7-Day Copperplate Calligraphy Bootcamp on Periscope

Hello, Friends!

As some of you may know, I’ve been taking Master Penman Harvest Crittenden‘s Beginning Spencerian online class for the last 6 weeks.  During this time, I haven’t done much Copperplate practice.  In preparation for an Introduction to Copperplate Calligraphy workshop that I’ll be hosting with by good friend Grace Jimenez (@bygraceabounds) in March, I’ve concluded that I need to get my Copperplate game back on — stat!


For the next 7 days, I’ll be doing a personal Copperplate Bootcamp to get my letterforms back in shape — literally!  I’ll be sharing 7 of my favorite drill exercises (one per day) on Periscope (@anintran), an awesome app that allows you to watch and broadcast videos live.  Cool, right?


Join me on Periscope (@anintran)

I broadcasted Day 1 of my Copperplate Bootcamp earlier this evening.  Note: Periscope broadcasts expire after 24 hours.


Get your pen, paper, and ink out and do these drill exercises with me.  If you post on Instagram, be sure to tag your photos #anintran_drills so I can see your drills too.

The materials that I’ll be using during my broadcast over the next 7 days are:


Let’s do this!

See you on Periscope (@anintran)!

Your Pointed Pen Companion,




Copperplate Calligraphy Bootcamp: How to Practice Underturn Strokes

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been preparing for drill exercises here in my blog.

We’ve talked about what drills are and why we should do them and how we can prepare prepare for drill exercises.

It’s important to note that the lowercase Copperplate letterforms can be broken down into 7 basic strokes:

  1. underturn
  2. overturn
  3. compound curve
  4. full-pressure
  5. oval
  6. ascending stem loop
  7. descending stem loop

In this post, I’ll share with you how I study the underturn stroke and how I do my drill exercises.  This u-shape stoke is sometimes called the “pressure-release” stroke, the “i-stroke” or the “u-stroke”.

To avoid confusion, I’ll refer to this stroke only as the underturn stroke.


Underturn Stroke


order of operations:

1. Study
2. Define goal(s)
3. Practice & Critique
4. Repeat

Let’s do this!


Studying is an important part of learning Copperplate.  How else will you know how to draw something if you don’t know what it looks like?

And I don’t mean taking a quick glance over at your exemplar.  I mean really study it.  Take some notes.

Some things to study:

  • Where is the shade on this stroke?  Is it on the left or the right of the ‘u’ shape?
  • How tall is the stroke?
  • When does the shade start to taper off?
  • How much space in inside the counter of the underturn?

Notes on the underturn:


Underturn stroke study.

  • The top of the shade is squared-off.
  • The shade is on the left of the ‘u’.
  • The stroke starts the the header line (or waist line), touches the base line, and comes back up to the waist line.
  • The shade has an even width until it’s about two-thirds of the way down; then it begins to taper off.
  • By the time it reaches the baseline, the shade has completely tapered off — the tines are closed and the hairline begins.
  • The hairline curves to the right and touches the baseline.
  • It makes a tight (but not too tight) u-turn back up to the header line.
  • The shade and the hairline are parallel to the main slant (55 degrees).

What are some of your observations on this stroke?

STep 2: Define your goal(S)

Copperplate calligraphy is not something that can be learned overnight.  It takes weeks, months, years of deliberate practice.

As you study and practice, it’s important to know what your goals are — your overall goal and practice session goal.

Your overall goal may be to learn Copperplate so you can address envelopes in time for the holidays or help you sister out with signage for her wedding.  Why are you learning copperplate?.

Your practice session goal is a much smaller goal.  It’s something that will help you move toward your overall calligraphy goal.  This smaller goal will help you focus and learn copperplate in bite-size chunks.  There’s a lot to learn, but if you break it down, you’ll find that learning this script is easy.

Your practice session goal for today could be as simple as learning what an understroke is and what it looks like.  It could be to square the top of your shade or improve your shade-to-hairline transition.  Maybe you want to work on the turn or consistenly touching the header or baseline.

Now, it’s possible you want to work on all of those things today… but if you’re just beginning, I urge you to pick one thing until you’ve gotten the hang of it.

You’re aim is draw consistent strokes that closely resemble that of your exemplar.

If this is your first time drawing an underturn stroke, you may consider starting in this order:
1. Draw consistent ‘u’ shapes
2. Draw consistent and even shading
3. Shade-to-hairline transition
4. Squared tops

Aim for improvement each time your sit down to practice.  Don’t worry if your practice sheets are messy and imperfect.  Do your best.

Step 3: Practice & Critique

Before you begin, make sure you’ve prepared your nib and your workspace.  As you do these drill exercises, be mindful of the alignment of your nib to the main slant.  This will help you maximize  the opening of your tines.


How to make the underturn stroke:


  1. At the headerline, apply pressure to your nib to open the tines (this will also square the top).
  2. Pull the pen downwards at a 55 degree angle while maintaining an even shade.
  3. At about 2/3 of the way down toward the baseline, gradually release the pressure from your pen.  As you near the baseline, curve to the right.  Your nib should be closed (relaxed).  Your shade should be fully transitioned into a hairline.
  4. Touch the baseline and make a narrow u-turn back up toward the header line.  Straighten out your hairline as you complete your upstroke so that it becomes parallel to the shade (55 degrees).


