So you’ve got the calligraphy basics down, but something’s still missing. If you feel like your work needs a little personality, “bouncing” your letters is a great way to get it! Unfortunately, getting that “bouncy” modern calligraphy look is tough. What letters do you bounce? How do you bounce them? Are there some that you should never bounce? While it’s not an exact science, my new Bouncy Calligraphy Workbook is as close as it gets! I show you which letters almost always bounce, which letters never bounce, and which letters sometimes bounce, and then teach you how to put them all together! Check it out, and use code BLOG10 at checkout for 10% off everything you purchase!
If you follow me on Instagram, you already know about my recent obsession with Crayola markers. I can’t help it — there are just so many great things about them! They’re inexpensive, they come in tons of colors and, most importantly, they’re fantastic for lefties because THEY DON’T FRAY. As any lefty who has used a traditional brush pen knows, they fray after, like, two uses. Before I started using Crayolas, I had pretty much given in to the fact that I would be stuck using the smaller, firmer-tipped pens forever. I thought I would never get to make those big, juicy strokes that righties got to make with their brush markers unless I wanted to waste beaucoup bucks on markers I could only use a few times. Then, I saw the Crayola light. They were on a big back-to-school display at Target, and a pack of ten was only 97-freakin’-cents! I’d seen others using them on Instagram, and knew it was a sign to give them a try! The awesome thing about Crayola tips is that they aren’t “brushy,” so they can handle our “pushing” strokes without damaging the marker. They’re nice and firm, which makes it really easy to get those thin upstrokes without feeling like you’re fighting your pen. All it takes is a minor adjustment in between strokes.
Here’s how I use them to create thick and thin calligraphy strokes:
1. Hold them as you would your normal brush pens. If you need help with your grip, read this post!
2. The same principles apply as with other brush pens — more pressure on the downstrokes, less on the upstrokes. If you need help with pressure, read this post!
3. This is where it gets a little different. As you’re making your thick downstrokes, the fine point will sort of get “smushed” up. See how the tip is pointing slightly upwards in the photo below?
If you attempt to make a thin upstroke while the tip is pointing upwards, it’ll turn out thicker than you’d like because you’re using the broad underside of the marker. Rotate your marker in your hand until the fine point of the marker is pointing slightly downwards, like this:
That way, only that fine point will touch the paper on your upstroke, making it nice and thin. It seems like such a small thing, but it makes all the difference. Check out my Crayola videos on Instagram @theinkyhand if you’d like to see “The Marker Roll” (I literally just made that name up) in action! For much more information about using Crayolas for calligraphy, check out this amazing Crayligraphy website!
As lefties, one of the most important keys to successful brush lettering is the way we hold our pens. Righties naturally hold their pens in the perfect position, but us lefties have had to modify the “correct” grip in order to write comfortably. This is something we subconsciously did while we were learning to write, and it takes practice to change it up. Every modification we make in our grip is going to be in an effort to get our pen at a 45-degree angle from the paper. If you remember nothing else from this post remember that last sentence! That magical angle is what makes it possible to get the thick and thin lines just right.
Now, let’s talk about underwriters vs. overwriters.
If you hold your pen like this, congratulations! You’re an underwriter, and you’re in great shape as far as brush (and especially pointed pen) calligraphy goes! You’re called an underwriter because your hand is positioned under your writing line. All you’ll likely need to do is experiment with bending your wrist and changing your arm position slightly to get those thick and thin lines just right. Smudging won’t be much of an issue either. You’re a rare unicorn, and you should be incredibly grateful because most of us are…
There’s a whole spectrum of overwriting grips, but they all fall into this category because our hand is positioned over our writing line. The most extreme of these is the (super unfortunate name alert!) hooker. You’re a hooker if you grip your pens like this:
Your grip has this totally offensive name because you hook your hand in an attempt to mimic a righty’s grip. Believe it or not, this is actually great for lefty brush lettering. If you imagine that pen in a righty’s hand, it’s positioned pretty close to that magical 45-degree angle! You’ll be pulling your upstrokes instead of pushing them, which I’m very, very jealous of. You also have your hand positioned way above the writing line, so smudging is almost a non-issue. Actually, I kind of hate you right now. The only modification I forsee is having to exaggerate the hook even more to get closer to the correct pen angle and avoid smudging the taller letters.
Most of us fall somewhere in between. I’ve had lots of lefties say they grip their pens similarly to me, so I’ll use mine as an example and go through some the modifications i’ve had to make.
First, I’ll show you how I hold my pen when I’m writing normally:
The pen is at almost a 90-degree angle from the paper, and I’m gripping it as close as I can to the nib of the pen. Not ideal at all.
Now, here’s how I grip my brush pens:
Notice that I now have that 45-degree angle happening! Here’s what changed:
- I’m using my same comfortable grip, only higher up on the pen.
- I’ve pushed my ring and pinky fingers out farther from my hand, which gets the pen resting in the right position.
