Monthly Archives: December 2013

My thoughts on a few Calligraphy books – Part 2

The final two books I looked at are
Creative Lettering. Experimental ideas for contemporary lettering – Margaret Morgan

1. Starting off A look at basic tools and ruling lines
2. Monoline Roman capitals proportions, family groups, letters as patterns
3. Compressed capitals
4. Extended capitals
5. Lower case

6. Next steps making pens , colour , specialist materials
7. Putting it together combines the previous alphabets
8 Design, creativity and composition understanding about good composition


This book is very different to all the others, and is not a calligraphy book as such. It looks at just one alphabet, Roman capitals and lower case, and then alters the size, space and thickness of the letters and different layouts to use letters creatively
It briefly looks at dip pens and inks, ( and in making a pen from a piece of string and one form a coke can) but most of the lettering is done using pencils felt tips, markers and rollerball pens.

On first appearances I thought looking at just one alphabet would be a bit boring. I also thought it would not be that useful, as I want to learn to write Italic, Copperplate and other alphabets in the future.

After trying out some of the exercises and reading through it, I now think it is a brilliant book.
By taking just one set of letters and really experimenting with ways of using them it does what the other books haven’t. After learning the proportions of the letters it looks at breaking rules and experimenting with letters. It encourages you to think outside of the usual ways of writing.
The book is packed with exercises and ideas to try, and by trying them out it helps with understanding what works and why.
What I also liked is that most of the exercises can be done with felt tips, pencils and computer paper, so they can be done without too much cost.
It won’t help you learn different calligraphic alphabets but it will help with understanding about letters, and this book alongside a traditional calligraphy book would be a good combination.
I am going to be doing much more experimenting with letters after reading this book.

Calligraphy for Greetings cards and Scrapbooking – Peter E. Taylor

PART 1 BASICS Looks at tools , making a light box, Roman letters, understanding paper, advantages and disadvantages of different pens,making a balsa wood pen, inks and coloured paint, left handed calligraphers, drawing guidelines.

PART 2 ABOUT LETTERING Neuland alphabet, Celtic alphabet, Gothic alphabet, Italic alphabet,Copperplate alphabet. Layout and design , spacing letters , balance , margins, using a computer to aid layout ,

PART 3 SIMPLE WAYS TO MAKE LETTERS SPECIAL Creative letters, embossed letters, cut letters, creative backgrounds , masking , stencilling, sponging , blending colours

PART 4 EXTRA IDEAS FOR ADVANCING CALLIGRAPHERS Gold and silver ink, drawn and painted capitals, printing, rubbing and carving.

PART 5 MASS PRODUCED CARDS adding words and inserts, envelope designs for cards,


I really liked this book . It does not profess to be an encyclopedia of calligraphy, yet it has more information o/n calligraphy pens, nibs and how to load them with ink, and other useful information for beginners than any of the other books I looked at. The instruction on forming the letters was equal to the first two books I looked at, with some nice little tips and lots of illustrations, but it was not as detailed as the 24 1hour lesson book.
It only covers 5 styles of alphabet, unlike the other calligraphy books, but they are very different styles and are more than enough for beginners . It showed modern variations on the alphabets and had some nice examples of them being used on cards and envelopes.
The book is easy to understand , and has lots of photos and ideas to try .
As well as covering the basics of calligraphy it has some good information about making cards, creating a balanced layout, making pop up cards, envelopes, and making written inserts for mass-produced cards.
The book covers a lot of ground.
It is not a book for someone who wants to know about the history of alphabets and wants to stick to traditional methods. it seems happy to use old and new methods together.
I would say it is a perfect book for someone wanting to give calligraphy a go, and of all the books I think this is most suitable for younger people interested in calligraphy.

If I had to choose a book as a complete beginner it would be the Calligraphy for Greetings Cards.
It answered the most questions, and gave me the best general information.
When you begin it is easy to become frustrated, especially if you can’t make the letters look like they should ! This book has great tips on improving mistakes and producing something to be proud of. The emphasis is more on realistic achievement than precision. Calligraphy looks fun.

Once I was more confident with forming letters, and if I wanted to go into more depth ,the 24 1 hr lesson book would be a good one to move onto .

My thoughts on a few Calligraphy books – Part 1

In between sightseeing, Xmas festivities, and over eating I have finally managed to have a read through most of the calligraphy books I have on loan.

Here’s some info about what is in each book , as well as my opinion on whether it is a good book for someone who is starting to learn calligraphy.

The Encyclopedia of Calligraphy Illumination – Janet Mehigan & Mary Noble

Part 1 A look at tools and materials, preparing new nibs and preparing a work space .

Part 2 Looks at the different styles, shapes and spaces in letters. It also covers how to rule lines of the correct height and using coloured inks and gouache for back grounds and writing .

Part 3 Looks at the different writing hands. it covers Foundational, Roman capitals , Uncial, Carolingian, Gothic, Formal Italic, Flourished italic, Versals, Edge brush writing, and Free form.

Part 4 Looks at Illumination and includes different ways of using gold and colour to decorate. It looks at 6 styles; Celtic, Romanesque, Gothic, Arts and crafts, Renaissance,and Modern. It also looks at drawing borders.

Part 5 Is a photo gallery of work by top calligraphers.

The book progressed in a logical order and the explanations were easy to understand and not too wordy.
There were lots of clear photos throughout the book, and the section on tools and setting up although not detailed was adequate.

The section on practising the different alphabets, shows the alphabet ( with arrows to show the order and way to write ) and has a page of photos with instruction on forming the letters.
IT DOES NOT show each individual letter with an explanation though . It groups the letters into ones with a similar stroke and explains the hardest one. For instance it shows how to form a g in the foundational hand and apparently the s is formed in a similar way , ( although I did not see how they were that similar )
I would have liked to have a detailed explanation of forming each letter.

