Common Calligraphy Mistakes And How To Fix Them

Improper Pen Angle

One of the most common mistakes beginners make in pointed pen calligraphy is improperly holding the pen. Many new calligraphers mistakenly try to hold the pen perfectly vertical or completely horizontal to the paper.

However, pointed pen calligraphy requires holding the pen at a slanted angle of about 30 to 55 degrees in relation to the paper. This angled grip allows the nib tines to splay as you write and create those lovely thick and thin strokes characteristic of pointed pen calligraphy.

Attempting to hold the pen vertically or horizontally prevents the tines from separating and flexing as intended, resulting in thin weak lines without variation. Be sure to tilt your pen to the correct slanted angle to produce those beautifully bold downstrokes and graceful hairlines.

Check out this helpful tutorial from The Postman’s Knock for more on proper pointed pen grip and angle:

Inconsistent Slant

One of the most common mistakes beginner calligraphers make is having an inconsistent slant in their lettering. This refers to when the letters in a word slant in different directions, rather than following a uniform slant. For example, in Copperplate calligraphy, the standard slant is 55 degrees 1. If some letters slant at 55 degrees but others slant at 45 or 65 degrees, it will look very disjointed and messy.

There are a few reasons why slant may be inconsistent:

  • Not using guideline paper or slant lines to guide the angle
  • Rotating the paper while writing instead of keeping it steady
  • Not being mindful of the pen angle and letting it shift unconsciously

To fix inconsistent slant, it’s important to pick a slant angle and stick to it. Using slant guidelines on paper or a slant board can help train your hand to follow the same angle. Being mindful of keeping the paper steady and your wrist relaxed but stable will also lead to more uniform slanting. With practice and concentration on keeping the pen angle consistent, your muscle memory will develop and slant will become more natural and steady.

Uneven Letter Spacing

Spacing between letters and words should be evenly measured like the rungs of a ladder, but maintaining consistent spacing can be challenging for beginner calligraphers. When the spaces between letters and words are irregular, it interrupts the flow and readability of the text. Here are some tips to help fix uneven letter spacing:

First, use guidelines to mark where the x-height, ascenders, descenders, and capitals reach. Guidelines act as a ruler to measure consistent spacing between letters. Be sure to leave equal space between each guideline. Refer to the guidelines as you write to check your spacing.

Next, practice consistent letter forms. Consistent slant and size will naturally lead to more even spacing. Drill simple 2-3 letter combinations like “no, on, in” repeatedly.

Pay extra attention to tricky letter pairs like r-o, v-o, w-o where the right side of one letter tucks under the o. Leave a bit more space between these pairs.

Also be mindful of spacing around ascenders and descenders. Tall letters like l, h, k need a bit more space than squat letters like m, u, i.

Finally, step back occasionally and squint at your writing to spot any gaps or dense sections that need adjustment. Uneven spacing is often easier to see from a distance. With mindful practice and using guidelines, your spacing will become more regular.


Inconsistent Stroke Thickness

One of the most common mistakes in calligraphy is having an uneven or inconsistent thickness in strokes. This makes the writing look amateurish and sloppy.

There are a few reasons you may be getting uneven stroke thickness:

  • Your pen angle is inconsistent as you write. Make sure to hold the pen at the proper 30-55 degree angle as you write.
  • You are applying uneven pressure as you write certain strokes. Practice maintaining consistent pressure as you pull the pen in different directions.
  • Your pen nib has started to wear down over time and needs to be replaced. Check your nibs and replace any that look damaged or bent.

To improve, focus on keeping your pen angle steady around 45 degrees as you write. Lightly rest your arm or wrist on the paper to stabilize your hand. Apply even pressure throughout each stroke. Replace nibs regularly before they lose their shape. With practice, your strokes will develop a beautiful uniform thickness (1).

(1) Maintaining Stroke Thickness


One of the most common frustrations when starting calligraphy is accidentally smudging fresh ink before it has fully dried. This often happens when your hand accidentally drags across the paper as you’re writing. The ink gets smeared across the page, ruining your beautiful lettering.

The best way to avoid smudges is to wait until everything is completely dry before moving your work. Be patient and don’t rush between strokes or lines (Source: It’s easy to get impatient, but pacing yourself will prevent many smudging mishaps. Use blotting paper under your hand as you write to prevent accidental contact with wet ink.

If you do end up with a smudge, wait for the ink to fully dry. Then use a very fine-tipped brush to gently lift excess ink. Avoid scrubbing or you may damage the paper. For lighter smudges, try gently dabbing with a clean cloth or eraser. The key is to be subtle and patient. With care, you can reduce the impact of smudging and continue creating beautiful works.

