Home » Under Pressure: Upstrokes & Downstrokes

Under Pressure: Upstrokes & Downstrokes

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.  1462632438522

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!


  1. Julee says:

    Thank you for this! I’m a newbie as well as a leftie & I hold a regular pen like you. Reading your blog, plus watching your Instagram posts I’m trying to learn the basics. I’m currently waiting on some new pens. Can’t wait to begin these practice strokes.

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