Calligraphy Exercises to Help You Learn the Art of Hand Lettering

It’s easy to understand the allure of calligraphy for many visual artists and designers. Calligraphy is a rare analog form of visual expression, one that nearly all accomplished practitioners describe as “meditative” and conducive to all kinds of outside creative pursuits. Whether your tastes run to traditional Arabic calligraphy, written in time-honored styles, or today’s wildly creative, modern hand lettering adaptations, there’s a style of calligraphy for just about everyone.

But where to begin when you want to try your hand at lettering but have little or no experience? We’ve rounded up some basic exercises and related resources, along with an overview of essential tools that will have you practicing this ancient art in no time.

Excerpt from Calligrapher and Designer Seb Lester’s Skillshare Originals class.

Before You Begin: Best Tools for Newbies

Many calligraphy instructors (and students) recommend that beginners and those with limited experience use a brush pen and paper — which means you really only need two types of supplies (and minimal investment) to get started. Brush pens are widely used by calligraphers and illustrators because they are responsive to various levels of pressure and make it easy to create lines of varying thickness. Tombow’s Dual Brush Pen ranks high among calligraphy pens because it combines a flexible brush tip and fine tip in one instrument.

Dotted or graph papers are ideal for novices because they help you replicate both horizontal and vertical spacing. You don’t need expensive paper to get started, but a smooth paper will keep you from fraying the tip of your brush pen. Laserjet paper is very smooth and inexpensive enough to be used for daily practice by calligraphers at all levels of expertise.

Image courtesy of Seb Lester

Image courtesy of Seb Lester

Calligraphy Exercises

It’s no wonder that calligraphy exercises are often referred to as “drills” — deliberate, repetitive practice is required to learn the art of beautiful and expressive hand lettering. Here are some exercises to get you on the right path:

  • Even the most accomplished calligraphers rely on warm-up exercises before tackling an important project. Warm-up exercises help connect you to the particular characteristics of whatever tool you’re using to draw. Simple horizontal and connected vertical lines, and a focus on key lower-case letters like u, m, and n (which include elemental calligraphy forms) can be very useful. Calligrapher and Designer Seb Lester has a great range of exercises in his class if you need some ideas for your warm-up.

  • The most basic forms of practice for brush lettering and calligraphy focus on the individual thin and thick strokes used as building blocks for letters, words, and phrases. Entrance strokes are the thin, curved upstrokes that begin each lower case letter. For a beginning exercise, fill your page with entrance strokes, trying to maintain uniformity in line, curve, and spacing throughout.

  • Free, printable calligraphy worksheets in every imaginable style are easy to find with a Google search. Worksheets include typically include easy-to-copy lettering and custom grids that make it easy to get started.

  • If you have a little prior experience with traditional calligraphy and are looking to get back into it, practice writing the entire alphabet in your preferred style. Focus on the connection points between letters where you lift the nib and put it back down to write the next letter, and try to establish a seamless look.

Image courtesy of Seb Lester

Image courtesy of Seb Lester

Want to learn more about calligraphy, hand lettering or brush lettering? Skillshare has dozens of classes to help you get started.