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The Calligraphy Basic Strokes and WHY they're important

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

The calligraphy basic strokes are a key part of learning calligraphy. These strokes are essentially the movements you make with your brush pen or dip pen that merge together to form the letters of the alphabet.


But why are they so important to learn and why would you learn these rather than pretty letters? If you want to create tidy calligraphy, your letters need to have distinctive and consistent thick and thin lines. It is much easier to picture how and when to adjust your pen to create these thick and thin lines when it's a handful of strokes compared to thinking about how to create 26 letters.


Let's dive further into consistency. Let's take the Oval stroke. This is an oval but one side has to be thick, the other has to be thin and you need to adjust your pressure throughout the stroke. This stroke builds the foundation of the letters a, b, c, d, e, g, o, p, q and s. Therefore, if you get the oval stroke down, you will have a big head start with creating these letters. Whereas if you jumped into learning the letters first and had the roundness to each letter was different, even slightly, you're going to end up with a bunch of inconsistent letters.


Another reason why you should learn these strokes is because it encourages you to take your pen off the page. This is another tip you may hear regularly as you start to look further into the art of modern calligraphy and there's a reason for it. If you've read my calligraphy vs cursive post you'll know that one difference is about intention and speed of writing. Slowing down to create calligraphy helps with consistency, and thinking of your letters as a combination of the basic strokes is a great way to slow down because these are created separately and you're forced to take your pen off the page.


Now why wouldn't you learn the basic strokes? Impatience. I have a confession to make... I was one of those impatient people who learned about the basic strokes and thought "boring! I want to get started on the interesting stuff". Now I completely get why you might see the basic strokes and want to jump into the letters, because I've been there too and made the same mistake. Although I did eventually get there, I really do believe my progress was slowed down by not practising these movements first.


So you've learnt what the basic strokes are about and why you should learn them but how do you actually create them? Let's get into the breakdown below.


Downstroke

The downstroke is a straight line and you make this movement by moving your hand downwards and applying some pressure. Don't be scared about applying pressure, your brush pens are designed for this purpose.


The Basic Calligraphy Strokes Downstroke
Downstroke - Basic Calligraphy Stroke

Upstroke

Another straight line but this movement is made by moving your pen upwards but it requires less pressure than you apply to downstrokes. This is trickier than the downstroke. If your line is wobbly, it may be that you are going too slow and although you need to go slow when creating calligraphy it's about finding the right balance that helps you create consistently.


Calligraphy Basic Strokes - Upstroke
Upstroke - Basic Calligraphy Stroke

Underturn

This is basically a capital U but one side of it is thicker than the other. Move your pen from left to right, as you would traditionally and remember that whenever you move your pen downwards you need to apply more pressure. Top tip: try not to think of these as merging a downstroke and upstroke. If you try to 'add on' the thin upstroke as an afterthought as it will look clunky. For best results, you should think of this as one fluid motion.


Calligraphy Basic Strokes Underturn
Underturn - Calligraphy Basic Stroke

Overturn

So this is just the opposite. From left to right, start by moving your pen upwards and then when you reach the peak, start applying more pressure so that you get that thickness when you move the pen downwards.


Calligraphy Basic Strokes Overturn
Overturn - Calligraphy Basic Stroke

Oval stroke

What is essentially an O but you need to apply pressure to one side. I personally tend to start this stroke from the right hand side. This stroke is the trickiest of the lot, so don't be concerned if you have some difficulty. There's a reason that people can't jump into creating pretty letters right away.


Calligraphy Basic Strokes Oval Stroke
Oval Stroke - Calligraphy Basic Stroke

Ascending loop

The ascending loop is a basic flourish used in letters with ascenders such as the letter b. You don't apply any pressure in the loop itself but start to apply pressure as you leave the loop going into the downstroke motion.


Calligraphy Basic Strokes Ascending Loop
Ascending Loop - Calligraphy Basic Stroke

Descending loop

The reverse of the ascending loop. This time you start applying pressure and finish off with the loop. This stroke is used for descending letters such as the letter g.


Calligraphy Basic Strokes Descending Loop
Descending Loop - Calligraphy Basic Stroke

Some examples of how these basic strokes form together to create the letters of the alphabet can be seen below. When creating letters, try to think of which basic stroke movements apply to the letter.


Basic Strokes put together to form the calligraphy alphabet
Basic Strokes put together to form the calligraphy alphabet

If you would like to learn more about the basic strokes and see how they fit into the letters of the alphabet, consider joining a Beginner's Workshop. We'll go more in depth and you'll see me create them in real time along with top tips.


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Learn how to get started with modern calligraphy by downloading your free guide. Simply pop your name and email address below.


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