Penmanship & Calligraphy: Tips & Resources

29 Dec

Spend all the time in the world you want tracing letterforms and copying words from calligraphy books; ultimately that is not where your ability to write well will come from. Certain principles will aid you in writing well if you follow them; I’m going to share my five core penmanship principles. If you put these into play, your penmanship will improve and your natural style will shine.

Write Often

An occasional birthday card and thank you note is just not going to cut it. If you really want to improve your penmanship and/or be able to write in a calligraphic style of some sort, you need to be writing regularly. And by regularly I mean basically all the time.

That grocery list is a chance to practice, as is the ‘honey do’ list. In fact, those are wonderful practice spaces because you are not only writing something useful, but if you make a mistake it is not a big deal. Whereas making a mistake on your last sheet of fine cotton paper is definitely a problem.

I can also tell you that practicing your penmanship on things that have no use (like just writing out poems or tracing letterforms) tends to discourage practitioners rather than encourage them. We all want to write well and we all want to see our work in use. A notebook full of alphabets written 20 times is not much motivation.

Tip: Great penmanship goes anywhere.

Slow Down

If everyone just slowed down when they wrote, we’d all see improvement. Letters would become more defined and our natural style would become more visible. When we write fast, letters tend to blend into one another and legibility is reduced.

Let’s not forget the very basic purpose of writing: to communicate. When we write fast and hurried, lots of the message is lost.

For example, receiving a birthday card with a scrawled message inside looks, well, scrawled. It looks hurried, it looks rushed. It looks like my friend wrote on the inside of the card literally as it was being put into the envelope.

Tip: Slow down!

Notice Symmetry

If you write often and slow down, you might notice some things about the way you write. Maybe you dot your i’s funny or your h’s have a neat hook at the top. These are not bad things. Notice what you do naturally and carry it through your writing like you are creating a personal alphabet. Your own style of calligraphy.

Strip everything away and then slowly add in. Do not start out by working on swashes and curlicues, zigs and zags. Build your foundation first, and then add on the decorations.

When you write a ‘w’, is the bottom rounded? Or pointed? Does it look like two ‘u’s stuck together or two ‘v’s? If you round your ‘w’ maybe you should see if you can round the bottoms of some other letters. Like the lowercase ‘t’ for example. Can you put a little hook in the bottom of your ‘t’ to mimic the ‘w’?

Tip: Look for what you do naturally and then repeat it.

Use the Right Tools

This one is a little tricky. How do you know you are using the right tools? Trial and error. If you write often, slow down, and notice symmetry, you can then determine what type of paper or writing utensil might be best for you. If you write small, you’ll probably want to go with a fine-tipped pen so your writing becomes more legible. If you write in a very simple, minimalistic way without much embellishment, you might want to try writing with a stub-nibbed fountain pen or a chisel-tipped pen just to see how that might change your writing.

Aside from the visual effect a certain pen or paper would have on your writing, the ‘right’ tool for you is also determined by the natural way you hold your pen.

Most Americans tend to grip their pens and pencils really tight. I was one of those people! I used to have calluses on my fingers from where I held the pen. When I switched to a fountain pen and loosened my grip, I saw immediate improvement and felt immediate improvement. I am partial to fountain pens because they do all the work; your hand is merely a guide.

Tip: Consider how you grip the writing utensil and try loosening your grip or holding the pen at a different angle.

Don’t Compare

The way I write is not the way you write. Someone else will always have better handwriting than you if you are looking for it.

These are five of my most important tips for writing well and I hope you’ll give a few of them a try. If you want a little more fuel to add to your penmanship fire, I’m including some of my favorite haunts on the web for you to peruse.

Editor’s Note: This is Article #5 in a series of 6 on the topic of penmanship & calligraphy by Cole Imperi. Read the others so far here:
Article #1 “Where to Start
Article  #2″Where it all Started & Where it is Today
Article #3 “A Look at Several Calligraphic Styles
Article #4 “
Library Hand + Call for Submissions



4 Responses to “Penmanship & Calligraphy: Tips & Resources”

  1. L. Armond December 29, 2011 at 10:46 pm #

    Happy Holidays, Cole. 1st time at your blog and I agree with the comments above. Just recently found my pens from 30 years ago, but also a couple of Calligraphy small sets at the drug store discount bin. I have enjoyed them, but will have to find a way to refill cartridges. I am shying away from some pen because I am shy and ashamed of my limited resources. I have to make a way with what I have. Got a $25 gift card to Barnes & Noble for Christmas, and money for a tank of gas and I found two spiral notebooks by Miquelrius (Spain). One for me and one for my nephew. I found some skateboard stickers for the front and back of his, and did an ink test, as well as some crayola brush markers, and all was well. I have a couple bottles of ink that are 30 plus years old, one I can’t get lid off. Hope to find a hypodermic so I can refill these calligraphy pen cartridges. They run out fast. I am looking forward to reading you. We have three ‘Cole’s in our family.

    • Cole December 30, 2011 at 7:50 pm #

      Hi! Am so glad you read this post and liked it! You are lucky to have saved your pens from 30 years ago….and the ink! What a treasure.
      Thanks for reading.


  1. Penmanship & Calligraphy: Reader Spotlight! + Swashes & Flourishes « European Paper Company - January 12, 2012

    […] Editor’s Note: This is Article #6 in a series of 6 on the topic of penmanship & calligraphy by Cole Imperi. Read the others here: Article #1 “Where to Start“ Article  #2″Where it all Started & Where it is Today“ Article #3 “A Look at Several Calligraphic Styles“ Article #4 “Library Hand + Call for Submissions“ Article #5 “Tips & Resources“ […]

  2. 10 Letter Writing Tips « European Paper Company - January 31, 2012

    […] almost illegible handwriting. They either try to be fancy or they simply haven’t dusted off their penmanship skills in a long time.  If you have trouble with cursive, print. If that doesn’t work well, type. Make […]

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