On my journey to learn calligraphy and develop my own hand I have read many, many books.  I have taken a private lesson with a master calligrapher, but regrettably it was terrible timing for me with work + moving and I was only able to get in the one lesson. I also took a class at Paper Source, which was fun but didn't turn me into a calligrapher in the 2 hours I spent there. I had my 'aha' moment when I recently took Melissa Esplin's Modern Calligraphy Course. I am a visual learner (a lot of individuals are), I found watching her create the letters was very helpful for me. One of the things I had read previously that clicked when coupled with Melissa's class was that in calligraphy you are 'drawing' the letters. This makes sense when you realize you need to pick your pen off the paper multiple times to create one letter; unlike with traditional cursive where you are told to keep your writing instrument on the page. Another tip I found very helpful in my practice is to reference alphabet specimens. The alphabets I appreciate the most (at the moment), are ones that give a very clear diagram of the stroke order. Before when I viewed these diagrams, I thought I would have to create the letter in one fell swoop (impossible), now that I know that it is okay, neigh, encouraged to lift my pen, I know that I can create the strokes in steps, which results in an actual letter (a huge achievement in my book). I have found a slew of reference alphabets for you.  What is the absolute best calligraphy/lettering tip I can give you today? Practice. You really need to practice to achieve your goals in this discipline, but the best part is that with practice you can achieve a modicum of success. I love Copperplate, but Spencerian is what was taught in schools before the Palmer Method took over. Spencerian is the reason why so many of the American 19th century letters, ledgers and every day notes were so elegant.  I have been asked how much I practice and I have challenged myself this month to practice every day for an hour.  I usually can't do this until late at night, but it is a very meditative practice so I find it works well before I go to bed. I also don't always practice with dip pen and ink, a pencil works fine to get familiar with the strokes (so for those putting off learning until you can afford tools you can actually start tonight).  Practicing with the sample alphabet specimens will help with one day developing your own hand. Most of all have fun!


Iampeth-This stands for the International Association of Master Penman Engrossers Teachers of Handwriting. Here you will find a treasure trove of antique specimen books that have been scanned and that you can view for free! It is a wealth of resources, plus there's free videos showing you how to create Copperplate letterforms as well.

The Palmer Method-If you are of a certain age and went to Catholic school there is a great chance that you are familiar with this hand and learned it at school. It is casually elegant. There's a font here that is pretty spot on if you can't wait to master this hand.

Ames Historical Society-You'll hear the name Ames a lot in calligraphy circles, this link is a beautiful scanned guidebook and some interesting history thrown in to boot.

The American Instructor-A lovely antique alphabet specimen.

Finnish Penmanship Sample-Simple + elegant letters both Majuscules (uppercase) and miniscules (lower case).

How to Write Like an Architect-This isn't calligraphy, but is lettering. This is one of my favorite hands and when I print I try to always re-create it.


The Technique of Copperplate Calligraphy-I love this book because it gives multiple variations on uppercase letters which I really appreciate.  There are certain letters that I have a hard time with or just plain don't like the way they look and to have an option for an alternate makes me very happy.

 Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy-This is a large manual with tons of samples. Even if you don't want to learn but love calligraphy this is a beautiful tome to see.  It doesn't have the stroke order, but she explains creating letters very well and I think the novice can follow along easily.


Etsy has some wonderful and affordable vintage specimen and guidebooks. I highly recommend them if you are interested in procuring some. Not only are they useful but would make a beautiful collection. Try search words like penmanship, calligraphy books, alphabet specimens.

Ebay-If you get serious about collecting penmanship guidebooks Ebay has some super rare and yes, expensive ones. Just looking through the listings on them is fun too!

Potboiler Press-Some great antique calligraphy books.


I Still Love Calligraphy-Melissa is a wonderful teacher and she does provide both a downloadable alphabet and guideline sheets for her students.

torrie –  (September 14, 2012 at 8:31 PM)  

thanks for dedicating a whole week to this topic. there is so much information and inspiration here for me to feed off of.

