How to Prepare for Drill Exercises

Learning copperplate requires careful study and practice.  Drill exercises are a great way to put your studies into practice.

In my previous blog, I told you what drills were and gave you 3 reasons why you should do them.   In this post, I’ll help you prepare for the drill exercises that we’ll be doing together over the next few posts.

Let’s get ready!

To prepare for drills, here’s what you’ll need:

1. Focus Time

To get the most out of your practice sessions, you need to be 100% focused on the task at hand.  To do this, you’ll need to dedicate a set amount of time to practice.

Think about how much time you’d like to set aside for practice and how often you want to do it.  Maybe 15-20 minutes Monday to Friday or 30 minutes 3-4 times a week?  Whatever you decide,  stick with it.  Mark your calendar.


This was my schedule over the summer.  Nowadays, I practice for 20-30 minutes every other day or so — or when I can.

Designate a workspace in your home where you can practice comfortably, free from distractions.  If you can, try to schedule your practice time around the same time for each session.

Even if you only have 10-15 minutes to practice, make every minute count!

Read more about how to optimize your practice time.

2. the right MATERIALS

Practicing with the right materials is really important.

Can you imagine training for 10k marathon wearing combat boots, a business suit, and a beach hat?  Sure, it’s doable; but it probably would yield the same results as training in proper gear.

Most of the frustration I had when I was just starting to learn calligraphy was because I was using the wrong materials — I’ll save that story for another day!

Here are some things that I recommend for drill exercises:

Beginner-Friendly NiBs

My favorites are the Brause 361 (“Blue Pumpkin”) and the Zebra G nib.  They’re smooth on upstrokes and make squaring tops and bottoms of stems easy.  Once you get the hang of your strokes, you can try using sharper and more flexible nibs.

Read more about my favorite nibs.



I highly recommend using an oblique penholder.  If you’re a lefty, a straight penholder would probably work best for you.

Sharisse De Leon, a fellow pointed pen and brush calligrapher, has some great tips for lefties on her blog.

Black Ink

Black ink is ideal for drill exercises because it’s easy to see.  My favorite black ink is the Kuretake Sumi Ink from

Lined Paper

Two kinds of lined paper (top) and 2 kinds of guide sheets that I use (bottom).

I highly recommend practicing your drills on white lined paper so you have definitive lines for reference.  I suggest practicing drills with 7-10mm x-heights, at least in the beginning.  If you use the Rhodia bloc paper like I do, double the blocks to create an x-height of 10mm.

Guide Sheet

If your paper doesn’t already have the 52-55° slant lines, you’ll definitely need a guide sheet with the appropriate slant to slip under your practice paper.  This will help you to practice your strokes at the correct angle.  You can find printable guide sheets at and


You’ll absolutely need an exemplar for reference.  How else will you know how to draw something if you don’t know what it looks like?

There are many resources available online.  I love the exemplars from Dr. Joe Vitolo’s website  Find a style that you like, print it out, study it, and use it as a reference.


Alright.  So you’re all set.  You’ve set aside some quiet time and you’ve got all of your supplies.  Now what?

Start with the basics.  Study your exemplar and practice one stroke at a time.

And I mean really study them.  Take notes.


Here’s what my printed exemplar looks like.

Study the exemplar.  What do the individual strokes look like?  How do they curve and when does it curve?  When does the shade begin to taper off?  When does it straighten out? etc.

When you practice, draw each stroke slowly and carefully.  Try your best to draw them as close to your example as you can.

After a couple of lines.  Stop and examine your work.  Critique it.  Make note of how you can improve.  Continue on to the next line of drills, implementing the critiques you made on the previous lines.


Critique your own work. Make note of the things that went well and things you need improvement.

Take it slow.  Start with the basic strokes.

Study the basic strokes one at a time — which is what we’ll be doing over the next few weeks.  Afterwards, we’ll work our way to joining the individual strokes to form letterforms.


Be sure to hang on to some of your practice sheets so you can keep track of your progress.  Put a date on them.  Aim for progress with each practice.


A comparison of one of my very first drill exercises from February 2015 and a more recent one from this month.

If you’re up an an extra challenge, write the pangram “Sphinx of black quartz, judge my vow”  (or any pangram you like) and date it.  Once a month or so, rewrite the same pangram and compare it to the previous ones that you’ve written.  Admire your progress and check for areas that need improvement.  Again, take notes


In my next post, we’ll start our first set of drill exercises.  Be sure to have all of these things ready so you can have successful drill session.