As I am concentrating on looking at books to help with writing, I am not looking at the illumination part of the book

The Gallery section takes up a third of the book and is laid out nicely with a range of calligrapher works.
Although it is nice to flick through and imagine it is possible to create something similar, I would have preferred more pages on practising letters, or on some projects that I felt I might be able to do .

The Encyclopedia of Calligraphy Techniques Diana Hardy Wilson

Part 1 Techniques
Covers basics, borders, lettering with a brush, the Carolingian alphabet, Colour Copperplate ,decoration ,flourished letters, Foundational alphabet ,Gilding, Gothic alphabet, Humanistic alphabet ,Italic alphabet, layouts, Lombardic alphabet, making marks, using a quill/reed pen, Roman capitals ,Rustic alphabet, ruling lines, using a split pen, texture, Uncial/ Half Uncial alphabet, and the Versal alphabet

Part 2 Themes.
This section shows illustrations of top calligraphers work, with information about each piece. The works come under the headings of letterforms, formal calligraphy, words, applied calligraphy,the third dimension, and experimental calligraphy.


I found this book confusing, and it was difficult to find the information I needed. I started at the beginning and read about writing with a brush and designing borders, which I thought would be something to concentrate on after I had conquered a few basic alphabets. I turned back to the contents and that’s when I realized that the book was set out alphabetically .
There were no page numbers on the contents page, so I just kept flicking back and forth trying to find what I wanted, and when I still couldn’t find what I wanted , I turned to the index.

There is no section about different pens and nibs, which is what I spent ages looking for. There is a photo of tools and equipment on the last page of the book, but no explanations about them, and so If I bought this book as a beginner I would not know I needed to buy reservoirs for certain pens, and that new nibs need treating before they will work .

The pages concerned with learning the various alphabets are not very detailed either. There is a page with the alphabet, with arrows showing the order of strokes,( as with the book above ) but very few photos showing how to form the letters, and what photos there are show the pen and paper from the side, not from the writer’s perspective. There is a written explanation which helps a bit, but I was still confused.

The second section( which takes up half of the book) has lots of photos of amazing calligraphy work.It might be good for someone who is already a good calligrapher, or as a coffee table book but I found it of limited use.
This book touched on many areas of calligraphy, but had no detail, and is not in my opinion a book for someone starting out with calligraphy.

Calligraphy In 24 1Hr lessons Veiko Kespersaks

1. The Getting Started section looks at tools, materials, paper, understanding letterforms, setting up a writing area and correcting mistakes.

2. The Lesson section covers Roman capitals, Uncials, Foundational, Composition and layout, Decorative borders, Gothic , Italic, Spacing, Flourished Italics, Chancery, Copperplate, Designing with colour, Copperplate/ flourished, Spencerian/ flourished, Illumination.

3. The Projects section shows how to make a concertina book, embossed certificate, sonnet, bookmark, wedding invitation, poem and family tree.


I found the first section full of useful information about inks, nibs, pencils and paper, and even how to make a writing desk .It showed how to hold a pen, fit a nib and reservoir and lots of good info for a complete beginner, and it was laid out clearly with lots of photos.
I have a better understanding about pen angles after reading the first part of the book.

The lessons are in chronological order and there are 4 pages of info/ diagrams for each lesson. The formation of each letter is shown clearly,which I like . There are warm up exercises for each alphabet, and a look at pen angles, pen pressure, and letter groups. I also liked the “homework” idea as it gives you a chance to practise what you have learned, and produce something at the same time.

This is a good book to have if you are new to calligraphy. It has more information about getting started than the previous two, and goes into more detail about forming letters.

The projects at the back of the book look achievable and are not so out of this world to be overwhelming.

Out of the three books so far , I think the 24 hr 1 hr lessons would be the most useful book for someone wanting to give calligraphy a go, and The Encyclopedia of Calligraphy the least.

In Part Two I will be looking at the remaining books I have.

Calligraphy – looking at a few calligraphy books

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There are so many lovely looking calligraphy books on sale that it is hard to know which one to buy when starting off. Last year when I bought some basic calligraphy supplies I chose a book that I thought would be good, and had lots of great reviews on Amazon.UK.
the book was The calligraphers bible by David Harris

It hasn’t been as useful as I was hoping it would be . It was a bad choice on my part.
I am sure it is a good book for experienced calligraphers, and is a good reference book, and is a well made book . It shows 100 different alphabets through the ages, but it does not show how to form every letter, and so as a beginner I found it of limited use.

Whilst I am back in England I have reserved some calligraphy books from my local library, and am looking forward to flicking through them and seeing what they have to offer. I hope to find a better book to take back with me to Portugal, to use alongside information I find on various websites

I have brought over a few pens and have ink, so if when I have some spare time I am going to try and get some more practise in.

Over the next few posts I will be giving you my thoughts on the books, how useful I found them, what they cover, what they don’t, and if I feel it would be good for a beginner.

The books I have ordered are

Janet Mehigan – The Practical Encyclopedia of Calligraphy
Diana Hardy Wilson – The encyclopedia of Calligraphy techniques
Janet Mehigan & Mary Noble- The encyclopedia of Calligraphy Illumination
Margaret Morgan – Creative lettering – experimental ideas for contemporary lettering
Veiko Kespersaks – Calligraphy in 24 1 hr lessons
Gilian Hazeldine- Contempoorary Calligraphy
Peter Taylor – Calligraphy for Greeting cards

So a bit of holiday reading !

If any one is thinking of giving calligraphy a try, I hope you find it helpful