Modern Calligraphy Mistakes I’ve Made So You Don’t Make Them Too

Learning anything new is really about trial and error, emphasis on the ‘error’. And while experience is the best teacher, I also think it is important for us to share our mistakes and advice, especially when avoiding a mistake can save you money and/or time. Here are some mistakes that I have made while learning modern calligraphy that I think would help for others to avoid.

  1. Buying a roll of Bristol board. If you don’t know, Bristol board is a high-quality paper that is used for original calligraphy pieces created using a nib and ink. Because it is higher quality, it’s obviously more expensive than paper that you’d use just for practice. In the spirit of cost-effective-ness, I bought a giant roll of Bristol board (yep, a roll like you would see mounted to the wall in art class), thinking the extra work required to measure and cut each piece to size would be minimal and worth the cost savings I incurred by buying this roll instead of packages of sheets pre-cut to various sizes. Um, nope. It was a huge pain to attempt to uncurl, flatten, accurately measure, and cut my desired sheet sizes from a giant, unruly spool. It would take days (literally) for the paper to flatten out, and I often got impatient and would try to cut paper that just wanted to curl onto itself or take a shortcut and end up creasing or tearing it. To make a long story short, don’t buy your good paper in rolls.
  2. Buying a roll of standard printer paper. This was a mistake for a different reason, but made with the same intent as the roll of Bristol board. When I started modern calligraphy, I knew I’d be practicing a lot and thought that a giant roll would be the most cost-effective way to stock up on practice paper. Unfortunately, I made this ‘investment’ before I learned that standard copy paper is NOT smooth enough to use with brush markers, and I ruined several of them before I realized this was not the right paper to practice with. Fortunately, this paper can be used for other purposes and I have used it more than the roll of Bristol board, but that giant roll is still cumbersome to manage and was not money well-spent.
  3. Trying to break the rules before mastering them. As I’ve mentioned before, one thing I love about modern calligraphy is that it’s not as rigid as traditional calligraphy, so each calligrapher develops their own style and flair. Because I was excited about this, I jumped the gun and sort of skipped over mastering the basics and tried to go straight to creating letters in my own style. This led me to fall back onto handwriting, rather than truly drawing each letter. My work was definitely unique (ha!) but looked awkward and sloppy. I had to go back to the beginning and start by mastering each stroke and putting strokes together to form letters. In other words, I needed to build the muscle memory for the proper technique first, and then play around with small tweaks to turn the letters into my own. Doing it this way will definitely take longer, but your work will be noticeably better in the long run.
  4. Getting stuck in comparison paralysis. This is a common thing in life, not just modern calligraphy or hand-lettering or art in general, for that matter. In my case, I would start scrolling Pinterest for inspiration or Instagram to find other letterers to connect with, and I would spiral into comparing myself to the point where I would get down on myself (“I’ll never be that good.”) and negative about others (“She hasn’t been doing this as long as I have. Why did she get that opportunity?”). I have two pieces of advice here. First, when you catch yourself thinking something negative, consciously think of its positive counterpart – “That effect looks cool and like something I want to learn how to do!”, “What a great opportunity for her! It’s awesome that opportunities like that exist for calligraphers!” Second, close the apps and go practice. While you likely won’t be able to avoid this completely the way you could avoid buying a giant roll of paper because I told you not to, recognize that the “mistake” here is getting caught up in the comparison trap over and over again and remaining stuck in that mindset. Comparison is the thief of joy, and we rise by lifting others.
  5. Investing in a medium that I lost interest in. For me, this was nib and ink. My first foray into modern calligraphy was with a nib and ink, and as I got more into the hobby, that’s where I focused my research and inspiration. I got really excited about it and had so many ideas I wanted to try out, and true to form, I jumped in and purchased a ton of different inks, several nibs, a fancy ink container, and even a beautiful handmade nib holder (that was not cheap!) … only to find that I truly loved watercolor and didn’t really want to use a nib. The challenge is that when you’re in the middle of doing something you enjoy, you won’t know whether you’ll lose interest or not; if anything, you’ll likely assume that this will become your passion forever. So, really, the mistake here was making so many purchases in a short window of time. Instead, as I’ve touched on in another post, pace yourself and be intentional with each purchase.

While I hope it helped for you to learn about the mistakes that I’ve made, remember that making mistakes is integral to learning anything new. Even if you make the same ones that I did, don’t let them deter you, and instead use them to learn and grow in your craft!

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