It All Starts with the Basic Strokes

When looking at a completed calligraphy piece, it can be easy to think it was made using a ‘running’ writing style ie. one stroke leading into the next with lifting the pen (or apple pencil in our case ???? ). But it’s actually a series of different strokes that overlap with each other and ‘combine’ to look like one shape.

When learning calligraphy, the first step is to learn the Basic Strokes. These 8 strokes are the building blocks of the letterforms, and they combine together to make up the lowercase letters (with a different set of basic strokes for the uppercase letters).

So it makes sense that you start with these strokes. Once you’ve mastered the shapes and angle, you then move on to putting them together and writing the letterforms.

The Lowercase Basic Strokes

Copperplate Calligraphy Basic Strokes
Note: you might notice there are actually 9 strokes. Stroke #2, Pressure & Release stroke has a tall and short version are counted as one stroke

The 8 basic strokes in the image above are the components of the entire set of lowercase letters (well almost – the lowercase letter ‘k’ has a unique stroke that is not used in any other letter so it’s not included here).

To illustrate what I mean, see the image below with an example of the letter ‘a’. The ‘o’ shape and the short version of the ‘pressure & release’ strokes combines to make the lowercase a. 

And another example is the letter ‘h’… it is made up of the ‘ascender loop’ and ‘pressure & release variation 2’ strokes.

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Copperplate Calligraphy Basic Strokes

The Uppercase Basic Strokes

Copperplate Calligraphy Basic Strokes - Uppercase Letters

Just like the lowercase version, the uppercase letters have their own set of Basic Strokes. These provide great practice for downstrokes, as well as common lead-in (or ‘entry’) strokes used in the uppercase letterforms.

You can see in the image below ‘Basic Downstroke with Finishing Stroke’ and ‘The Looped Stroke’ are both used in the Uppercase ‘B’ and ‘F’.

Copperplate Calligraphy Basic Strokes

Improve your calligraphy through deliberate practice

You may already be familiar with the term ‘deliberate practice’, but incase you haven’t heard of it before, author James Clear has a good definition on his website – Deliberate practice refers to a special type of practice that is purposeful and systematic. While regular practice might include mindless repetitions, deliberate practice requires focused attention and is conducted with the specific goal of improving performance.

This is relevant to a lot of skills, but especially calligraphy!

Not all repetition leads to improvement. If you are repeating the wrong thing over and over, it will form bad habits that are hard to break! That’s why it’s important to be critical of your own work and able to spot any inconsistencies to focus on improving. 

For example, something I see a lot of beginners get stuck with is the shape of the oval. In that situation I suggest spending more time on that particular shape by repeating the first row of tracing strokes a few more rounds.

The iPad Calligraphy practice workbooks are designed with the first row devoted to tracing the shape, getting familiar and building muscle memory. There is then two blank rows below to practice on your own (while referencing the tracing rows). In order to spend more time on the tracing stage of a tricky stroke – just turn off your original practice layer, create a new layer above it and repeat the tracing practice until you get a better feel for it.

Once you have more muscle memory of the stroke, you can then move to the rows underneath to practice on your own while referencing the traced versions. 

So hopefully that helped explain that spending time on your basic strokes is an important part of the learning process. It’s only by mastering that first level, that you will be able to put it together to write beautiful calligraphy!

Download free Basic Strokes Procreate file!

If you want to try it out for yourself, I have a free iPad Calligraphy Starter Kit that includes the basic strokes workbook, a pressure sensitive calligraphy brush for Procreate, and detailed video instructions.

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