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Beginner Series Part 4 - Common Calligraphy Problems

We suggest solutions to the most common calligraphy problems.

When you are starting there are a few things that can trip you up, so let us let you into the tricks of the trade. With these tips, you will be able to enjoy creating calligraphy and spending time calm and relaxed, not frustrated and cross!!

1 What to do if your nib just won't work.

For beginners, it is best to opt for a nib that isn't too flexible. A sturdy nib will help you get to grips with when to apply pressure and will hold more ink so that you can write for longer before dipping into your ink. Avoid traditional broad-edged nibs, those are for a different style of calligraphy.

Good Starter nibs are Nikko G; Zebra G; Leonardt 30; Leonardt 265 which are all listed on our Amazon shop. Alternatively, you could buy our calligraphy set which has 2 of these nibs in it, plus a Principle Nib which is great for smaller lettering.

2 Your Pen Holder has cracked

Avoid leaving your pen to soak in water, doing this will rust the nib as well as the inside part of the pen holder. If your pen holder is wooden, it may also cause it to crack and split. Instead, wipe the ink off the nib with a damp cloth once you've finished working.

3 The ink won't flow and the nib is scratchy.

Your pointed nib is made up of two split pieces of metal which fit perfectly together. These are called the ‘tines’. The tines lead to a small hole called a ‘vent’, where the ink sits, ready to flow down your nib when you apply pressure. Begin by touching the tip of the nib down on the paper. The vent needs to be facing up, and the tines need to hit the paper equally. If you twist the nib the ink can’t release and it will feel scratchy.

Move your paper so that there is a right angle between your arm and the bottom of the page. Check that the tines can open up easily. The sensation of the downstroke is a smooth one, so keep adjusting until it is. Hold the pen at an angle of 30 degrees from the paper. If you hold it too upright, you will have issues with the nib catching on the paper and the ink won’t be able to flow. Hold the pen gently, trying not to grip it tightly.

4 There's no contrast between the up and down stroke thicknesses.

This could be caused by the nib having picked up paper fibres which are sitting on the point of the nib. Remove them with a damp cloth and try again. It could also be that your ink is dehydrated and so is too thick. Add a drop of water with a pipette if you have one. An alternative is to add Ox Gual in the same way, a drop at a time and then test. This won't cause any feathering, which water might.

5 The ink keeps bleeding into the paper.

This is what I meant when I mentioned feathering - both terms mean the same thing. If this is happening you can try adding Gum Arabic to the ink this thickens it which will stop the colour spreading into the fibres of the paper.

6 My calligraphy is wobbly.

Oddly when we try and control the pen, we grip it tightly. Instead, loosen your grip so that the nib can move across the paper, bearly touching the surface for the upstrokes. Doing that will reduce the wobbles. Check the position of the pen to the paper too.

7 The ink only works on the downstrokes.

When a letter begins with an upstroke the ink won't always release from the nib. When this happens, bounce the nib gently on the spot or touch the tip onto a wet cloth. This will coax the ink out.

8 The ink won't stay on the nib.

All nibs have a glaze on them, so if you use the nib without removing it the ink can't hold onto its surface and so you won't be able to pick up enough ink for it so flow. Hold the nib over a flame for a second or two, as if you were sterilising a needle or rub some toothpaste on it to remove the coating.

9 I'm always smudging my work.

Particularly for left-handers, this problem. You can resolve it by using a piece of paper under the pad of your hand. In the case of left-handed underwriters, it can also help remind you to keep your hand under your calligraphy.

Pointed nibs are symmetrical, which means you can still use them if you are left-handed.

If you are an under-writer then keep your wrist straight when you write and you will be able to work in the same way as a right-hander. The only difference is that you will need to turn your page clockwise so that the pen is in the correct position to be able to open.

Over-writers, you need to bend your wrist over the paper, start at the bottom of the letter and go upwards. Experiment moving your paper around to find a position where the tines can open.

How Often Should I Dip? This varies depending on the nib, paper and ink you use. At first, it can feel like ink is going everywhere. Controlling the ink flow is an important skill to get to grips with, practice makes perfect with this one. After a while, you will start to be able to tell when the ink is about to run out.

Ink is dropping off the nib as I work and spoiling my work.

Dip your pen into the ink as far as the vent, then dab off any excess by gently touching the nib on the side of your inkpot. Don’t dip it in so deep that the pen holder is submerged, as getting liquid, ink or water in the pen holder will cause the metal ‘petals’ to rust.

10 The nib is catching on the paper and flicking ink.

When you are working on textured papers, having the nib catch and flick ink can ruin your work. Avoid it happening by dusting the papers surface with Gum Sandarac powder. Put the gum crystals into a fabric pouch and crunch them to release the powder. When you then tap the pouch on the paper, some of the finest particles are released onto it. They act by filling the surface and smoothing it out, making it easier to write on.

My calligraphy looks scruffy.

Don’t be tempted to flick your pen on the upstroke or flourish. Calligraphy is about control, so even the thin lines need to be careful and deliberate for a crisp look.

I get frustrated when my work isn't as good as I'd like.

Modern calligraphy is all about having fun with lettering. Try and enjoy the doing, your lettering will improve. Whenever we put pressure on the end result, our calligraphy suffers. We hope that you been able to grab a little time for yourself and let your worries wash away as you immerse yourself in the wonderful world of calligraphy.

If you’d rather learn from the comfort of your own home, grab one of our kits and books- full of tips, tricks and easy to follow projects or take our online class. There is also our magazine called 'Modern Calligraphy & Lettering’ which is packed with fascinating features and inspirational galleries from the UK’s leading calligraphers. Or join me on YouTube where we publish regular tutorials to help you get the most from calligraphy. Anyone can do it, so just pick up a pen, relax and write!

If you would like all the details of the products I mention in my video, head to our Amazon shop.

The beautiful handmade paper I use in this video is handmade from cotton by Aurobindo.

Happy Lettering!



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