Workspace Basics

  • The first thing is to make sure that you sit straight and at the right height. Your arms should rest on the table at a 90° angle. If your chair and desk don’t allow for this, find another chair or another desk or some means to heighten your position. It’s really important to keep a good posture because otherwise your writing will not look very loose, but cramped. Calligraphy has a lot to do with arm movement (not just hand or finger movement), so this is really a key requisite.
  • Another very important factor is to have a lot of space around you. You need to be able to move your arms freely without the fear of knocking your ink bottle over, or running out of space because your computer sits right next to you, or running into your torso with the elbow all the time.
  • The lighting at your desk should be set up in a way that you don’t cast a shadow with your hand over your own writing. So for right-handed people it should come from the left, for left-handed people it should be set up on the right.
  • Position all inks and your water jar in a place where you don’t knock them over, but where you can reach them comfortably. Remember, you will dip in the pen quite often. For me, that place is in front of me near the top of my paper.
  • Put a few sheets of paper under your actual writing paper. This is helpful to provide a sort of cushioned surface for the nib, and it will flow better over the paper. You can study this effect when circumstances don’t allow for using too many sheets under your writing paper, for example when you’re using a lightbox – writing feels more scratchy and hard when using one.
  • Keep a water jar and a piece of cloth nearby to clean your nib from time to time when ink starts to clog it up. Also, I always keep some rubbing alcohol around in case I need to take out a new nib and prepare it before first use (you need to do this, because otherwise the nib will behave funky).
  • For straight lines, you can put a guide sheet under your paper. If you write with a slant, you should lie down your arm in a way that feels natural to write, and then position the paper accordingly: the slanted lines should point directly at you, and your arm and the edge of the paper should form a parallel line.

Additional workspace tips that make my life easier

  • I always keep a broad transparent plastic ruler around as an easy tool to measure margins and quickly draw parallel lines. You can also use curved rulers or a compass if you need curves or round shapes as a guide.
  • I have filled my most used inks in either a big jar with a wide rim that holds a lot of ink, or the little containers called dinky dips (these are sold by calligraphy suppliers – see here). Both ways ensure that I can dip in my nib comfortably, but I usually prefer the big jars, because you don’t have to refill them all the time. Make sure you use containers you can’t accidentally knock over!
  • Your water jar can never be big enough. You should change the water when it becomes too dark or when you change ink color, but choosing a big jar saves you from running to the tap all the time.
  • I like to use a guard sheet to protect the paper below my hand. Even with clean hands, there are oils on your skin that can affect the ink. Simply fold a piece of paper (by length) and place your hand on it when writing.
  • I also always have a small piece of paper around to test the ink flow of my nib when I’ve dipped it.

I hope you can make use of these tips and incorporate them in your practice sessions. I usually make sure to tidy up my workspace in the evening, so I can come back to a clean desk and start immediately.


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