How To Create Calligraphy with Just A Pencil
Yes you read that correctly! Calligraphy tools have been simplified to what you have around the house.
There’s no need to buy fancy pens and paper to start learning to write beautiful letters, you can create calligraphy with just a pencil. This makes it SO easy to get started and practice your basic strokes no matter where you are.
So if you have a pencil, and some paper you are fully equipped to learn. Let’s get started!
Disclaimer: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. This means that your purchase through these links may give me a small commission but won’t cost you a cent more. That being said, I will never suggest supplies that I do not fully recommend.
What You Will Need For Pencil Calligraphy
A Soft Lead Pencil
Not all pencils are the same. Pencils that are labelled 2B, 3B, 4B, 5B or 6B are perfect for pencil calligraphy as these have softer graphite sticks (aka lead) and the softer, the better. You will see why soon.
I also try avoid making the lead too sharp, this might be a personal preference though! I find it makes the downstrokes a little darker.
Lined or Dotted Paper
Any paper is perfectly adequate for this task, although very shiny coated paper may not work as well.
For calligraphy I love dotted paper so Rhodia Dotted Notebooks are always a winner. This way I don’t have to rule up any lines myself, and Rhodia paper is a favourite among calligraphers.
I also have a whole other post dedicated to quality paper for calligraphy puposes if you want more detail and a few other options.
Brush Calligraphy & Pencil Calligraphy Share Commonalities
Since pencil calligraphy is a lot like regular calligrahy, you can learn the same rules and fundamentals and apply them with your pencil.
When you apply pressure to a pencil (with one of the softer leads as mentioned earlier) you can get nice thick, dark stroke. This is really similar to a brush pen, or a pointed pen.Brush pens have flexible nibs which give a thick stroke when pressure is applied. Similarly, a pointed pen’s flanges get separated when pressure is applied which allows it to release a thicker line of ink onto the page.
Another way that brush calligraphy & pencil calligraphy are similar is the one fundamental rule that is necessary in both.
The Fundamental Rule In Both Pencil Calligraphy & Brush Calligraphy:
In regular calligraphy every single sentence, word and letter is broken down into what we call the basic strokes of the pen. These strokes are essentially just movements of the pen on the page.
The Thick Down, Thin Up rule is an easy way to remember that each time your pencil moves towards the bottom of the page, pressure is applied on the pencil to create a thicker mark on the page.
Whenever the pencil moves towards the top of the page, the pressure is limited and the stroke that’s created is thin and soft.
If you remember this one rule when learning calligraphy, the basic strokes will become easier to learn.
The Basic Calligraphy Strokes:With A Pencil
I’m going to run through each stroke briefly here. If you would like more information on these strokes then make sure you check out these three posts on basic strokes:
Basic Calligraphy Strokes One: The Thick Downstroke
So this stroke is simply made at full pressure, going from the top line (ascender line) to the baseline.
The goal (when using a brush pen) is to create the same thickness the whole way down the single stroke, and also have the same thickness for each downstroke you create.
Creating this stroke would prove to be easier as you don’t have a soft and flexible nib to deal with. You just need to learn to apply the same pressure the whole way down.
Basic Calligraphy Strokes: The Thin Upstroke
This one proves to be a little bit tricker to conquer than the downstroke, because it’s easeer to apply the same amount of pressure when it’s heavy.
It’s difficult to have good control when limiting the amount of pressure, and trying to do a thin line the whole way up.
This line goes from the baseline up to the ascender line. The goal again is to have this stroke the same thinness the whole way up, as well as having each thin stroke you create to be the same thinness as each other.
Basic Calligraphy Strokes: The Underturn
Think of an underturn as a little u shape. It’s used in letters like u and w.
Starting at the baseline we create a full pressure thick stroke downtowards the baseline. As we reach it, begin to curve the pencil around to the right and release the pressure to get a thin pencil stroke.
So after you create the base of the undeturn in a thin stroke, pull it upward to the waistline again, parallel with the original downstroke.
Once you reach the waistline you can lift your pencil and you are done.
Basic Calligraphy Strokes: The Overturn
The overturn is used in letters such as m, n and h.
Start with your pencil on the baseline and create a thin upstroke up to the waistline. As you reach the waistline, curve the stroke around to the right.
Immediately after you have finished the curve, increase the pressure and head down towards the baseline again, parallel to the original stroke. Once you get to the baseline again you can lift your pencil and you’re done.
Basic Calligraphy Strokes: The Oval & Reverse Oval
These strokes are really similar to each other expect one is going clockwise (the reverse oval) and the other is going anti-clockwise (the oval).
