Did you know there are right and wrong ways to hold brush pens when using them for calligraphy?
If you’re frustrated with a brush marker not working like you expect it to, it might just be how you’re holding it!
When using a brush pen for calligraphy, hold it at about a 45 degree angle to the paper and position the tip to the side of your writing. Figure out a grip that’s comfortable for you, angle the paper if needed, and guide the pen with wrist movements, not just with your fingers.
Read on for more details and picture examples (plus free worksheets at the end)!
Why pen position is important
The way you hold a brush pen for lettering is important so that the pen gives you the results you want.
If you’re not holding a brush pen correctly, you’ll be frustrated because you won’t be able to get thick and thin strokes for calligraphy. Plus, you could ruin the tip.
Holding it correctly ensures that the pen will work with you!
Brush pens have flexible nibs that are made to produce thick and thin lines, depending on how much pressure you add. Use just the tip for a thin line, or press harder for a thick line.
But if the pen is held in the wrong position, you won’t get neat, thick and thin strokes no matter how hard you try.
How to hold a brush pen
When using a brush marker for calligraphy, don’t just hold it the same way you would a regular pen or pencil!
The important thing is to achieve the thick downstrokes and thin upstrokes that are necessary for calligraphy.
Here’s how to hold and position a brush pen for calligraphy.
- Hold the pen at about a 45 degree angle to the paper.
This allows you to use the full side of the nib to get thick lines.
- Don’t hold brush pens vertically.
Holding a brush pen straight up and down prevents you from getting the thickest lines and will also damage the flexible tip.
(An exception might be if you’re adding dots to something.)
- Position the pen tip so it is to the side of your writing.
Keep the pen tip generally perpendicular to the downstrokes whether doing calligraphy at a slant or upright. Angle your paper if needed.
This way you’ll be able to easily get thick and thin lines using the full side of the nib.
- Don’t position the pen below your writing.
When you position the brush pen below your writing, you’ll end up “dragging” too much weight when transitioning from thick to thin strokes. It’s also impossible to get the thickest downstrokes when the pen is below the writing.
Doing this will also fray your brush pen faster since you’ll be pushing the tip upwards more often.
- Avoid holding the pen too close to the nib.
There’s no need to hold it really close to the nib – that just makes it harder to control. I recommend holding it at least a half inch from the tip.
How you position the pen is important, but how you grip it is much more flexible. Play around until you find a grip that’s comfortable.
I like to “clamp” the pen firmly under my thumb. How you arrange your other fingers to grip the pen is up to you!
Tips for left-handed calligraphers
If you’re left-handed, don’t think that you can’t use a brush marker or do calligraphy.
There are lots of left-handed calligraphers who do beautiful work using both brush pens and pointed pens!
The same general rules apply for holding a brush pen, because a brush pen works the same whether you’re right or left handed.
You may need to adjust the way you usually write, your hand position, and the angle of the paper. (Same goes for right-handed calligraphers!)
Find a position that’s comfortable and that allows you to get thick and thin lines with the pen.
For more tips, here are some resources I recommend watching/reading:
- “Brush Lettering Tips for Lefties” YouTube video by JetPens
- “The Best Lefty Tips” YouTube video by Ensign Insights
- “Lettering & Calligraphy Tips for Left-handed People” blog post by Kelly Creates
Handling a brush pen for calligraphy
Besides the correct way to hold a brush pen in your hand, there are also some best practices for controlling the pen as you write.
Once again, using a brush marker is different from regular writing tools, so it will take practice to get used to controlling one.
Here are some tips for using a brush pen for lettering:
- Use your wrist to control the pen movements, not just your fingers. If you only use your fingers to move the pen through the strokes, it will be harder to control the pen. Instead, move your entire hand and wrist (and arm if necessary) to guide the pen.
- Pull downstrokes toward yourself. Adjust the angle of your paper if you need to, and don’t be afraid to put full pressure on the pen.
- Figure out how thick and thin you can easily make the lines. Each brush pen is different, so with each one figure out how thick and thin you can easily make the lines while writing.
- Go slowly. Calligraphy isn’t meant to be rushed! Focus on making neat strokes.
- Avoid tensing your hand or arm too much. Sometimes you need to loosen up and relax a little bit and check your posture. I tend to hold my pen tightly, which can make my hand get tired easily.
- Practice thick strokes, thin strokes, and transitions. The best way to get comfortable with brush pens is to practice and build muscle memory. Work on transitioning smoothly from thick to thin and vice versa.
Free brush pen practice guide
Are you still trying to master brush pen control? I made a free practice guide just for you!
“Brush Pen Drills” includes tips on how to use a brush pen and practice with one, as well as pages of strokes and drills for you to trace.
There’s also a list of brush pens that I recommend, and the worksheets are made for both small and medium brush pens so you can use the size you prefer.
The first step to beautiful brush calligraphy is learning to control and get comfortable with a brush pen, and that’s what this guide is for.
As long as you find a hand position that’s comfortable and allows you to easily get thick and thin strokes with the brush pen, that’s what really matters.
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