The changes are subtle, but so important!
With pens like the one in the photo (smaller-tipped brush pens like the Pentel Touch or Tombow Fudenosuke), smudging is not much of an issue. These smaller pens can be used on regular printer paper or cardstock without messing up the tip and ink dries quickly on these types of paper. That’s why these are the pens I use 90% of the time.
Sometimes, though, you want to use a big, juicy brush marker (like these beauties)! They lay down way more ink and create dramatic transitions between thick and thin lines but, if you use them on plain printer paper or cardstock, you will fray the tips really quickly (like, after the first use). You need much smoother paper if you have any prayer of using your brush markers more than three times. Unfortunately, with smooth paper, the ink just lies on top of it for awhile before drying. This is pretty much a one way ticket to Smudge City, USA. There are two ways to combat this. One is to stop in the middle of the word or phrase to let the ink dry before you continue. I’m not a fan of this method, because I feel like it totally ruins my flow and takes forever. My preferred solution is to grip the brush marker even higher up than I do with the smaller brush pens.
That way, your hand is underneath the writing line and you’re much less likely to smudge. You may have to reposition your hand a little as you go to keep that 45-degree angle happening, but that’s all trial and error (something us lefties are used to). It’s a little awkward at first, but it works!
Also, a side note about paper position: I usually have my paper positioned at about a 45-degree angle from my body (like in these photos), because that’s what I’m used to and it’s the most comfortable for me. However, it might be useful for you to experiment with your paper position, because it can help with the angle of your letters and with smudging. I’ve even seen lefties who have their paper turned at a 90-degree angle! It’s whatever works for you.
I hope this helps and, as always, post any questions you’ve got in the comments! Happy lettering!
In this post, I’m going to show you how to work on the muscle memory for the thick and thin lines that are so important in brush calligraphy. I also go through this process with every new tool I get to get a feel for the pressure that is needed, because every pen and brush is so different!
Start with your brush pen. I’m going to use this Pentel Color Brush because it has a big range of line variation to illustrate this process.
To begin, make a vertical top-to-bottom line with your pen while barely making contact with your paper. Hold your pen at a 45-degree angle to the paper (for me, this means gripping my pen a little higher than when I write normally). This will give you the thinnest possible line your particular pen or brush can make.
Next, continue making vertical lines, but with each one, apply just a little bit more pressure until you’re getting the thickest line possible. Continue holding your pen at that 45-degree angle (this is super important to get those nice, thick downstrokes). Don’t worry, your brush pen is designed to handle the pressure! You will begin to see the different lines your tool can make, and feel how much pressure to apply to make them. We aren’t going for perfectly straight, smooth lines here. This is all about the feel.
Congratulations, you’ve just learned one of the two basic calligraphy strokes without even realizing it! As your lines got thicker, you were creating downstrokes! I’m sneaky like that.
Now for the trickier one: the upstroke. With the upstroke, you’ll start from the bottom left of your stroke and, depending on whether you’re a lefty or a righty, push or pull your pen upwards and slightly to the right. Try to use the lightest amount of pressure you used above. They will be wobbly and inconsistent, and that’s okay! You’ll get more confident as you practice. These strokes are harder for us lefties because we have to push the pen instead of pull, but it’s just something we have to overcome with practice (like those terrible lefty elementary school scissors). We’re used to it by now, right?
Once you’ve got these two strokes committed to muscle memory (it will take time, patience, and repetition), you’re well on your way to making full letters. Happy practicing!
I’m going to kick off this blog exactly how I kicked off my lettering journey — with faux calligraphy! It’s a great way to learn what your letters should look like once you make the jump to brush or pointed pens. All you need to start is a pen or pencil (nothing fancy, anything you have lying around the house will work!) and a piece of paper. I’ll be using this cheapy ballpoint pen that has lived in my checkbook since I got it on our honeymoon!
I’m not sponsored in any way, but my favorite pens to use for faux calligraphy are Gelly Rolls. They’re inexpensive and the colors are vibrant and beautiful, even on dark paper!
First, write your word in cursive, paying attention to when your pen is moving downward.
Next, look at your letters and visualize where your pen was moving downward as you wrote them. These are called downstrokes and I’ve illustrated them here:
Now you’re going to make those parts of the letters thicker. If you’re a lefty, you’ll want to start with the last letter and work backwards to avoid that dreaded smudging! The first step is to “double” your downstrokes. This is where you can start to get creative. You can make them as thick or thin as you want, depending on the style you’re going for.
Next, fill them in. You can use the same pen for a classic look or go bold and use a color or even a pattern!
Sometimes I’ll go over the rest of the lines (the upstrokes) one more time to make them more even. And that’s it! Once you’ve got this down, you can use this knowledge to help you form letters with a brush or pointed pen. The basic rule of calligraphy is lighter pressure on the upstrokes and heavier pressure on the downstrokes. And now you’ll know which is which!