If you like how calligraphy looks but aren’t sure whether you’ll like making it, watercolor calligraphy is a great way to start. It’s the free-spirited aunt of the calligraphy world – charming, fun-loving, and forgiving of mistakes.
Unlike typical brush or pointed pen calligraphy, watercolor calligraphy uses materials that many people already own. The easy blending that watercolors allow enables quick fixes as well as infinite color variations and designs.
In this article, we review everything you need to make beautiful watercolor calligraphy. Follow along as we start with the absolute basics and progress to advanced techniques that will give your art extra glamour.
WATERCOLOR CALLIGRAPHY SUPPLIES
There’s a good chance that you already have watercolors and brushes in the house, but let’s go through the list of watercolor calligraphy supplies to make sure you’ve got everything. If you are missing something, check out the product recommendations below or get a full set of supplies with our Watercolor Calligraphy Starter Kit. If you’re ready to start now, watch the video above to see watercolor calligraphy techniques in action.
General Watercolor Calligraphy Supplies
Use two cups of water so that your paints stay clean.
There’s a reason “water” comes first in “watercolor” – you can’t paint without it. Fill two large containers with clean water. Keep one clean for wetting paint and use the other to rinse your equipment. Place them within easy reach, but make sure you won’t knock them over.
Any kind of watercolor paint can work for calligraphy. Most people use either pans of dry watercolors or watercolor tubes. Dry watercolors need to be wetted before use, while tube watercolors require the use of a palette and only need to be thinned out a bit.
Watercolor Palette: Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolors
Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolors are richly pigmented.
Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolors are made for professionals, but hobbyists will also appreciate their rich pigments and easy blendability. They have a large color selection and come in 12, 18, 24, or 36-color palettes. All of the standard colors are also available in individual pans, so you can replace the colors you use most often without buying ones you don’t need yet.
If you like a bit of sparkle in your calligraphy, try Finetec Artist Mica Watercolors or the Starry Colors Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolor Palette.
Watercolor Tubes: Holbein Artists’ Watercolors
Holbein Artists’ Watercolors deliver intense color.
Holbein Artists’ Watercolors deliver intense color with very little paint. Like the Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolors, they contain professional-grade paint. You will need a separate palette to use these watercolor tubes, but it’s well worth it. They are available in sets of 12, 18, and 24.
Check out our Guide to Watercolor Supplies to learn more about watercolor paints.
Brush Watercolor Calligraphy Supplies
Most watercolor calligraphy is made with brushes. Brush watercolor calligraphy solely uses common painting supplies, so it’s easier to try out. It is also especially suited to blending colors and making larger-scale projects.
A paintbrush with a round, pointed tip is ideal for watercolor calligraphy. Water brushes also work well. Choose a brush that springs back into shape after each stroke so you don’t have to keep reshaping the tip. This will help keep your letterforms consistent.
Paint Brushes: Royal & Langnickel Zen Brushes
Royal & Langnickel Zen Brushes are durable and springy.
Royal & Langnickel Zen Brushes have springy synthetic bristles that keep their shape well. Their lightweight plastic handles resist chipping and are reinforced with aluminum ferrules. This makes them both durable and affordable. Round 6 is a good, all-purpose size for calligraphy, but these soft brushes are also available in other round sizes for smaller or larger projects. Royal & Langnickel Zen Brushes also include flat varieties for applying washes more easily.
Water Brushes: Pentel Aquash Water Brushes
Water brushes let you paint without a water cup.
Water brushes like the Pentel Aquash hold water in their handles so you don’t need a cup of water to paint. They are especially convenient if you don’t have much space or time to clean up. If we had to pick just one water brush for calligraphy, we’d choose the medium-sized Pentel Aquash Water Brush. It can achieve good line variation and bounces back into shape very well.
Choose paper that can handle getting wet. Watercolor paper works well. Most watercolor calligraphy techniques do not soak the paper, so it’s all right if the paper is not as robust as heavier watercolor paper options. The paper should also be less absorbent so that the paint has more time to blend before it soaks into the paper. Hot press watercolor paper tends to have a lower absorbency than cold press.
Brush watercolor calligraphy looks different on smooth paper than it does on textured paper. Try using smoother materials for small pieces and more textured paper for larger projects.
Canson XL Mix Media Pad
The Canson XL Mix Media Pad has relatively light and smooth water-friendly paper.
The Canson XL Mix Media Pad is usually considered a student art pad since it can warp if used with too much water. However, it is heavy enough for most watercolor calligraphy and its semi-smooth surface won’t break the lines of your letters with too much texture. It also offers a conveniently large surface and has a sturdy twin-ring binding. The pages are perforated for clean removal. Try Stillman & Birn Sketchbooks if you need heavier paper and Maruman Soho & New Soho Series Sketchbooks if you’d like a more textured effect.
Pointed Pen Watercolor Calligraphy Supplies
Dip pens also work well with watercolors. Pointed pen watercolor calligraphy is less common than brush calligraphy because it requires more specialized tools, but it tends to look sharper and more refined than writing done with a brush.
