Simple Uncial Calligraphy

An easy calligraphy hand for beginners to master

This month has flown by with home-based projects keeping me busy but a couple of days ago I got back into my calligraphy studio to work on my lettering. This time I have chosen Simple Uncials to refresh and then expand. If you don’t know this calligraphy style it is a very old type of lettering which remains popular as Celtic Calligraphy. It is a good beginners hand as it has no Ascenders or Descenders and also no associated capital letters. In fact you can consider these letters as either capitals of lowercase – Majuscules or Minuscules in calligraphy terminology.

It is not difficult to learn the basics and then practise is the only way to improve your letters. I am have put the basic hand with the important information in the Calligraphy Class section and will follow up with some variations which you might enjoy when you feel confident.

This weekend our regular Saturday Skype session with friends had a Japanese theme. As we only have one kimono between us to dress up in, I had to think of something else for our effort. I rummaged around in my studio and found a few calligraphic items which seemed to fit the bill.

A few years ago I thought I would like to try Chinese brush calligraphy. I bought a book, some brushes, paper, grinding stone and ink stick. After a few frustrating sessions I realised that it was not going to be easy, so everything went to the back of the drawer. I have occasionally used the grinding stone and stick ink with my Brause nibs and usually show my students how to make ink the traditional way, but I have never been committed to making up ink each time I want to write. Later, on a trip to Hong Kong I bought a ‘chop’, carved for me by the shop, and a tin of red paste. All this made a fun set up for the Japanese theme and I added a couple of origami birds and a few autumn leaves for decoration.

Equipment Suppliers

Hi everyone, just a quick note to let you know that I have put the internet addresses of some calligraphy equipment suppliers onto my equipment page. I am not recommending any of these suppliers in particular, and I am sure that there are many more you could find with a good on-line search. So please consider these a starting point for your own investigations.

I clearly remember just how difficult it is when you are a complete beginner and know nothing at all about what you need and what you don’t need and I hope that you will find it useful to browse through the catalogues of these companies. Do remember that you do not have to buy one of EVERYTHING you see and that the cheaper option of some copy paper, a small bottle of ink, a pen holder and a few nibs of different sizes is all the specialist equipment you need to get you started. Basic things like unlined A4 paper, a pencil, eraser, protractor and ruler you might already have at home or you can buy them easily from your local shopping center. You can even start with just 2 pencils taped together ………!! I will put up some information about pencil letters very soon. Just as soon as the warmer weather disappears in a couple of days time.

In the meantime, I hope that you are all well and coping with the strange situation that we all find ourselves in.

Happy Easter to you all

I have just completed a set of Foundational Hand worksheets which you will find in the Calligraphy Class page and lots of beginners information which is on the Important Beginners Skills page. I have also put a step by step guide to line ruling, which many people have problems with, and I hope that I have made it simple enough for you to follow. If not then please let me know in the comments section.

Possibly the most important thing you learn as a beginner calligrapher is line ruling. It is impossible to create beautiful letters with a broad-edge, or pointed, nib if you don’t understand the importance of the balance between letter height and nib size. I’m concentrating on Broad-edge nib calligraphy at the moment and want to impress upon anyone who is starting to learn that you really do have to knuckle down and learn to rule your lines accurately and correctly proportioned for the nib size and the calligraphic style you want to learn.

The Foundational Hand which I have started with here is a good, basic and clear style of calligraphy. You might think it is a little boring and feel that you really want to move straight on to learn much more ‘fancy’ writing. But I would urge you to take the time – and we plenty of that at the moment – to really understand this one and build a strong foundation for moving forward. I will be making more Calligraphic Hands available to you over the coming weeks and months and, if you work your way through them, you will end up with a choice of different hands to use.

Books are very important for learning anything. There is a wide choice of calligraphy books available and often it is difficult to know from the titles, or cover images, just what you will be getting for your money. Luckily here in Australia we have a terrific resource, namely your local Library. Probably all local libraries are closed at the moment but have a look at your local library’s website and you will probably find that you can order the books that you want.

I suggest that you aim for a good all-round calligraphy manual and don’t go for the ‘Modern Calligraphy’ style of publication just yet. I will cover that type of pointed pen writing a bit later. Try looking for ‘Mastering Calligraphy’ by Gaye Godfrey Nicholls; Calligraphy Studio by Christopher Calderhead; Contemporary Calligraphy by Gillian Hazeldine or any other ‘how to’ style of calligraphy book. Or you could contact your local Calligraphy Society for suggestions.

That’s it for today – I’m off for a walk around the garden before it gets dark.

Enjoy your Easter chocolate.

Foundational Hand

Foundation Hand is a good starting point for learning broad-edged nib calligraphy. You can start with a Calligraphy dip pen, a calligraphy fountain pen with a broad-edged nib or even a calligraphy felt tip pen. I suggest that you start with a reasonably sized nib such as a 3mm, 2.5mm or a 2mm, but no smaller as it is difficult to see your mistakes when you use a small size nib.

