Category Archives: light table

Getting Started in Calligraphy

Calligraphy. Getting started. The Scribe's nightmare.

The Scribe’s Nightmare.

I strongly suggest that beginners read this post first and then click on Lesson One. Familiarise yourself first with the Roundhand alphabet. I am sure it will save a lot of heartache later.

Firstly, there are so many products on sale, all purported to be the must have for the budding scribe. For the time being, my advice is to forget all that. Keep it simple. Buy or make only that which you need to get through the next stage in your journey. All the pens and brushes in the whole wide world are of no use if you have no idea what to do with them.

If you follow the Calligradoodles videos and use the worksheets that go with them, you will notice that all the elements are made up of pencil marks on paper. So, all we need to get started, is a sheet of ordinary copy paper, a ruler and two pencils joined together with elastic bands. ( Better than tape when it comes to sharpening ). A board of some description propped at an angle of about 20 degrees on your table, or even on your knees ( Not good for the back! ), will be enough for the first few sessions.

So, now you are able to construct a half decent Roundhand and Roman alphabet and are ready to progress. You will need a pen and some ink, and once again there are so many products out there that confusion can easily set in, so simplicity is best.

A fountain pen set with 4 – 6 nib sizes and a good supply of cartridges or ink is a good addition to your tool-box at this point. A couple of pen holders and some broad nibs plus a bottle of black calligraphy ink ( not waterproof, this will easily clog your nib ).

Here I shall make no apologies for directing you to Bill’s Art and Calligraphy Supplies  I do earn a small commission from Amazon on any sales, But please don’t feel that you have to buy here. The main reason for setting up this A Shop was to illustrate the mind boggling choices we have just in this one discipline. The Book Section is mind blowing! If I can raise a few pennies to offset expenses, thanks for your custom.

The Technik Art Layout Pad  A/3  is a handy addition right now. Only 50 gsm means you can make one guideline sheet and lay it under each page. A good tip at this point is to rule lines at 1/8″intervals from top to bottom of that page. If you do this in landscape format it will be much more versatile. When laid under the actual working page it is easy to mark an X over 1,2,3, or however many lines it takes to make up the x height needed for the particular nib size you are using. This will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life. If you do have to draw lines, always draw them in multiples of 1/8″ according to nib size. More on this as you progress.

The Brause assortment calligraphy set or William Mitchell right hand italic set. ( There are left hand versions available, and you will find a really good book for Lefthanders in the book department ).  ( See also The Left-handed Calligrapher, here at Bill’s Space, and for more support and info try the Facebook group, Calligraphy for the Left  Handed ) .
The Manuscript Leonardt Calligraphy dip pen nibs – Italic and Poster set, is particularly good value.  A bottle of black Manuscript ink or set of three, black, gold, red, W & N inks will keep you busy for a while.
A better quality paper is now needed to show off your new skills so a pad of Daler Rowney A/3 might be your next choice. Why A/3?  Simply, this size gives more scope for layouts. If you need a smaller format, it is no problem to cut a page.
For line drawing, a Rowney or any of the many boards or drawing machines available will make life a bit easier, but I find a set square running along a 2 foot ruler taped to my board is quite sufficient. Incidentally, I use a home made    light -table whenever possible. If you try this, PLEASE USE ONLY TOUGHENED GLASS.There is a commercially made Artograph box in Bill’s Art and calligraphy supplies.   A “T”-square is a handy addition and perhaps a few basic drawing instruments next. You see. Your collection is building up already. But only with stuff you use. Not just stuff!
Scribblers have kindly issued 50 calligraphy tips You might find these useful.
By the way, when conducting a workshop, I usually ask participants to bring with them the following articles if at all possible.
A drawing board, approximately 18” x 24”. MDF or something similar will do, Something to prop it up to make a writing slope, i.e., a piece of wood 4” x 4” or perhaps a brick wrapped in a carrier bag.
A ruler , preferably 2 foot, and a set square.
A set of roundhand nibs with penholder and reservoirs.
A calligraphy fountain pen is a handy addition for practice work. (Any left-handers will benefit by choosing left hand oblique nibs).
Calligraphy ink. NOT WATERPROOF. Avoid Indian ink whether waterproof or not.
Gouache or watercolours. Coeruleum Blue, and Vermilion. Winsor & Newton Gold ink. (Optional but very handy.)
2, HB and I, 2H pencil. A 00 paint brush. A cheap brush for mixing. A palette or saucer. A jar for water and a kitchen roll.
An A3 Layout pad or even a cheap sketch book. If you have some, a nice HP watercolour paper for your finished work
If you have problems obtaining any commercially marketed equipment, You might try going back to basics and making your own. It is a good idea anyway to experiment with quills, reeds, bamboo, tin cans etc.
My take on the Cola pen. The RED STRIPE Pen. To my mind, much more fun emptying the can.  A chisel cut pencil to dip.  A needlepoint and 6mm with film reservoir.  Bamboo, and a 2mm Reed.
Make sure mummy and daddy are supervising.  Heheh. We don’t want any cut fingers! With scissors, cut top and bottom from the can, making sure you have first downed the contents.  (Adults, it might be best to leave this stage ’til tomorrow, depending on the strength of the aforesaid).
Carefully, (The cut tin can will be very sharp).  Open up and then fold down the length of the metal. Cut whatever shape you are looking for for the nib…then continue down the length,making sure to leave enough for the handle. This is rolled and then taped tightly. Perhaps strengthening by rolling the handle round a pencil. You could make a much prettier job by soldering.Just make sure that all bare edges are covered or blunted.  ‘speriment and enjoy.
You might like to note that I have been experimenting with various materials to use as reservoirs. The best so far is old fashioned film or even negatives. Used flat it can be cut and pushed into a slit formed in the quill, reed, bamboo or whatever, or rolled into a spring and pushed into the aperture.
Some other examples…………..
Now may I suggest that you join Lesson One. If you have any problems, questions, advice, etc., do not hesitate to use the comment boxes throughout this site.
If I don’t know the answer, I’m sure to know someone who does.
I hope you get as much enjoyment as I do from making good letters.
Keep watching this space.

