Do you ever struggle getting your letters or strokes to have a consistent slant? Or, maybe they are consistently…wrong. There is a very simple fix for this, and I’m going to tell you how to do it in this article.

the secret to getting the right slant with calligraphy

Our last three basics articles introduced you to the pen itself and laid the foundation for learning how to use the pen. Now that you know about the pen, how to care for your nibs, and how to adjust the flange, let’s talk about how to hold the pen. A picture does a better job at explaining this than words do, but I want to start with words. With calligraphy, you want to hold your pen lightly. A steady, gentle grasp is important, because if you grip too tightly, your strokes will end up being too heavy and even shaky. Opt for a lighter grip.

how to hold a calligraphy pen

I prefer to hold my pen between my thumb and forefinger and resting on my other three fingers, as shown above. There are different pen-holds people use, but this works best for me. My daughter prefers to hold her pen slightly different than I hold mine, as shown below. You should experiment with how you hold your pen to find what is most comfortable for you. The main goal with your pen hold is to position the nib properly to the paper.

how to hold an oblique nib holder

Nib Tines Must Touch Paper at the Same Time

I mentioned this briefly in the article on flange adjustment, but I need to elaborate a little bit here. Your nib tines should be parallel to the plane of the paper, rather than rolled at an angle. In other words, when you put your nib to your paper, both tines should touch it at the same time. This is the only way to get a smooth even flow of ink. This aspect of pen-hold must be addressed before moving on to fixing any slant problems. If you have not adjusted your flange, your pen will likely not be held in the same position as these pictures suggest. Instead, it will be rotated so that the flange is more up in the air. Rotate your pen in your hand until you get it to where the tines can both touch the paper at the same time.

align your flange with the slant line on the paper

 

Now that you know to hold your pen and how to put it to the paper, we can move on to the special sauce that makes fixing your slant problem feel like magic!

The Thing You Must Have to Achieve Consistent Slant

Getting consistent slant does have a prerequisite though. You absolutely MUST have a set of guidelines with the slant lines that MATCH the slant of the style of writing you are learning. Those slant lines are there for a reason–they are to be your guide so that you don’t have to try to wave some magic wand to accomplish the impossible. I’m always amazed when I see calligraphy worksheets that have tracing letters that are not on the slant line. How are you to learn the proper slant if you’re constantly guessing what direction to draw your strokes?

This should not be. You do not have to guess about your slant.  The solution is VERY simple. You follow the slant of your guideline. If your guideline doesn’t have the right slant, then GET A NEW ONE. Or draw one yourself if you have too. I have created guidelines that are FREE for you to download when you subscribe to my newsletter. My guideline packet has two options for slanted lines–55º and 65º. Copperplate calligraphy typically follows a 55º slant, but when I am modernizing my calligraphy, I like it to be a little more casual, with less slant, so I use a 65º guideline for that.

how to get the proper slant for copperplate calligraphy

If the style of writing you are learning uses a different slant, you can analyze that slant using a protractor (that little plastic half-circle ruler you used in middle school) to find out the slant. Then you can use an online guideline generator to generate guidelines with EXACTLY that slant. The two generators I know about are shipbrook.net/guidelines and lanquach.com. Lanquach.com gives you the option of creating 2 different angles on the same set of guidelines, which is unique. Bookmark these links, because you are going to love having these tools at your disposal!

The Special Sauce for Turning the Wrong Slant into the Right Slant

I can hear you already. “I AM using the right slant guidelines, but I STILL can’t get my strokes to match it every time!” Now what I’m about to tell you isn’t a guarantee that you will always get the slant EXACTLY right, but in my experience, this almost always solves the slant problem.

Here’s the secret. Your arm has a natural path it follows when you write calligraphy. Rather than going against this natural flow, you can capitalize on it (no pun intended). In order to fix your slant problem, you need to realize YOU are not the one with the slant problem. The PAPER is the one with the slant problem. I’m going to show you how to adjust your paper to match the natural slant your writing is already going to have, so that you get the right slant– and the SAME slant–almost every time.

