Katy Willis

What factors should I consider when buying my first calligraphy pen?

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The art of calligraphy can be a fun and rewarding hobby. However, walking into a store to buy your first pen can be a little daunting. With so many pens, inks, and paper types to choose from, where do you begin? Keep reading for some tips from experienced calligraphers.

Katy Willis

Katy Willis, FCMA

Katy Willis is a passionate crafter, calligrapher, master herbalist, and homesteader who runs her own content business, Content By Design, and a natural living website, Real Self-Sufficiency.

Don't get too fancy

For folks who are buying their first calligraphy pens, my advice would be - don't get too fancy!

Beautiful feather quills, dip pens, or bamboo pens with intricate carvings are lovely. They fill that romantic, fanciful notion of crafting breathtakingly gorgeous word art by candlelight like a Medieval scholar.

In reality, these are not good options for beginners. They are more difficult to use, and they force novices to have to learn an additional new skillset while they're trying to grasp the basics of an already complex hobby.

A beginner needs a simple, solid pen. I'm a fan of good quality cartridge pens with interchangeable nibs. Ideally, get a small set that contains a few different calligraphy nibs. This allows you to learn the core skills - how to hold your pen, how much pressure to apply, when to increase and decrease pressure, the angle at which you should press your pen to the paper, and the flow you need to achieve smooth curves.

Everything else is just distraction and decoration, and it makes learning the skills you need to become a happy, confident calligrapher much more difficult. So, start with a simple, quality starter kit. Get to know it. Learn its quirks and how to get the best from it. Then when you're confident, you can upgrade to something fancier.

Emilie Dulles

Emilie Dulles

Emilie Dulles, Owner of Dulles Designs. She graduated from Princeton in 2003 and has been in and around the fine printing and elegant events business since the age of nine.

Consider how you will train yourself

The most critical factor to consider when buying a calligraphy pen for the first time is how you will train yourself: An online tutorial? An in-person lesson? Or DIY from a calligraphy instruction manual or workbook? Calligraphy technique is [more than] merely writing in cursive or having beautiful handwriting. Learning proper calligraphy lettering strokes, arches, angles, and especially downward pressure from the very start is essential to calligraphy success, avoiding frustration, and not giving up.

The second factor to consider is your nib collection. There are many dozens of nib styles. You will change your nibs often. If you can, test a few different nibs on different paper surfaces before you buy, or order a diverse nib kit upfront, so you have options (they're not that expensive). Nibs are also far more finicky to use than fine pens and pencils. Getting a feel for your favorite calligraphy tips will take time and practice. It's also a good idea to get a few different colors and styles of ink to test out, [including] matte black, navy, and red, as well as metallic silver, gold, and copper.

The third factor is a small carrying case or toolbox. [Like a fisherman], you'll need a “tackle box” to contain your different nibs and all the extra supplies you'll need to set up shop and clean up after each calligraphy session. Calligraphy can get a little messy. You'll need a small cup of rinse water, a rag to clean your nib mid-project, and a place to hold open ink bottles to avoid spills. Advanced considerations include a lightbox and an angled drafting table to see properly, spread out, angle your arm and hand just right, and to put your work out to dry for a few minutes. Good lighting is also essential.

Proper calligraphy is not something you can just whip out and do on the subway or mid-flight. It takes training, a supportive materials kit, and a comfortable set-up to create calligraphy as artwork. If you are serious about calligraphy, ask an experienced calligrapher for tips and advice and acquire the right pen and ink kit. Calligraphy is a phenomenal and gorgeous old world art form that must be maintained.

Christine Wang

Christine Wang

Christine Wang, Founder of The Ski Girl.

Pick up a starting point pen

One of my favorite pens that would I recommend to just about everyone is the Dryden Bamboo Fountain Pen. This pen is a great starting point for anyone interested in calligraphy because it's a fountain pen and not a dip pen. This means that the ink will automatically go into the tip of the pen when you write, and you don't have to consistently re-dip the tip to write. While this isn't as traditional of a calligraphy style, it's easier to pick up for the first-timer who is just starting to learn the basics.

Another great aspect of this pen is that the bamboo style gives it a classic look that is hard to deny. It also has a nice hand-feel that will help you perfect your strokes and also helps you with the subtleties needed when practicing this type of writing.

I still use this pen very often even though I have a handful of good options at my disposal and think that it can be of benefit to anyone who wants to improve their calligraphy skills quickly and effectively.

Ethan Taub

Ethan Taub

Ethan Taub, CEO of Goalry and Loanry.

The importance of pen

When you are looking for a calligraphy pen, you have to keep in mind what it will be for. If you are looking to write with it, you will need something that can last a long time and be wet for a long period if you use it for longer documents. If you are looking to create with it, something with a better grip might be better for you. Real ink can be more expensive but great if you want to give off that luxurious look. What you choose is completely up to you, but you have to make sure that you always keep in mind it's intended use.

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