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,


P.S. Don’t forget to subscribe below to receive notifications on more copperplate calligraphy tips and tutorials.

Are you on Instagram?  Be sure to say hi!  @anintran




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,