Modern Pointed Pen Calligraphy

calligraphy class Seattle BallardI fell in love with pointed pens when I was about eight years old. My father had a set of calligraphy pens so I started experimenting with all the different nibs and wonderful black ink. While I enjoyed the bold strokes of the broad nib, they did not enthrall me like the delicate pointed pen lettering which reminded me of fancy antique lettering liked Shakespeare and days of old. I imagined writing some lovely script on a piece of parchment paper and putting it into a bottle, but alas I lived very far from any ocean to make it happen. 

Palmer cursiveThese days the pointed pen is the best way to create the fun and fancy modern lettering even with students with no calligraphy experience. Refreshing styles of lettering can start with Copperplate or Spencerian styling, but are often closer to the style of Palmer and Zaner Bloser cursive that most of us learned in the third grade. 
modern calligraphy lettering cursive

I love teaching this more open style of calligraphy, allowing students to use their creativity to make their own unique form of lettering. There is freedom from being exact and perfect that allows a greater flow and essentially a stronger style of lettering. I also find that when students try too hard and try to control the letters, there is a shake and stiffness that results. Whereas when students use movement from the elbow and indeed the whole arm with flow and fluidity, they can relax into the flourishes, loops and lines. With pointed pens, the ability to create thick and think lines are creates with pressure on downstrokes, but I like to describe it more as the upstrokes having a lighter pressure and the downstrokes having the normal weight of your arm while writing.

Many young lettering artists are expert with hand lettering and don't even realize that pointed pens exist. They create some words by hand with markers - filling in the left sides of loops and curves by hand. These letters sometimes look great, but the use of a pointed pen makes it so much easier, allowing the pen to create lovely tapered thick lines on those beautiful downstrokes.

modern calligraphy

It is a constantly evolving creation now, and I suspect even the type designers are having trouble keeping up with the plethora of lettering styles that being invented every day by new and old calligraphers and students of cursive. I caution a little bit practitioners of the new "bouncy" style of lettering with drooping descenders to please make it readable. I feel that there is a certainly a place for the more artistic style of lettering where the calligraphy itself becomes completely unreadable and they are wonderful mark making explorations, but as a form of communication on greeting cards and book jackets, I hope that we will all stick to styles with recognizable letters.


  • Thanks for commented Hanna. I do agree that a LOT of bouncy modern lettering I have seen on pinterest is awful and not very readable… but some lettering that is not legible can become a whole art form unto itself and absolutely gorgeous. I would suggest you take a browse at websites like those of the lettering artist

    Caitlin Dundon
  • It’s so fun to play with lettering it’s easy to get lost and bounce of with it, but if it’s not legible then what’s the point?!



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