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Calligraphy FAQs

These are some of the questions we're asked the most! We hope this will help you as your find your way around different nibs, pen holders and inks. If you have any additional suggestions that we could add here, please let us know!


Is calligraphy messy?

Like any art form it can be, but in day-to-day practice the mess is usually limited to your fingers unless you have a major ink spillage. So be sensible when it comes to the clothes you are wearing when practising, and make sure to protect your furniture. We’d advise keeping a wet cloth handy and covering any bare, unvarnished wood surfaces. Try to avoid the ink coming into contact with your nails, as the ink might stain your skin for a day or so but takes longer to come off your nails.

I’m left-handed, can I learn modern calligraphy?

Lefties are not at any disadvantage when learning modern calligraphy (in fact, one of our studio calligraphers is a leftie). In modern calligraphy we use pointed nibs instead of flat-edge ones. You will hold the straight penholder in the same way as right-handed learners. You can also buy left-handed oblique pen holders, but we know many calligraphers that prefer using a right-handed oblique holder. You’ll essentially have to discover what’s most comfortable for you. 

What is the difference between the straight and oblique pen holder?  

The oblique penholder is designed to enable you to write consistently at more of a a slant, however the slant of your writing is not something you need to worry too much about as you start out in modern calligraphy as there are lots of other important things to get right first. 

Why is the ink not staying on the nib for long, or working properly?

All new nibs need preparing before using them for the very first time as they come with an invisible protective serum on them. There are a few ways to prepare your nibs: Passing the writing end of the nib through a flame (from a match or lighter), or cleaning it with toothpaste or a non-abrasive household cleaner both work.  You can also soak the nibs in hot water for 20 seconds or so to allow the serum to dissolve before rubbing the nib dry. 

Also some nibs just take a bit of taming, patience and getting used to.  You may need to experiment with your pressure or seeing if it works better with a different consistency or paper surface, especially when you try a nib that you haven’t used before.

Why am I getting lines that look like tramlines?

This just means your ink has run out and you need to re-dip.  When your nib is brand new it may do this more regularly for the first page or so.  But preparing your nib correctly will improve ink flow.

My nib looks like it’s broken in the middle?

All pointed nibs are made up of two tines that split when you apply pressure to the nib. This is how the nib works! 

Why doesn’t the ink look nice on the paper?

Most inks will ‘bleed’ on lower quality paper which will give you a furry effect appearing around the edges of your calligraphy.  You’ll also find that your nib will pick up paper fibres causing it to get caught in the tines.  In general, you want to choose a paper that is smooth, but not shiny.  Coated papers are less likely to absorb the ink. 

How do I clean my nibs?

Once you’ve prepared your nibs and removed the protective serum, they will then be susceptible to rust.  Even the moisture in the air could rust your nibs over time.  It’s best to keep them in an airtight container if possible and try not to leave them in water for any length of time.  After you’ve used your nib, simply run it under some water to clean off the ink and any paper fibres that have got caught in your nib and dry them with a lint-free cloth (paper serviettes also work well as they’re not too fibrous).

How long do the nibs last?

This depends on so many factors:  how much you’ve used them, how textured the paper you’ve used is, how acidic your ink is…  Some tell-tale signs that you need to bin your nib are when it’s get scratchier, or when you can no longer achieve fine hairline strokes.  This is usually caused by the tines not springing back together tightly, or the tip becoming blunt.

How often should I practice?

We find little and often is the best as after a while your hand will get tired.  20-30 minutes a few times a week and you should see great improvement.  Learning modern calligraphy is like any skill: you need to put the time in and practice in order to see results.  But it’s great fun and quite relaxing too.

How do I stop a shaky hand?

Shakiness generally has nothing to do with your skill level or experience.  We all experience shakiness at some point but it’s more common when you’re starting out.  Try experimenting with different letter sizes as you’ll probably find that writing a little bigger or smaller may help you.  Before any big piece of work you’re doing, it’s always best to warm up your hand with some exercises for 10-15 minutes first as your lines will be much smoother after a bit of practice.

Why is my hand hurting?

You’re probably gripping too hard.  Remember to try and relax all muscles from your neck to your shoulders.  If you’re finding that you’re tensing up, force yourself to sit back, stretch out your hand and relax your grip every few minutes until it becomes more natural. 


How do I use the finetec metallic inks?

We have a blog post on this here. Enjoy!