Inside the Ciarra Claire Studio: Calligraphy Tools & Tips
The tools you need to turn your calligraphy passion into a business.
Hello lovely people! I’m so glad you are here! As many of you know, I love to be as helpful as I can be to other creatives. It can be hard to know what materials to use when you are starting out. And you can waste a good deal of money with trial and error. I’ve been there! The most common questions I receive on Instagram are related to what nibs I use and where to start with calligraphy. In this post, I’m going to give you more than that. Read on to learn about my go-to recommendations for new calligraphers and tools that can help you as you begin working as a professional! I’ve also included a few personal favorites.
Must-Have Calligraphy Tools for Beginners
There are a few items you really need to start learning calligraphy. For starters, you will need paper, calligraphy pens, and ink. Here are a few of my recommendations:
Paper: Rhodia Paper Pads
In the beginning, I started practicing calligraphy on copy paper. Turns out, that’s not a great idea. Regular paper bleeds easily and fibers can get caught in your nib. I tried a few more paper pads from my local Hobby Lobby but remained frustrated with my results.
When I found Rhodia, there was no turning back. It’s not the most inexpensive option, but it is by far the best quality paper I have found. It doesn’t bleed and is so smooth! It’s also perfect for practicing or creating lettering that will then be digitized.
For modern calligraphy practice, I recommend Rhodia’s lined or dotted grid paper. For Copperplate or more formal script, I recommend getting a blank pad and sliding a guide sheet beneath it. The paper is thin enough that you can see a guide sheet through the paper without the aid of a light pad. Bonus!
Calligraphy Pen and Nib Holder: A basic plastic Pen Holder
You really don’t need anything fancy to get started! A straight and oblique holder will get you moving. I recommend trying both options to see which you prefer. There is no right or wrong answer here. It simply comes down to what feels more comfortable. As you keep practicing you may want to explore different writing nibs. In this case, you may want to upgrade to a universal holder. These have a flower-shaped insert that allows you to use any size nib you want!
The King Nib: Nikko G
This is the nib I come back to time and time again. The Nikko G is, hands down, the most recommended nib for beginners and you will see it in almost any calligraphy workshop! This is due, in part, to its reliability. The smooth steel holds up well, lasting quite a while. The medium flexibility is versatile and works well for most calligraphers’ pressure preference. I use vintage nibs often and there are a few nibs I rotate between depending on style and surface. But even after four years, I continue coming back to this nib.
If you want to explore, here are a few of my other favorite nibs:
If you want to start writing, you will need some ink. Beware, not all inks are designed to work with pointed pen calligraphy! Avoid fountain pen ink for your life. It is much to thin. You will likely have problems with the ink not holding to the nib long enough and the ink bleeding into the paper. Here are some of my favorite inks:
This is generally the go-to for black ink. You may want to add a little water or gum arabic to get the consistency you like. Sumi Ink is very black and works beautifully with pointed pen calligraphy. You can also purchase a big bottle that will last a really long time! This ink is great if you are planning to scan artwork since it is very dark. It creates great contrast on white paper so you get clean scans.
This is my favorites for calligraphy drills and practice. This is one of the oldest inks around. It is said to have been used by Da Vinci in his sketches, although that fact is debated. Still, it makes me feel connected to a long line of tradition and history. Because this ink is not opaque, it allows you to truly see your shades, hairlines, and all your transitions. That’s why I love it for practice. It is also lovely for addressing envelopes when you are going for that envied “old world” vibe.
Fine Tec for Metallics
If you want to get extra fancy, try metallic ink! Fine Tec is my brand recommendation for beginners. It takes a little more work. You have to use a wet paintbrush to wet the ink and paint it onto the nib. However, it doesn’t require any mixing or tweaking from there. It is ready to write! It also has one of the prettiest shines around and they also have a lot of colors to choose from. I don’t recommend this ink if you are addressing envelopes since painting your nib can be very tedious. But for practice and art pieces, it is really great.
