Important Beginners Skills

When you begin to learn calligraphy some of the terms which are used may be new to you and so a few definitions will help you on your way.

Minuscule - a small or lower case letter
majuscule - a capital or upper case letter
x-height - the height of the body of the minuscule letter without extension. These letters are: a, c, e, i, m, n, o, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, & z;
baseline - the horizontal line on which the letters sit;
waistline or x-height line - the horizontal line at the x-height;
ascender - the part of the letter which extends above the x-height. These letters are b, d, f, h, k,& l;
descender - the part of the letter which extends below the baseline.  These letters are g, j, p, q,& y;
pen angle - the angle at which the edge of the pen is held while writing.  This gives thin and thick  strokes;
letter slope - the angle of the letters on the page.  It can be upright or forward sloping, depending on the style;
serif - the starting and finishing strokes of the letter;
ductus - the numbered order of strokes which create a finished letter.

Each Calligraphic Hand has its own characteristics and these are important to understand when you start your calligraphy journey. The first set of worksheets which I have put on the Calligraphy Class page are for Foundational Hand. For this you need a broad edge nib – not a pointed nib. There is more information about Foundational Hand on the Calligraphy Class page.

Foundational Hand Minuscules - Classic Proportions:-
x-height - the x-height for these letters should be 4 times the width of the nib you are using.  For example, if your nib is 3mm wide then the x-height should be 4x3mm=12mm
ascender height - 3 nib widths, e.g. 3x3mm = 9mm
descender height - 3 nib widths, e.g. 3x3mm = 9mm
pen angle - 30 degrees.  The pen angle is measured from the BASELINE
letter slope - upright
serif - the style of the serif is small and round

Ruling up a page. This is a very important part of calligraphy and makes a big difference to your finished work. The lines you write on must be ruled accurately every time and in the correct proportions for the size of nib you are using and for each different calligraphic Hand (or style). Practice with ruling lines is as important as practice creating letters, and although it can seem a bit boring at first, the difference that accurately ruled lines will make to your calligraphy is amazing!


Using an A4 page in Landscape form mark and rule top and side margins. Use a sharp pencil for your line ruling – a mechanical pencil is best and it can be a cheap one from your local shop. My example has top and side margins of 2cm (20mm).

Next step is to mark up your lines. I recommend that you make and use a ‘Line Marking Card’, like the one in the next image. Do make sure that you use a straight sided piece of card and be very accurate with your measurement. As I want to use a Brause 5mm nib to write with in Foundational Hand my Line Marking Card needs to be made up in exactly the correct size – Ascender 3x5mm = 15mm; X=height 4x5mm = 20mm; Descender 3x5mm – 15mm; space 2x5mm = 10mm. Foundational Hand is the one which I have put first on my Calligraphy Class site. Just to remind you the correct proportions for line ruling for Foundational hand are:-

  • Ascender 3 x the nib width
  • X-Height 4 x the nib width
  • Descender 3 x the nib width
  • Space 2 x the nib width

You can make a card for each nib and also for each different style of calligraphy you are learning. Make sure that you mark them clearly which nib size and which calligraphy hand and then keep them to reuse again and again.

Once you have made the card you start at the top Left-hand side and mark each point on the margin line – this straight line will keep your lines accurate. When you have marked the first set just SLIDE your card down to the bottom point and line up the ‘top line’ mark with that and carry on marking the reset of the points. Do this until you reach the bottom of the page. The number of line ‘sets’ which you have will depend on what size your nib is – a small nib means you can fit a lot of line sets onto your page, a large nib means fewer.

Carry on and complete the page by ruling your lines. Then pencil in a code to make sure you know which space is which.

The last step in ruling up a page is to put in the Pen Angle lines. To do this you need a protractor. Whichever protractor you have, you need to know where the ZERO point and line is. Place zero line of the protractor on one of your straight lines with the zero point exactly at the INTERSECTION of the left-hand margin and the straight line. Mark the Zero point with a pencil. Count around the right side of the protractor until you come to the 30 degree point and mark it with a pencil. Remove the protractor, place a ruler between the 2 points and rule a line. This line should be at 30 degrees but CHECK IT before you rule up the whole page! At the beginning of your calligraphic journey you will need to have PEN ANGLE lines drawn in pencil all across your page. This will help you to keep your pen at the correct angle when making your letters.

Lastly in this section here is an example page for Foundational Hand to remind you of what the definitions mean and to show you how to place the minuscule letters.