Remember: drills are integral to your success with copperplate calligraphy.  Let’s make the most of our practice time.  Set a focus time for deliberate practice and be prepared with the “right” tools.  And don’t forget to track your progress.

You’ll be amazed at how quickly and easily you progress when you make time to practice these drills properly.


Happy Writing!

Your Copperplate Companion,


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Three Ways to Prevent Ink Blobs

Ink blobs can make Copperplate practice a frustrating and messy experience.  I find that the best way to deal with them is to prevent them.


An ink blob is a small pool or bead of ink that collects within or on top of  shaded strokes.


Red arrows indicate ink blobs. It’s hard to see the globule on the right ‘a’, but trust me, it’s a tiny blob of ink.


To prevent these globules form occurring, let’s identify what causes them.

From my experience, ink blobs happen when:

  1. The nib has not been properly prepared.
  2. There isn’t enough ink on the nib.
  3. There’s too much ink on the nib.



Preventing ink blobs is easy.  If you keep these things in mind, you’ll minimize your ink blob experience.


Unprepared nibs tend to cause ink to form globules.


See the ink collecting on the tines of the nib?  When the ink unevenly adheres to the nib like this, they sometimes transfer on to the paper in globs.

Preparing your nib before you use it is very important.  During manufacturing, nibs are coated with a clear protective varnish that keeps them from rusting while in storage.  Removing this coating will help the ink adhere to the nib evenly.

Protective coating may be removed with dish washing detergent or toothpaste

Removing the varnish using toothpaste.

To learn how to prepare your nibs, click here.


Dip your pen in your ink well just past the vent hole.


Dip your nib in your ink well past the vent hole.

If your nib doesn’t have enough ink, the ink may pool at the very top of your stroke due to the cohesion properties of liquid.


Left: Nib not dipped deep enough. Right: Nib dipped past the vent hole.


Overloaded nibs will look like this. The ink will swell on the top and underside of the nib.

If your nib is overloaded with ink, the excess ink may drip, gush out of the nib upon contact with the paper or when you open your tines, causing a mess and possibly ruining your project.


Remove excess ink from your nib.

To get rid of excess ink, carefully run the side of your nib (shoulder to tip) along the inner rim of your ink well once or twice.  The excess ink from your nib will run down the side of the jar.

This is especially helpful when using thin inks like Higgins Eternal black ink, Yasutomo sumi ink, and Daiso sumi ink.


Easy fixes, right?

Ink blobs don’t need to be a part of your practice sheets or final projects.  These 3 simple tips should help keep your Copperplate experience to a minimum.

Happy Writing!

Your Copperplate Companion,



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Check out my Instagram for regular tips and tutorials as well.

Understanding Hairlines and Shades in Copperplate Calligraphy

One characteristic of Copperplate script is the intricate relationship between hairlines and shades. To construct proper Copperplate letterforms, we must understand how hairline and shaded strokes are made.

Note: I use the terms “pen” and “nib” interchangeably; they mean the same thing.


Unlike broad pens and fountain pens, the pointed dip pens used for Copperplate script are designed to flex.  Because of the sharp point and flexible tines of pointed pens, we are able to achieve hairline strokes and thick, shaded strokes by controlling the amount of pressure we apply to the nib.



Relaxed (closed) tines create hairline strokes.

Hairlines, the thinnest strokes, are achieved when the tines of the nib are relaxed (no pressure applied). The nib simply glides on the surface of the paper. Hairlines can be drawn in any direction (up, down, sideways, loops, etc.)  Note, however, that all upstrokes are hairlines.



Flexed (opened) tines created shades on downstrokes.

Shades, sometimes called “swells”, can be achieved when the tines of the nib are flexed.  Applying pressure to the nib flexes (opens) the tines, allowing more ink to be released on to the paper.  Because pressure is required to flex the tines, shaded strokes can only be made on down strokes.  The sharpness of the pen will cause the nib to snag or puncture the paper if too much pressure is applied on up strokes.



Depending on the pressure applied, a single nib can produce a varying thickness in shade. (nib: Tachikawa G)

Dependening on how much pressure you apply on the downstroke, shades can vary in thickness.   Dr. Joe Vitolo refers to this as “heft”.  The more pressure you place on the nib, the wider the tines open, creating thicker the shades.  Consistency is key.


