Lord Eldred's Introduction to Calligraphy


  • pencil
  • artist’s eraser
  • ruled T-square or ruler
  • drafting triangle
  • compass
  • metal nibbed calligraphy pens and associated inks
    • Osmiroid
    • Pasche
    • Schaeffer
    • dip pens
  • Bristol board or acid-free calligraphy paper in a variety of sizes
  • drafting or masking tape
  • graph paper (for layout design)
  • paper towels
  • samples of calligraphic styles

Optional (nice to have)

  • practice pens (cheap felt-tips ~ $1.60 apiece)
  • French curve
  • light table
  • X-acto knife
  • guideline transparencies


Your work environment is very important! Good lighting, a comfortable and uncluttered area to work, and minimal distractions (e.g. no children, telephone, TV, etc.) are key features. You will need a flat surface to work on--most books recommend a draftsman’s table that you can adjust the height and angle of. You can buy or make a light table that has the same properties.

How I Calligraph

Once I have determined all my variables(who it is for, style, and illumination), I do a quick layout sketch to determine how I will arrange my text and illuminations. Then, I lightly pencil in my illuminations and borders on my final paper. I then practice the first few lines on a scrap piece of calligraphy paper to ensure that I feel comfortable with the calligraphy style I have chosen. I use a light table and transparent guideline sheets for my lines so I do not have so much erasing to do later. I ink in all my text, changing colors and nibs as my pattern dictates. Once my text is complete, I go back and complete my illuminations—ensuring that I do not smear my calligraphy!

Admittedly, I do not always practice what I preach. I use a small portable light table that I sit in my lap. After about 3 hours of work, I am curled in a little ball around the light table, hunched over my work. This usually has painful effects the next morning! When I am being intelligent about my work, the light table is sitting on my kitchen table

To prevent smears or moisture absorbtion by the paper, I place a piece of paper towel or other paper underneath my writing hand. If the calligraphy paper absorbs moisture from your hand, it totally ruins your work as soon as you write in the damp area.

To lay out my scrolls, I look at examples of period texts and Beddingfield’s Heraldry has a nice representation of a Grant of Arms by Letters Patent that I have recently been using.


  1. Stay loose! If you are tense, your lettering may become uneven and shaky.
  2. Don’t rush! You have plenty of time to work.
  3. RELAX! Mistakes can be hidden as decorations—a very period solution!
  4. Good lighting makes you more comfortable about what you are doing.
  5. Take breaks—rest your hands every now and then to prevent writer’s cramp.
  6. Play some relaxing music. Nice, soft music will relax you and allow your style to flow better. Playing heavy metal at top volume is not conducive to good calligraphy—in most cases….J


Medieval Calligraphy, Drogin
Illumination, Christopher Jarman
Using Calligraphy: A Workbook of Alphabets, Projects, and Techniques, Margaret Shepard
Illuminated Manuscripts, Guilia Bologna
Illuminated Alphabet, Timothy Noad
The Illuminated Manuscript, Backhouse
The Calligrapher’s Project Book, Susanne Haines