Take it slow.  Draw each stroke slowly and carefully.  Concentrate on the shape of your underturn stroke.  Practice your control of the pen.

Draw a line or two of individual (not connected) underturn strokes.  Compare them to each other.  Circle or star your best ones.


Make a note of error that you keep making.  For instance, are your turns always too pointy?  Do your shades taper off too soon or not soon enough?

Once you’ve noted areas that need work, attempt a few more lines of drills, paying careful attention to how you can make improvements based on the critiques you made from your first set.

Once you’ve got a handle on drawing individual underturns, connect them.  Be sure to lift after completing each stroke.  Connecting them will help refine the consistency of your stroke and spacing.

Keep and eye out for these common issues


The shape of the underturns in the first row are good; the problem lies in the shading.  The second row illustrates problems with the u-shape.

  1. Good underturn stroke
  2. Tapers out too soon
  3. Pointy top of stem; should be squared
  4. Tapered shade
  5. Uneven swelling of shade towards the bottom
  6. Inconsistent shading
  7. Pointy bottom
  8. Shade and hairline are not parallel
  9. Hairline curves toward the shade (not parallel)
  10. Shade curves toward the hairline (not parallel)
  11. Underturn is too wide

Step 4: Repeat

Study the underturn stroke.  What is it supposed to look like?

Define you the purpose of your practice.  What do you want to work on today?  The shading?  The turn?  The consistency of your u-shape?

Which issues keep showing up and what can you do to improve?

Practice & critique your work.  What worked out?  What didn’t?  How can you improve?


Start with the basics.  If you practice these drill exercises correctly, your calligraphy is sure to improve.

Be kind to yourself.  Remember, learning copperplate takes time.  Doing these drill exercises correctly will help you improve more quickly than if you skipped them.


A sample of my script from December 2014 and from this month.

It’s easier to develop good habits from the beginning than to break bad ones.  So get in the habit of learning these strokes properly the first time around; it will save you a lot of time.


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



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 PaperInkArts.com.

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 IAMPETH.com and BiancaMascorro.com.


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 zanerian.com.  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 Reasons Why You Should Do Drill Exercises

When I first picked up a pointed pen, I had never heard of drills.  In fact, I didn’t even know what copperplate calligraphy was!  All I knew was that I wanted to write pretty.  I figured that a little practice would make me better, but I didn’t know how to practice.

For the  first 2 months, I practiced by writing whole words and full sentences.  No matter how often and how frequent I practiced, I wasn’t seeing much improvement in my letterforms.  It wasn’t until I started doing drill exercises that I began to see drastic improvement in my script.  (Thanks, Ate Gail Madalag, for telling me about drills!)


A comparison of my calligraphy before I knew about drills and how to study (top) and after months of studying and doing drill exercises (bottom).

In this blog, I’ll tell you why drills are important and why I highly recommend them.  In the upcoming posts, I’ll share tips on how to study and how to do drill exercises.


Learning copperplate requires patience, diligent study, and deliberate practice.

A drill is a deliberate practice of drawing the same stroke or sequence of strokes repeatedly to develop brain and muscle memory, and to practice drawing consistent strokes and letterforms.

In time, drill exercises will help you memorize how the stroke looks, how it feels when you draw them, when to apply pressure and when to release pressure, how much pressure to apply, etc.


A drill exercise of compound curves.

Drills are integral to your copperplate calligraphy learning experience.

3 Reasons Why You Should Do Drills

1. Drills build a strong foundation

As beginners, we may have the urge to start writing  words and sentences immediately.  However, our success in learning this script really weighs heavily on the groundwork we create.

The deliberate practice of drill exercises will help you to slow down and build a strong foundation — which, in turn, will speed up your learning experience.

2. Drills help you Focus and Break it down

Copperplate script is drawn one stroke at a time and so it makes sense to learn it the same way: one stroke at a time.


The lowercase A is composed of 3 strokes. This photo shows the series of drills that make up the letter ‘a’.

Drills help you to focus on each stroke — what it looks like, how it’s drawn, when and where pressure is applied and released, etc.  Once you learn the basic strokes, you’ll find it easy to compose the letterforms and words.

3. Drills Develop Brain and Muscle Memory

Learning copperplate requires both conscious and physical effort.  Drills are a great way to train our mind and our body to work together.

Whenever we do anything repetitive, we form habits — so make sure you practice your drills accurately and as true to the exemplar as you can.

Drills will help you memorize what a strokes and letterforms look like how it feels when you draw it.  Soon enough, you’ll be able to create identical and consistent strokes without much effort.

  • Practice makes progress.
  • Your drills will improve over time along with your script.
  • Drills are a great way to warm up before writing.

A comparison of one of my very first drill exercises (top) and a recent one (bottom).

Although drills may seem tedious at first, I urge you to do them and to stick with them.

Drill exercises are an essential part of learning copperplate script.  They’ll help you create a strong foundation for your script and will help you learn more quickly than if you skipped them — I’m speaking from experience here.

Over the next few posts, I’ll share tips on how to study and how to do drills.  Stay tuned!

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