How to Adjust Your Paper to Match Your Natural Slant

For starters, the nib and flange should align with the slant lines on your paper. This provides the proper action of the tines on the paper to provide good, smooth ink flow. So this is somewhat multifaceted, because not only do you have to hold the pen correctly to make this happen, your hand needs to feel comfortable AND your paper has to be aligned well. Notice in this photo how the flange is aligned with the slant.

how to hold a calligraphy pen

It’s going to take some experimenting to make this happen, but I’m going to give you a step-by-step list of how to get this paper adjustment just right.

  1. To start, turn your paper so that the bottom of your slant lines point directly at your chest. This is a great starting point for your paper adjustment.
  2. Put your pen in your hand and rest your hand comfortably on your paper in front of you in a way that would be most natural for you to write. Do this with your eyes closed.
  3. Then open your eyes, see where your flange is, and rotate your paper until that slant line is aligned with the flange.
  4. Dip your pen in ink, place it on the paper, and pull the pen toward you to make a downstroke–in the most natural movement possible. If the stroke is not exactly aligned with the slant line, rotate your paper and draw another downstroke. Repeat this until the slant line of the paper matches your natural downstroke.

For some people, this slant line faces directly toward their chest. For me, it tends to be a little out to the right of that. Whatever the case is for you, be sure that making your downstrokes is comfortable, consistently aligning with the slant line, and not causing frustration. If you really struggle with consistent slant, chances are you just need a minor rotational paper adjustment.

I’m going to give a little slant adjustment session in photos below.

I want to hear from you if this helps fix your slant issues. Please leave a comment or hop over to my Instagram account and let me know if this has worked for you. And if it has, be sure to pin the article to help others.

The Best Body Position for Calligraphy

I want to mention one more thing here, because if I did a whole article on this, who would want to read it? Once you have your pen, hand, and paper positioned well, you need to take a moment to assess your body positioning. I cannot underestimate how important your posture and overall ergonomic positioning are to your physical health. When writing calligraphy, you may end up concentrating on your writing for hours at a time, and if you are in a poor position, your body will tell you very loudly. Be sure that you are minding your body and putting it in a position that will not cause you pain that’s difficult to eliminate.

Typically, you want each of your joints to be in a 90-degree angle, rather than hyper- or under-extended. This includes your ankles, knees, hips, elbows, shoulders. This may require an adjustable chair, a stool, a cushion, or an elevated desk, or all of the above. Then when you write you should be facing your desk straight on with a straight back and relaxed arms. I find it difficult to see my paper, causing me to slump over to get closer for perfection. For this reason, I almost always work on my lightpad lifted at an angle with Pad Pucks, even if I don’t need the light. Although it changes the angle of my shoulder slightly, this causes less problems than hunching over the paper.

A quick word about my cushion is warranted here. For years I struggled with low back pain, until I figured out what was wrong and got some physical therapy, an injection, and made a significant lifestyle change. I had to heed the advice of my doctor to NOT SIT for long periods of time. This makes calligraphy and worksheet design a challenge. I have a stand-up desk I move to from time to time, and I try not to do one thing for hours on end.

But IF I am sitting, I am most likely sitting on my Comfy Cush. I carry this cushion all over the place–car trips, football games, school assemblies, calligraphy guild meetings. I will absolutely not sit for very long anywhere without my Comfy Cush. If you struggle with sitting too, you might consider trying it.

It is also important to stand up and stretch every 30 minutes or so when you are writing for any length of time to prevent your muscles from freezing up and getting painful. Trust me—I’ve learned this the hard way.

Okay. So we’ve discussed how to adjust your pen and paper just right to give you perfect slant {almost} every time, and we’ve looked at the importance of ergonomic body positioning. The only thing we have left to do is–write! In my next article I will be showing you what is the very first thing you should write, and I’m going to give you some instructional guidance on squaring those tops and bottoms!

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