How to learn basic calligraphy techniques

Simple basics of calligraphy and hand lettering

What is calligraphy?

The word “calligraphy” originates from the Greek language, and means the art of beautiful writing. Even centuries ago, it gave people all over the world the opportunity to communicate with each other. Whether in the form of cave painting, hieroglyphics, Asian characters or in the form of Arabic or western writing, calligraphy was and always will be seen as an art of communication.

What is calligraphy at Faber-Castell?

With this content, Faber-Castell wants to introduce you to the world of calligraphy. Using our Pitt Artist Pen, we want to show you how you can magically change simple things to great artworks in a personal way. Your imagination knows no limits!

The basic equipment at the workstation

Just minor preparations can help you to express yourself freely at your workstation. Righthanded writers can arrange all the materials on the right side of the workstation. Left-handed writers can do the opposite.
A tilted surface or tilted drawing board is great for ensuring that you have a perfect view of your drawing. It’s best to fix a few sheets of paper to the drawing board as an underlay to provide a stable base.

This is how to do it: 

  • Use a triangular set square instead of a ruler to draw guiding lines for the slant of the letters.
  • Softer grades like 4B are great for the first practice runs
  • Hardness grades like 2H are perfect for delicate guiding lines

The paper

For calligraphy to work, it is important to use the right paper. Layout paper is great for practising due to its extremely smooth surface. It is also slightly transparent, meaning that guiding lines drawn previously on a sheet of paper placed underneath the layout paper are visible. Because hot-pressed watercolour paper has a smooth surface texture, it is also perfect for calligraphy drawings. Drawing cardboard with a smooth surface is ideal for beginners in the field of calligraphy. Cold-pressed papers, on the other hand, have a rough surface. Good to know:
Hot-pressed means that the paper runs through heated rollers. This smooths the paper. Cold-pressed paper is pressed without the influence of heat. This gives the paper a rough surface. 

Guiding lines:
To give the letters a uniform appearance in calligraphy, it is advisable to use guiding lines. Practice paper with printed guiding lines is already available for this. But you can also draw in guiding lines easily yourself.

Start with simple basic shapes like curves, crosses or circles to develop a feeling for the properties of the chisel tip


Techniques - The basics of calligraphy and hand lettering

In order to achieve optimal results, it is advisable to learn the basic techniques of calligraphy first. You will enjoy experimenting with different colours, techniques and nibs.
  1.  Base line: The writing line upon which the body of a letter sits
  2. Ascender line: The guideline which sets the height of an ascending letter
  3. Cap line: The guideline which sets the height of a capital letter
  4. Ascender: The portion of a letter that is between the 7 x-line and the 2 ascender line
  5. Descender: The portion of a letter that lies below the 1 base line
  6. x-height: The height of a letter or the portion the script that is located between the 1 base line and the 2 ascender line (the height of the lower case „x“)
  7. x-line:The guideline showing correct position for upper limit of the 6 x-height
  8. Slant line: The guideline showing the correct slant

Slant: The slope of a letter, measured from the vertical.

Nib width: The width of the writing tool. A letter written at 4 nib widths high will appear twice as heavy as one written at 8 nib widths using the same writing tool.

Ductus: The number, the direction and sequence of the strokes which make up a letter.

Hairline: A very thin line.

Pen Angle: The angle at which the nib meets the paper, relative to the base line.

Downstroke: A stroke directed downwards towards the base line or descender line.

Cross bar: Horizontal stroke forming part of a letter (such as the „t“ or „H“).

The brush nib

The brush nib is one of the main tools of calligraphists. Until now they have been used above all for Asian characters. Because of its versatile application options, the brush nib can also be used for modern scripts and even for impulsive, artistic writing. Classic calligraphy is practised using a quill, reed pen or metal nib. However, calligraphy nibs exist in many types and variations. The most frequently used nib variations are brush and chisel nib.
Upward strokes – less pressure

Calligraphy with a brush nib is a lot of fun, but needs some practice. Because of this, it is advisable to draw some lines with greater or lesser pressure before starting to exercise using the alphabet. 

Downward strokes – more pressure
Used in combination

Writing rhythm and pen angle

Rhythm with the B-nib

The writing rhythm

In the art of calligraphy, the rhythm is especially important. This means that making each stroke should take roughly the same time. To work with control, you should start working at a slower pace, and increase your pace only later.

Rhythm with the C-nib

Spacing and width

The width of a letter is based on the type of lettering as well as the structure of the word. Two thin letters next to each other, like the “double l”, will need an increased internal separation, and also from the next letters than an “A”, for example.

Choose the spacing between the letters so that the script has a harmonious effect. 

The chisel nib

In contrast to the brush nib, the chisel nib represents the classic image of calligraphy: writing composed of thin and thick lines. This nib variation is widely used, especially in western and Arabic calligraphy. The chisel nib can be used on its thick side as well as on its Corner.

The correct grip

Take the pen between your index finger and your thumb, and support it with your middle finger. The pen should be guided securely, and in a controlled yet comfortable manner. It is important not to apply too much pressure, because the hand will otherwise become tired very quickly, and this will result in your writing looking stiff. Depending on the angle at which you hold the brush nib, the writing will become thinner or thicker. A more vertical angle creates a thinner line and a flat angle a thicker line.

Pressure with the chisel nib

Using the chisel nib (C), the pressure applied should be maintained without variation. You should try to apply a soft and steady pressure to the nib.