How to be a calligrapher (even if your handwriting is terrible)

Teacher: Lauren Cooper

From: Kent

Lesson: An introduction to modern calligraphy

It’s rare to write anything by hand these days. The only times when it’s really essential are when writing Birthday or Christmas cards – times when it’s important to write neatly. Unfortunately for us, our handwriting hasn’t changed since we were finally granted permission to use real pens (and only barely) in primary school. So, while we were excited about the prospect of being able to up our handwriting game, we were almost certain that calligraphy would be beyond us.

Calligraphy is more like art than handwriting. It’s done much more slowly, and when provided with templates to follow it’s just a matter of patience and keeping a steady hand. Lauren explained the basics of how to hold the pen, how much pressure to apply on both the up and down strokes and how to join up letters, then we were away. We practised each letter of the alphabet over and over until we were happy, and then started join them up to create full words.

Lauren teaching Alice, Nick and Matt from teach us, calligraphy

Teach us calligraphy

After just half an hour’s practice, we were all getting the hang of it. As has been a common theme with these lessons, we amazed ourselves at how easily we could achieve something that wasn’t actually half bad. Most of our success was down to Lauren, of course, who supported us with her friendly and encouraging manner throughout the lesson. When we’d filled pages and pages with gloriously crafted letters, and our hands were beginning to ache, we spoke to the lovely Lauren to find out how she’s made a business out of her passion, and why everyone should give her calligraphy workshops a go.

Lauren Cooper from Oh Wonder Calligraphy

What have you been teaching us today?

I’ve given you an introduction to modern calligraphy.

Can you tell us one interesting fact about calligraphy that people might not know?

There are loads of different nibs and they all vary in flexibility, so they appeal to different users. Each nib creates a different effect – slightly thicker downstrokes or slightly thinner upstrokes.
We’ve been using Nikko G nib, which is an inflexible Japanese nib that’s great for beginners and those who haven’t yet developed a very steady hand.

What level are you at as a calligrapher?

Well, I do it as my job so I’d say I’m a professional calligrapher. This being said, there is definitely room for improvement and I’ve been really working on getting better over the last few months.

How did you get into it?

About four years ago, I decided that I’d like to design wedding invitations. I can’t draw or paint, but wanted to give them some sort of artistic flare, so tried calligraphy. I really enjoyed practising, and knew pretty immediately that it was going to be my thing.

What do you like most about calligraphy?

I find it really relaxing and expressive. I think that, the hand written quality of it is quite romantic, especially when it comes to weddings. I also like that everyone’s calligraphy is just a little bit different and has its own personality, just like hand writing. Even though I have my own style and it’s pretty perfected now, I can still write a word 20 times and produce 20 ever-so slightly different results. This means that I can still add a personal touch to the work that I produce for other people.

Has anyone else inspired you along your calligraphy journey?

I wouldn’t say there’s been one person in particular. I follow a lot of calligraphers in America, because it was much bigger over there than here when it first started. I look specifically for fine art calligraphers who often tend to be artists as well. When art and calligraphy combine, I think it’s just amazing and so beautiful.

How do you advertise your classes?

I share my work mainly through Instagram, so that’s how I do most of my networking. I am quite a visual person as well so i enjoy instagram and looking at other peoples work on there, so that’s my main way. I have a website as well, but a lot of my new stuff goes on instagram first.

What’s the piece you’ve made that you’re most proud of?

I’m really proud of my stationery line, because it’s something i wanted to do for a really long time. I’m obsessed with stationary, so it was really fun to do some myself and see the finished product. I also wrote a letter to my dad for his 60th birthday which was the longest piece I’d written in one go and it turned out pretty well.

Have you done much teaching?

I started in the summer and I’ve done probably six or seven private workshops at my house since then, plus one group workshop. I have two or three coming up in next few months.

Do you like teaching?

I really, really like it. Actually, I like it a lot more than I thought I would. When I was learning there weren’t any workshops in London or anything and I found out most of what I know through following people on Instagram. I struggled knowing what ink, nibs and paper to use by not having that personal connection to my teachers, and it’s nice to be able to help others over the first potential stumbling blocks and encourage them to make more of this hobby.

What advice would you give to new learners? And what are some of the most common mistakes?

Practise. Do your drills – it makes all the difference. Try not to go too fast. It’s a craft that requires time and patience. A lot of people assume it’s just like handwriting, but it’s so much more artistic.

Sausage dog / calligraphy expert

How long would it take us to get to your level?

Now I run this business, I practise every day. But even when I was just a hobbyist, I practised a couple of times a week – either by writing birthday cards or doing pages and pages of drills.

Did you enjoy teaching us?

I did. I thought it was lots of fun, and you were all actually pretty good!

Who’s the most skilled person you know?

A girl called Harriet De Winton who’s the most amazing artist and wedding stationer. Her modern calligraphy is just incredible.

Is there another skill you wish you had?

I wish I could draw plants! I loved art at school and what I do now is artistic to a certain extent, but I’d love to be able to use watercolours properly.

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The teach us trio with Lauren Cooper from Oh Wonder Calligraphy

Lauren Cooper from Oh Wonder Calligraphy

What we learned

  • In order to get the desired results, you need to push hard on the downstrokes and lightly on the upstrokes
  • To control the nib and the flow of ink, your arm and hand must move together (tricky to get used to at first)
  • Even those with bad handwriting can be successful calligraphers