The Complete Book of Calligraphy & Lettering: A comprehensive guide to more than 100 traditional calligraphy and hand-lettering techniques

The Complete Book of Calligraphy & Lettering: A comprehensive guide to more than 100 traditional calligraphy and hand-lettering techniques


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The Complete Book of Calligraphy & Lettering provides expert instruction on the intricacies of traditional lettering techniques, as well as an introduction to contemporary hand-lettering formats.

From selecting the appropriate tools, such as pens, nibs, brushes, inks, and papers, to learning optimal hand positioning and understanding the intricacies of lettering angles, heights, spacing, and strokes, The Complete Book of Calligraphy & Lettering will help lettering enthusiasts swiftly master their craft. 

Step-by-step lessons, practice templates, and a range of stunning alphabets demonstrate the breadth of artistic achievement that comes with practice and dedication. Four professional artists guide you through traditional calligraphy techniques, as well as an introduction to contemporary hand-lettering art forms, such as brush lettering and mixed media, for a well-rounded approach to the craft.

Additionally, a short section on Chinese brush lettering and several mixed media lettering projects inspire creativity and demonstrate how calligraphy and lettering can be used in wider artistic contexts and projects. Including practice templates for several featured alphabets in addition to mixed media "bonus" projects designed to inspire artistic creativity, The Complete Book of Calligraphy & Lettering will inspire lettering enthusiasts of all skill levels to strengthen their existing skills and delve into new, lesser-known variations of the trend.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781633225947
Publisher: Foster, Walter Publishing, Incorporated
Publication date: 09/25/2018
Series: Complete Book of ... Series
Edition description: Comprehens
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 455,216
Product dimensions: 9.30(w) x 12.10(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Cari Ferraro has been practicing calligraphy for over three decades. She has studied with many of the finest calligraphers teaching today, and taught broad pen calligraphy to children and adults. Her design business, Prose and Letters, has fulfilled calligraphy commissions for weddings, corporations, institutions, and individuals since 1982. She also maintains a website as an online portfolio and catalog of her cards, prints, books, and wedding certificates. Her calligraphic manuscript books are collected by individuals and libraries around the country. Her work has been featured in the magazines Victoria, Letter Arts Review, and Somerset Studio; the Calligrapher's Engagement Calendar; and several wedding books. Cari makes her home in Northern California.

The late Eugene Metcalf's natural talent in various art fields established him as a top calligrapher and designer. With a specialty in lettering design, Metcalf created logos for a variety of commercial applications. Of his more than 30 years in the commercial art industry, almost half of them were spent as art director and top designer for major outdoor advertising companies in the Los Angeles area.

The late Arthur Newhall had a unique and varied background in the lettering and graphic design fields. His work included type designing, theater lobby displays, movie titles, sign painting, advertising art, lettering for reproduction, and art for screen printing. He also worked as art director for an advertising agency. All of these disciplines added to the refinement of his calligraphy skills. A stickler for precision and style, Newhall was always prepared to help and guide both the novice and professional. He was one of the innovators of one of the most spectacular letter styles ever created—the Cartoon Casual—as well as a Modern Script of the 40s and 50s.

John Stevens is an internationally known calligrapher, designer, and lettering artist with 30 years of experience in the field. An art major and former musician, he found his true calling when he was introduced to lettering while apprenticing in a sign shop. John's prestigious client list includes Rolling Stone, Time, Reader's Digest, and Newsweek magazines; Pepsi; Atlantic Records; HBO; Lucasfilms; IBM; Disney; and many others.

Read an Excerpt




You have many choices when selecting writing tools for hand lettering. Pencils are often used for layout, but you can use a pointed brush, broadedged brush, pointed pen, broad pen, ruling pen, parallel pen, or markers for the letters. These tools can be used interchangeably, meaning that you can use the ruling pen instead of the pointed brush for a variation on any of the alphabets, depending on your skill level. Some tools have to be modified or prepared. Artists and craftsmen of the past did this routinely, but now we expect to go to the art supply store, remove a tool from its packaging, and have it work exactly the way we want it to.

Pens, brushes, and inks are not all created equal. There are no industry standards. Additionally, we each have our own preferences. Each tool has a cost-to-benefit ratio. You will be more comfortable with some than you will be with others. Experiment with different brands to discover your personal preferences.


