Calligraphy Tip No. 1 – Thickening Down-Strokes

Update: 9/8/2014 A short calligraphy downstroke is called a minim. This is for those looking for the crossword solution!

I am calling this post Calligraphy Tip No. 1 with the vague hope that there will be a post sometime in the future called Calligraphy Tip No.2. But I shan’t worry about that right now. Since my last post I have been trying to think about things I’ve learnt about the pointed pen that perhaps I didn’t read in a book and that a beginner wouldn’t necessarily be thinking about.
My first tip concerns working surface. I am not talking about paper, I am talking about the surface the paper is on i.e a table, desk, or drawing board, as I find that the surface I work on affects my lettering. I seem to naturally have thick down-strokes, or ‘shades’; some might think I am heavy handed, but I have a trick that helps me to develop thick strokes and this trick is to put a huge pad of paper beneath anything I’m working on! The wad of paper gives me extra spring… a bit like the dance floor at the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, but working straight onto my desk without a cushion of paper feels like dancing on a block of concrete – there is no ‘give’ and the tines on the nib won’t open quite so wide.

Here is an example of my writing showing the difference…


Hard and rigid…click to make big

I found writing ‘hard and rigid’ really difficult because I’m not used to writing without extra padding, plus the nib I used is really, really old so I struggled with the upstrokes as the nib wanted to snag… I didn’t have this problem with ‘soft and squashy’! With this in mind I’m wondering if the paper pad cushion extends nib life… I do use my nibs for ages, but a new nib always feels fab! The only drawback to working on a pad of paper is that I can’t use a lightbox.

Another way to thicken down-strokes is to simply add an extra stroke, as seen in this example from one of my warming up pages… the letter ‘m’ here is large because I’ve used a double down-stroke.


Double down-stroke ‘m’

Extra down-strokes can be added to marker pen lettering (big or small) to give it a calligraphic feel and this is sometimes called fake calligraphy… but what the hell, it’s effective, and if there’s nothing but a marker pen to hand and you want flashy letters, then why not?

I am extremely proud of myself for writing this post without including any double entendre… that was hard as well.

15 thoughts on “Calligraphy Tip No. 1 – Thickening Down-Strokes

  1. lx

    “… many wearing rapiers are afraid of goosequills.”
    Hamlet Act II, Scene II
    William Shakespeare (maybe)

    I had been thinking that line width was varied by rotating the pen tip. But it is done with pressure instead! Thank you for the mini lesson!

  2. Scarlet Post author

    Good morning, Mr Lax! It’s mostly about pressure… keep the nib at the same angle… light pressure up… firm pressure down!

  3. dinahmow

    Just like,no! wait, that would be double entendre!
    I was told to practise on a block of writing/drawing paper, which, I suppose, is much the same thing.

    1. Scarlet Post author

      Dinah, I wish I had my old blotter pad from work… where I’d write phone messages, doodle, and write twaddle… do they still make blotters? Nobody talks about blotting paper any more… and it’s useful stuff… for… er… blotting…. 🙂

      1. aletifer

        I think they do! The Goulet Pen Company I believe sells J. Herbin blotters for about 30 bucks. Haven’t used them, though, so can’t speak to how well they work.

      2. Keith

        You can still buy blotter pads and even spare blotting paper to fit. If you have a branch of Rymans Stationery shop near you they stock them. I use a big angled drafts man’s table (ex-drawing office from where I used to work) with three sheets of blotting paper on it to create a nice writing surface.

  4. Exile on Pain Street

    This is interesting to me. I’ve wonder about the mechanics of it all. How much is a nib? I suppose I could Google it but you’re right there.

    No double entendre perhaps, but a fine example of your witty sarcasm. We expect nothing less.

    1. Scarlet Post author

      Calligraphy is like making the perfect storm, Mr Pain, so many factors have to come together to make it work properly… nib, ink, paper… what time of the month it is… how much caffeine is in the blood stream… these are all important factors.

  5. Candice Coates

    I find your blog to be absolutely brilliant! Your lettering and calligraphy is inspiring. I have such a long way to go but I have on hand two of the books that you have in this post along with a few others that were recommended to me. Again, great blog 🙂

    1. Scarlet Post author

      Apologies, Candice, I have left you hanging here without a reply for four years!!! How is your calligraphy now? Are you still practicing? Judging by the photograph in this post it seems that back in 2014 I still had a long way to go too!! I’m still trying to improve my writing – it’s a never ending saga!

      1. Candice Coates

        AHAHAHA! NO WORRIES! Thank you for getting back to me today. It is a pleasant surprise 😀 as far as my lettering goes, I’ve had to put it away for a while as I focus on the things that I truly am a flame to do. I still enjoy seeing others grow and do amazing things with Calligraphy though. I do, however, own artist illustration nibs and may use those to draw with…we shall see. Thanks again and happy creating!

      2. Scarlet Post author

        Happy creating to you too, Candice! I had a look at your blog the other day – I really need to spend some more time there. It’s really grown!

  6. Pingback: An Error of Sorts…. | Wonky Words….

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