How to: Calligraphy Basics

Most farmhouse/cottage decor lovin’ gals (like myself) have at least one sign in their house with beautiful, flowing calligraphy. It’s all the rage!

You can find factory-produced calligraphy signs lining the shelves at Hobby Lobby, Michael’s, and many other retail stores.

There are also stunning, handmade signs on Etsy, instagram, and I’m sure you could find stores in your area that support local creatives & stock their signs on the shelves.

But there is something so beautiful (and so satisfying) about hanging a piece in your home that you made yourself.

“What if I don’t have the slightest idea about how to do calligraphy, though?”

Don’t worry, I have some tips for you!

In this post I’m going to teach you about:

  • upstrokes and downstrokes
  • spacing
  • my favorite tools
  • great resources

*NOTE: This post will be most helpful to you when you use it in addition to my Instagram story tutorial. On my Instagram (linked HERE), scroll through the green circles until you find the one that says “calligraphy.” You can see me handlettering in action, which I hope will be helpful to you!

I’ve been doing calligraphy for almost 4 years. I wanted “the look” for my wedding, but I was shocked by how much these signs were costing. I decided to try my hand at it (literally), and practiced for the 2 years I was engaged.

Calligraphy, as with most skills, takes a lot of practice.

Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not “getting it” right away. Even now I change up my techniques. I’ll practice writing a letter in a new way, and I’ll like it better than the way I was doing it before!

Upstrokes and downstrokes 

Learning these two strokes will help you understand the basics of calligraphy.

If your pen is naturally travelling upward when you’re writing a letter: leave that line thin

If your pen is coming back down: make that line thicker.

Check out the photos below to see an example of how to form a single letter.

Here are the bones of what we’ll be working with.

Your style of lettering is totally up to you! I recommend looking up “calligraphy practice sheets” on Pinterest. There are many free, printable options, and they will help you with the muscle memory of drawing letters.

Here is the “M” with the downstrokes boxed out. I drew down arrows to show you where I’m going to make the lines thicker, and up arrows to indicate where you don’t touch what we originally drew.

Now it’s all filled in, and you’ve drawn your first letter! Get comfortable with each letter of the alphabet before trying to form longer words. You have to know the parts to be good at the whole!

Spacing 

Really, truly, honestly, there is no “right or wrong” when it comes to spacing. With some styles, the letters are farther apart, giving it a more whimsical look. Others, the letters are closer together, making it more structured (see example below).

In this piece that I did, “world” has more space in between the letters than all the other words, which are tighter knit.

Here is the best advice I can give you in regards to spacing: don’t try to write the whole word in one motion. Stopping after each letter and picking up your pen helps you keep a consistent amount of space between them. This is also how you avoid the dreaded “slant” when you’re writing.

Start with small words.

It. Cat. Hello.

Again– muscle memory is important! Get used to lettering slowly, then work your way up to longer words.

My favorite tools

The best way to start lettering is with good ol’ pen and paper. I wouldn’t do a big endeavor like wood or glass until you feel more comfortable.

I would start with a ….. wait for it…… Sharpie. Yep. You probably have about 5 black Sharpies laying around the house right now. It’ll get you used to bigger brush pens, and they’re inexpensive.

For addressing envelopes, I like this 2 pack of Tombow pens. One pen has a soft tip, and the other one is firmer, and the letters produced from these pens are dependent upon pressure. This means that you apply light pressure while doing your upstrokes, and harder pressure when doing your downstrokes. It gives that old-fashioned “inkwell” look, as opposed to a bolder line made by a Sharpie.

When I’m writing on wood or glass, I adore this Craftsmart chisel tip pen. The stories Michael’s Craft Store could tell about how many of these I’ve purchased from them….

These allow you to be more precise with your up/downstrokes, but also fill them in more quickly when you use the flat edge.

Resources 

My favorite book I used when I was getting started was called “Hand-Lettering: An Interactive Guide to the Art of Drawing Letters. I linked it HERE for you. It has different lettering styles, lined sheets to help you practice, and so, so much more!

Next, use social media to your advantage! Search for content that matches the format in which you learn. Here’s what I mean.

I don’t learn best from watching videos. I prefer to see a picture or read instructions, and then figure out how to do the skill in my own way. That’s why the book I mentioned above was perfect for me!

But if you don’t learn through reading, look up a Youtube video! Follow an account on Instagram that posts video tutorials. Do what is going to work best for you.

Thanks for following along today, friends! I hope you found some helpful tidbits in this post, and let me know down below if you have any questions!

-M

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I'm always finding new ways to give my home a farmhouse, vintage feel. Follow along with me for ideas, and to share YOUR ideas with me!

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3 thoughts on “How to: Calligraphy Basics

  1. I can’t wait to start! I’ve wanted to do this for awhile now and your beautiful signs have inspired me so much. I may actually be able to do this?!

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