Quick Dry Brush Calligraphy Tutorial

Here’s a little dry brush calligraphy tutorial I contributed to the Calligraphic Society of Arizona. Our guild created an e-mail series called “Ink-spirations” to keep each other inspired and creative during the 2020 pandemic.

Greeting/About the Author
Hi all! It’s Renee from Tucson. I hope you are all finding time and energy to write beautiful words here and there. And if not, I know they still live in you. The letters I’ve been making have gotten larger and larger; I’ve gotten the opportunity to make several calligraphic and artistic murals over the past several months. I’ll share with you a technique I’ve learned and come to use a lot with those big letters: Dry Brush Calligraphy!

Dry Brush Calligraphy Tutorial

The idea with dry brush calligraphy is that the brush runs out of paint at the end of the stroke, causing a textured, transparent stroke. I have only attempted this with broad-edge scripts. I’m sure it would work with our beloved cursives as well!

Supplies 

  • A flat-edged brush. I’m using a 1 inch brush today, but I’m sure a smaller brush would work the same. 
  • Some acrylic paint and a container for your paint that is square or rectangular: you need the straight edges for shaping your brush. In these photos, I’m reusing a dog food container because they come with lids!
  • Scratch paper for testing and large paper for writing on. I’m writing on top of some drafting ideas on John Neal Books grid paper.  

Technique

1. Mix your paint Your paint should be thick enough that it stays in the brush, but thin enough that it flows. Remember, you do want to run out of paint and you do want to be able to see the paper under your strokes. You might have to adjust it a little as you work.

2. Load your brush up with paint, all the way to the ferrule (metal part). Make sure you coat the bristles.

Now, wipe out most of the paint onto the flat edge of your container. Get all the excess paint off the outside of the brush. There will still be enough paint throughout the bristles, but we don’t want too much paint on the paper. Remember, it’s called dry brush calligraphy.

3. Do a test stroke on your scrap page. If your stroke is solid all the way through, either you have too much paint in the brush or the paint is too thin. If the stroke is transparent all the way through, either the paint is too thick or there wasn’t enough paint in the brush.

Here are my test letters:

Take this time to measure the x-height using your brush. You could draw guidelines on your big page or you could just have fun writing big for a change. Adjust your paint if needed and how much you have in your brush until you’re happy with the strokes.

Reloading the Brush

This is important! When you need to pick up more color, just add a bit more to the tip of the brush. That way it’s not going way up into the bristles. If you pick up too much paint, you won’t have that dry effect.

Now grab your bigger page and get some calligraphy going! You can do a few words or a passage. You could also get random and turn the page as you work, overlapping words or just random letters. Just try not to cross 2 thick strokes.

Brush Hold

I hold the brush vertically so I can control the pressure and how much paint goes onto the page; the flatter the angle, the more paint comes into contact with the page. Not a bad thing, but you can play with this and see what results you like.

More Ideas 

Since we’re in Arizona and not using much paint, this is gonna dry fast! You could:

  • Use a nib and ink to add smaller text to your composition after it dries.
  • Cut your big page into smaller ones and then add more text or make a collage or a small book.
  • Clean your brush and mix up another color to add a new dry brush layer right on top of the first layer. 

Enjoy and have fun!

With love,

Renee

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