Use a small paintbrush to paint the watercolors on the nib.
You also need a brush for pointed pen calligraphy. It’s only used to add paint to the nib, so any small brush will work. Round 2 is a good size.
Pointed pen calligraphy uses sharply pointed nibs that flex when you press down. This lets you make very thin and wide lines with the same pen. Larger nibs are especially good for watercolor calligraphy because they hold more paint.
Nikko Comic Pen Nib – G Model
The Nikko G Nib is easier to handle than most nibs.
The Nikko G-Nib is by far the most recommended dip pen nib for beginners. It’s easier to handle than most nibs because it’s a bit less flexible. Even so, it can produce a satisfying amount of line variation. If you’re ready for a nib that’s more responsive but a bit harder to use, try the Brause 361 Steno Blue Pumpkin. Its broad, bowl-like shape holds more pigment so you won’t have to reapply paint as often.
Nib holders come in two basic types: straight and oblique. Which one you use depends on your personal preference and what writing style you use. As a general rule, straight nib holders are good for more upright writing styles while oblique holders make it easier to write with a strong slant.
Straight: Tachikawa Comic Pen Nib Holder for Various Pen Nib – Model 25
The Tachikawa Model 25 Nib Holder is a versatile straight nib holder.
The Tachikawa Comic Pen Nib Holder for Various Pen Nib – Model 25 is a well-built wooden nib holder that works with a wide variety of nibs. It grips nibs with double rubber rings that hold them securely securely in place without shifting.
Oblique: Speedball Oblique Pen Nib Holder
The Speedball Oblique Pen Nib Holder is a simple yet effective nib holder.
The Speedball Oblique Pen Nib Holder is ideal for new calligraphers. It is made out of sturdy plastic and does not require any adjustment, which makes it long lasting, uncomplicated to use, and very reasonably priced.
Similarly to brush watercolor calligraphy, paper for pointed pen watercolor calligraphy should react well to water and have a low absorbency level. Because the nibs used with pointed pen calligraphy are sharp, it’s also important that the paper be smooth. Use a very light touch on rougher paper to prevent the nib from catching and splattering paint.
Stillman & Birn Sketchbooks
Stillman & Birn Sketchbooks have smooth paper options.
Stillman & Birn Sketchbooks come in six paper varieties of varying weights and finishes. All are suitable for watercolor calligraphy, but the Epsilon and Zeta series are especially good for pointed pen calligraphy because although they are a heavy weight, they are also quite smooth. These sketchbooks are available as medium-sized hardcovers and small softcovers.
WATERCOLOR CALLIGRAPHY BASICS
Now that you have everything you need, it’s time to get started.
Let warm water sit in the pans for more intense colors.
First, prepare the paint. Pick up a small amount of warm water in a brush and add it to the pans you will be using. Let it sit for a minute or two to allow the colors to saturate the water. The thinned paint should be the consistency of regular dip pen ink, or similar to milk.
Tube watercolors are already moist, so they don’t need as much extra water. The water also doesn’t need to sit to extract intense colors from tube paints. High quality watercolor tubes can be used immediately because they have consistent pigment throughout each tube, but lower quality varieties sometimes distribute pigment unevenly in the tube and need to be kneaded before use.
Mix & Apply Paint
If you’re using a dip pen, paint the color on the nib’s concave side.
Mix multiple colors of thinned paint in a tray or palette to form your desired hue.
If you’re using a brush, twist it in the pigment to load paint evenly on the bristles and ensure that you get a controlled line.
If you’re using a dip pen, use a small brush to add paint to the back of the nib.
Make sure to add enough paint to coat the nib, but not so much that it beads up. This helps avoid unsightly blobs of paint in your work. If you add too much, shake the pen over your water cup to remove the excess.
Write the same way you would if you were using ink.
Write the same way that you normally would with a pointed pen or brush. If you’d like an introduction to calligraphy writing techniques, check out our articles on Brush Lettering for Beginners and Pointed Pen Calligraphy for Beginners.
New paint blends well with previous lines.
You will run out of paint quickly. When this happens, simply add more pigment to your brush or nib and pick up where you left off. The new paint will blend seamlessly with the previous line.
Half the fun of watercolor calligraphy is experimenting with special blending and fading techniques that let you make your art truly unique. Here are a few of our favorites for you to try.
Using Multiple Colors
When using multiple colors, it’s a good idea to choose colors that are within the same family. It’s helpful to use a color wheel. If you want to use two colors that don’t mix well, make sure to use a buffer color that works well with both of them to keep them from touching.
Begin writing with one color.
Add coordinating colors.
The colors will blend smoothly into each other.
The most straightforward way to use multiple colors is to alternate. Start writing with one color. Then add a coordinating color and continue writing. The colors will meld together. Continue alternating or adding colors to make perfectly blended calligraphy.
If you are using a pointed pen, paint the new colors behind the initial color on your nib. If you are using a brush, simply dip the bristles into each new color.
Write in plain water. Make sure you have good light!
Dab paint onto the wet writing.
The paint will diffuse through the water without running.