Upgrades for Professionals
One of the first pieces of equipment you will likely purchase is a light box or light pad. As you grow your hobby into a business, you will start taking on more complicated work and this little tool will become a necessity! A light pad will help you have consistent lines when envelope addressing. Using a pencil to draw guidelines on envelopes may get you by for a while, but if you are regularly addressing envelopes, you will need some shortcuts to save you some time. When addressing light, unlined envelopes, a light box is key! You can create a template for your addressing layout and insert it into the envelope. This allows you to have the same layout on every envelope and really helps with centering addresses.
While the light pad is awesome, I use a laser liner more often. A light pad only works with light, unlined envelopes. If the envelopes you are working with are lined or a darker color, you will not be able to see through them. In this case, a laser liner is a lifesaver! While the SliderWriter I use is no longer available, this is a great alternative from Paper & Ink Arts (my favorite place for all things calligraphy!). You can set it up with your envelope, and the laser gives you an adjustable guide! I add a piece of masking tape on the side and mark where each line should go. This helps me ensure that all of my envelopes will look the same.
You’ll eventually want to start experimenting with your inks. Gum Arabic is actually something I think you should purchase right away! Gum Arabic is a glue-like substance that helps in many ways. It can help thicken your ink if you have added too much water, helps the ink flow better from your nib to the paper, and helps prevent ink bleeding. If the ink on your nib is not covering your nib entirely due to the leftover protective finish on the nib, here is a trick: Dip a new nib in Gum Arabic, and then wipe it off. Then dip your nib in the ink. This helps me every time.
Tools for Removing Mistakes
This is something you will become a pro at! Everyone makes mistakes. But not all mistakes are final! Depending on your ink and paper, you may be able to remove any errors. Pro tip: Always make sure your ink is completely dry before attempting a rescue mission!
I use a combination of tools to fix mistakes. First, I use an extaco knife to gently scrape away the offending ink. Try using the back side of the razor to you don’t damage the paper as much. Then, I use a mono sand eraser. This thing is magic! It is an eraser that is designed to erase ink. Be gentle though. It is a very fine grit like sand paper and actually removes the top layer of paper. I usually go over the same spot with the regular eraser on the other side to smooth out the surface a bit. If you don’t want to mess up the surrounding ink, use an eraser shield! This allows you to erase just the area you want to remove. Some people also use a burnishing tool or bone folder to help smooth the paper so you can’t see that the surface was disturbed. This may seem like a lot of work, but these tools really come in handy. Especially when you get to the end of a long vow transcription and a little drop of ink falls onto your paper!
While I am left handed, I actually use a right-handed oblique holder. I have found this to be my most comfortable writing style. However, I like to switch up my nibs often and having an adjustable holder like this is great!
Calligrafile has so many amazing resources for calligraphers. However, if you are looking for guide sheets, I would start here. You’ll likely find exactly what you need!
I love custom mixing my ink colors and Pearl Ex Pigments are my favorite. You mix them with water and gum arabic to create metallic ink. I like to mix the different shades to get the exact color I want. Sometimes I start with a metallic gouache and add in the pigments, tweaking it from there. My current favorite is Ph. Martin’s Copper Plate Gold. It is almost a perfect match with Artisaire’s Antique Gold wax seals. This is my current go-to for envelope addressing and wax seals!
These are highly-pigmented watercolor paints that typically come in a tube. If you are custom-mixing ink colors, these are what you need. If you feel comfortable with color theory, you can use primary colors to match your ink to just about any color! And you can add pearl ex pigments to make them metallic. When color mixing start with the pigments. Once you are happy with the color, add the gum arabic and mix. Then slowly add water. If you add the water first it can be difficult to mix and you may get lumps in your ink.
It is great to start practicing envelope addressing right away. Play with script styles and layouts. Cards and Pockets is my favorite place to purchase envelopes. The great thing is that they have a low order minimum. This allows you to test several colors without spending a lot of money. (And they have so many colors to choose from!) Their envelopes have a signature deep euro flap that is beautiful.
If you want to learn more about getting the most out of your calligraphy tools or starting a calligraphy business, check out my Skillshare classes! Use this link to try Skillshare for free for 2 months!
In our next blog post, I will take you into the stationery side of my business! I will be sharing what printer I use and where I source my paper. Basically, all of my secrets. Never miss a blog post by subscribing to our newsletter below!
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