Kick starting your calligraphy journey might get a little overwhelming when it comes to purchasing the right equipment. Today, I’ll be looking at dip nibs and the tools you’ll need for that, and we’ll leave brush pens for another day.
If you’re a self-taught calligrapher like me, there is much to learn! To be honest, up until a few months ago, I was still referring to the ink reservoir as the “thingy thing”. So, don’t be disheartened if there are still some terms that leave you scratching your head.
Ok, onto the tools you need to get started!
Which to buy – straight or oblique? Personally, I started off with the straight nib holder but I wish I had done so with the oblique! Reason being, I find that the oblique holder forces me to write in the proper posture although the learning curve can be rather steep. The result achieved by an oblique is naturally slanted to the Spencerian angle, giving your words an elegant and classic italics feel.
There’s no hard and fast rule on which to buy first, so I’d say the decision rests on your budget. Plastic ones are the most pocket friendly and then you have those made out of special woods such as Mahogany and Rosewood on the other end of the spectrum. What I suggest is get yourself something you can afford to start with. And once you get better at it, treat yourself to a handcrafted nib holder!
I’ve always been using Nikko G nibs and find them not only affordable but also stiff enough because I’m quite heavy handed. Others swear by Zebra G nibs, but I figured they don’t differ much. It’s probably a matter of which is available to you where you live.
As you progress, you might want to explore other nibs – tons of them in the market, easily hundreds of them! What I’ve learnt so far with the more specialised nibs is that you’ll only know if one suits you when you try it. As mentioned, I’m quite heavy handed so nibs that are more flexible don’t work well for me. But to begin with, the Nikko or Zebra G will suffice. They’re some of the mainstays for a reason.
Apart from nibs, I must say, I cannot live without an ink reservoir. It’s essentially this little mental attachment you slip onto your nib and allows it to hold more ink. Without an ink reservoir, some nibs won’t even function properly, and considering it only costs a couple of pence typically, get a few just in case.
Similar to nibs, the best inks vary according to personal preference. For the beginners, I’d say go with what you can find in your local stores. The beauty of using dip pens is that watercolour inks are an option to consider too.
Dr Ph Martin’s, Higgins, Winsor & Newton and Kuretake… There are so many brands out there! When you’re starting out, what matters most is your technique than the ink. So I’d suggest something affordable like Higgins or Speedball since you’ll be using tons of ink!
For me, I use Calli inks if I feel like working with a thicker ink or Noodler’s on the days when elegant and light are what I’m hoping to achieve. If you, or any friends have fountain pen inks, those will work too. Common examples include Diamine, Pilot Iroshizuku, the afore-mentioned Noodler’s, Private Reserve, Pelikan Edelstein, and etc.
While dipping your pen straight into your ink bottle works, an ink well makes diluting and colour mixing easier. I don’t use an ink well at the moment because I’m too lazy, but I guess I should! On the top of colour mixing – Try to only use inks that are advertised to be compatible for colour mixing, or else, only mix a small portion within the ink well.
Off the top of my head, Rhodia pads are the most commonly used practice pads for calligraphy because it’s perfect for dip and brush pens. They come in dot, lined or blank pads in various sizes, but I prefer the dotted ones for easy alignments.
At the moment, I’ve got stacks of Rhodia pads at home (we shipped them over when we relocated!) because Shaun swears by it and we use Clairefontaine as well. Some also highly recommend Daler Rowney’s calligraphy pads, which I’ve never tried but assume they should be good for dip pens.
Having said these, don’t rule out photocopy paper entirely because while most wouldn’t work well with calligraphy inks, some surprisingly do. Grab a piece or two whenever you can and try them out, you never know it might just hold the ink nicely!
That’s all I have for calligraphy with dip pens. Everything I’ve shared so far is based on my own experience. Any other suggestions or recommendations are definitely welcomed!