How to Fix Calligraphy Mistakes

A quiet but useful skill in calligraphy is how to fix calligraphy mistakes. Setting up a project and a page for a final piece takes a considerable amount of time. These methods aren’t a substitute for getting it right the first time, but they can help with minor flaws. In this post, I’ll show you how to avoid mistakes in the first place, and a few ways to clean them up, just in case!

5 Ways to Avoid Calligraphy Mistakes

Make sure you give yourself enough time to work at a comfortable pace. Take care of your body as well so that you feel better as you work.

  1. Plan your piece with a sketch first. I always say that planning the calligraphy takes longer than writing it. Take the time to make some simple sketches to get ideas flowing. Test the calligraphy at size, and make sure the text will all fit in the area you want it to. For more guidance on layout, read this post.
  2. Clear and clean your workspace. Make enough room for both your materials and space for writing. Remove any items you aren’t immediately using and sweep away any debris. This keeps your paper clean. It also ensures you won’t interrupt the writing to move things or bump into them.
  3. Test the ink and paper together. Before you spend the time drawing lines on an entire page, make sure the paper accepts the ink without resisting it or feathering. Adjust your ink and paper choices until they cooperate!
  4. Make sure you warm up for writing. Get all the hiccups out in a practice session so you won’t have to fix calligraphy mistakes!
  5. Inspect your nib! Look for damage, dried ink, and lint. If you’re using a new nib, make sure you clean off the protective coating first (Here’s a post showing you how). A nib in good condition will prevent problems in the writing.

A Note on Paper

It’s important to be gentle with the paper! Use light pressure in the following methods. Paper has some size or glue in it that maintains its surface. It’s better to have a little evidence of the original letter left than to damage the paper in the process. An overworked patch would be more visible than any of your beautiful calligraphy!

Methods for Removing Calligraphy Mistakes

Pulling ink up with the corner of a paper towel

Soak it Up

This is the first panic move that I do. The quicker I can get the ink/paint/watercolor off of the page, the easier it will be to remove later. This is because the glues and gums present in the pigment and paper haven’t had a chance to form a solid bond.

To soak up the letter, I carefully touch the corner of a paper towel to the wet strokes to suck up as much ink as I can. Try not to spread the ink around too much. You’re just trying to get as much ink up as possible.

Add a little water to the letter
Use an almost-dry paintbrush to remove pigment

Scrub it Out

I actually learned this technique from painting watercolor. At times, I use watercolor and a nib to write, and I’ve been able to get away with this trick to fix calligraphy mistakes. After soaking up the excess watercolor as in the previous method, I reach for a pointed paintbrush and water.

Pick up clean water in the paintbrush. Wipe some of the water out of the brush for 2 reasons. One, too much water will make the paper buckle. And two, too much water can also make the color spread around where you don’t want it. Just go a little bit at a time.

**If you’ve drawn pencil guidelines, try to avoid putting water on them, as the water will seal these in forever. You can erase that small section of lines and draw them back in later.

Dab a little water where the letter was (first photo above). Wipe the rest of the water out of your brush using the edge of your water container. Dry your brush a little on a clean paper towel and go back to your letter. Use the bristles to “scrub” the remaining watercolor off of the page (photo 2 above). Use a clean paper towel to pick up any remaining water. Let the paper dry completely.

Even if there is a shadow of the letter still left on the page when it’s dry, you’re probably going to write over it, so no one will know about it but you.

Unless, like me, you tell on yourself.

A closeup showing the use of an X-acto knife to gently remove dried ink from the inside of a calligraphy letter O.

Scratch it Off

This one has less of a clean finish, so use your judgement depending on the project you’re doing. I wait until the ink is completely dry and go back in with an X-acto knife. I use the point to gently flick off the ink. Even with light pressure, the color of the paper might come up as well. Test this method on a scratch piece of the paper you’re using first.

Since it roughs up the paper a bit, this process also removes the sizing, or coating, on the paper. The size is what prevents the page from absorbing more ink. After removing it. it’s not a great idea to go back over this spot with lots of ink again. I sometimes use a Micron pen to fill in fine strokes.

Sand it Down

This method is what I use for stray marks or ink spots. I use it to remove any ink left from scraping it off. Use a rough eraser or fine sandpaper to remove the rest of the ink. I like this Mono Sand Eraser (not an affiliate link) for this.

Use light pressure and small circular motions for this method. Less is more. Make sure you test this method on an inconspicuous area of the paper just in case it removes the color too!

I used a scrap of Bobbie Wilson’s eco-dyed paper to cover some text I wrote on the wrong guidelines.

Cover it Up

I think this really only goes for stray marks, but as always, you have artistic freedom here. If there’s no way to remove the mark, you still have a couple options. As my elementary art teacher would say, you could “turn it into a new idea” by adding decorative illustration on top of it.

Incorporate it into your design with flowers or foliage, maybe an animal. You could even add some gold to the illustration, making it seem intentional. I’ve also layered brush strokes of acrylic paint at the edges of a piece as decoration.

Add a square of decorative paper over the spot, or even a couple of layers of it. I mat and frame most of my custom calligraphy pieces for clients (see my Portfolio). If I’m lucky, the mat will cover any ink splotches at the edge of the page.

Or just add more ink spots . . but cover your calligraphy with a piece of paper as you do so it’s still legible later!

A sample of a calligraphy commission I had to redo to. Issues: The nib I used was damaged and this was a stiff, lightly textured paper. Those elements don’t cooperate well. I’ve circled the ink drags in red. They happened because cat hairs fell on the page periodically and the nib pulled them through the calligraphy.

When You Can’t Fix Calligraphy Mistakes

Sometimes a piece looks worse if we try to fix calligraphy mistakes (there’s a word in the German language for this). There’s nothing wrong with starting over. If you ask any calligrapher, they’ve had to redo a piece. It’s not always a bad thing. I find that once I can see how a calligraphy piece is coming together, I’m less jittery as I work through it for the second time. Refer to the Tips for Avoiding Mistakes at the top of this post before the second attempt!

The photo above is a sample of a calligraphy commission I had to redo. My calligraphy had several issues:

  • The nib I used was damaged
  • This was a stiff, textured paper, which is not ideal for this calligraphy script
  • Cat hairs fell on the page, so the nib pulled them through the letters, dragging the ink. I’ve circled the ink drags in red.
  • The paper was too small for the amount of text I had

Each of these could have been prevented had I checked a few things before doing a full page of writing! At first, I thought I could get away with correcting these mistakes. To tell the truth, I was fighting my way through this piece because I didn’t want to start over. Please don’t do this to yourself!

I’d also like to point out that I’m experienced in calligraphy and I still make these mistakes. Try not to let mistakes get you down — you can always try again with what you’ve learned.

Lastly, I want to remind you that no one is going to scrutinize your work like you do. Most viewers focus on the calligraphy as compared to their own writing. You are, after all, a human being, and your work is handwritten. Try to keep that quality in mind!

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