Miss B. (September 14, 2012 at 10:25 PM)  

You are doing such amazing work Torrie, love seeing your uploads, can't wait to see what the future holds for your talent!

Merissa Revestir (September 16, 2012 at 5:24 AM)  

This is a valuable resource. Such great links. I'm really enjoying it. I love what Melissa said in class (I'm currently taking it thanks to your recommendation) about making it your own. That was a very important word of advice and I'm really connecting with it. Trying to practice everyday as well. Thanks so much for this inspiration. Also thanks for sharing the calligraphy downloads. Your hand is so unique, modern, and organic. Simply beautiful.

Miss Crumpet (September 16, 2012 at 8:10 AM)  

Really enjoying your musings and discoveries in the world of Calligraphy and hand lettering. I have been thinking about taking a course and your blog has given me the final push to discover more. Thank you x

diane @ a spot of whimsy (September 16, 2012 at 11:18 AM)  

i think YOU are the treasure trove of information!!

i agree that the pen stroke guides are HUGE to my learning, and finally getting it through my head that i can lift the pen several times per letter and letter-to-letter. well actually i still struggle with that, but practice is the key!

Kelsey @ Pinegate Road (September 16, 2012 at 5:04 PM)  

I just came across your blog through pinterest, and I'm so so excited that I found you! I'm in grad school for graphic design right now, and I'm just starting an emphasis in hand-lettering. I know you're just starting out as well, but believe me when I say that spending the past thirty minutes on your blog has really helped me figure out a lot of questions that I needed answered! I was going at my lettering on the side of all the regular projects I was doing, and it was so hard to figure out the basics behind everything—and I know you need a solid foundation before you can begin to produce decent work. I'm taking an independent study this quarter to really get my ground on the process, and I'm so lucky to have found you on my first week of it! I look forward to following along on your journey, you're a true inspirer :)

Miss B. (September 16, 2012 at 9:14 PM)  

Merissa, so happy to hear you are taking Melissa's class! For someone like you that is already talented with letterforms, I think you will take what you learn and really develop a beautiful hand! Thank you for the sweet words:)

Miss Crumpet if you have any desire to take a course or lesson I think you should, it's such a fun, meditative hobby and it is relatively inexpensive to get started!

Diane, I have been thinking of you and your left handed-ness, I think in the Iampeth link they discuss this and also that the straight holder is better for lefties. BTW, a lot of the now 'famous' modern calligraphers are lefties;)

Kelsey how exciting to choose this as an emphasis, I hope you get to explore font creation as well! A book that's a little more 'dry' but has a lot of great info on letterforms is by Leslie Carbarga (sp?) 'The Logo, font and lettering bible'. You can get a copy used on Amazon and it's an interesting exploration into old school letter creations. Let me know if you have any questions:)

Sabine (September 17, 2012 at 8:53 AM)  

How funny. I am also doing Melissa's course. You can never have enough extra info and practice. I so must practice more! I am loving these downloads. Such great reading and insights. Thank you!

Kelsey @ Pinegate Road (September 17, 2012 at 1:23 PM)  

Thank you so much for the book recommendation, I just ordered it on Amazon. I'm so ready to take everything I can in and then learn how to process it all as I begin some intense practice. Also, it was so kind of you to stop by my blog and enter the giveaway! Your sweet words were very much appreciated :)

Miss B. (September 17, 2012 at 2:55 PM)  

Sabine, I can not wait to see what new styles you develop after her class since your hand is already so unique (and one of my faves!). Yea! for Melissa's class!

Kelsey, be forewarned it's not the most beautifully designed book and a little dry, but I find myself going back to it for info again and again (I am obsessed with the German logomarks). I just ordered a lettering book that hasn't arrived yet, I will let everyone know if it's worth the investment;) You have a beautiful blog and are very talented Kelsey I am sure your career will flourish, especially with your GREAT attitude towards learning!

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Miss B.