Calligraphy in a Millennial world

Blognosticator Head

I’m teaching Advanced Typography this quarter to students in their 20s.

Part of that course involves studying the origins of letters and letterforms, pen-drawn lettering and constructed lettering.

Calligraphy lettering

I wrote this today with the Copic Wide pen, which uses an alcohol-based ink, and has a fairly stiff bamboo (?) nib. The one I have is called a 110. It’s about .75 inch across.

Today in lab I introduced the students to the Copic wide felt pen, a broad-nib felt-pen that is good for calligraphy on a large scale. We were lettering at about 3.25 inches x-height. I demonstrated the basic strokes of calligraphy, and asked them to take a few swipes at basic lettering with a flat-nib instrument. They did pretty well.

It isn’t often these days that I pick up a pen to put letters on paper. It’s fun, and I am still pretty good at it. A long while ago, I taught calligraphy in the local adult school, something I did for many years. It was in a calligraphy class that I met my future wife. We can both handle a pen pretty well to this day, 35 years later.

My students are enchanted by calligraphy, they love the look of hand lettering, and they show this by the oohs! and aahs! they expressed while watching their classmates work with the wide-nib pens. I enjoyed watching them enjoy themselves so much.

Calligraphy Pens

Two pens – or pencils – tied together can make a lovely calligraphic tool.

I also shared with them a technique for writing with two pens or pencils tied together with a rubber band. I have always enjoyed this, as it’s easy to make very nice lettering without much fuss, and the feel of the pencils is very pleasant. Almost anyone can draw successful calligraphic letters with this technique.

Two Pencils lettering

The secret to calligraphy is to maintain the same pen angle for the entire letter (mostly). I like to start my students at a pen angle of 40 degrees. It matches many of the Oldstyle Roman alphabets they like so much.

With twenty or thirty years of practice, one can get pretty good at this! I hope my students maintain their interest for many years into the future.



About Brian Lawler

Brian Lawler is an Emeritus Professor of Graphic Communication at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and was a Guest Professor at Hochschule München from September, 2021 to September, 2022. He writes about graphic arts processes and technologies for various industry publications, and on his blog, The Blognosticator.
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2 Responses to Calligraphy in a Millennial world

  1. Richard Gwyn says:

    I love seeing the calligraphy, Brian. Hand lettering was my specialty years ago before photo lettering came along. The ad agencies always had to get a caption hand lettered if they wanted something special. I worked with one of Photo Lettering agencies hand lettering guys for several years. What a tremendous change to the graphics business over the years. Regards, Dick G.

    • Brian Lawler says:

      This might sound like the Mutual Admiration Society here, but I have always admired your work, and appreciated the excellence of your design. You are a gift to the graphic arts community.

      Thank you,


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