4 Myths about Being Good at Calligraphy

Are these calligraphy myths preventing you from learning?

Think you need beautiful penmanship before you start calligraphy? You don’t.

Think you need nice pens and inks to write beautifully? You don’t.

Learning calligraphy takes dedicated time and study. I know that sped-up videos make it seem like some people were born with a quill in their hand!

Each calligrapher you admire started where you are now. And, like so many other occupations and trades, they’ve worked for years to build their skills. So can you.

At the left is an image of a pointed calligraphy nib resting on a dried rib of a cholla cactus. The point of the nib rests on a piece of lightly textured white paper, along with 2 dried white flowers and a small red stone. To the right, white text on a brown background reads, "Get Calligraphy Updates Sent to Your Inbox"! Below, a bulleted list reads, "First look at new blog posts & videos, New class announcements, calligraphy tips, and shop updates". Click to Subscribe to Tuesday Tines!

Myth #1: You Need to Have Good Handwriting

This is the most common calligraphy myth I hear from non-calligraphers.

It’s true that many calligraphers do have nice handwriting, but it’s not a prerequisite for calligraphy. Handwriting is a subconscious, personal, energetic way of writing that’s specific to each person.

By comparison, calligraphy is a conscious effort to regulate the writing to emulate a specific style of writing. Rather than writing letters, calligraphers assemble letters using a series of common, identical shapes.

It’s different from jotting down a to-do list. Writing in calligraphy takes significantly longer because there are more factors to focus on. So don’t let your handwriting stop you from taking a class!

Myth #2: You Need a Fancy Pen to Write Calligraphy

A small black piece of paper with white writing lines drawn on it rests on a white piece of paper. A left hand is holding the paper still; a right hand holds a calligraphy penstaff, ready to write. There is white ink on the calligraphy nib.

Yes, fancy pens are fun and feel great in the hand and on the page.

No, you don’t need them to write well. Line quality and knowledge of form don’t come with the pen, they come with practice. The benefit of writing with a nice pen for a bit is the inspiration to practice your skills. But you certainly don’t need to invest in a nice pen to do that.

You can practice with a sharpened wooden pencil on lined paper.

See our blog post about Beginning to Practice Calligraphy to get started!

Myth #3: You Need Special Paper

Yes, there’s joy in nice materials, and I don’t want to take that away from you. I just want to make sure this calligraphy myth doesn’t stop you from honing your skills so that the quality of your work shines on the page.

If you’re working with ink, you’ll need to test it with the paper you’re using. But most of the time, you can practice on graph paper. Make sure you’re practicing with guidelines to learn how to regulate the size and width of the letters.

Visit Tips for Guidelines and Why You Need Them for more on using guidelines for calligraphy.

Tip: Parchment paper from the craft store doesn’t take a lot of ink well.

A marker works nicely with it, but you have to be really light-handed with a dip pen and ink. For more final pieces, I like Arches Text Wove or Rives BFK. They take ink and color well.

Myth #4: You’re Only Good if You Can Write Fast

Calligraphy Myths: Writing Fast. A hand writes calligraphy on white paper with a calligraphy pen.

Time lapse videos have contributed the most to this calligraphy myth. I’ve seen calligraphers post real-time videos showing their slow writing speed. In the caption, they seem almost embarrassed that it actually takes them a long time to write.

The truth is, a calligrapher thinks a lot as they write. There are lots of pauses as they make decisions and judgments about the writing, no matter how skilled they are. Quick videos are misleading because they remove the “thinking” element from the timing. This suggests that the calligraphy has moved over to the subconscious mind along with handwriting.

It’s better to write at your own pace and get it right than to write fast and make letters you aren’t happy with. As my teacher Paul Antonio said once in class, “Slow is steady and steady is fast.”

Learn how to hold your pen for better calligraphy.

How to Tell You’re Good at Calligraphy:

  • You know to hold the pen lightly
  • Your basic strokes are similar to each other in width and height
  • You know what the letters look like by heart
  • You are happy with your work as it is on the page.

Now that you know the truth, what calligraphy script do you want to learn?

Start with our Learn Page. It’s packed with articles and videos about beginning your calligraphy practice!

You don’t have to wait until you’re good at calligraphy to enjoy it.

Request a calligraphy piece of your own! Fill in some details on my Inquiry Form and we’ll get something started. Enjoy it while you learn!

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