Nibs, tines, upstrokes, downstrokes. Calligraphy has a language of its own, I quickly learned at a pop-up class taught by Shannon Ho of Peach & Paperie.
With the decline of letter writing, and even of cursive writing, I presumed hand lettering and calligraphy to be a lost art. The last time calligraphy even entered my mind was more than 20 years ago, when it came time to mail my wedding invitations.
But with more than 20 eager-to-learn individuals settled in for Ho’s 90-minute tutorial, it became clear that this art had not been lost.
Ho teaches calligraphy as often as twice a week, typically at trendy gathering places across the DMV, including Shipgarten in Tysons, where my class was held inside of a roomy beer tent, and Ms. Peacock’s Champagne Lounge in Arlington. She took her first calligraphy class in 2014 and started Peach & Paperie just three years later, offering calligraphy services for weddings. In 2021, Sip & Script came knocking with an offer to make Ho one of their calligraphy instructors.
Needless to say, our class was in good hands. After taking a seat, I quietly inspected the materials in front of me. There was a black inkpot, letter guides, tracing paper, and a pen holder. There were also two nibs, the pointy pen tips for dip pens that control the flow of ink through flexible tines and enable the crafting of thick or thin lines with each stroke.
There is a surprising variety of nib types (well over 50), but for this class, we used one known as the Hunt 512.
This replaceable variant, which Ho describes as “forgiving for first-timers,” is a stiff, bowl-shaped nib well-suited for beginners due to its ability to retain ink. With the Hunt 512, users don’t have to dip the pen into the inkpot as often and are less likely to leave an inky mess if they press too hard to release ink through the tines.
Once we were schooled up on the Hunt 512 and our other supplies, we were ready to go.
Ho started the class by teaching us that calligraphy is all about upstrokes and downstrokes. So, we naturally began by learning strokes on tracing paper before tackling actual letters.
Cursive and calligraphy may be similar, but their differences were made evident early. With cursive, the pen never lifts from the paper. Picking up the pen is a constant in calligraphy, however.
“You don’t need to be artistic or have good handwriting to be good at calligraphy,” says Ho, adding that anyone can learn and come to love the art.
I was able to concur once I reached the end of the class without once placing my palm on top of any letters I’d created.
For those interested in hand lettering items like holiday cards, Ho has some advice.
For starters, be sure your ink color is legible to the post office — avoid using dark ink with dark-colored envelopes. If the thought of using calligraphy on a full address is daunting, just stick to the name and use a typewritten address. Most importantly, “always order extra envelopes in case of mess-ups or typos,” she says.
Ho’s Intro to Modern Calligraphy workshops typically cost $65 per person, a fee that includes a beginner’s calligraphy kit. Ho also shares a list of her favorite tools at the end of each class, so you’ll never have to wonder what instruments to incorporate next. Sign up for a class at peachandpaperie.com/learn.