Shaky Lines

An unsteady hand can cause wobbly, uneven lines in calligraphy. This makes the writing look messy and illegible. There are a few techniques you can use to help steady your hand:

  • Rest your hand or wrist on the paper to stabilize it. But be careful not to smear the ink.
  • Try resting your pinky finger on the paper to act as an anchor.
  • Sit up straight and keep your shoulders, elbows, and wrists relaxed as you write. Tension can translate to shakiness.
  • Take breaks often so your hand doesn’t get fatigued or cramped.
  • Practice calligraphy exercises like making straight lines or ovals. This will help strengthen the small muscles in your hand.
  • Consider investing in a writing glove with silicone grip pads. This can help stabilize your hand.

With regular practice, your hand control will improve. But don’t grip the pen too tightly or tense up, as this can exacerbate shakiness. Stay relaxed and let the pen glide across the paper. Sources:

Weak Connections

One of the most common calligraphy mistakes is having weak or incomplete connections between letters, especially when writing in cursive. This can make the writing look disjointed and messy. According to The Alphabetic Principle: Connecting Sounds to Letters (, clear connections between letters are key for developing strong handwriting skills.

With calligraphy, the goal is to have graceful, flowing connections between each letter. Not fully connecting letters leaves gaps that interrupt the flow. This mistake often happens when lifting the pen off the paper between letters rather than maintaining contact. It can also occur if strokes are ended too short when transitioning from one letter to the next.

To fix weak connections, be mindful to keep the pen on the paper between letters. Overlap strokes and lead into the following letter without lifting. It can help to practice letter pairs and combinations to get a feel for those transitions. If needed, go back over weak connections with added pressure to reinforce them. Patience and focused practice will strengthen connections over time.

Poor Ink Flow

Poor ink flow manifests as:[Achieving optimal ink flow ballpoint pen](

Ink blobs occur when too much ink pools at the tip, causing blotches or spots of excess ink on the page. This can be caused by using an overly wet ink or nib/feed issues in a fountain pen.

Skips and hard starts happen when ink flow is inconsistent or inadequate. There is not enough ink reaching the nib, causing it to skip across the page instead of writing smoothly. Using a drier ink or a nib/feed that is misaligned can lead to skips.

Excess pooling is when ink gathers in blobs at the end of strokes or letters instead of drying neatly on the page. Too much ink reaching the nib can cause pooling. This may indicate the ink flow needs to be reduced.

To improve poor ink flow:

  • Use wetter inks sparingly and try a drier ink
  • Check nib and feed alignment in fountain pens
  • Clean out nibs/feeds to clear blockages
  • Gently bend fountain pen tines into better alignment
  • Smooth any roughness on the nib tipping

Achieving consistent ink flow is key for a smooth writing experience without skips, starts, or blobs.

Weak Upstrokes

One common mistake in calligraphy is having upstrokes that are too light compared to the downstrokes. Upstrokes refer to the strokes moving upwards on the page, while downstrokes move downwards. Ideally, the thickness and intensity of upstrokes and downstrokes should be balanced. However, many beginning calligraphers struggle with making their upstrokes too weak.

Having weak upstrokes creates an imbalanced look. Downstrokes appear too heavy while upstrokes look faint. This lack of harmony makes the overall writing appear awkward. Strengthening upstrokes helps create a sense of uniformity and rhythm.

To fix weak upstrokes, be mindful of applying more pressure as you pull the pen upwards. Use your shoulder muscles rather than just your fingers to create broader strokes. Your pen angle will also affect upstroke intensity. Holding the pen at a 30-45 degree angle gives more variation between thick downstrokes and thinner upstrokes. Check your pen’s nib – worn out nibs can contribute to weak thin strokes.

Aim to make upstrokes around two-thirds the thickness of downstrokes. This blog recommends practicing individual downstroke-upstroke pairs to match their weights. Drilling consistent up and down motions helps train your muscles and improve coordination. With regular practice, balanced up and down strokes will start to feel natural.

Incorrect Letter Shapes

In calligraphy, accuracy in letter shapes is crucial for legibility and aesthetics. Common mistakes include:

  • Inaccurate letter forms that deviate from standard shapes. Many novice calligraphers have difficulty forming letters like “a”, “g”, “e”, “s” according to established letterforms. For reference, consult guides like this comprehensive overview of calligraphy alphabets.
  • Inconsistency in shapes, where the same letter is formed differently each time. Strive to master the fundamental shape of each letterform and replicate it precisely.
  • Letters that are disproportionate in size, such as a short or squatty “l” or an overly wide “o”. Use guidelines to ensure appropriate height-to-width ratios.
  • Letters that are off-center or lopsided. Many rounded letters like “o”, “c”, “e” should be symmetrical and balanced.

Fixing issues with inaccurate letters requires focused drills and exercises using guideline sheets. Be patient, as perfecting calligraphy letters takes practice. Reference charts help instill the proper muscle memory until shapes become second nature.

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