6 Pro-Tips for Calligraphy Dip Pen
Why the freak is this not working?! *sob*
I get it. OH I get it.
WHY is my ink not flowing? WHY is my nib tearing my paper? WHY is the ink bleeding?! WHY does the universe want me to fail?!
Well, I’m here to tell you that the universe does not hate you. We (the universe and I) want you to succeed and that’s why I wrote this. For you! So you can not only learn dip pen calligraphy, but master it!
I first want to say that you are in good company. Dip pen is HARRD. The little issues you’ll encounter are tough.. but stick through it and you will become a pro in no time.
I went through, and still go through, all the weird issues when it comes to ink and nibs. I would have killed to have some insight and tips! So please let me know if you have any questions and I will get back to you asap.
So let’s start!
1. Using the Right Materials
Ya, ok, you know this. Blah, blah.
But really. It is SO. IMPORTANT.
If you do not have the right paper or the right nibs or the right ink, you will hate your life.
So what’s my recommendation?
Smooth paper is best! Your ink will write soo much cleaner, better, and easier. Think about it.. papers with a texture (such as certain linen papers) will cause your pointy nib to snag. And tear. And make you cry.
Surprisingly, I love writing on a watercolor paper. It takes some practice, but is really beautiful. Which brings me to…. ☟☟☟
The weight of the paper!! If you’ve ever dip-penned on printer paper (which is usually around 20lb), you’ve noticed that it ripples, bleeds and tears. So the higher the weight, the heavier and thicker the paper and the better it will do. I prefer around 60-80lb paper for nib calligraphy. You’ll get to the point where you can tell just by looking at a piece of paper whether or not it will do well under your pen. Patience! You’ll get there.
So if your “ink” is bleeding.. it’s not always the ink. A lot of the time, it’s the paper!
There are some great notebooks and loose paper out there both for practice and art. Don’t think you need super fancy paper to do your artwork on. Just a smooth cardstock works great! I love Bristol Paper because it has a nice weight and super smooth. Try different types of paper and see what you like best.
Rhodia Dot Pad for practice
Studio Series Practice Pad lined paper for practice
There is one nib that I use and has my heart:
I have tried several different nibs, and this one took the cake. I originally started with the Speedball Calligraphy Pen Nibs.. and they were awful. Not a fan! And granted, it could be because I was super new when I used them, but I would definitely recommend not starting with it.
There are soo many options out there.. I mean, they even have 18k Gold Nibs out there! So if you come across something you want to try, try it! And then let me know what you think. I lovvve hearing from you.
Note: Nibs are SHARP when they come! If you don’t handle carefully, they will rip your paper.. and of course, make sure you have the right paper to avoid this. However, I have a little trick to combat this issue, so read on!
It don’t matta. Seriously. Does it hold the nib? Is it comfortable? Then go for it! Try a bunch and see what feels right. I actually use a super cheap-y version and I like it. I will upgrade eventually, but I’m too lazy haha.
Ahh ink. This will also make or break you. I feel like most of the calligraphy inks are awesome. They are the right consistency and don’t bleed. However, there are certain inks that are too thick or too thin and you will hate life!
However, my favorite BLACK ink is by Zig Cartoonist and it is actually made for Manga drawing. It’s amazing! It’s the perfect consistency and will literally write on anything.
And my fav gold is Dr. Ph. Martin’s 11R Copper Plate Gold
Now, of course there are other options! This is just my opinion, so try these and other options out and let me know what you think and works best for you.
2. Prep Your Nib
So… I can’t like, take the nib out of the package and just use it?
Nope! I mean.. you can. But it will most likely not work to your favor. Trust me on that one. Nibs come with a protective oil barrier for shipping/storage that is meant to be removed upon purchasing. However, I feel that this isn’t common knowledge! I happened to stumble across it when I was just starting out.
There are several methods to use when prepping your nib. I have used three of these methods and the one that works the best and easiest is…..
Stick it in a potato
Yes. You heard me right. A potato. Like… the brown thing that grows in the ground. Apparently it has some magical properties that make the oils disappear? Just stick the nib in a potato and leave it for 10-15 minutes. The potato will absorb (…?) the oils right away! It’s super weird and crazy, but it works.
The other two methods are:
Burn it off
You stick your nib in the nib holder (or just hold it, if you dare) and take a lighter or a match to it. Slowly run the flame over the nib for a few seconds. Don’t hold it too long, or it could discolor it. I’ve used the method multiple times and it works great.
I didn’t think this one worked quite as well as the others, but it does the trick. Throw some toothpaste on it, scrub it with your fingers or a toothbrush, and wash it off. I found that you have to do this several times to get it to work.
3. Use a File
This has to be one of my best finds. This is a great option if your nib keeps catching or tearing your paper. Usually you have to do this on the cheaper nibs, but there have been times that I’ve done it with my nicer nib. I totally did this because my nib kept tearing through the envelopes I was writing on, and when someone is paying you to write on the envelopes they give you, you HAVE to find a way to make it work. So a file it was.
Now, if you use a file on your nibs, your upward stroke will not be quite as skinny and fine. I know there’s times that this is ok, but just keep this in mind as you do this! Again, just play around and see what works for you.
Take a nail file and carefully make a downward stroke, then an upward stroke, just as you would if you were writing. Don’t press too hard, as you don’t want to take it down too much. Rinse off the nib and try writing in ink to see if it writes smoother. Repeat if necessary!
4. Thicken or Thin Out Your Ink
This does NOT mean you need to thin or thicken every ink. Nooo. Nope. Like I mentioned before, if you get the “Calligraphy” inks, you shouldn’t have to do anything to it.
However! This does mean that if your ink is not flowing onto the paper, you may want to try thinning it.
How do you thin the ink? Water!
It’s super easy. I would recommend taking a little bit of ink and putting it into a separate bottle. I’ve used old baby jars, old ink jars, or you can just buy jars (something like this, perhaps?) Then simply use an eye dropper to drop in a little bit of water at a time until you get a consistency that flows easily onto the paper. Don’t add too much water or the ink won’t stay in your nib. You have to find the perfect water/ink ratio.
Now….. what if your ink is too runny and it’s bleeding or not even staying in the nib? I would first recommend changing your paper, if possible. If you still have the same issue, you can snag some Gum Arabic. This gem is a game changer! Mixed with a little water, this will thicken up your ink and make it stick to your nib longer. You’ll see that your ink flows lots better when using this. I would recommend the same thing as thinning the ink and use an old jar with a little ink in it first.
5. Cloth Vs Papertowel
I made this mistake for a while. When you use a paper towel to wipe your nib, it will result in fiber-y fibers on your nib, therefore, disrupting or even ruining your writing. Bleh.. it sucks!
I suggest a microfiber towel. They are lint free and work like a champ! (plus you can use them for cleaning your house… if you’re into that sorta thing).
Every. Single. Day. Seriously, the BEST form of advice that I can give you.. right there. Make it a point to do a little (or a lot!) calligraphy every day. You will see huge improvements in not only your dip-pen work, but your overall font execution! One of the best ways is to join a calligraphy challenge (like this one!) and use it to improve your lettering skills. It’s nice because it takes the pressure off of thinking about what to write. Try it out!
You can do it!
What questions do you have? What are your pro-tips? What mistakes have you made?? Let’s help this little community of ours and help each other out. Love you all!