You will need to know the basic information about this calligraphy style to help you rule up a page of guidelines and some new words so that you understand a bit more to help you get the right results.

Foundational Hand letters are written with an x-height of 4 times the width of the nib, and an ascender and descender height of 3 times the width of the nib. This means that if your nib measures 3mm the x-height will be 12mm (4×3=12mm); the ascender and the descender will both be 9mm (3×3=9mm) and the pen angle needs to be 30 degrees up from the baseline.

The sheet is ruled up in sets of 4 lines, which enclose 3 spaces. The top line of the set is called the Ascender line, the 2nd line down is the Waistline, the 3rd is the Baseline and the 4th is the Descender line. And the 3 spaces are known as the Ascender space, the x-height space and the Descender space.

Ascender letters are those which extend up into the Ascender space – b, d, f, h, k, and l; the Descender letters are those which extend downwards into the Descender space – g, j, p, q, and y; and all the others are x-height letters which fit into the space between the Baseline and the Waistline, known as the x-height space – a, c, e, i, m, n, o, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, and z.

By the way, you might think that the letter ‘t’ is a tall letter, but it isn’t. It only just pops its head over the top of the waistline! Below is a sheet which I have ruled up for a pen with a 3mm nib and for Foundational Hand.

For detailed instructions on line ruling please go to my page ‘Important Beginners Skills’. And if you think that it is too much trouble to rule your own lines then go to Scribblers website and use their line generator

An example of a ruled sheet of practice paper

Once you have drawn up a set of lines across your page you can use your pen to make the basic pen strokes in the example below. The coloured arrows show you the DIRECTION your pen moves and you need to remember to hold the nib of the pen at the correct PEN ANGLE (30).

Practice making the basic strokes with your calligraphy pen

Now, if you go to the Calligraphy Class page you will find a set of exemplars for Foundational Hand. You can work your way through them and be ready to move on to a different calligraphy style when it’s available.

A new project

OK, so I’ve made a decision to start calligraphy blog and have worked my way through setting up a front page – at least I hope I have. We’ll see. Now i need to start on putting in some content. Where to begin?

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” Lewis Carroll, in Alice in Wonderland

It is easy to become confused about what equipment you need when you first start to learn calligraphy.  How do you know which pen and nib is the right one to buy, where to find it, how to use it, how to maintain and clean it.  Your equipment is an investment and from the beginning the right equipment will help you achieve the best results. First we'll have a look at calligraphy nibs, pen holders and inks.
Calligraphy nibs come in 2 basic forms: broad-edged nibs and pointed nibs.  For whichever type of calligraphy you want to learn you will need the correct nib.  Calligraphy which is based on historic written forms such as Gothic or Italic,  uses a broad-edged nib and calligraphy which is based on the ornate 18th-19th century writing style, known as Copperplate, uses a flexible, pointed nib.
In order to use either type of nib you will also need a pen holder.  The nib is dipped into ink before writing - 'Dip Pens'. There are plenty of pen holders to chose from and plenty of different inks to try.  Here is some useful info.
  • Broad-edge Nibs
  • Brause – made in Germany. They have a removable reservoir to hold ink which sits underneath and has to be removed for cleaning. They come in 9 width sizes from 0.5mm to 5.0mm are strong, easy to use and haven’t let me down yet.
  • Speedball – made in USA. These nibs come in 6 sizes and have a different numbering system for sizing to the Brause, and are not metric sized. The reservoir sits on top of the nib and is NOT removable.
  • Pointed Nibs
  • Zebra G – Japanese nibs which is just flexible enough, good for beginners and hard to damage – although it is possible! Reasonable fine-lines and thick-lines.
  • Nikko G – Japanese nibs which are slightly more rigid than the Zebra. Also good for beginners and hard to damage. OK fine-lines and thick-lines.
  • Gillott 303 – UK made nibs. Very flexible and give a finer fine-line than the G nibs and a wider thick-line. Easy to break and heavy-handed beginners find them difficult to use.
  • Pen Holders
  • Straight pen holders are what you need for Broad-edged Nib calligraphy, like Gothic, Uncial and Italic.
  • Oblique holders are for Pointed Pen Calligraphy, like Copperplate and Modern Calligraphy.
  • Ink
  • Japanese Sumi ink which dries to a beautiful, rich black is good for both practise and finished black lettering.
  • Other calligraphy inks such as Winsor and Newton or Calli bottled inks.
So there's some information to start you thinking. But if you find the whole idea of using a 'dip pen' a bit too much then there are plenty of calligraphy pens which work with an ink cartridge, like a fountain pen.  They are not as versatile as dip pens but they will get you started.  Two names to look for are Pilot Parallel Pens and Lamy Joy pens. Both of these pens come in different nib sizes.  And lastly there are calligraphy felt tip pens.  They won't give you nice crisp letters but they can be useful to have if you just want to pick up a pen and practise your letter shapes.