! –
First, you need to relax! if you are angry, frustrated, or even hungry you will struggle with your creative flow. The second thing that will really spark your creativity is to listen to some good music! (the one that you like obviously) – I know that this may sound weird, but it really helps with the creativity!
You can also find inspiration from other artists and create your own variations of a certain style.
Who knows maybe YOU will create a new style that will become a new trend in the online calligraphy community 🙂
BONUS – How to effectively practice modern calligraphy
Before you print the practice sheets or you just start practicing, I wanted to share a couple of tips that could help you with your practice routine.
Practice is the defining element for progress, but the way you practice makes all the difference.
With deliberate practice, you can achieve more in less time, and let’s be honest – who wouldn’t want that?
What happens after a lot of practice?
You will quickly notice that the more your practice the more confident you feel with your strokes.
As I mentioned earlier, you start to build something called muscle memory.
For those who are not familiar with the term, here is a quick definition –
Muscle memory is a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition, which has been used synonymously with motor learning. When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort. This process decreases the need for attention and creates maximum efficiency within the motor and memory systems.
If you are interested in learning more about muscle memory, I HIGHLY recommend watching this short video below.
It’s one of my favorite videos on YouTube and it comprehensively explains what muscle memory is and how it works.
Imagine building a house
This is an analogy that I often use to describe what the learning process should look like.
When building a house you will start by laying down your foundation.
Once you have that you can start building your walls and your roof.
Then you can make your windows, the doors and finally you can paint it and decorate it.
With calligraphy (or pretty much any other skill) the process is fairly similar.
It makes no sense to learn and practice flourishing if you still don’t have the basics down.
Working with multiple words and layouts will be quite difficult if you are still struggling with single words.
What I’m trying to say here is – take it slow, and build your skills gradually!
I understand that when you scroll on Instagram and you see all that amazing work you just want to create something like that.
I also understand that doing the basic stuff seems pretty boring.
However, believe me, that by gradually building up your skills you will see more progress in less time!
Here are a couple of actionable tips on how to practice more effectively –
- Practice daily! – I know that many of you have tight schedules and struggle to find time for practice. However, it’s much better to practice daily for even 15-20 minutes than twice a week for two hours (consistency over intensity).
- Warm-up drills – before you jump straight to writing your words, warm up your hand muscles by filling in a sheet of the basic drills for example (included in the freebie). It will take you only a few minutes and it will make a difference!
- Proper posture and placement of the tools – you practice calligraphy by sitting at a desk period! I’ve seen people practicing while sitting on the couch, laying in their beds, etc. If you plan to practice like that, don’t expect much progress. Check out these YouTube videos from Paul, where he explains it further in-depth.
- Use guidelines! – as mentioned earlier, guidelines will help keep your letters consistent.
- Stick to the basics – avoid multiple words (layouts) and any excessive effects. For the very first weeks focus on the basic strokes and on incorporating them properly to create single words. Focus on keeping your letters consistent – build your foundation first!
Final thoughts on modern calligraphy
I know that this is a lot of new information if you are just getting started, but honestly, the best thing to do is – just start!
Firsthand experience will teach you more than anything else.
Are you looking to get some constructive feedback on your work?
Do you have a specific question and you struggle to find an answer online?
Maybe you just want to nerd out with fellow calligraphers.
If so, be sure to check out and join our official Facebook group!
The official Lettering Daily Facebook group is a place where you can –
- Share your work
- Get constructive feedback
- Network with fellow lettering & calligraphy artists
- Ask specific questions about lettering & calligraphy
- Much more!
Thank you for joining for another tutorial, and until the next time –
About the author
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.