See below for info and tips on specific calligraphy tools and materials.
Pen-hold is dealt with on another page (including many entertaining and educational historical illustrations).
General calligraphy-supplies providers are a whole other page again!
And for calligraphy books: click here.
And (not to be forgotten) your body: your sitting position, the tension (or not) in your back, the freedom (or not) of your writing arm, where you place your weight on the writing surface, etc. Calligraphy traces movement in space and that movement is very much your own.
These four, plus the relationships between them, are the material ingredients of calligraphy.
Good light is another necessary ingredient for any sustained writing work.
This is optional, depending on your calligraphy script and nib:
I recommend you either invest in a proper adjustable desk-easel (or large bookstand) that can take a support made of heavy card or thin plywood, or, like many calligraphers, start with a drawing board propped in your lap and leaning against the edge of the desk.
Brands recommended for beginners typically include:
These all have slightly different qualities of hardness and ink-flow, so you'll still need to try a few before knowing for sure what suits you best. Firmer tips are easier to handle for beginners and also more suitable for a more formal, controlled style. Very flexible tips make it harder to get even thicks and thins, but can be more expressive for watercolour-style brush calligraphy.
And there are good brands and products other than the ones listed above. Check reviews on Amazon and elsewhere.
Check ink specs for lightfastness before choosing a brush-pen for any work which you want to last.
USA: Amazon, Dick Blick, Utrecht.
UK: Amazon, Jackson's Art Supplies.
(... plus pen-holders and clip-on reservoirs.)
Broad-edged dip-nibs are used for any traditional Western calligraphic script which would originally have been written with a broad-cut quill, including uncials, roundhands (Carolingian, Humanistic, English cursive), the gothic family of scripts, anglicana/secretary variants, and the various types of italics.
Different nib brands have different properties. Very generally, I've found the following:
Mitchell: quite flexible, useful all-rounders, usually manufactured without a built-in reservoir.
Brause: generally stiffer. Often manufactured with a built-in reservoir.
Leonardt: in between Mitchell and Brause for flexibility, often manufactured with a built-in reservoir.
I tend now to buy Mitchells from Jackson's or Cornelissen's in the UK.
Pilot Parallel pens are a fountain-pen version of the old 'automatic' pens, which themselves were a kind of adaptation of the dip pen to provide longer-lasting ink-flow while lettering large posters, etc.
Pilot Parallels have a rigid, folded, metal nib featuring multiple grooves for good ink-flow, and if turned at 90 degrees will write with the corner for fine lines.
They suit many people who like metal nibs but be warned: they are moderately hefty, and about as flexible as a shovel.
USA: Amazon, Dick Blick, Utrecht
UK: Amazon, Jackson's Arts Supplies
A calligraphy fountain pen may be easy to use, and handy to practise with as a beginner, but it doesn't give great artistic results.
A sort-of exception is the Pilot Parallel pen, which brings fountain-pen convenience to a broad, rigid, folded metal 'automatic-pen'-style nib, and which many calligraphers love.
Some 'calligraphic' or 'italic' fountain pens are stub nibs. These are 'semi-broad' nibs with rounded corners, designed to make your regular handwriting look more artistic and flourishy by giving it a bit of thick-and-thin contrast. Such pens come with only one nib which is quite narrow. They are not to be confused with fountain-type calligraphy pens which usually come with multiple exchangeable nibs of different widths with square corners.
If you do want a calligraphy fountain pen, get one with a refillable 'converter' reservoir as well as cartridges. Cartridge refills are how pen manufacturers make their money! By contrast, a pen with a piston-fill converter can be refilled again and again from an ink bottle, which also gives you some control over quality and colour of ink.
When you want to ease into things gently to begin with, calligraphy markers (Sharpie, Zig) are an OK option. If you get a good brand, they're lightfast and cost effective for shorter projects such as greetings cards or scrapbooking, especially if you treat them with a little care.
Inks range from gloopy to runny, washable to permanent, traditional walnut to contemporary fluorescent.
The particular ink you need depends partly on your own preferences but also very much on other factors in your writing: the type of paper you're working on, the calligraphy tools you are using to apply the ink with, what script you are writing, and whether you are working flat or on a sloping board.
In general, I'd recommend that you buy ink of somewhat better quality than you think your calligraphy needs (or deserves!). It helps.
India ink is basically carbon black (very fine soot), water, and gum. It clogs fountain pens. It is good for dip-pens and sometimes can be used to refill Pilot Parallel pens if you are willing to go off-piste.
If in doubt, Higgins is perfectly good as a standard practice ink for broad-nibbed calligraphy, and will do OK for minor finished pieces such as greetings cards, if you like using it.
USA: Amazon, Dick Blick, Utrecht
UK: Amazon, Jackson's Art Supplies
'Sumi' means 'ink' in Japanese, and refers to a similar type of drawing and calligraphy ink as Chinese stick ink. It is made of soot, collected from the smoke of burning pine or oil, mixed with animal glue and other ingredients. More on sumi here.
