Bored of Black Ink? Try Watercolor Calligraphy!

Generally, when we begin learning calligraphy, we are told to stick to one type of black ink until we feel confident with our strokes. This is great advice to follow while learning calligraphy, but if you have been diligently working away in black ink, and are feeling confident, perhaps it’s time to take the color plunge!

Adding color to calligraphy work really takes the art form to a whole new level.

With color, we can now add a range of feeling to our letters that simply can’t be expressed in black. Also, let’s face it: Black is undeniably elegant, but color is just plain fun.

One of the best ways, in my opinion, to add color to calligraphy work is by lettering with watercolor paint as your ink. Read on to learn how

Watercolors in tubes versus in pans: what's the difference?

Photo via Craftsy blogger Jessie Oleson Moore

Choosing watercolors for calligraphy

Student grade vs. artist grade paints

When shopping for watercolors, you will encounter the “student grade” and “artist grade” paints. As you might guess, the artist grade paints tend to be of better quality. Student grade paints are made from cheaper pigments and materials, hence the lower price. Artist grade paints are made from high-quality pigments and have more pigment in them, resulting in a denser watercolor and better lightfastness

Generally, the rule of thumb for buying art supplies is to “buy the best quality you can afford.” In my opinion, don’t worry a bit about buying student-grade materials from an art store — they will still be lovely!

Color and quality

The advantage of watercolor is that the colors are bright and luminous. However, most colors are transparent, so you need to use a white or light-colored paper. The transparent quality adds to the fun, though, as the letters can be layered and washes can be incorporated into calligraphy pieces. Be prepared to perhaps do a bit of color mixing or tinting if you are finding your lettering is a little too subtle!

Watercolor paper

Your regular calligraphy paper choices — such as bond paper or quality drawing paper —will work well for this technique.

If you wish to add washes, illustrations or use a very watery technique, you will want to move to watercolor paper. A common option is 140 lb. watercolor paper. If you are planning to use a lot of water or wet washes, go for a heavier weight watercolor paper — you may even want to learn about stretching your own watercolor paper.

The most important factor to keep in mind when choosing paper for your watercolor calligraphy projects is to look for hot-pressed paper. Hot-pressed paper has been machine made and ran through hot rollers, resulting in a lovely, smooth surface. Other papers can be too textured for beginner calligraphy work.

How to load a calligraphy pen with watercolor

The key to working with watercolor and a calligraphy dip pen is twofold:

  1. Mix the watercolor to the right consistency
  2. Apply the watercolor correctly to your pen

Mix the watercolor to the right consistency

When creating an ink-like substance to work with in our calligraphy dip pens, we are aiming for an ink-like consistency! This could perhaps best be described as a density similar coffee cream: Not too runny, not too thick.

In a small dish, use an old watercolor brush to mix up your watercolor paint with a little bit of water at a time, until the texture of cream is reached.

Apply the watercolor correctly to your pen.

How to load watercolor onto your calligraphy pen nib

Illustration by Laura Lavender

Using your old watercolor brush again, apply your paint to the back of the pen nib to thoroughly coat it. Test your loaded pen nib on your scrap paper to check for ink flow, and then you are ready to jump into color calligraphy!


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