Can I use a fountain pen for calligraphy?
That depends on what kind of calligraphy you want to do. The majority of the calligraphy that you see on my blog and website is done with a pointed pen.
Usually fountain pens don’t have the ability to flex their tines a lot, which is the basic principle for pointed pen calligraphy – you have a nib that can spread its tines on pressure, to produce lines of different weight.
There are fountain pens with broad nibs, but those are used for a different kind of calligraphy (styles like Italic, and fractured script styles).
That said, you can definitely use a simple fountain pen for practicing the general letterforms and principles of pointed pen calligraphy, even if you can’t add the weight in the downstrokes by default. But you could also do this with a normal pen.
How do I find out if my pen is flexible?
Usually they aren’t. If you’re not sure, try applying very little (!) pressure to the tip and see if it flexes considerably. This means the tines will spread apart and come back to their previous position afterwards. Also, the stroke width will differ.
Usually the really flexible fountain pens have gold nibs and are very expensive, or they do have „flexible steel nibs“ which are usually quite rigid despite the name.
Please note that fountain pens are a bit more delicate than steel dip nibs, and you only have one nib installed on your pen. Don’t ruin your fountain pen by trying to find out if it’s flexible, so don’t press down to much.
Do I really need a steel dip nib & pen holder for calligraphy?
No, you don’t, but I’d advise it for everyone who wants to learn pointed pen calligraphy.
Although it isn’t as comfortable, the system of dip nibs, pen holder and an inkwell is an incredibly adaptable and proven one. You have a wide range of nibs to choose from, from beginner’s nibs to very obscure antique nibs, you can adjust everything to your needs, and after the initial problems with dripping ink and handling the new tools you will enjoy this very adaptable system. Everyone goes through this adaption phase, trust me. It’s not just weird for you.
Those are the same tools that the calligraphy masters used to produce the letterforms we aspire to learn today. They are tried and tested. Steel nibs do have a stunning ability to flex and make those thin and thick contrasts. Plus, you don’t have to be afraid to break your nib, if you do (which doesn’t happen as often as you might think) you can simply install a new one onto your holder.
Even the most flexible fountain pen doesn’t come near a good flexible dip nib. This is why I’d advise dip nibs over fountain pens every day.
If you’re afraid of the inks and the splattering, give brush pens a try. They work with similar principles and also produce beautiful results.
Where can I get flexible fountain pens? Should I get one?
There is the possibility to get antique Waterman Wet Noodle (yes, that’s the name!) fountain pens on the internet from vendors who repair old exemplars. This is a very expensive choice (starting at $200).
You can also get new fountain pens with flexible nibs, either models like the Namiki Falcon (around $150) which has a flexible gold nib, or cheap models like the Noodler’s Ahab fountain pen (around $25).
Those last two options are semi-flexible at best, you’ll need to exert a lot of pressure to achieve the same effect you’d get with a regular dip nib. Even the Nikko G nib, which is one of the more rigid nibs, has more flex than these fountain pens. The pressure you need to apply will tire your hand and not train the right muscles needed for pointed pen calligraphy. You’ll need a much lighter touch for this. Plus, you could get many years worth of dip nib pens for the same money. So, I don’t particularly advise to get one of these flexible fountain pens.
If you know you can make good use of it, or absolutely need to carry your tools around without a hassle, then go for it, but be prepared to invest a lot. (My favorite example is type designer Laura Worthington who loves to create new drafts for her fonts with these antique Waterman fountain pens – without being bound to the desk. But she’s a magician with any kind of dip nib or brush pen too.)
I can’t get calligraphy nibs in my area, what should I do?
This is a common problem. Actually one that I have too. I don’t know of any brick and mortar art supply store that carries the calligraphy tools I need. I order most of my supplies online. Here’s a guide on where to get supplies: click.
I have bought/been gifted a calligraphy kit. Can I use it for creating modern calligraphy?
Calligraphy kits usually aren’t worth their money because most of them aen’t very carefully chosen and put together. Plus, they’re often not focused on the pointed pen. You can get decent kits for broad nib-based calligraphy, but you can’t use those nibs for Copperplate or the modern styles you see in this blog. Sometimes, these kits come with paper, and usually it’s only usable for broad nibs too. Pointed pens need a much smoother paper, because the sharp steel nibs tend to snag in the paper fibers and splatter all over the page.
My letters don’t turn out like yours, what am I doing wrong?
This can depend on so many factors. It’s always helpful to know what tools you’re using, what exactly you’ve tried and what the results were, before attempting to narrow down the reasons.
As a first pointer please try to follow all my recommended tips for beginners. There’s also a wealth of (free) knowledge in this blog’s archive, and I also have some practice resources that I make available for a small price.
While I can’t provide really detailed feedback through the blog, I offer an online course for exactly this purpose.
So if you are eager to learn all the basics while getting detailed feedback from me, and help with all your questions, consider joining my next beginner’s online course (it will start again in fall).
That’s it for the first round of questions!
If you’ve got similar questions, don’t be afraid to ask! I love getting questions and helping you with what you want to know about calligraphy tools and techniques. Share your questions in the comments or send me an email.