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Where do I start if I want to learn Calligraphy? What books would you recommend to a beginner? Also, do you use dip pens, or pens with cartridges, or both?

A. My first recommendation would be that you find a calligraphy society in your area and scout out a good teacher. I think John Neal Books can be of some help here.
If not possible or you want to get started right now, I've made some recommendations about books and materials .

Dip pens or fountain pens?
Fountain pens are used for writing correspondence and practice and sometimes a teaching device.
The inks in cartridges are not permanent for serious work meant to last and the nibs (tips) usually need to be worked a little bit (sharpened & polished). if sufficient interest comes of this I will explain in more detail.
UPDATE: Since I wrote this the Pilot Parallel pen has become a favorite, available in many sizes. I can say this is a very useful pen.

However to gain the most control and understanding of writing with a broad edged pen, one needs to learn to handle a dip pen*. Metal nibs by Mitchell or Brause are the most commonly used. Others include: Speedball, Automatic, Coit. Of course we need to mention the reed and quill. Quills are cut from feathers, and reed or bamboo pens are cut from these 2 materials. Info on reeds and quills will be featured in another article.
One can fill the dip pen by actually dipping or feeding the reservoir with a brush.

Inks / Pigments
Higgens Eternal, Pelikan 4001, are good bets for beginners. Always check with John Neal Books as they have many new supplies.

Bond paper that is fairly smooth and doesn't bleed are good for practice. Nekoosa Bond, Mohawk superfine can be gotten from printers and/ or their paper suppliers.
Higher quality ( and more expensive) papers are used for finished work. There is a vast array of writing surfaces including handmade paper and vellum (skin). New York Central is a great source as is John Neal. Twinrocker is a hand made paper mill and can be reached from our links page.

All of these materials can be ordered from John Neal Books & Paper & Ink Books

Here are 2 free calligraphy exemplars:

Italic lowercase (minuscules)

Italic Capitals

Letterforms or Alphabets
is a vast subject, which is why I have recommended books. However, most people start with either italic ( chancery cursive) or some variation of Roman book hand ( foundational, book hand, humanist, etc.) I would steer a student away from learning Blackletter (Olde English) as their first foray into the subject.(update: Blackletter is a fine gateway as it gets people interested in letterforms and they can practice useful pen skills- Perhaps I will supply a model sheet for that as well)

Workshops and Learning opportunities
It is advisable that you take advantage of the many opportunities to learn. You can start by checking to see if there is a calligraphy society in your area. They usually hold workshops on a regular basis. There is also the annual conferences. This year, (2014) Legacies is the major one in the USA. Of course, there are two Cheerio retreats this year (and every year)

Cheerio A week- long workshop / retreat. A relaxing environment, yet intensive study.
We just had Carl Rohrs and Thomas Ingmire
2014: Spring | Yukimi Annand and Fall: John Stevens

Calligraphy Centre in Winston-Salem offers workshops for beginners (current classes)

Societies / Publications

Letter Arts Review | This is THE quarterly journal magazine on the art of calligraphy and letterforms
Cynscribe is one of the best sources for finding Calligraphy Societies and calligraphers around the world.

There are many new sites & blogs on the web. You could start with: I Love Typography .com

Are of two types: One person or a group of people are having one for a limited time or there are places to see original calligraphy on a ongoing basis:
The British Museum, the V&A (London), The Klingspor (Germany) The Pierpont Morgan Library & New York Public Library (NY), The San Francisco Public Library, The Getty (Los Angeles) The Cary Library (RIT, Buffalo,NY), The Newberry Library (Chicago)

Recommended books for beginners or people wanting to get back into calligraphy.
You can get these at John Neal as well as supplies.

Paper,Ink & Books

Foundations of Calligraphy By Sheila Waters. 2006. 126pp. 9"x11.25". Concealed spiral binding. Now in its second printing. Hardcover.
JohnNeal Books
In the 110 pages of exemplar alphabets, instruction, and hints, Sheila shares with you the knowledge she has gathered over her decades of study and practice. She provides insightful analysis of forms and constructions and helps you learn and work toward mastery of the alphabets. The presentation is honed by her vast experience teaching calligraphers how to advance their skills and art. Sheila Waters is not only a master scribe, but a master teacher. She has made both her life's work.


Pen Lettering Ann Camp
Our Price: $5.95
In-Stock: Ships within 24 hours
Format: Paperback, 69pp.
ISBN: 0800862724
Publisher: Taplinger Publishing Company, Incorporated
Pub. Date: March 1979

Calligraphy School
Gaynor Goffe Anna Ravenscroft
Hardcover, 176pp.
ISBN: 0895775247
The Anatomy of Letters: A Guide to the Art of Calligraphy
Charles Pearce
ISBN: 0800801997
Step-by-Step Calligraphy: A Complete Guide with Creative Projects
Susan Hufton
ISBN: 0806939877
Writing and Illuminating and Lettering (This is in depth and considered the "Bible" by a scribe who is responsible for the calligraphy revival.)
Edward Johnston ISBN: 0486285340

Books of examples and more advanced or specialized but nevertheless- highly recommended

Scribe: Artist of the written work | John Stevens
Insights in the approach of calligraphic artist & designer John Stevens. Read more…

Belle Lettre Award 1997
Carlo Buffa• Edizioni Entrooffset ( Available from John Neal & Paper & Ink Books)
ISBN: 88-90022906
A wonder book & collection of work from an exhibit held in Italy
The Fine Art of Letters 2000
The Work of Hermann Zapf
ISBN: 0-910672-35-0
Catalogue of an exhibit at the Grolier Club by one of the great masters of all time.
Historical Scripts-Stan Knight
Oak Knoll Press 1998
ISBN: 1-884718-56-6
A must-have for anyone interested in learning more about writing (calligraphic styles) throughout history.
The historic approach is the one laid down by Edward Johnston, and still offers great inspiration and insight into calligraphy and western writing.
Of course one should also see manuscripts themselves, but good photos are very important, and this book has a bunch.

The Calligraphers Handbook
ISBN 0-8008-1198-4
A collection of articles written by many top calligrapers on methods and practice.
Calligraphy: The Art of Written Forms
Donald M. Anderson
ISBN: 0486272125
Contemporary Calligraphy: Modern Scribes and Lettering Artists II
David Godine
ISBN: 0879238771
Lettering as Drawing
Nicolete Gray
ISBN: 0800847296
Handbook of Type and Lettering
Hildegard Korger
ISBN: 0830618341


Return to Calligraphy Centre

Explore the Calligraphy Centre for Examples of Calligraphy and Lettering art or classes, week-long retreats. CHEERIO

Go to the John Stevens Design website to see a gallery of John's calligraphy for both fine art and graphic works.

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©Calligraphy Centre December 2000- Last Update June 16, 2008