Broad-Edged Pens

The broad-edged pen may be the easiest of lettering tools for beginners. It's popular because of the natural thick-and-thin ribbon it makes, which has been adapted to the Western alphabet. Broad-edged pens come in the form of dip pens for calligraphy, automatic pens for larger letters, and fountain pens. Broad-edged pens (sometimes called flat pens) can be used for many of the styles in this book; however, you may have to do a little manipulation with them to achieve some of the desired effects.

Pointed Pens

Pointed pens do not automatically produce thick and thin lines, but rather rely on pressure from the writer to produce variation in line weight. Pointed pens are made from different metals and have differing amounts of flexibility. Preferences vary, so you will have to try both. The White House employs calligraphers that use the pointed pen to create beautiful work for presidential affairs. It can also be used for informal work, but the downside is that it takes a lot of time to learn to control. Line weight variations depend on adding and releasing pressure, so the nibs have a tendency to catch on paper fibers and splatter. This pen requires patience.

Ruling Pens

This is a forgiving tool and can be quite fun. A ruling pen has a knob on its side that you can turn to move the blades closer together, which produces a thin line, or farther apart to increase the flow of ink. They create forms that seem random and free — the opposite of traditional calligraphy. You can vary the weight of line by changing from the side to the tip. It is a highly versatile tool, thus I recommend that you have several. You may purchase new ruling pens, but you can also find a variety of shapes and sizes in antique stores, as they used to be part of drafting sets. Ironically, ruling pens were designed to draw very precise lines, but now they are part of every calligrapher's tool kit as a tool that liberates and allows for experimentation. The downside is that you must learn to put the components together correctly or you could end up with a mess.


Pointed Brush

The pointed brush may be the most versatile lettering tool available. It comes in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and bristle lengths. Like the ruling pen, the pointed brush is a wonderfully expressive tool open to wide variation. The characteristic "brushmark" is highly desirable. You can create work that has interesting texture and line with little practice, yet it can be challenging to exert control and produce consistent work. Many people turn to this brush to create illustrations or logos just for the mark-making element, even though they plan to digitally manipulate the strokes.

Broad-Edged Brush

The broad-edged brush is a versatile tool that shares the comfort of the broad pen but is good for surfaces that are not pen friendly, like fabric or thin Japanese paper. It's also a good tool for creating large letters, especially on a wall. The downside is that it has a fairly high learning curve and is not ideal for beginners. Broad-edged brushes have a ferrule (the part of the brush that holds the bristles onto the handle) that is either flat or round.

Inks & Pigments

Inks and pigments fall roughly into dye-based, pigment-based, and carbon-based categories. Carbon and pigment come mixed with water and binder. Some are waterproof, but they use a binder that is not generally good for your tools, so be careful. Carbon-based inks are permanent and don't fade over time. You can also grind your own ink with an ink stone and a Chinese or Japanese ink stick. Higher quality produces better ink, and one ink stick can last for many years, so they are very economical. You can control the density and blackness with this method, and there are no harmful additives or shellac as there sometimes are in store-bought bottled inks. Dye-based inks should be used for practice because they are loose, which can lead to an interesting effect in writing. They will not clog your pen, but your work will fade over time.

Other pigments you might use are gouache, watercolor, and liquid acrylics. Gouache and watercolor are similar, although gouache is more opaque and dries to a velvet flat finish. Watercolors are transparent and are good when you want to see some variation in the color.


Nibs (also called "points") are writing tips that are inserted into the end of a pen holder. Nibs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, depending on the task they are designed to perform — each releases the ink differently for a unique line quality. For example, the italic nib has an angled tip for producing slanted letters, whereas the roundhand nibs feature flat tips for creating straight letters. Keep in mind that nib numbers can vary in size from brand to brand.


A reservoir (pictured at right) is a small metal piece that slides over the nib to help control the flow of ink from the nib for smooth writing. Each brand of nib will have its own particular reservoir.


The broad end of a pen holder has four metal prongs that secure the nib. The tool should be held like a pencil, but always make sure to hold it so that the rounded surface of the nib faces upward as you stroke.


Calligraphy pens are simpler than they appear. Their design is centuries old, and need not be improved upon. They consist of a handle, nib, and reservoir (which can be removed for easy cleaning). Most handles are a standard size, but it is a good idea to purchase your nibs and pen holder from the same manufacturer to ensure that they will fit.