Look out. The Boss is back! (Time to learn uncials)

Updated August 2016.

I might have left you pretty much to your own devices for the last month or so, but I have been pottering around in the background, spending an awful lot of time on facebook and making Bill’s Space known among all the calligraphy groups, of which, as the Bible would say, there are legion! I have joined in many discussions and even instigated a few, ranted about this, raved about that, generally making a nuisance of myself, but always making the point that for hundreds of people to join all these groups is great, but then to sit there looking out from their profile photograph and not joining in with anything is a great disservice to those who have spent a good deal of time and effort setting up and then maintaining these wonderful meeting places. Hehehe! I do go on, don’t I?

Back to this page. Since we set up, our visitor counter is now showing 2639 from 28 countries. Hello to you all, I hope we are keeping you busy and of course well entertained.

Our profile has altered slightly. i.e.  Bill’s Space was set up to promote good lettering. It has now metamorphosed into an all round meeting point for artists, calligraphers and teachers, worldwide, to relax while they search for that little something different to put in their resources locker. Recently a new group, Calligraphy at Bill’s Space, has been set up on Facebook to run alongside the original site. Whether you are a beginner or have years of experience come and join in the fun. Let us see some of your work, it doesn’t have to be to any standard other than that which you have attained up ‘til now and you can always remove it later if you come up with something you feel is better, though it might be better to leave it in place to show what progress you have made.


The Calligradoodles videos have really taken off lately and feedback is beginning to come in from all over the world.  Number 0004,  UNCIALS, is now up and running



Uncial & Blackletter


Uncial worksheets


We shall soon have a look at Italics  and Old English Blackletter.

I have negotiated with teachers T.V. and you will see we now have a little video player with a few really interesting features.  ( UPDATE.  Since this post there have been changes. Teachers TV is now on line.  Have a look. )  You might also have noticed that the number of links has grown over the last week or two. Even if you are not looking for resources you will find some mind blowing material to get the old grey matter working.

For all the beginners I have been in contact with lately, I am really happy to be able to give a bit of guidance and support, so remember, I am right behind this screen if you have any problems. The best advice I can give in the meantime is practice, practice, practice, then a little more practice, and if that does not do the trick, practice some more. Usually the problem can be seen to be :-    x height= too many / not enough nib widths, or, too much / too little pen angle to the writing line. Trying to control ink flow with the paper flat on the desk is impossible, so a board at an angle of at least 20 degrees will help with this. Mine is usually at about 40 degrees, and, a little secret here, I use a light table when ever possible.  It is made of toughened glass and has a florescent tube underneath.  There are commercially made light boxes available.  I have various templates ready made, i.e. wedding albums, spirals, etc. I find that I can see the lines under all but the most heavyweight or darker coloured paper or card. My favourite is an A3 sheet marked out Landscape, with lines 1/8 of an inch apart. You will soon learn that you can use one, two, three, etc. lines to make an x height of 1/8, 1/4, 3/8 etc. so rather than draw lines to fit the size of your nib, you can choose a nib to fit the size of your lines. Layout wise this also makes it easier to incorporate different sized letters in the same piece. You may well ask why I marked my guideline sheet in landscape format. This is more versatile in that it can be used for both formats whereas a portrait sheet can not easily be used on a landscape piece. I can see some of you are getting confused, so I am going to leave you to get on with things and ‘speriment, but I promise I won’t leave it so long before I get in touch again.

Happy holidays. ( For some. )

Keep watching this space.