The Oval starts on the right side of the stroke, between the baseline and the waistline. Using a thin stroke, move the pencil up towards the waistline. When you’re nearly there, move the stroke in an anti-clockwise motion.
After you have touched the waistline, continue around and down as you transition into a thick downstoke. After you have transitioned to the thick downstroke continue anti-clockwise to the baseline.
As you are hitting the baseline transition slowly again to a thin upstroke to go around the base of the oval, as well as up towards the beginning point.
Join the two points together and you’re finished with the oval stroke.
The oval stroke is used in letters like a, d and g.
The reverse oval stroke is similar, but opposite.
Here we start on the left side, once again between the baseline and the waistline.
Starting with a thin stroke we move the pencil in a clockwise motion up towards the waistline. After we have reached the waistline we transition to a thick downstroke to move down (still clockwise) towards the baseline.
Before we reach the baseline we gently transition back to a thin soft stroke, and we curve around on the baseline and up towards the starting point. We connect the circle and you’re done.
The reverse oval stroke is a stroke that didn’t exist in traditional calligraphy but it has been created to help with practicing a modern b and a modern p.
Basic Calligraphy Strokes: The Ascender
The ascender creates the tall parts of letters such as d, h, l and b. The curvy part is not necessary, but it definitely is pretty.
The goal of the ascender is to create an elogated loop attached to a basic downstroke. So we start at the waistline and create the loop first.
Place the pen at the waistline and curve it up and to the right, towards the ascender line. As you reach the ascender line you will need to curve the pencil around to the left and then start heading down the line.
As you begin to descend you will need to change to a full pressure downstroke. This downstroke should intersect with the very starting point of the ascender stroke.
When you reach the baseline you are done!
Basic Calligraphy Strokes: The Descender
The descender creates the tail of letters like g and j.
Start at the waistline and head down with a full pressure stroke past the baseline and towards the descender line.
Just before reaching the descender line curve around to the left and back up towards the baseline. Right after you start curving upwards you will need to transition to a thin upstroke.
The upstroke will finish when it touches the thick downstroke at the baseline.
Basic Calligraphy Strokes: The Compound Curve
The compound curve won’t be as difficult as it sounds if you have practiced some of the other strokes first. It’s a mix of the underturn and overturn stroke.
Begin with the pencil on the baseline and head up with a thin stroke towards the waistline. As you would the overturn, curve around to the right at the baseline and start a thick stroke down towards the baseline.
Similar to the underturn, as you reach the baseline curve around again to the right and start a thin stroke up towards the waistline.
Aim to have all three lines parallel to each other. Once you reach the waistline you are done!
This stroke is found in letters like m, h, & n.
Extra Calligraphy Strokes: The Exit Stroke
This is a stroke that is commonly used in joining letters like o, w and v to the next letter but it is also used in this modern variation of the letter r.
It starts on various parts of the lines depending on which letter you are using it for.
It is a quick and short downstroke, instantly curving around to the right and creating a thin stroke to the next letter, or the next part of the letter r.
That’s it! There’s all the basic strokes. Now we will chat about putting them all together which is another fundamental part of pencil calligraphy.
Next Steps: Putting The Strokes Together
The next step of pencil-ligraphy is putting all the strokes together to create letters, and then words.
This next image demonstrates each letter of a fairly modern alphabet broken down into individual strokes of the pencil which we just learnt.
As you can see there are a few letters that go through a variation of the stroke rather than just the basic stroke as is (such as k & z).
This is partially due to the fact that this is a modern alphabet, which is using some of the traditional copperplate calligraphy’s rules of basic strokes. It’s all been modernised to suit today’s hobbyists and creatives.
Some of the traditional letters use different strokes to create them:
In modern calligraphy, we alter a few letters to suit writing in todays time, which is why some of the letters use a different variation of some of the strokes.
The good news is: if you practice the basic strokes mentioned earlier, you will still be able to create all the letters and their variations beautifully. The strokes give you the skills and the muscle memory to apply it to all the variations.
The entire alphabet is too long to explain each individual letter and how to write it here in this post, and it is also easier to practice it yourself with worksheets.
We do have a resource library, which has traceable worksheets to help guide you through a simple version of each letter.
If you haven’t already gained access to the worksheets make sure you pop your details in the form below. Otherwise you can head to the resource library now.
Gain Access To The Calligraphy Resource Library:
That’s it guys! That’s the first steps to pencil calligraphy. If you want to have a look at some of the later steps, checkout the “Related Articles” section below to increase your calligraphy knowledge and skills.
Otherwise, leave a comment and let me know what you think.
Until next time, keep creating!