Parts of the Pen Shown here are the three components needed to assemble the pen: the pen holder, the nib, and the reservoir. As indicated by the arrows, the nib slides into the pen holder, and the reservoir slips over the nib.

The Pen Holder The pen holder grips the nib with four metal prongs. These prongs are made of thin metal and can be manipulated to better hold the nibs after they warp from use. Gently press the prongs toward the outer ring of the pen holder for a tighter fit.

Inserting the Nib Slide the rounded end of the nib into the area between one of the metal prongs and the outer ring of the pen holder until it fits snugly and doesn't wobble. If your nib wiggles, remove it, rotate the pen holder a quarter turn, and slide in the nib. The pen at left shows the nib from beneath, and the pen on the right shows the nib from above.

Attaching the Reservoir The gold-colored reservoir slips over the nib, cupping the underside to create a "pocket" for the ink and touching the nib near the tip to control the ink flow (left). The two flaps of this piece slide over the sides of the nib, as shown on the right. (Note that the drawing nib comes with an attached reservoir.)



Right-handed scribes using a dip pen should place everything on the right; however, when filling a pen with a brush, your palette or ink should be on the left. Left-handed scribes should reverse the position of the materials.


To maintain your comfort level, take frequent breaks to relax your hands, back, and eyes. As you are lettering, move the paper from right to left to keep your working hand centered in front of your eyes. Clean your pen by dipping just the tip of the nib in water and wiping it dry, even if you're just stopping for a few minutes.


Tape a few sheets of blotter paper, newsprint, or paper towels to the board to form a cushion under the paper. This gives the pen some "spring" and will help you make better letters. You also can work on top of a pad of paper for extra cushion. To protect the paper, place a guard sheet under your lettering hand, or wear a white glove that has the thumb and first two fingers cut off. This protects the paper from oils in the skin, which resist ink.


A sloping board gives you a straight-on view of your work, reducing eye, neck, and shoulder strain. The work surface affects the flow of ink — on a slant, the ink flows onto the paper more slowly and controllably. To prevent drips during illumination, you will need to work on a relatively flat surface. Practice lettering at different angles.


Dip pens require a little preparation and maintenance, but when properly handled, they are long-lasting tools. Before you jump into writing, you'll need to learn how to assemble, load, manipulate, and clean a dip pen. Have a stack of scrap paper handy, and take time to become familiar with the unique character of the marks made by each nib.

Preparing New Pen Nibs New nibs are covered with a light coating of oil or lacquer and need preparation to make the ink or paint flow properly. Wash new nibs gently with soapy water, or pass the tip of the nib through a flame for a few seconds, as shown; then plunge it into cold water.

Adjusting the Reservoir After slipping the reservoir onto the nib, adjust it (using fingers or pliers) so that it's about 1/16" away from the tip (too close interferes with writing; too far away hinders the ink flow). If it's too tight, you'll see light through the slit while holding it up to a light source.

Understanding Pen Angle The angle of the flat end of the nib to a horizontal line is known as the "pen angle." It determines the thickness of the line as well as the slant of stroke ends and serifs (small strokes at the end of letters). For most lettering, you'll use an angle of 30 degrees to 45 degrees.

Loading the Pen It is best to use a brush or dropper to load the nib; if you dip your nib into the ink, you are more likely to start every stroke with a blob of ink. Regardless of how you load your pen, it's always a good idea to test your first strokes on scrap paper.


If you choose to dip the nib rather than load it with a brush, hold the nib against the side of the palette well (or ink bottle) to drain off the excess after dipping.

Making Even Strokes First get the ink flowing by stroking the pen from side to side, making its thinnest line, or by rocking it from side to side. Keep your eye on the speed and direction of the pen as you move it. Apply even pressure across the tip to give the stroke crisp edges on both sides.

Techniques for Left-Handed Scribes To achieve the correct pen angle, you can either move the paper to the left and keep your hand below the writing line or rotate the paper 90 degrees and write from top to bottom. (You'll smear the ink if you write with your hand above the writing line.)


