Updated: Dec 2, 2019
In my second level pointed pen class, I often talk about good practice habits with my students. And in my last class, one of my students asked how I have my calligraphy workspace set up, to give her an idea of what I meant.
What a great question! So I decided to share it here on my blog, to help anyone who might be wondering the same thing!
Here's a sneak peek of my desk. I typically do most of my serious calligraphy work at a drafting desk, so that's why it looks angled in this picture.
Why a drafting desk? For me, it's all about ergonomics. I have a lot of trouble with back pain, and having my work angled helps me maintain better posture while I'm working. It may not seem like a big deal, but when you're working for a few hours hunched over your work to keep an eye on all the small details, it can really make a huge difference! But no worries if you don't have access to one -- it's not a requirement for good practice habits. 😊
Whether you have a drafting desk or (more likely) just a table, there are a few things that I highly recommend when considering how and where to set up your workspace.
Natural Light -- you can see from this side view that I have my desk set up directly by a large window. Not only do I love being able to watch the birds and bunnies in my backyard throughout the day, but more importantly it gives me access to natural light as I work. Good lighting is important to reduce eye strain, and it helps us see every mark we're making clearly. Natural light is the best type of lighting, because it also gives us "true tones" of colors, so if you're working with colored ink you know exactly what shade you're using.
Direct Lighting -- I also have a backup desk light clipped to the top of my desk. I often use my lamp even during to day, to put a spotlight on the specific area of my desk that I'm working on.
Ink & Tools -- As you know I'm a leftie, so I keep my shelf with my ink on the left-hand side of my work. That way, I don't have to reach over my work to dip my nib. I keep all my other supplies on the right hand side of my desk, so that they're out of the way and still close at hand if/when I need them.
Padding -- Our nibs function a lot like our bodies. If we're constantly walking on a hard concrete floor, our knees will wear out a lot faster than if we're walking on soft carpeting! The same principle applies to our calligraphy nibs, so we want to make sure that we have good padding underneath our work as we letter. I use large 14"x17" sheets of practice paper, secured in place with some adorable llama washi (because llamas are my spirit animal). These are large enough that no matter where I have my paper oriented, I'm still on top of my padding.
Scrap Paper to Rest Your Hand -- You can see it best in the first picture, but I always keep a piece of scrap paper on hand to cover my work. Our skin gives off natural oils, and sometimes this can affect how well the paper accepts the ink. To protect your work from hand oils, dirt, and from the chance of smudging something, keep a piece of clean scrap paper to rest your hand on. Some calligraphers prefer to keep a piece of scrap paper on top and bottom of the line they're working on, but I move my work around too much to find this method effective.
Alphabet Exemplar -- It's also a good habit to keep an alphabet exemplar in clear view while you're practicing a new script. I usually keep mine clipped under my lamp for quick reference!
Painter's Tape -- Your new best friend! I firmly believe in securing your work to the desk, to help prevent any slipping as you scribe. Painter's tape works best in my experience, for two reasons. First, it's low-tack and therefore won't rip the paper when you remove it at the end. Secondly, it also allows you to quickly and easily move your work around the table (say, as you move across a line or farther down the page, and need to adjust), and will remain tacky over many adjustments.
What does your practice space look like?? Do you use any other tricks? I'd love to hear about your space in the comments below!