You can also dab colors onto wet writing for a tie-dye effect. This technique uses a lot of water, so choose a heavier paper and tape it down to prevent warping. We used the Stillman & Birn Beta Sketchbook.
Write your word or phrase in plain water. Use enough water so that it sits on top of the paper without absorbing too quickly. Load the brush with pigment and dab it onto the water. Add complementary colors in the open spaces. The colors will blend with the water and each other.
A similar technique results in an ombre effect. First write the word in color, then drop a second color along one side of the lettering while the paint is still wet. The new color will spread into the first.
Begin writing with a lot of pigment.
Allow the paint to run out as you write.
It’s easier to make faded calligraphy with a water brush.
If you’d like to start with heavy pigment that gradually becomes lighter, load your brush with paint and start writing. Instead of adding more pigment to the brush when you start to run out, simply dip it in water and keep writing. This waters down the paint for a faded effect. It’s easier to do this with a water brush, as it will automatically add water to the bristles as you write.
You can also do this with a pointed pen. Load the nib with paint and start writing normally. Then, rinse out the brush and add plain water to the nib. The water will thin the paint on the nib as you write.
Mixing Ink & Watercolors
Use a separate palette to keep the ink out of your paints.
Add more paint periodically for stronger color.
Bright watercolors liven up dignified black ink.
Watercolors work well with other water-soluble media like certain fountain pen inks. To mix ink and watercolors, fill a water brush with a water-soluble ink that isn’t too saturated. Mix the watercolor that you would like to use in a separate container so that you don’t get ink into your watercolor pan. Dip the ink-filled water brush into the paint and write. The color will blend with and enhance the color of the ink as your write.
Making Watercolor Resists
Apply a thick layer of masking fluid.
Rub or peel the masking fluid off when the paint is dry.
Negative-space calligraphy can be truly dazzling.
Negative-space calligraphy is a sure-fire way to impress people and it’s not nearly as difficult as it looks. In order to pull it off, you will need to use masking fluid. If you have masking fluid that comes in a pen, use it to make faux calligraphy. If your masking fluid comes in a bottle, make sure to apply it with an old brush since its glue-like consistency can ruin the bristles.
Make sure to apply a thick layer of masking fluid that completely covers the area you want to mask. When it dries, paint over it with watercolors to make the background. Wait for the paint to dry completely. Then rub or peel the masking fluid off to reveal your writing.
TIPS & TRICKS
Sometimes things don’t go quite right. If you’re having trouble getting your watercolor calligraphy to turn out the way you want it to, check out the tips below.
Reluctant Paint Flow
Touch your brush or nib to water for smoother-writing paint.
If the paint doesn’t write smoothly, it could be too thick. Gently touch the tip of the brush or nib to your water to get it flowing or dilute the paint in the pan. If that doesn’t work, the paint could have partially dried on the tip of your writing instrument. Clean it and continue on with fresh paint.
Hold the brush or pen closer to the tip for better control.
If you’re having trouble controlling your brush or pen, hold it closer to the tip for better control. Check out our Pointed Pen Calligraphy for Beginners and Brush Lettering for Beginners posts for more detailed writing instructions.
Watercolor calligraphy can beautify all kinds of writing, from simple notes to large artwork for display. Here are a few suggestions of how you can use it in your life.
Stay in Touch
Surprise your friends with handmade cards.
Handmade cards lend correspondence a personal touch that store-bought cards can’t match. Design your own calligraphic “thank you” cards or set off your relationship’s catch-phrases with colorful washes and watercolor letters.
Products Used: Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolors, Pentel Aquash Water Brush
Brighten the Postal Route
Share your art with everyone who sees your letter.
There’s no need to hide your art inside an envelope – write the address in watercolor calligraphy to fulfill your creative impulses and delight everyone who sees it, from the mail carrier to your recipient.
Products Used: Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolors, Nikko Comic Pen Nib – G Model, Speedball Oblique Pen Nib Holder
Set off your favorite sayings with harmonizing colors.
Calligraphic quotes give you a chance to tailor your writing style and color selection to the quote’s meaning. Use your artistic instincts to reinforce an encouraging or calming message – or use opposing colors for a thought-provoking piece.
Products Used: Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolors, Nikko Comic Pen Nib – G Model, Speedball Oblique Pen Nib Holder
Decorate Your Walls
Decorate a room with meaningful, personalized art.
A single picture on the wall can alter the feel of a room. Transform your living space into a cozy haven by framing a calligraphic watercolor painting that reflects your personality.
Products Used: Sakura Koi Watercolor Field Box Set, Canson XL Mix Media Pad
Beginners and experienced artists alike love watercolor calligraphy’s accessibility and enchanting versatility. Have you tried it? Let us know your favorite watercolor calligraphy techniques in the comments below!
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JetPens Watercolor Calligraphy Starter Kit
Still not sure what to try? Check out our Watercolor Calligraphy Starter Kit! This starter kit has everything you need to start practicing beautiful watercolor lettering and calligraphy, including the beautiful Kuretake Gansai Tambi watercolors, water brushes, and more.