This page contains information about materials and supplies for calligraphy. There is a list of recommended books and some links to suppliers of equipment and materials.
There are several types of pens that can be used for calligraphy. Most calligraphy pens have a broad, flat-ended nib that enables the production of thick and thin strokes. There are also pens with flexible, thin nibs for copper-plate writing. The thick and thin strokes for these pens are created by varying the pressure of the nib on the paper.
The Pilot Parallel Pen and Rotring Art Pen use an ink cartridge system that is very convenient. They are quite expensive but are well made and are very useful for practice and for more informal calligraphy projects.
Dip pens are the type most generally used for calligraphy. There are several makers of calligraphy pen nibs. The best known are probably the Mitchell nibs. These have been available for over 100 years and are still regarded as the ‘standard’ nibs for formal calligraphy. They can be used with many different types of ink and paint and are very easy to clean and maintain. They can be sharpened occasionally to maintain their crispness. A small metal reservoir can be attached to these nibs to enable them to hold more ink. Brause nibs are also very good and have a built-in ink reservoir that sits on top of the nib.
For larger letters you can use ‘Automatic Pens‘. These have two metal blades that hold the ink and are available in sizes up to one inch in width.There are pens in this series that make multiple parallel lines, including a 5 line version for music notation.
You can make your own pens from bird feathers or various other tubular materials. Turkey quills are very good for smaller writing. Pens for larger writing can be made from reeds or canes of different sizes. Edward Johnston’s book ‘Writing and Illuminating and Lettering’ and the Calligrapher’s Handbook (see below) have good descriptions of how to make pens.
Other implements may also be used for lettering. There is a whole world of calligraphy created with paint brushes of various types. Chunky, chisel-edged pencils may be used as an alternative to metal pens.
Ink & Paint
The Pilot and Rotring pens described above come with their own ink cartridges in a variety of colours. These inks tend to be fairly thin so that they will flow freely through the body of the pen to the nib. For dip pens, thicker inks or paints may be used. Daler-Rowney and William Mitchell make inks specifically for calligraphy. Indian inks are generally not suitable for use in calligraphy pens as they can be very difficult to remove from pen nibs once the ink has dried.
Gouache, opaque water-colour paint, is probably the best choice for flexibility and range of colours. It can be diluted with water to any consistency and made less susceptible to smudging by adding a drop or two of gum arabic. Some colours are more permanent than others due to the natural pigments that are used in the paints. Choose the more permanent colours for any pieces of work that are likely to be hung in bright light. I use an ice cube tray for mixing and diluting gouache paint. Daler-Rowney and Winsor & Newton make good quality gouache paint which is available from most art supply shops.
Chinese & Japanese stick inks are very good for lettering. These inks come as a solid stick that is rubbed on a grinding stone with some water to make up a rich black ink, traditionally used in oriental calligraphy. Coloured stick inks are also available.
Paper for calligraphy should have a slightly rough surface. This gives a nice feel to the action of writing and helps the ink or paint to cover the surface. Good quality cartridge paper is suitable for most purposes but you will get much better results using artists water colour papers. A hot-pressed paper such as the Saunders-Waterford
Watercolour paper or Arches Aquarelle will enable you to get the best effects of thick and thin strokes from your calligraphy pens. For more dramatic effects you can use one of the rougher, cold-pressed papers which will give some texture to the ink coverage. The lighter weight water colour papers (100 lb or approximately 200 gm/sq m) are heavy enough for most calligraphy projects. Many of the papers sold as ‘Calligraphy Paper’ are too slippery to write on and should be avoided.
There are hundreds of calligraphy books out there but here is a small collection of my favourites. Some of these are probably out of print now but may be available via second-hand booksellers.
Writing and Illuminating and Lettering by Edward Johnston (1906). This is the book that started off the modern calligraphy revival and is still relevant and useful today. It is still in print and even available as a Kindle eBook.
Pen Lettering by Ann Camp (1958). A good basic introduction to calligraphy techniques and page layout.
Written Letters by Jacqueline Svaren (1975). Originally had 22 alphabet examples. It has now been expanded to 33 clearly illustrated examples of historic scripts.
The Mystic Art of Written Forms by Friedrich Neugebauer (1980). A German perspective on modern calligraphy with some great examples of different letter forms and finished projects.
The Craft of Calligraphy by Dorothy Mahoney (1981). Good treatment of the basics of calligraphy and many good examples.
The Story of Writing by Donald Jackson (1981). A readable history of the evolution of western writing.
Painting for Calligraphers by Marie Angel (1984). How to combine painting and calligraphy.
The Calligrapher’s Handbook by Society of Scribes and Illuminators (1985). Good reference book on different techniques with articles by calligraphers from the Society of Scribes and Illuminators.
The Calligrapher’s Project Book by Susanne Haines (1987). Good basic information and different types of projects from leading calligraphers
Calligraphy Masterclass edited by Peter Halliday (1990). Examples of calligraphy from some of the best modern calligraphers.
Advanced Calligraphy Techniques by Diana Hoare (1991). Ideas for different types of calligraphy projects.
The Art of Letter Carving in Stone by Tom Perkins (2001). The ultimate reference for letter carving.
Arches Aquarelle Watercolour Paper
Daler-Rowney Calli Inks
Saunders-Waterford watercolour paper
Scribblers Calligraphy Suppliers
William Mitchell Pens & Inks
Winsor & Newton Gouache