The differences – why brush lettering is really brush pen calligraphy

Brush lettering and pointed pen calligraphy are two variants of calligraphy with very similar techniques. Both are based on a writing tool that produces modulated (thick and thin) lines depending on the amount of pressure you apply on it, one being a steel nib, the other being the brush tip of a felt pen. Basic strokes, warm up drills and letterforms are often very similar and can basically be exchanged between techniques. This is why I think that brush lettering should really be called brush calligraphy – it’s a more precise term (If you want to learn more about the differences between calligraphy, lettering and type design, read this blog post).

Regardless of what it’s called, the fact that brush calligraphy/brush lettering is so similar to pointed pen calligraphy makes the decision what to learn first less important since you’re essentially learning the same thing with different tools.

How to decide what technique to learn

There are a few factors that can help you decide what technique to learn first. Ultimately, it’s down to your preference. I’ve collected a few reasons here:

  • Availability: It can be a bit hard to get supplies for pointed pen calligraphy, at least if you don’t want to shop online. Brush pens are available almost everywhere these days.
  • Price: You don’t need a lot to start with: decent paper, and a writing tool. In the case of the pointed pen, you will need a nib and a holder, plus some ink. Pointed pen calligraphy might be slightly more expensive at first, but a good starter kit shouldn’t cost more than $20. You can of course buy multiple brush pens for that money.
  • Ease of use & Portability: Here the brush pen clearly wins, it’s easy to start writing with it and easy to carry around and travel with. You have to be a bit creative to use your pointed pen when you’re traveling, and classic calligraphic tools have certainly a steeper learning curve. The soft tip of the brush pen also makes it less error-prone.
  • Your preference: As I mentioned, in the end it all comes down to preference. The technique isn’t really that different. So you ultimately have to decide if you like the bold look of the brush pen or the more classic, finer lines of the pointed pen and the look and feel of ink.

A case for the pointed pen

Judging from the list above you could question why I even recommend learning pointed pen calligraphy. It seems more complex, difficult to learn and to get supplies for, and there will be ink everywhere if you aren’t careful. You need to learn at least some technicalities before you can start to write.

And you may be right. The brush pen is certainly an easy introduction to understand calligraphic principles and a good tool to learn how to do beautiful lettering. But the same thing can be said about the simple pointed pen approach I also teach here on the blog and in my courses. You don’t have to overcomplicate things, and once you’ve grasped how to assemble and hold the tools (which is a really quick process) it all depends on practice and learning the movements – this will take time with either tool.

So, pointed pen calligraphy is still widely popular and it’s vicinity to cursive handwriting is an entry-point for a lot of students. I teach both techniques, and I find both very enjoyable – in their similarities and in their differences. Both techniques have relaxing qualities and are quite simply fun to learn and to do.

But I have to say that I will always have a special place in my heart for the versatility and beauty of pointed pen calligraphy. It’s such a responsive and faceted art, and once you dive in you’ll learn about the endless style possibilities (partly due to the sheer infinite number of nibs available today) and that you can produce either a modern style or very classic script from the same steel nib – this will never seize to amaze me.

I hope this post has helped you in making your decision. Above all, don’t be afraid to jump in and simply start somewhere – be it with a brush pen or a pointed pen starter kit. You can find resources and learning materials for both techniques on this blog, a good place to start is the archive. Remember, basically it’s the same technique, just with different tools.

What do you prefer, brush lettering or pointed pen calligraphy? Can you do both? What did you learn first? Leave me a comment below.


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