The big wide world of calligraphy supplies can be daunting. So, I have put together a list of some tried + true + very much loved tools I think every new calligrapher should have in their kit. In our Modern Calligraphy workshops, I stress the importance of having a solid kit that will help you to remove some of the common roadblocks that typically inhibit a fledgling letterer's practice - learning calligraphy can be hard enough. Seriously, why make it harder with improper supplies? I have run into far too many individuals who started the process with enthusiasm, only to find themselves stalemated by nibs they don't understand + inks that just don't deliver. The Más+Millie Starter's Kit is intended to solve many of those beginner's blues, while also carrying you through into a more advanced practice. After investing in several beginner's kits + spending money on a plethora of inks + papers that now reside sadly in the dark, dusty corners of my studio closet, I can genuinely tell you I now use every tool listed here on an almost daily basis. They just work. I appreciate them because they helped me explore the beginnings of this beautiful craft. I love them because they are the work horses of my professional practice.
1. BLACK SUMI INK
When you're starting out, a good black ink is essential for your daily practice. The Japanese sumi in Más+Millie's Starter Kit is a dense black, quick-drying ink with a slightly textured, matte finish. Colorfast once dry, this makes it the perfect medium to use if you plan on doing color washes over your lettering or painting over illustrations. If you are worried about sending snail mail in inclement weather, fret not with this waterproof ink!
A lot of Beginner kits include wide-mouthed jars of black calligraphy ink, like Higgins Eternal. I've never understood this. I'm not saying it is a bad ink. It's just the delivery system that gets me. The jar works fine at first, but eventually you find yourself dipping blindly into a dark pot, unable to really gauge where the bottom is + just how far you need to dip the pen. This is a recipe for inky fingers + forearms. On that note, when the inevitable ink spill occurs, you'll be very thankful that water-based Sumi ink cleans up easily with water + a little scrubbing in most situations, whereas many standard calligraphy inks like to stay where you spill them. Like the grout in your kitchen for instance. Just sayin...
And to that note, I also find having your Sumi ink in a handy dropper bottle makes it all the more convenient to use my next favorite tool...
2. INK WELL BLOCK
Oh, the Dinky Dip. Such fun to say + more fun to use. These convenient wooden blocks make inky fingers + spills a thing of calligraphy folklore. Each individual vial is perfectly sized for pointed nibs, allowing you to dip into the ink without ever going too far.
Our Más+Millie reclaimed wood version of this popular ink well are available while supplies last, but tend to sell out quickly. A cheaper + more readily available version along with replacement vials can be found at my favorite online candy store, Paper Ink Arts.
3. LOTS of NIBS (the right nibs...)
I just can't pick one. And speaking of my calligraphy Mecca, Paper Ink Arts also brings us to my next beginning student's "must have" investment. While I start all my freshmen letterers on the industry favorite Nikko G nib because of its neutral flexibility + iconic thicks + thins, my next recommendation is always to purchase the Copperplate Sampler of 25 AMAZING pointed nibs. This sampler collection is perfectly curated to help you discover your favorite nibs without a hint of buyer's remorse. Even if you don't fall in love with a few of them, you now have a better idea of the flexibility your hand gravitates toward. When you're just starting out, this collection is an invaluable resource for improving your nib education + for self discovery. For the professional calligrapher, it can remind you of options you may have forgotten + reawaken your practice in unexpected ways.
4. A STRAIGHT PEN
I have my Beginner students start with a straight pen + then graduate on to more advanced holders. There are certainly different arguments for this, but I'm a firm believer in starting at neutral + then adjusting to accommodate your specific needs. A good straight pen is essential in my basic arsenal + you will likely never find me out of the studio without my very favorite Grifhold Straight Pen. A light, aluminum shaft with a fully adjustable opening is the highlight of this well balanced pen. The opening works similarly to the way an Exacto knife holds a blade, securely screwing tightly around virtually any nib you use with ease. Unfortunately, Grifhold has discontinued this holder for unknown reasons. They do still provide the No. 47 Sketching and Cartooning Pen Holder, a crow quill version, though I am hoping we can see this change soon!
4. AN OBLIQUE PEN Working with oblique pens is usually a big milestone for newbie calligraphers. It makes you feel like you're "in" with the rest of us. I have a plethera of obliques in my collection, but my current crush? My adorable + adorably portable Pocket Scribbler Oblique, from, you guessed it, Paper Ink Arts. As they describe my new little friend, it's "small in stature but mighty in style." Plus, I adore the beautiful finish of the wood in each of the unique color options!
5. PAPER Oh, the importance of paper! This can actually be quite a confusing world to navigate as you are just beginning. There can be a significant difference between "high quality" paper + "calligraphy quality" paper. Your pointed nib does not care that you spent an arm + a leg on that gorgeous coated card stock. If it's not up for the task, price simply doesn't matter. To that end, I have my easy go to, when I just don't want to feel like guessing if this paper is going to work or not - Paper Source. It's what I keep in stock for most of my commission work. With their wide range of colors, sizes, weights + textures, you can rest assured that all of the stock paper you bring home from this paper paradise is calligraphy ready. Though I must warn you - you will end up with more supplies you didn't realize you "needed" until you saw them in this inspirationally curated shop! I have the distinct pleasure of living + working 10 minutes away from the original Paper Source location in Chicago's River North neighborhood, which is a huge help when I'm needing a last minute restock for a last minute bride! Paper Source also now offers a 10% discount on qualifying bulk orders, which makes them great for your bigger projects when you don't have the option of buying wholesale.
My tried + true basics are the cornerstone of my calligraphy practice. Just don't let this short list limit you in your choices! My studio is filled with a multitude of pen + ink + paper options that I change up depending on my project + my mood! One of the most beautiful things about this craft is it's wide variety of supplies to help satisfy all of your lettering heart's desires! I would love to hear from you guys! What are your favorite tools? What helped you troubleshoot a project? Did you try a tool that didn't work out + you still aren't sure why? Let me know!
DISCLAIMER: I AM A FIRM BELIEVER THAT NO ARTIST SHOULD EVER COMPLETELY DISSUADE YOU FROM EXPERIMENTING + DEVELOPING YOUR OWN OPINION ON TECHNIQUES + SUPPLIES THAT YOU MAY BE INTERESTED IN. THE FOLLOWING TOOLS WORKED FOR ME + I WOULD OBVIOUSLY LOVE TO HELP YOU AVOID THROWING MONEY AT SUPPLIES YOU WILL ONLY USE ONCE. THAT SAID, THERE'S A GREAT BIG INKY WORLD OUT THERE. NEVER LET ONE CALLIGRAPHER'S PREFERENCES DICTATE YOUR OWN. YOU DO YOU, BOO.
Must haves for the Beginning Calligrapher • Styling: Becka Bravo • Photography: Becka Bravo
No product or brand affiliation. All product + purchasing recommendations provided at no reimbursement.