Updated: Nov 11, 2019
One of the parts of calligraphy that no one talks about is all the prep work involved in creating a project. Unless you're a masterpenman (or woman), you typically need some kind of plan, and at least some basic guidelines are a must! But how do you go about drawing those out?
Today I'm giving you a few tips & tricks for handling those pesky guidelines that make your calligraphy look so polished and amazing!
Tip #1: Map Out Your Project Boundaries. This is the place to start, and sometimes starting can be the hardest part! Typically, you want to make sure that your left and right margins are equal, and that your top margin is a bit smaller than your bottom margin. Check out my Instagram post about this exact topic here.
Tip #2: Choose A Guideline Marking Method Based On Your Paper. What do I mean by this? Well, the way you mark guidelines on white, 90lb paper will be vastly different from the way you mark guidelines on 120lb black paper! I use all 5 of the methods below, depending on the project:
white fabric pencil (Fonz & Porter makes a great mechanical one!!)
4B soft-lead pencil
6H hard-lead pencil
lightbox & separate sheet of guidelines
Tip #3: Math Is Your Friend. Before you put a single mark on your paper, do your homework! Take the measurements of the total project, subtract your margins, and divide by how many lines of text you'll have. This is the total size of your calligraphy lines (including ascenders and descenders!) Now, divide this total by your (x-height + ascender/descender proportions), and you'll know exactly where and how far apart your lines will need to be.
Tip #4: Straight, straight, straight. Crooked lines can be the downfall of a beautiful project. There are a few ways to make sure your lines are straight, my favorite being to make sure my paper edges are squared off properly and then using a T-square. Whatever else they may be, make sure your lines for text are parallel with each other.
Tip #5: Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide. As you start scribing your project, if something feels off, then trust your gut! Maybe one of your guidelines is a bit crooked, or an x-height is a bit different on one line. If in doubt, it sometimes helps me to even take a step back from the piece to look at it as a whole, before making a decision. Whatever you choose, move forward confidently and know that your finished piece will be beautiful!
Tip #6: Embrace The Imperfections. I believe that calligraphy is all about human connection. Taking the time to design/make/write/create a unique gift or sentiment for a loved one is a way of saying "I think you're worth the effort". Time is one of our most precious commodities in life, and investing time in someone else is the best way to make someone feel special.
That's why I absolutely love all the little quirks in hand-scribed calligraphy work. Those imperfections prove that this was created by a living, breathing person....someone who cares so much that they are willing to take the time to carefully create something. And those imperfections make the piece completely one-of-a-kind! No one else in the world will every have this unique work of art.