Have you ever felt like some calligraphy workbook pages are a little too fast-paced—like they're moving on before you've mastered the current page's technique? It may be that the workbook pages are too short and that muscle memory hasn't kicked in—or it could be that you're making the same mistakes over and over without correction, so you reach the bottom of the page without having made much progress. So, what's the solution, and how can we all stop wasting our time and make the most of worksheets?
Learn to Make Observations
To make the most of any workbook you buy or download, you'll have to learn how to observe both the given examples and your own work—and how the two compare. The process goes a little like this: trace and observe, mimic, spot flaws, and try again.
1. Trace & Observe
First and foremost, take your time. Go slow as you trace over the examples (most workbooks contain slightly grayed-out letters or forms that are meant for tracing).
Before you start each new exercise, spend some time observing it. In almost every case, the figure/stroke/letter is positioned on a grid or guide of some kind. They're probably positioned strategically so that you can easily measure each stroke, noting how wide and how tall they are. Ask yourself: How many grid squares does each stroke take up, vertically and horizontally? Is this stroke or letter taller than it is wide, or vice versa?
Run your eye over the example in the same direction that you would write it. Note which parts of each grid square it touches for each part of the stroke. Where does it intersect with the grid at each turn? How does it interact with the grid when it starts, and when it ends? If it helps, put little dots on these “landmarks,” and make sure to aim for them when you draw them on your own.
If the stroke follows a line in the grid, note for how long.
Finally, ask yourself, what shape does the curve make? Not many calligraphic letters are the shape of a perfectly symmetrical circle. Most letters are shaped like a slightly slanted oval.
When it's time to stop tracing the examples, stop after each letter and take a look at your work. Note your last letter, how it compares to the last strokes, and how those compare to the original.
3. Spot Flaws & Try Again
When you’re looking at your own work, use the grid as little landmarks. Where does your example deviate from the example? If you need to, fold your paper like an accordion to see them right next to each other. Do your letters intersect with the grid in different ways, or areas? How can you fix those areas?
A Practical Example
So what does all of this actually look like, in practice? Let's do together one of the strokes included in my free eBook, Simple Script. Take a look at the picture above, Figure A. This is called an entrance stroke. It's used before and after each letter to connect words to one another. Here are some observations we can make about this figure:
- The stroke starts 1/2 square up from the baseline, and just slightly to the left of the vertical line in the grid.
- It descends downward, intersecting perfectly with the baseline and vertical line in the grid.
- Then, it heads upward and to the right (northeast), intersecting with the top of the that square just to the right of the middle.
- It ends by intersecting with the baseline and the midline at the same time.
Let’s say that Figure B is your work. What do you notice first?
- Your stroke started right in the middle of the square, instead of just slightly to the left of the nearest vertical line. However, you did do a good job of intersecting with the baseline and the vertical line almost directly in the center!
- Next, your line is much more curved as it heads northeast; you will notice that in the original stroke, it heads almost straight northeast!
- Your stroke doesn’t intersect with the square directly in the middle, and that’s mostly due to the curvature of your line; so, I think if you fixed the previous mistake, you’d end up intersecting the grid in the right place.
- Your line intersects with the midline right where it should!
Now, you try! I hope this was a helpful guide that will lead to less frustration with workbook pages and better, more detail-oriented and crisp hand lettering. After all, workbooks should be thorough, but they can't work miracles—nothing is a good substitute for intentional practice!
This post is an excerpt from my free eBook/workbook, Simple Script! Read more on its landing page, and download for more content like this.
Printable Practice Paper
Are you looking for good, structured practice paper to help you execute your letters well? My practice paper will aid you in that!