The hairline-to-shade and shade-to-hairline transitions of strokes are smooth, not abrupt.  To achieve smooth transitions, the pressure on the nib must be gradually applied or released on the down stroke.


Inconsistencies are noted by red arrows

A) Smooth transitions and equal heft on the shades

B) Smooth transitions, inconsistent shading

C) Smooth transitions, inconsistent shading

D) Abrupt transitions, inconsistent shading (note the pointy curves).


Try these basic strokes.  Draw them slowly and precisely.  Pay careful attention to:

1) The transitions of from hairline-to-shade and shade to hairline.
Does the shade gradually thicken and/or taper off?

2) The consistency of the heft of your shades.
Are your shades equal in thickness?


Basic strokes drill exercise to practice the transition of hairlines to shade, and shades to hairlines. Note that the shades are made only on downward strokes.

The harmonious relationship between hairlines and shades make Copperplate elegant and beautiful.  When practicing these strokes, be sure to focus on the consistency of your shades and the smoothness of the transitions.

Learning a new skill requires a lot of practice and patience.  It’s ok if you don’t get it exactly right the first time or the second time.  Keep practicing.  Keep going.

Happy writing!

Your Copperplate Companion,


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You can also find me on Instagram @anintran.

How to Prepare a New Nib for Copperplate Calligraphy

Why isn’t the ink flowing?

Why does the ink come out in blobs?

Why isn’t the ink staying on the nib?  I can only write a few strokes before I need to dip again.

Those are a few of the frequently asked questions I’ve been receiving lately on Instagram.

As calligraphers, we may run into some problems with our tools.  When this happens, it’s best to examine what may be causing the problem one at a timeWhen I’m having trouble with the ink and ink flow, I examine my nib before anything else.

If it’s a new nib and you’re having trouble with ink flow, ink staying on the nib, or blobs of ink coming out, preparing your nib may be the solution to your problem.

In my last post An Introduction to Copperplate Calligraphy Nibs, I talked about what kinds of nibs we use to write Copperplate script (pointed nibs).  In this post I’ll be showing you how to prepare you new nibs before you use it.  It’s important to understand how your tools work so that you can use them to their full potential and minimize frustration during our practice.  Knowing how to care for your nibs will also help prolong its life.

What Does Preparing a Nib Mean?

During manufacturing, nibs may be sealed with a clear protective varnish or oil that prevents it from rusting in storage. Preparing a nib means to remove this protective, water-repelling layer so that ink may adhere to the nib – which is important when using dip pens.  The nibs we use act as a reservoir for our ink, which allows us to write several strokes at a time.  For instance, with a prepared Tachikawa G nib, I can write “anintran” in one dip — that is, I write without losing my rhythm, which is important when I’m practicing the consistency of my strokes.


How the Ink Adheres to Brand New Nibs Before Coating is Removed

Ink may not adhere to the nib evenly if the protective coating has not been removed.


There are several ways to prepare new nibs. One is to pass the pointed tip of the nib up to the vent hole through a flame.  A few other ways require the use of ammonia or other chemicals.  The way I prefer is Lindsey Bugbee of the Postman’s Knock and Dr. Joe Vitolo’s method: using dish detergent or toothpaste, respectively.


  • Dish Detergent or Toothpaste
  • Q-tip
  • Clean Cloth/Paper Towel
  • Water

    *Despite what’s shown in my photographs, I personally prefer to use dish detergent (original blue Dawn soap) over toothpaste.


Note: Before handling any of your tools, make sure your hands and fingers are washed and clean of any debris and oils.

Step 1 – Apply some dish detergent or toothpaste onto your Q-tip.  You don’t need too much.

Toothpaste Qtip

Step 2 – Scrub the pointed half of nib, from vent hole to tip.  Be sure to scrub both the topside and the underside.

Clean Nib

Scrub both sides several times.  Scrub, scrub, scrub. 

Step 3 – Rinse the soap or toothpaste off the nib thoroughly with clean water.

Rinse Nib

Step 4 – Dry your nib with a clean cloth or paper towel. Once dry, avoid touching the pointed half of your nib with your fingers.  Use a clean, dry cloth to insert your nib into your holder.

Dry Nib

After preparing your nib, the ink should evenly coat your pen — no spheres or uneven pools of ink.

