For this week’s guest designer blog, modern calligrapher Vera Silva – aka The Preposterous Pigeon – discusses the most powerful tool available to any would-be calligrapher
When someone starts their calligraphy journey, they usually go on a shopping spree, buying all the beautiful pens, and paper they can find. I know, because I did that too! When I decided I wanted to learn modern calligraphy (a term not very common at the time), I tried to do it by myself, and ended up buying the wrong pens for what I wanted. It never occurred to me that I already had some tools at home that I could use. It was only after I was well into my journey that I realised my pencils were my biggest allies.
Currently, I have an ever-increasing collection of pens, watercolours, paintbrushes, nibs, inks, I could go on… But the tool that is most invaluable to me is a pencil! It’s something we all have at home, it is inexpensive (although some good pencils are quite an investment, in terms of price), and it is a calligrapher’s best friend! It is, in my humble opinion, the most underrated, and powerful tool in your calligraphy stash!
It’s all in the practice
If you ask anyone what the secret to learning calligraphy is, everyone will tell you that it is practice, practice, and more practice. And it is quite true. Consistent practise helps you build muscle memory, which is very important in calligraphy. All this practise can become quite expensive if you use your pens, and inks all the time. So why not try it with a pencil? In the beginning, it is much easier, not to mention cost effective, to just pick up a pencil, and practise joining the strokes to form the letters. It is a brilliant way to practise the letter shapes.
We all use pencils, so there is no need to spend time getting familiarised with how they work. You can just start writing to your heart’s content straight away. Not to mention that you can always erase any errors or parts that you don’t like and want to improve. Unfortunately, we can’t do that with ink!
I know many of you want to jump right into the amazing effects that the pens make, like the thin and thick strokes, the blending, the shading, but if you start by focusing on your letter shapes, and become familiarised with them first, then you can move on confidently with getting to know all the pens that you have been collecting.
The drafting process
It is quite common to see posts on Instagram of calligraphers and letterers showing off their pencil drafts. This is because a pencil is mostly used in calligraphy when it is time to design a composition. The process of creating a calligraphy or lettering piece always begins with a pencil draft, so you can make any adjustments before getting your pens out. You can experiment with different spacing and different slants, and you can try your design in different styles, before committing to a final composition. Once you have decided on how you want your design to look, you can use the pencil draft with a lightbox – they are quite affordable, and readily available, these days – to create your final piece.
Later on, when you are more confident in your skills, you might feel inclined to try, and add some flourishes to your words, and designs. Guess what the best tool for experimenting with flourishes is? Yes, that’s right, a pencil (and eraser, of course)! I started my flourishing journey armed with a pencil, an eraser, and a notebook. I am still learning (aren’t we all?), but I get the most pleasure, and the best results, when I study, and attempt the different flourishing possibilities with a pencil.
Just give it a go, and see what you think. You can still buy all the pens you want, just remember to keep your pencils close by. They can be really handy!
Vera Silva is a regular contributor to Simply Lettering. You can find a quote card project from Vera on p63 of issue.
Follow Vera on Instagram at @the_preposterous_pigeon