Calligraphy is an ancient craft that combines artistic expression with the practical skill of writing. Though more developed in some cultures than others, calligraphy is a universal visual art that continues today.
Practice is the basis of success in calligraphy. Simply engaging in this living art is rewarding no matter the final purpose. To further this meditative learning process, special calligraphy practice books have been created for students. Some of these books are artwork in themselves.
In this article, we’ll look at the main elements of a calligraphy practice book, and explain the important features you should consider when choosing one.
Calligraphy Practice Book 101
The first step in learning calligraphy is to practice the basic strokes. Before tackling complex designs, it’s important to gain muscle memory by repetition of the hand motions of a correct stroke. A competent, level-appropriate calligraphy practice book is one of the best tools to help you acquire the skill.
Balance between Instruction and Practice
Some calligraphy practice books have more instruction than others: their content can run from cheery pep-talks to theory-laden tomes. Some have a limited number of blank pages to write out the exercises, while others are basically notepads with pre-printed letters to copy.
Calligraphy practice wears out materials in such a complete and final way that students are expected to continually migrate to new materials. It’s normal to pair a blank or pre-printed pad with an instructional calligraphy practice book. Cost can become a factor, but there is great variance in prices … it pays to shop around.
To avoid disappointment, be sure to check these two key elements–instruction and practice pages–before choosing a book. You don’t want to buy a pad for practice and find most of it taken up with textual instruction, or vice versa.
Calligraphy Practice Book: Authentic or Faux?
As there is controversy in everything, so calligraphy has its own divide. Some consider the traditional dip pen calligraphy of medieval scripture to be the only true calligraphy, since it recalls the natural action of a quill. Others guffaw.
When artists achieve their artist expression using modern tools, such as gel pens and felt tips, it is called faux calligraphy. Many faux artists draw outlines and fill them in to match the venerable dip pen look.
However you believe, faux calligraphy is a vibrant, diverse art form which even accomplished calligraphers use on occasion. Even if you’re very experienced in dip pen work, faux calligraphy can offer a fun new challenge to stretch your skills.
Best Calligraphy Practice Books for Beginners
One great thing about calligraphy is that you can choose the styles you want to learn–but some fonts are especially good for beginners. Open, simple styles with clear stroke widths and easy-to-render letters are easier to practice with when starting out.
Remember to have fun. There are countless styles to learn and play with: it doesn’t make sense to spend time with one you dislike. If you’re just getting started with calligraphy, it’s especially important to enjoy yourself and avoid discouragement. If you don’t like the style, don’t get the book!
Calligraphy Practice Books – Reviews
Hand Lettering 101: An Introduction to the Art of Creative Lettering
This book by social media maven blogger Chalkfulloflove is a fun calligraphy practice book for newcomers. You don’t need prior skills or knowledge. It’s a pleasant way to get started in the art form or add another calligraphy experience to your portfolio.
The book uses the faux calligraphy style of the blog’s founder, which is based on the popular work she showcases. This workbook provides handheld guidance to forming each number and letter—both upper and lower case—and different ways to connect letters. Included are step-by-step directions for nine calligraphy projects, along with tips and ideas thrown in on the journey.
This book assumes you are a beginner, and provides demonstration letters with arrows showing where to place the pen and the direction of the stroke. It has ample space for practice, and the workbook is spiral-bound to lay flat for easy writing. The paper is thick enough to handle most ink without blotting.
Since this is a faux calligraphy practice book, hand-lettering is the subject: this means drawing a font outline and filling it in. This isn’t traditional calligraphy. There are two important questions to ask yourself before buying:
1) Are you interested in a faux calligraphy style? You won’t be practicing traditional calligraphy in this workbook: just one hand-lettered style. If hardcore, old-time calligraphy is your passion, this book may leave you cold. On the other hand, if you’re just starting out this book gives simple instructions about basic strokes and lets you to practice with writing tools you’re already comfortable with.
2) Do you like the style? Only you can answer this one. This book is an exploration of one style: if you don’t like it, this isn’t the book for you.
Overall, Hand Lettering 101: An Introduction to the Art of Creative Lettering is a popular (and well-marketed) faux calligraphy practice book. It’s a pretty book with a playful attitude, and might make a fun gift, but keep in mind you’re buying a lot of blank pages for the price of filled ones. The value of this book is both the step-by-step directions on the style presented, and the encouragement it gives to do more.
- Multiple arrows show each stroke
- Plenty of practice space
- Encouragement and guidance by an accessible blog writer
- Attractive cover with flat binding
- Only presents one style
- Cursory information
- Blue Star Premier
- Publisher: Blue Star Press
- Edition no. 0 (06/21/2016)
- Hardcover: 126 pages
Lettering and Modern Calligraphy: A Beginner’s Guide
This bestselling calligraphy practice book by Paper Peony Press is targeted to beginners who want to learn and rehearse basic alphabet styles of both Hand and Brush Lettering. The content is firmly focused on the basics, and has a friendly format that guides you through the process.
