5 Steps to Learning a New Calligraphy Script

Once you learn one calligraphy hand, you will always be “learning a new calligraphy script”! I’ve been “learning” Copperplate calligraphy for about 7 years now. Beginner and advanced calligraphers alike follow a similar process for learning a new script, or “hand”.

No matter what script you want to learn, keep in mind that the quality of your lines comes from the quality and consistency of your practice. It does not come from your writing instrument. Take a look at some of the articles on our Learning Calligraphy for Beginners page. They’ll walk you through setting up your work area and getting some control over your pencil or pen.

1. Decide the Script You Want to Learn

Sometimes it’s love at first sight when we see a new calligraphy script! Some scripts are more advanced than others. This means that to form the letters properly, you need to be able to manipulate the calligraphy pen in subtle ways. These are scripts to work your way up to learning. You can learn from seasoned calligraphy teachers or start off with self-paced study. How ever you come across a new calligraphy hand, here are a few questions to ask yourself before committing to learning it:

  • Do I really have the time to dedicate to studying and practicing? (Roughly 30 minutes a day throughout the week)
  • Do I have access to the appropriate materials? (A quality exemplar, the correct writing tool)
  • Is this calligraphy hand close to my skill level? (Beginner, intermediate, advanced)
  • Do I have quality materials to study from? (Historical manuscripts, detailed exemplars)

Not sure what to look for? Here’s a page of calligraphy scripts to inspire you. They’re divided into Broad Edge Calligraphy and Pointed Pen Calligraphy.

2. Study the Exemplar

Take a good look at the calligraphy exemplar you’ve chosen. There are a few things you need to know before practicing and writing it. Sometimes these aspects of the script are listed on the exemplar. Sometimes, you’ll need to do some figuring (or Googling) to find out. Ask and answer the following questions:

  • What type of nib or instrument is the script normally written with? (pointed calligraphy nib, broad edge calligraphy nib, brush)
  • What’s the angle or “slant” of the script? (vertical, slanted forward by 10 degrees, 52 degrees, 55 degrees)
  • For broad edge scripts, what’s the pen module? (How many nib widths or pen widths high is each section of the script?)
  • Also for broad edge scripts, at what angle should the edge of the pen be held?
  • What are the common (basic, reoccurring) strokes and shapes? (Circles, ovals, tight turns, short ascenders)
  • How wide are the letters? What is the letter spacing (how far apart the letters are)? How far apart are the words (word spacing)?

Having this information ahead of time will make learning the new calligraphy script easier for you.

3. Use Calligraphy Guidelines for Learning

Using the appropriate guidelines will help you write more accurately right from the start. That is their function: to train your hand and eye to work with the page. Guidelines also show you how tall and wide to make your letters. Vertical guidelines help you with spacing between letters and words. After all, you probably want to be able to read the calligraphy you’ve just written! We love guidelines so much we have a whole post dedicated to them: Tips for Guidelines and Why You Need Them.

For learning and writing broad edge calligraphy scripts, I always use graph paper (not an affiliate link). For Copperplate and Spencerian I use these guidesheets:

4. Practice the Basic Strokes

This was my first time practicing the round shape, or “bowl” of the letter a, in brown ink. I then tried adding the stem in blue ink so I could see what was happening as I wrote the letter.

This is a little different from practicing to improve your line quality and control. It means recreating the basic shapes you see in the exemplar as closely as possible using the correct nib or marker. As you do this, you begin to understand the relationship of the strokes to one another.

Look for what shape all the bowls, or round strokes, of a, e, g, and q have. Look at i, u, and w. What shape are all these underturns? How about the overturn of h, n, and m? Lastly, what do the ascending and descending strokes look like? (Find these new words in our Glossary).

Take notes as you explore, writing down your questions and the things you notice about the letters. I often write these on a copy of an exemplar or in my practice. This helps to put language to the movements. Communication is one key to any relationship, and your relationship to the script is no exception.

Here’s another example of my first attempt with a straight stem. Part of the value of taking notes is that next time you sit down to practice, you can review insights and breakthroughs you had. It’s like getting a headstart on your next session!

It takes time and trial and error to recreate the shapes when learning a new calligraphy hand. Part of the practice is comparing your work to the exemplar. Don’t worry if you don’t get it perfect on your first try. Practice is an ongoing element of your relationship to calligraphy. Be honest when you correct your work and make notes of your corrections too.

Once you have an understanding of the basics, your task is to make your basic strokes look as similar to each other as possible. This is what makes your calligraphy cohesive and appealing to the viewer.

5. Write Letters and Words

One of my calligraphy practice pages from learning Italic script. My corrections are in red ink. I’ve circled the strokes that don’t touch the baseline. These are notes of things to consider as I write. The comments refer to how I’m actually writing the script as opposed to how I want to write it. I am also making notes of ways I’d like to write the script more consistently.

Intersperse writing letters and words with your basic strokes practice. This is what keeps your practice fresh and gets you more excited about writing the script. Sometimes writing letters and words will help you answer the questions you have about the script — sometimes it’ll bring up more questions! Write these down. Compare your work with the exemplar and study historical manuscripts.

Give Yourself a Break

As always, make sure that you take breaks from sitting and writing every 30 minutes or so. Stand up, walk around a little, take some deep breaths, and move your arms around. Calligraphy will be there when you get back, and your body and mind will be refreshed.

Get Grounded in Your Calligraphy Practice

We have several videos on YouTube that help you develop a calligraphy practice you’ll want to come back to. You can view it at this link: Crossroads Calligraphy Demos. Learn about developing a better posture for writing, how to hold your pen, and drawing and using calligraphy guidelines.

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