How to Write Calligraphy in a Circle

In my experience, the success of writing calligraphy depends on the planning process. Use this method to create guidelines to practice writing calligraphy in a circle. It takes some playing around with the size of the circle and the size of the calligraphy to get it right. Start off with just a few words or even random letters just to get a feel for writing circular text.

Famiiiarize yourself with the calligraphy language I’ll be using in this article with our quick read: Tips for Guidelines and Why You Need Them.

Tool and Supply List

  • Compass
  • Ruler
  • Copy paper
  • Layout Bond or tracing paper
  • Pencil
  • Calligraphy nibs of varying sizes (or calligraphy markers)
  • Ink
  • Paperclips or masking tape

Video Tutorial: How to Write Calligraphy in a Circle

Here’s a video I made showing the step-by-step process outlined in this blog post!
Foundational Hand and Watercolor

Creating the Circle Guidelines for Your Calligraphy

In order to write calligraphy in a circle, you’ll need to create circular guidelines. These work just like regular calligraphy guidelines, but they’re in a circle.

I start by making 2 intersecting perpendicular straight lines using graph paper or a set square (Check out our YouTube video Tips for Drawing Calligraphy Guidelines, for more details). Usually, I try to make the lines longer than the intended diameter of the circle, since they will become vertical guidelines later.

I treat the intersection of the lines as the center of the circle. This is where I place the point of my compass for each circle. Starting with the straight lines gives me a point of reference for later steps. It’s easier for me to make these lines before I draw the circle rather than trying to match them to the compass point.

Baseline

You probably already have an idea of the size of the circle you want to use. Using your compass, draw your test circle onto the copy paper. This is the baseline.

Measuring the X-Height

On a practice draft or a scratch piece of paper, use a calligraphy pen or marker to mark the module (size, height) of the script you want to use. If you’re planning on a broad edge calligraphy script, you’ll use nib widths. If you’re using anything else, you can measure in whatever unit you’re used to.

Header Line

Place the pencil point of the compass at the baseline and open the compass wider to accommodate the module. Then, place the point of the compass back at the center of the circle. and draw another circle. This is the Header Line. The space between these lines is the x-height, where you will write. I always lightly mark this space with an x, no matter what kind of guidelines I’m drafting!

Ascender and Descender Lines

If your calligraphy script requires ascender and descender guidelines, open and close your compass to accommodate them. Draw them in, taking care to place the point of the compass in the same place each time for accuracy.

Create Vertical Guidelines

Here’s the trickiest part of writing in a circle: handling a calligraphy slant while writing on a curve. I typically stick with upright scripts for circle calligraphy just for simplicity.

If you think of any circular shape cut into wedges — pizza, pies, flowers — the edges of the slices (or petals) aren’t straight. They radiate out from the center in angles. So, the vertical stems of your calligraphy aren’t actually going to be vertical, they’re going to taper in slightly as they move toward the center of the circle.

Luckily for our circle calligraphy, this isn’t too noticeable. Since we started with perpendicular straight lines, we already have a few vertical guidelines.

I start by roughly dividing each existing quarter in half. I make a little mark on the ascender line about halfway between a vertical line and the horizontal line next to it. Then, I line my ruler up with this little mark and the center of the circle. Then I draw a line that passes through both edges of the circle.

From here, keep drawing vertical guidelines until you feel that you have enough to write the script accurately.

An Easy Way to Reuse Your Circular Guidelines

For the next part, you could write your calligraphy directly onto the circle guidelines you’ve made. But I like to paperclip or tape a piece of layout bond or tracing paper over the circle guidelines. This is so you don’t have to draw your circle guide over and over again. It also helps to stack a couple sheets of plain copy paper under your circle guidelines so you can see them more easily through your layout paper.

3 Tips for Actually Writing the Calligraphy in a Circle

  1. Before getting into your pens and ink, write your text a few times in pencil. This way, you can get an idea of where the ascenders and descenders will land. This will help you decide what calligraphy script you want to use and how big of a circle you really need.
  2. Make sure you turn the page as you write. Sometimes you’ll need to turn the page between strokes for multi-stroke letters like d or n. Think of pulling the vertical strokes toward the center of the circle, not the baseline. But do stop at the baseline :). Remember to take your time as you work your way around the circle.
  3. From here, you can switch writing tools or adjust the size of your circle to the size of your text. I usually make a note of the new measurements and nibs I used so I don’t get lost in my drafts! This saves me time and paper because I don’t have to reassess or try to figure out what I was using. And if I keep the circular to use later, I will already know what nib and script I created it for.

Write Your Final Calligraphy in a Circle

By now, you have some practice and an idea of how the final piece will turn out. Use your notes to draw light guidelines onto your final paper for writing calligraphy in a circle. Make sure to add your vertical guidelines as well.

If you post your calligraphy in a circle on Instagram, tag us so we can see it! Have fun practicing!

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