Beginner Series Part 4 - Common Calligraphy Problems

Updated: May 16

We suggest solutions to the most common calligraphy problems, from poor ink flow to ink dropping everywhere.

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.

My ink runs out before I can even write one letter!!

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.

My nib is picking up bits of paper as I work.

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.

I'm left-handed, so I can't do 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.

I can't make a thick stroke with my nib.

The position of your paper is critical for this. Turn it 40 degrees anti-clockwise or clock-wise for left-handers. The pen, nib and your forearm should form a line so that they follow the direction of your downstroke.

I keep smudging my work.

Cover your work with a piece of paper to protect it from the grease on your hand. Any grease makes it difficult to write, as the ink won’t adhere to the paper. This will also help to avoid your hand smudging what you've just written.

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!

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