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First strokes of brush calligraphy

— An article about: - Brush - Calligraphy - Practice

Whether with an actual brush or a brush pen, brush calligraphy is very versatile. It can be used to get a wide range of styles. You can make letters thick or thin, contrasted or not, with more or less texture… Great for exploring quickly different directions at the start of the project before refining the details by tracing over it. Here are a few pointers to get started.

Press down, lift up.

This is what’s at the core of brush calligraphy. While following the shape of the letters, pressing the pen harder on paper when going down and releasing the pressure when going up is what gives a nice contrast to the strokes and consistency to the words. The harder you press when going down, the thicker the letters will be. And equally, the bigger the difference of pressure, the more contrast there will be between the down strokes and the up strokes.

The first strokes

Most letters are built using a combination of a very little set of strokes. They’re a good starting point to get practicing.

  1. Downward stroke (for example, the start of ‘m’,’n’ or ‘r’). Going down, so putting pressure on the paper. Letters are most often slanted, leaning to the right. Depending on the style you want to give the letters, the angle will vary. What will be important is keeping this angle consistent from one stroke to another, as well as the width of the stroke.
  2. Upward stroke (the start of a second type of ‘r’). Going up, you’ll want to put less pressure to get a nice contrast with the downward strokes. How little pressure is up to how contrasted you’d want the letters to be. The brush still needs to leave ink on the paper though 😉
  3. Downward to upward (‘i’, ‘l’, ‘t’s, but also ‘u’s). A combination of the two previous strokes. As you get to the bottom of the downward stroke and turn upwards, you want to release the pressure gradually to get a nice transition between the thick and thin.
  4. Upward to downward (the rest of the ‘m’ or ‘n’). The opposite of the previous stroke. It works pretty much the same, except you gradually increase, rather than decrease, the pressure while you get to the top of the stroke and turn downwards.

Want to try your hand at it? Grab a rounded brush, a brush pen (the harder the tip, the easier to get started in my experience) or just any pen that would make thicker strokes the more you press, print this empty lined worksheet and you can start practicing your first strokes.

A first word

Lines or strokes aren’t really the aim. Goal is to write letters & words. Good thing is, with these 4 first strokes, you can already get writing. The word ‘minimum’ is great to practice without doing lines and lines of strokes. The added challenge here will be spacing. As with the thickness and contrast of the strokes, it’s up to you to play with it, but it’s important it’s consistent:

  • that the ‘m’, ‘n’ and ‘u’ have a similar spacing inside them
  • that the letters have an even space around them.

More letters

Not all letters are made of “vertical” strokes, though. To draw a full alphabet, there’ll be a couple more strokes we need.

  1. “Circular” strokes. They will help make ‘o’s, of course. And halves of the stroke will help draw ‘a’. ‘c’, ‘e’s and the bowls of ‘d’, ‘g’ & ‘q’, and ‘p’ & ‘b’. How circular depends on how wide your letters are. In most cases, you’ll want an ellipsis, more high than wide and slanted so it matches the other letters.
  2. Loop strokes. Up then down for letters like ‘b’, ‘h’, ‘k’ & ‘l’, and down then up for for ‘g’, ‘j’ & ‘y’. The method is the same as for the up to down/down to up strokes above. As you start turning, you’ll need to start increasing/decreasing the pressure to transition gradually from thick to thin.

Letters, words, and beyond

Combining all these strokes, you can attack writing various lowecase letters and start combining them into the words of your choosing. This other worksheet references all the lowercase letters to give you a starting point.

From there, it’s all about practice: write lots of letters and words. If you identify letters or combinations of letters that aren’t as the others, a line or two repeating those or writing lots of words containing them will be a good help improving.

Actually it’s not all about practice. It’s also about experimenting. With the size, the shapes, the curves, how thick, textured, contrasted, aligned you make the letters, try things out and see how they make the letter feel different. The internet is also full of references to study. Play around, have fun with it. And if you have any question, feel free to contact me and ask.