Practice Basic Shapes Start by making simple marks as shown above, and keep the pen angle constant to create rhythm. Pull your strokes down; it is more difficult to push your strokes, and doing so may cause the ink to spray from the nib. Practice joining curved strokes at the thinnest part of the letter, placing your pen into the wet ink of the previous stroke to complete the shape.

Draw Decorative Marks Medieval scribes often used the same pen for lettering as they used to decorate the line endings and margins of their texts. The broad pen can be used like any other drawing tool; practice drawing a variety of shapes to learn more about the pen's unique qualities. For instance, turn the paper to create the row of heart-shaped marks.


This diagram will familiarize you with the terms used throughout the rest of the book. As you can see below, the various stroke curves and extensions of calligraphic lettering all have specific names — refer to this page when learning how to form each letter.

Below you'll also see the five basic guidelines (ascender line, descender line, waist line, baseline, and cap line), which will help you place your strokes. (See page 21 for more information on ruling guidelines.)


The term ductus refers to the direction and sequence of the strokes, which are indicated throughout with red arrows and numbers around the exemplars (or letter examples). Broad pen letters are formed with a series of separate strokes, so it's important to follow the recommended ductus while learning. However, with experience, you'll develop your own shortcuts to forming the letters.


The terms "uppercase" and "lowercase" come from the era of hand-set type, when individual metal letters were stored in shallow cases; therefore, these terms should not be used in calligraphy. It's better to use the terms "majuscules" (for uppercase letters) and "minuscules" (for lowercase letters). Also avoid using the term "font," which generally refers to computer-generated letters; when referring to different hand-lettered alphabets, use the term "style" or "hand."


No matter what your skill level, you'll usually need guidelines when doing calligraphy. Without these helpful marks, your writing can lose the rhythm, consistency, and visual alignment that make calligraphy so pleasing to the eye. Follow the steps below to prepare your writing surface with all the necessary guidelines. Remember that you can easily erase light pencil lines when finished, removing any trace of them from your completed work.

Make a Paper Ruler On a small piece of paper, mark a series of short pen-width lines, as shown. Turn the pen 90 degrees and begin at the base line, forming a set of stacked squares. Using the pen width as the unit of measurement will keep your letter height in proportion with the line thickness. Each practice alphabet has a designated pen width (p.w.) height, indicating the number of squares needed.

Mark the Guidelines Place the paper ruler along the edge of your paper and use it to position horizontal guidelines across the paper. A T-square is easier to use than a regular ruler, as you can draw guidelines that are perfectly perpendicular to the vertical edge of your paper. Mark the baseline, waist line, ascender line, descender line, and cap line (if working with majuscules).


• Warm up your arm and hand first to gain a sense of control, and remember to take frequent breaks.

• Begin each exercise with the largest nib; this makes it easier to see the contrast between thick and thin strokes created by the broad pen.

• Use smooth, lightweight, translucent paper with a sheet of guidelines placed beneath it for practice.

• Choose the lettering style you like best to practice first. The examples in this section are some of the easiest to learn and require the least pen manipulation or twisting of the pen holder.

• Practice lettering and establishing a rhythm by writing an o or n between each letter. As soon as you feel comfortable forming letters, start writing whole words.

• Directly trace the letter shapes using a scan or photocopy to practice; this is helpful for beginners and may help you better understand pen angle. Each style page (pages 44-65) indicates at what percentage the letters have been reproduced. Simply enlarge the letters to 100% on a photocopier for tracing purposes. (For example, if the letters are at 75%, divide 100 by 75. When you get the answer — 1.33 — convert this to a percentage [133%] and copy your letters at this size.)

• Calligraphy, like dance or yoga, requires practice to achieve grace and flow. Relax and enjoy a peaceful time as you train your hand to shape each letter.


Excerpted from "The Complete Book of Calligraphy & Lettering"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc..
Excerpted by permission of The Quarto Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Calligraphy: A Brief History, 6,
Chapter 1: Introduction to Calligraphy, 10,
Chapter 2: Basic Calligraphy Styles, 22,
Chapter 3: Traditional Alphabets, 40,
Chapter 4: Illuminated Calligraphy, 68,
Chapter 5: Contemporary Calligraphy, 96,
Chapter 6: Flourishes & Embellishments, 140,
Chapter 7: Illustrated by Hand, 156,
Chapter 8: Chalk Lettering, 190,
Chapter 9: Lettering Arts & Crafts, 222,

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