Clean nib

Once the protective coating has been removed, ink does not have any trouble adhering to either side of the nib.

Now, there have been times when I’ve cleaned my nib in this way and the ink still won’t stick evenly to my nib.  In this case, I repeat the scrubbing one more time.  A few of my friends have suggested applying saliva on the nib — which I have yet to try.

You may be wondering if you absolutely need to do this before you can start using your nib.  The answer is no, you don’t.  If you aren’t experiencing any problems with your nib whatsoever, then you may not need to do this at all.  As for the protective coating, it will eventually wear off with use due to the acidity of your ink and the constant cleaning of your nib.  However, if you are experiencing some issues with ink flow and such, give this a try.

Once I’ve prepared the nib, I don’t usually have ink flow or blob problems.  If I do, I then the next thing I examine is the ink I’m using.  But that’s a topic for another blog post.

Happy writing, guys!

Your Copperplate Companion,

3 Things You Need to Get Started in Copperplate Calligraphy

Getting started can be the hardest part of any new endeavor – particularly if you don’t know what you need.  You’ll be happy to know that you don’t need a whole lot to begin learning Copperplate calligraphy.

What you absolutely need are: 1) basic supplies; 2) at least one reliable resource; and 3) some calligraphy buddies.

  1. Basic Supplies
    Basic Supplies

Alright, technically, you need more than just 3 things, but who’s counting?

There are 5 basic materials that you need to begin your Copperplate journey: paper, ink, nibs, a penholder, and a printed guide sheet.  The cost of materials can add up quickly if you don’t know what to buy. You don’t need a lot of tools to get started. If you’re new and you just want to try it out, you don’t need to buy a 200-dollar oblique holder, every color of ink, or a case of 1000 nibs. You simply need the right tools that are beginner-friendly and are of good quality.  The key is to purchase materials that are that work well together.  At the early stages of your practice, there is nothing more frustrating than feathering letters, snagging nibs, or scratchy paper.

Here’s a list of beginner-friendly supplies that I would have recommended to myself when I was first starting:

Paper: Rhodia paper (blank, bloc, or dot)

Ink: Kuretake Sumi Ink 60

Nibs: Brause 361 Steno and/or Nikko G.  I also recommend the Tachikawa G and the Zebra G.
(Related topics: about nibs and how to prepare them for before use)

Penholder: Speedball oblique penholder
(or a straight holder, if you’re left-handed)

Guide sheet: Printed Guide Sheet (which you can find in Bianca Mascorro’s blog)

You can find all of the of the listed supplies at  Note that when purchasing nibs, it’s a good idea to purchase at least 2, unless you’re just sampling them.  Nibs wear and tear as you use them, so it’s good to have a spare nib available.

  1. Reliable Resources
    Copperplate Resources

A great resource is essential to have when learning and practicing Copperplate (or any script, really).  A reliable resource should at least cover basic materials and how to use them, key concepts and basic strokes, and include an exemplar of the lowercase and uppercase alphabet, and numbers.

You’ll need at least one Copperplate resource. It’s important to note that there are many different styles of Copperplate; however, the basics and the fundamental concepts are essentially the same regardless of which style you choose.  If you have an iPad, I highly recommend downloading Dr. Joe Vitolo’s free interactive eBook. Dr. Vitolo’s website has a excellent variety of printable exemplars and lessons.

Eleanor Winters’ book Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy: A Step-by-Step Manual is also a good place to start if you prefer the English Roundhand style.

Workshops are also excellent ways to introduce yourself to new hobbies.

  1.  Calligraphy Friends

There’s nothing like having calligraphy buddies and a supportive community to help you along your calligraphy journey. They’ll not only inspire you with their work, but they’ll encourage you and motivate you to keep up with your practice, give you feedback on your work, as well as give you advice on the latest penholders and inks, or the best nibs.

Where can you find such friends?

Well, you may look up a calligraphy group around your area that meets regularly, or join a Facebook or Yahoo! group.  I’m going tell you right now: the BEST calligraphy community is on Instagram. What an amazing group of kind, talented, and determined people!

Instagram Friends

In every corner of the world, there is a calligrapher. Everyday, there are dozens of people who are picking up a pointed pen for the first time.  You are not alone.  Having the right tools, comprehensive resources, and some calligraphy buddies will make the beginning of your practice easier and more fun.

Happy writing!

Your Copperplate Companion,