A Fast Way to Make Hand Lettering Interesting

You will need any kind of a pen that makes a good broad stroke in one direction and makes a thin stroke in the other direction.  See the illustration for an idea about the kind of marks a chisel point calligraphy pen can make. 

It makes thin strokes in 
the other direction Pens having a flat tip can make a thick stroke in one direction

and thin in another.

Felt tips are the most convenient . . . you don't need to do anything special to start writing, they just "go" when you take the cap off.  Felt tips come with either permanent ink or water-soluble ink.  I like to keep one at my desk for the people that drop in and want a certificate lettered on the spur of the moment. The felt tip pen is disposable when the ink runs out.

Fountain pens are also convenient, they go with very little coaxing and only need refilling every once-in-awhile.  But be careful of taking a fountain pen out when a storm is coming up or if you are flying in an airplane: many fountain pens do not do well under low air pressure and will leak ink through the point and onto your nice paper or even onto your clothes.  I still have my first calligraphy fountain pen from 30 years ago which uses water-soluble ink drawn in by suction and has changeable calligraphy tips.  With care these pens keep going a long time! Be sure to disassemble and clean the pen periodically, making sure all the parts are dry and free of caked-on ink before reassembly.

Steel points need to have a half-a-drop of ink fed to them out of an eye dropper every couple of words or so.  I put the dropper between the brass and silver steel and squeeze a little ink between the two metal pieces without completely filling the space. One advantage to steel points is that with practice, you can get very fine detail and hard edges to your lettering and the inks you use in them can be permanent. I use these pens the most and so I need to get new tips every little while.  It's easy to change tips when I want to change between large letters and small letters. However it is inconvenient to change tips frequently if the project needs a lot of changes between lettering sizes. Be sure to keep a jar of water near the project with a drying towel to clean the pen frequently. See the separate discussion about getting the ink flow started with these pens.

Or, you could get a feather at the bank of a duck pond, leave it in the sun to dry. Then cut it with a pen knife at an oblique angle near the pointed end and shape a point. Quills make excellent pens.

It's also possible to practice with a chisel-sharpened pencil! Try sharpening the point of a pencil on two sides instead of a round conical shape. The result will be a triangle, or "A" shape, when viewed in one direction and a "D" shape when turned 90 degrees. Try a fine grit sand paper on a soft lead pencil, such as a #2, an HB or a B, working first on one side at an angle to the lead. Then turn the pencil over and sharpen the other side of the chisel at a similar angle to the lead. Keep the sand paper handy and resharpen every few words.


Take some lined notebook paper and fill it with vertical and horizontal lines. When you first try this exercise, use two or three notebook paper lines in height for each vertical stroke. Make a similar length line for a series of horizontal strokes. To begin each stroke, set the pen on the paper, make a smooth straight stroke to the end of the line and finally lift the pen off the paper. Hold the pen at a constant angle pointed at one shoulder or straight at you while making each mark. Hold the pen as you would normally write: comfortably and not too tightly. Eg: | | | | | =_=_=_=_=_=

Take some lined notebook paper and fill it with diagonal lines. Eg: ///// \\\\\

Take some lined notebook paper and fill it with curves and circles. Concentrate on forward and backward crescent moon shapes made with one stroke of the pen. ((( ))) Then form a series of "O" shapes by combining a left curve "(" with a right curve ")".

Copyright 2001, Charles McGavren