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Planning Retirement Online

Out of the box - Calligraphy


This is our regular OUT OF THE BOX feature where we give suggestions on different things to try.   

If you have tried something unusual or different, tell us all about it - and send in a photograph as well if you can – so that we can share your experiences with others.






calligraphyWhen you sign your name, or write special messages in cards, do you often wish you had nicer handwriting?

One way of producing beautiful writing is to learn calligraphy. The word is Greek and comes from kallos meaning beautiful and graphe meaning to beautiful writing. There have been many developments in writing over the years, if you have ever seen a beautiful medieval illustrated manuscript, then you will appreciate how lovely writing can transform a piece of paper (or parchment) into a wonderful work of art.

You may not aspire to create true keepsakes or historic documents, but being able to write beautifully can be surprisingly useful and you may well find your skills in demand from friends and colleagues.

The good thing about calligraphy is that you can learn and practice in your own home without having to go out to special courses or pay money for tuition. You need to buy some basics of course, but these aren’t expensive – mainly a calligraphy pen set and some ink.

Calligraphy pens are available at most major stationers. There are often boxed sets available which are ideal for beginners because they will include everything you need to start including a pen with a variety of interchangeable nibs in different sizes and also some ink cartridges plus a basic instruction booklet. You can buy steel nibbed pen and ink, but cartridge pens are usually preferred by beginners as they work consistently and are so easy to use; the ink for calligraphy is not as dense as normal bottled ink and has a more watery appearance.

New calligraphy nibs are sometimes coated with a lacquer to protect them; if this is the case pass them briefly through a flame or wash them with a mild detergent to remove this coating before use.

If you buy a pen and ink separately without instructions, or if your calligraphy set doesn’t include an instruction booklet, then there is a wide range of instruction books available at most good book shops plus there are some good websites that can help get you going. I checked and found it was quite easy to follow.

The first thing you need to start is lined paper; if you haven’t any suitable, simply draw lines across a paper with a pencil and ruler. As you get good you will need to draw the lines faintly so that they can be rubbed out afterwards, but to begin with this won’t be important.

Some suggest you start by strapping two pencils together with a rubber band to give you a feel of the basic strokes and method; but if you are like me, you will probably prefer simply to get going and improve by practice with a real calligraphy pen. To start with, just practice various shapes, drawing straight lines and curves and you will notice how the pen works to product a thick line and a thinner line, the basics of good calligraphy.


practice shapes         practice


Once you have mastered a few easy shapes, it is time to start working on letters. You can play around of course, but there are basic styles that it is best to follow to help produce beautiful letters. Letters are often formed in a step system, drawing one line and then adding another to it to create the letter. Some letters like a “g” can comprise of several strokes.

letters            letters

Once you get going, you can start experimenting with different styles.  There are lots of different styles you can follow, alphabets such as blackletter, roundhand and italic each with their own unique style and appearance.

As you progress, you will find the styles you like best and can also progress onto quite complex lettering. You may even find you start creating your own style or progress to decorative letters that you fill in with colour.

One word of warning, do ensure that however artistic and creative you become, your writing remains legible!  There is no point in creating the most beautiful work in the land if no one can read it!

A final aspect is planning. Whatever you intend to write, whether a short message or a document to be framed and hung on your wall, you will need to plan it first. Spacing between the letters, the words; the widthof the margins, all aspects need to be planned carefully before you start putting pen to paper.

For more information, the Calligraphy & Lettering Arts Society is a useful group (

They also have a list of qualified tutors if you would prefer to start under professional guidance.




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