Different people, different strokes

Aqilah Rahman

Broadly speaking, there are two types of calligraphy: traditional and modern.

Traditional calligraphy is often associated with a dip pen and has a list of strict rules that must be followed, giving off an elegant and sophisticated look.

Modern calligraphy, on the other hand, is often associated with a brush pen and has a lot more leeway. Unlike traditional calligraphy, the letters don’t have to look a certain way. This gives you the freedom to experiment with different techniques depending on your preferences.

When it comes to modern calligraphy, beginners are usually recommended to start with a brush pen. You can still do modern calligraphy with a dip pen, but using a brush pen is generally considered easier and more beginner-friendly.

Here’s a brief guide on how to get started with brush pen calligraphy, with local calligraphy enthusiast Shafifah who’s been doing brush pen calligraphy for almost two years.


To get started with brush pen calligraphy, you basically need two things: Brush pen and paper.

For beginners, Shafifah recommends a brush pen with a firm tip because it’s easy to use. There are brush pens with a soft and flexible tip but these have a steeper learning curve.

As for the paper, any smooth printer paper will do. “Make sure the paper is not rough as it can damage the pen,” she said.


In calligraphy, all letters are made up of strokes. As Shafifah explained, it’s important to master the strokes first before you start doing letters.

By varying the pressure on your brush pen, you can achieve different kinds of strokes. The upstroke, for example, is a thin light stroke that goes upward. Meanwhile, the downstroke is a relatively thick stroke that goes downward and requires more pressure.

“It’s important to make sure the upstrokes and downstrokes are consistent. If not, the lettering won’t look that good,” she said.

Other strokes include the overturn, underturn, compound curve, oval, ascending loop and descending loop. Each requires a different amount of pressure.

Some calligraphers provide free printable practice sheets. You can print these out and keep practicing until you have a good grasp on the strokes.

In terms of learning resources, books and online classes are a great place to start.

The book Modern Calligraphy by Molly Suber Thorpe is a popular recommendation for beginners, as well as Lettering and Modern Calligraphy by Paper Peony Press. As for online courses, websites like Craftsy and CreativeLive offer their services at a reasonable price.

If you’re looking for free tutorials, there’s always YouTube. That’s how Shafifah learnt to do brush pen calligraphy. “The ones for beginners are easy to understand,” she said.


A lot of people have the misconception that they need to have good handwriting to be good at calligraphy – but this isn’t true at all.

“I’ve seen someone with not-so-good handwriting but doing calligraphy really well,” said Shafifah.

When doing calligraphy, people usually write slowly and it’s common to take a brief pause after each letter.

This makes calligraphy completely different from regular writing. Most of us wouldn’t think twice when jotting down a grocery list or filling in a form.

“Honestly though, at first I also thought you have to have a good handwriting for calligraphy,” she said.

Anyone can do brush pen calligraphy no matter what their handwriting looks like. All you need is a brush pen and paper, and you’re set to go.

For those interested in brush pen calligraphy, Shafifah recommends to take their time mastering the strokes.

As she highlighted, “Start with the basics.”