Brush Pen Basics

I recently taught a group of 3rd graders how to use a brush pen for writing cursive. Brush pens seem to be the most readily available way to start writing calligraphy. But there is a steep learning curve. We’re using a pencil for the exercises in this article. So you can follow along, even if you don’t have a brush pen yet!

When I was coming up with my lesson plan I thought, “What am I gonna say to these kids?!” I wrote everything down, and here it is for you as well. Before you take this as a post for kids, when I demonstrated the following exercises to the group, I showed some room for improvement.

3 Brush Pen Basics:

  1. Write Big
  2. Write Lightly
  3. Write Slowly

Getting better with a brush pen — or any writing instrument — takes time, patience, and compassion. Developing control takes time and repeated practice in order to see results. Try to practice at least 3 times a week at first. Set aside a time and space to practice writing. Make sure you take breaks at least every 45 minutes to refresh your mind and body. Read our post, “Cultivating Better Posture Habits“, for tips on how to sit and set your space for practicing calligraphy.

A Little Info About a Brush Pen

Some brush pens actually have a brush with hairs that come to a fine point. Others have a flexible sponge tip that also comes to a point. As you may have already experienced, the more you press on the pen as you write, the thicker the line. This happens in our normal handwriting too, we just aren’t concentrating on it.

The aim of this practice is to learn how to write lightly. No matter how hard you’re pressing, the tool will still make a mark. Developing a lighter hand as you write will give you the power to decide the weight of the mark.

Start Learning Brush Pen Using a Pencil

A metal ruler, a ballpoint pen, a wooden pencil, a metal pencil sharpener, and a brush pen without the cap on all rest on a fresh page of lined notebook paper.

Meaning: use a pencil to learn to regulate the pressure you’re putting on your writing instrument. See our post, A Better Pen Hold for Better Calligraphy, to lighten up your grip and get a good hold on your pen for calligraphy.

A big benefit to starting with a pencil is that in the mind, the expectation of brush calligraphy isn’t there. A pencil offers our muscles the opportunity to learn control in the pencil neuropathway of the mind. The new control in your hand will transfer to the brush pen with minor adjustment. And you’ll still like your brush pen.

Bonus: These exercises are great for developing your pointed nib calligraphy practice!

I learned this from my skilled and renowned teacher, Paul Antonio. His integrity and dedication to calligraphy are unmatched.

You’ll need a sharpened wooden pencil on lined paper or graph paper. We’ll be treating 2 horizontal lines as one big line. For more on using guidelines for writing, check out our blog post, “Tips for Guidelines and Why You Need Them“.

Foundational Pencil Marks

Practice drawing vertical lines from one horizontal line to the next. The only rule: make the lightest, straightest mark possible. Make 5 lines, then put your pencil down. You’re only going to do one row of these marks, not the whole page. Look at the marks you made. How light and even was your pressure? What can you improve on the next set? With that in mind, pick the pencil back up, and again, make 5 concentrated marks.

When you’re finished with that row, skip a line. Remember to write across 2 horizontal lines. As lightly as you can, make vertical marks. This time, practice making the lightest line possible starting on the bottom line and moving toward the top line. Go along the row, just as above.

Skip another line. It’s time for circles. Starting at the top line and moving counterclockwise, lightly draw 5 circles. When you study them, look for lightness in your pressure and roundness in the forms. Do one row of these.

Practice Your Pressure

From here, we’ll introduce pressure, or weight, to our practice strokes. We’ll be working with changing the pressure on the pencil as we’re writing a line or stroke. This technique is called “pressure-release”. It’s a little tricky at first! That’s why we’re making the strokes so big: so we have time to learn how to change pressure before we’re out of space!

Again, working with a double line as one space, make a vertical line from the top to the bottom. Use your regular pressure at the top of the stroke, the lightest pressure possible in the middle, and your regular pressure at the bottom of the stroke. Again, make 5 strokes and put your pencil down while you look at your work. Do one row of these.

Next, do a row of vertical strokes with reversed pressure: light at the top, weight in the middle, light at the bottom. Keep pausing to assess your work. This is valuable because you’re integrating the information as you’re learning and practicing it. You won’t have to unlearn as much as you would if you were making the same mark over and over again.

Lastly, practice your circles, only putting weight at the middle of the left side: the side you made while pulling the pencil from the top line toward the baseline. Slow down through the curves, focusing on changing the pressure. Be patient with your practice — you’ll get there with a brush pen too!

Now Pick Up Your Brush Pen

Practice the same exercises we’ve already done in pencil. Remember to write big, write lightly, and write slowly. Correct your strokes and try to make them look as similar to each other as possible.

Remember that it will take time to develop skill and consistency with your brush pen. Keep improving the lightness of your writing, and remember to take breaks!

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