Liquid sumi or bokuju can be used for calligraphy but is considered inferior as an art material (a bit like children's poster paint).
There are very, very many 'Chinese calligraphy sets' for sale containing a collection of calligraphy tools purporting to represent the 'Four Treasures': brush, paper, stick-ink, ink-stone (for grinding the ink on). Most are of average quality at best, rather like fountain-pen calligraphy sets in the West.
Bear in mind that Chinese calligraphy is painted with very flexible brushes, and the best ink for such fluid brush calligraphy may not be the best for use with metal nibs. But you will learn more about what ink you do want by visiting somewhere like the Sunny Art Centre than you will by browsing the front pages of Amazon.
UK: Sunny Art Centre (Chinese calligraphy and art supplies), Cornelissen's, Jackson's.
Most artist's gouaches and watercolours make pretty good coloured ink diluted and used with a dip nib. Standard brands such as Schminke, Winsor & Newton, Sennelier, Old Holland can be found in any decent art supplier. Avoid very cheap brands. The good names offer better value for money (more concentrated colour and therefore longer-lasting tubes, better mixing and lightfastness).
Some traditional colours and dry pigments are less predictable for writing with. Gritty colours such as smalt or ruby will barely flow off a paintbrush let alone a nib.
Of course, any list of calligraphy supplies includes paint as paint, for ornament or illumination.
USA: Dick Blick, Utrecht (regular paints); Natural Pigments (traditional)
UK: Natural Pigments (UK), Wallace Seymour (formerly Pip Seymour), Atlantis, Cornelissen's, Jackson's.
Amazon is good for paper, usually in pads, up to A2, sometimes larger.
For very heavy paper and whole sheets, it's best to buy in person if you can. In the UK, I use Jackson's Art Supplies or Atlantis.
USA: Pergamena (vellum, parchment, goat, deer)
UK: William Cowley & Sons (vellum, parchment, goatskin, Kelmscott, all cut or in whole skins; might be worth asking them about scrap packs if you want to try some out more cheaply), Cornelissen's (cut vellum; Kelmscott vellum on request)
Most specialist suppliers that cover one aspect of gilding cover all of them. So the names below apart from Amazon are good for calligraphy supplies including:
UK: Gold Leaf Supplies (great range), Handover, Wright's of Lymm, Cornelissen's (I don't rate their waxed-paper transfer leaf, but the loose leaf is good and they do everything else well).
US: Natural Pigments and note UK suppliers will often deliver to the US.
You can find real gold leaf on Amazon (UK and US) if you look for 'genuine' or '23k' or 'edible' gold leaf. Not so easy to get the other gilding tools.
To begin with, assuming you're interested in broad-nib calligraphy, all you need is
To start with, you need:
Once you're prepared to commit, the next calligraphy tools carry you into the realm of gift calligraphy, greetings cards and (generally) your own written art:
You make a couple of birthday cards. You do a haiku in italics, and put it in a little gold frame, and it looks fantastic. Someone asks you to write out a name on a presentation certificate, and they're pleased with the result.
Now it starts getting a lot more fun. Suddenly, you can write calligraphy, and your calligraphy tools do make a difference! So, as soon as you find you want more, I recommend:
By now, you are doing things with calligraphy tools and materials that, to the casual observer, look quite specialised. If friends come round and see you writing, they'll say things like, "I never knew you could put the ink on the pen with a brush!" and "Wow, you write it so fast!"
Now that you know a little bit about your abilities, it's a good time to experiment again:
Pretty soon you may also find that you want more than calligraphy tools, because now you've got the gilding bug:
After that ... who knows? You may well be teaching page decoration in evening classes at the local college, or applying for membership of a prestigious lettering-and-penmanship organisation, or organising an exhibition of your own work, or too busy selling greetings cards to go shopping.
What I do know is that nowhere along the line do calligraphy tools stop being fascinating and desirable.
When you've exhausted your appetite for buying and using all the fancy calligraphy tools there are, you will find yourself, like a martial arts master, starting over again at the beginning of your art, but this time understanding it to a whole new level.
Back to the simplicity of paper, ink, and nib. And a calligrapher who really knows how to use them!
In general, I get my best results using:
Whatever you use, get your page, ink and nib (or equivalents) working in harmony. Experiment and adjust and troubleshoot until they all balance against each other for smooth, crisp lettering.
For example, more absorbent paper needs ink that's less runny, and flows slowly, so it won't soak in and spread. So if you want to write calligraphy on absorbent paper, you might use a different brand of ink, and work with your page held up at a steeper angle, and keep your strokes swift and sure.
A fountain pen requires thin ink and, because the pen mechanism controls the ink flow, it needs you to work closer to the horizontal, on less absorbent paper, and to move steadily.
And don't forget about the way you move!