Five basic lettering styles are shown with both upper and lower case versions. Space is provided for practice, and each font is friendly and accessible.
The basic styles included are:
Brush Script – The workbook includes tips on using dip pens and brushes, and features this Brush Script font to highlight the skill. This style has the look of being written with a traditional pen or brush.
Hand Lettering – Also known as faux calligraphy or brush lettering, hand lettering is done by drawing the outline of a creatively-imagined stroke, and filling in the form to look like a brush was used. This is more of an effect than a calligraphy style, but it allows for a lot of artistic creation and is good to know about.
Sans Serif – The classic no-nonsense style is demonstrated and given space for practice. Comparative examples with other fonts and how this no-frills style can be used are included.
Serif – This is the “anything goes” style, but the book keeps a quiet selection. You’ll exercise the basic hand motions, including curved strokes, and practice proportion and the serif’s all-important connections.
Fun Sans Serif – A bonus style is thrown in to practice with. You’ll see how fonts can be modified for very different results: creativity isn’t limited to serif fonts and faux calligraphy.
The workbook also contains 15 lettering projects for applied practice. They are easy to grasp and fun to work on for most beginners, though the material won’t challenge advanced students.
One possible objection is the practice page quality, which lets some bleeding through with brush pens. If you have inky implements, beware.
There isn’t a lot of depth to the instructions—or breadth, either. You get some cursory background and a glance at font styles and writing tools … and it’s on to the lettering. You aren’t given full instructions there, either. An arrow shows where to start and in which direction, and you’re left to figure out the rest.
Lettering and Modern Calligraphy: A Beginner’s Guide is a basic calligraphy practice book that does the job of reinforcing skills and covering (some) basics. Advanced calligraphers will be disappointed if they expect more … even beginners may want more detailed instruction. With these caveats in mind, this is a simple, well-made calligraphy practice book that offers hours of practice in foundational fonts.
- Guided instruction to lettering
- Four basic styles and one bonus font
- Adequate practice space
- Heavy ink can bleed through
- No numbers
- Learn to letter and create beautiful designs with this beginner's guide and workbook!...
- At the end of this book, there are also 15 beautiful lettering projects to help you...
- Paper Peony Press
- Publisher: Paper Peony Press
- Paperback: 112 pages
Calligraphy & Hand Lettering Notepad: Beginner Practice Workbook
This calligraphy practice book from the Practice makes Perfect Series by Gray & Gold Publishing is more of a notepad than a textbook. Instead of instruction on calligraphy, the workbook provides pre-printed letters of different styles to copy.
Though this workbook is largely blank, it has two useful features.
A variety of lettering styles are used on the practice pages. This diverse selection lets you see and practice new fonts and gain exposure to a variety of forms.
The book uses three lettering guidelines: straight, slanted, and dotted. These guides assist your practice by providing consistent, correct placement marks for your strokes.
The workbook is useful for beginners practicing new skills, since you can exercise the basic strokes in different ways. The book is also useful to experienced calligraphers for practicing consistency, and for checking out new lettering ideas.
There aren’t any instructions—not even the little demonstration arrows that show the directions of the letter strokes. To be fair, many calligraphy practice books provide shallow information you can easily find online for free. This workbook doesn’t pretend: it’s a book for practice, not instruction.
There’s a bigger issue. The paper quality is mid-grade: it can blur and bleed through. You might get away with less watery inks; but, be aware that when the product claims it is an “all-media” practice pad, it’s just marketing. This may be a deal-killer if you plan on using heavy ink.
The Calligraphy & Hand Lettering Notepad is a nice workbook with some creative touches, and it makes a nice addition to your practice collection. The book is attractive and functional, and makes a great gift to the right person. Just realize it’s not really a beginner’s book and has no instructions … it’s simply a calligraphy practice book for all skill levels to exercise with. It’s best used as a supplement to an instructional text.
- Variety of styles
- Three guideline types: straight, angled, dotted
- Attractive design and hard front cover
- No instructions
- Heavy ink will bleed through
- Binding doesn’t lay flat
- Gray & Gold Publishing
- Publisher: Gray & Gold Publishing
- Paperback: 116 pages
Calligraphy is mainly about enjoyable practice. Not every stroke you make is going on a wall or brochure—and, if it were, it would only be because you’re a great master with more practice behind you than most people would consider doing.
Calligraphy practice books are excellent tools to keep you focused and progressing. Choose wisely by evaluating each book’s balance between instruction and blank practice pages, and by making sure you want to learn the styles it presents.
Finally, don’t forget the indefinable factor of great calligraphy practice books: they help you have fun!