7 Tips from Calligrapher Seb Lester for Starters

Although we lean towards a more digital way of creating artworks and writing nowadays, the traditional way of doing things has not lost and will never lose its appeal. Focusing on traditional art and how more and more people are drawn to the charm of typography and calligraphy, let’s all learn a thing or two about calligraphy from the master calligrapher himself, Seb Lester.


Based in London, Lester is known for his notable type designs but mostly for his viral videos in the early 2010s where he recreated well-known logos and brands using calligraphy. Lester sure is a ‘wizard’ in the calligraphy world. Watch how he uses his calligraphy pen as a ‘wand’ and how he ‘magically’ lets the ink flow to create the perfect replicas to famous brands and logos most of us know by heart.


How do you get started in calligraphy?

From an old Facebook post, titled “Getting Started in Calligraphy”, Seb Lester talks about the best tools, the right mindset, and the right reading materials for beginners. Here are seven tips we’ve picked up from his post.


Develop an interest

Getting started with a new hobby or acquiring a new skill starts with an interest to pursue something new. The ride always starts bumpy before you get close to making acceptable and visually appealing calligraphy pieces. However, with very little to no experience in the field, it is best for beginners to look for inspiration.


Practice and persevere

It takes time and perseverance to get better at something and calligraphy isn’t any different. It will definitely need time and a lot of practice before it all comes to fruition. You will need to persevere if you want to produce beautiful calligraphy. That and with the right tools, then you’re on your way to making good progress.


Do not fear failures

Failures will only make you better. Lester recommends working in a calligraphy style that appeals most to you. Slowly as you keep at it, your own style will develop and come out. Keep at it until you develop the necessary skills good enough to see a noticeable transition from the style you like, to a more personalized ‘YOUR’ style.


Start with references

Lester recommends starting with some of these books on calligraphy:

  • Scribe: Artist of the Written Word by John Stevens
  • Foundations of Calligraphy by Shiela Waters
  • Calligraphy by Gaye Godfrey-Nicholls
  • The Speedball Textbook by Joanne Fink


Find tools perfect for you

When choosing tools, there’s a huge chance of buying more than what you’ll ever need, especially when starting out. There will be lots of trial and error before even getting close to the perfect pen and developing the technique that suits you. Lester stated that “choosing calligraphy tools is a very subjective business.” Unlike references, while it may seem like a good idea to start with tools on recommendation, it just doesn’t turn out to be as useful in the long run.


Choose tools based on preferences and circumstances

Choosing which tools to use should be a personal experience. Lester said you will have personal needs that may not go well with recommendations from a very good calligrapher just because it doesn’t suit your writing style. Beginner tools also do not have to be cheap tools; there are affordable tools available in the market that are still made to last at least through most of your beginner phase.


Educate yourself with the many tools available

Watching most of Seb Lester’s videos, you’ll see a recurring tool, which is the Pilot Parallel Calligraphy Pen, a refillable cartridge-filled pen that’s easier to use when on the go. The Pilot brand parallel pens come in four sized nibs, varying from 1.5mm, 2.4mm, to 3.8mm, and 6.0mm. When opting for a more traditional dip pen, on the other hand, there will be much more to learn about, i.e. cleaning and maintenance, price, quality, etc. Dip pens require nibs (italic or flex) and nib holders (straight or oblique). He also recommends looking into the Manuscript calligraphy fountain pens, Mitchell Copperplate pens, together with Nikko G nibs. Some pen recommendations to look into include:


When it comes to paper, choosing the right type can be tedious too. Remember to never to use regular copy paper if you do not want your ink to bleed everywhere. The recommended paper to use is the trusty Daler Rowney Smooth Cartridge Paper, among other smooth cartridge paper brands. As well as Goldline Layout pads and Goldline Marker pads, together with other sketchbook pads manufactured by Manuscript and Daler Rowney.


In conclusion, Seb Lester said, “The key to producing beautiful calligraphy is perseverance. You will only persevere if you enjoy what you’re doing.” Starting with a certain type and look that you like will be a great way to start learning and practicing. As you go along, he advises that many skills are also transferable to other styles. Over time, you can establish a working process, evolve into different styles, and experiment with them. More importantly, he said, “Just have fun. Don’t be discouraged by early failures, there will be many of those. However, I can say with some authority that success is built on failure.”