When first starting out, many brush letterers have a really hard time controlling the pressure of their brush pen and the result is really shaky upstrokes. In fact, a lot of people give up on the brush pen because of this and turn to faux calligraphy. That’s what I did until I figured out a few strategies to overcome the shakes. Once I started implementing these strategies I was able to create much smoother letters.
What do I Mean by “Shaky Upstrokes”?
In brush calligraphy your downstrokes should be thick and your upstrokes should be thin. A downstroke is made any time your pen is moving downwards towards you and an upstroke is made when your pen moves in any other direction (up, diagonal, and horizontal). Differing thickness is created by changing the pressure put on the brush pen.
The problem is that often new brush calligraphers don’t have good control over their brush pen and the result is that their upstrokes look very wiggly, rather than smooth. Know that if you are struggling with this you are not alone! Even experienced letterers have days where their lettering looks a little shaky.
Why do shaky upstrokes happen?
Shaky upstrokes can happen for a number of reasons. I will share the 3 that I have found to be the most common reasons so that I can strategize with you about how to overcome each one.
- It’s normal to be a little nervous that your work won’t turn out as good as you want it to. This happens most when you are a beginner or when you are doing a final ink piece. The anxiety of wanted everything to look perfect can cause your hands to shake resulting in shakiness in your pen strokes
- This doesn’t need much explanation. Too much caffeine will give anyone the jitters and it’s nearly impossible to control the flexible nib of a brush pen when you’ve got the jitters.
- Not breaking between brush strokes
- Calligraphy is made up of many brush strokes put together to form letters. When you don’t break between strokes you are more likely to get the shakes in the middle of an upstroke as your hand tires of trying to maintain steadiness.
3 Best Tips to Overcome Wiggly Upstrokes
- Relax and breath!
- Just like breathing is important in many forms of exercise (like yoga or lifting weights), it’s also important when you practice brush calligraphy. Try breathing in on the upstrokes and out on the downstrokes. This will feel more natural than you think and will help calm your nerves and create smoother upstrokes.
- Limit your caffeine intake before lettering
- I start every day with 20 ounces of hot coffee in my yeti tumbler. Do not hear me saying don’t drink caffeine because, let’s be realistic. What I am saying is that timing matters. I have found that for me the best time to letter with a brush pen is in the evening because it has been a long time since I had any caffeine by then. Give this a try too!
- Lift your pen between each stroke
- Brush calligraphy letters are made up of 8 basic brush strokes put together. It may look like cursive but it is not. So it is okay and actually correct to lift your pen between each stroke. Shorter strokes doesn’t give your hand as much time to get tired and this will naturally lead to smoother upstrokes.
The Last Thing You Need to Know about Shakiness When Using a Brush Pen
It takes time to get used to using a brush pen. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t create exactly what you hoped for on the first try. Something hand made will always look handmade and that’s a good thing. Try the tips I gave here and enjoy the process of creating something hand made! Want even more tips about how exactly to use a brush pen?