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How to prepare a calligraphy course | Article


Copperplate Calligraphy Course at Saint Antoine l’Abbaye, France

At the end of July 2018, I travelled to the south of France to attend a five-day residential course with Amanda Adams.

This is the fourth time I have been at Saint Antoine l’Abbaye. In 2017, I spend six days studying Roman Capitals with Keith Adams. In 2015, I spent two weeks studying Italic and Celtic calligraphy; and in 2014 I spent six days studying Fraktur calligraphy.



By now, I know well how these courses are structured, so I try to be as prepared as possible beforehand to ensure I make the most of my time. These below are a few tips that I have learnt along the way, and that may help you prepare any course involving letterforms.



1. Prepare your content before starting to learn calligraphy

Content is king. One of the most time consuming things doing a lettering or calligraphy course is actually thinking of messages that you want to letter/write/design. For me content does really matter, so I make sure that I choose carefully what I want to use for my pieces/designs.



Are you interested in writing captions/titles/headings? Or are you looking for a longer piece to display your work? You could prepare short, medium and long texts, as you’ll explore design hierarchy and page layout respectively.


“Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans” Jacques Cousteau (Explorer and marine researcher)

A few days before this course, I visited an exhibition called “Basics”, curated by Studio Pichiglass and Needlab at the Barcelona Design Hub. The content of the exhibition was so relevant to me, that I decided to use several quotes and reflexions for this year’s calligraphy course.


“When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.” By Alanis Obomsawin from a collection of essays edited by Ralph Osborne and published in 1972 titled “Who is the Chairman of This Meeting?”, part of the chapter called “Conversations with North American Indians” while speaking with the chapter author Ted Poole.

2. How to select a diverse range of calligraphy papers

It is important you consider the type of paper and sizes that you want to use. In my opinion, the first hours/day of a course, you are pretty much warming up the hand and wiring your brain into the specific calligraphy/lettering style.



For these first hours, I use regular recycled copy paper (80gsm) most of the times. If you are working with paint and brush, you could use old newspaper and the column width as your x-height.

Once you have broken the ice with the tool, you may consider experimenting with different surfaces. Bleed proof or marker paper is very smooth and it will give you great results for Copperplate. I use the Australian brand Arttec but any other brand will work.



“Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven’t done a thing. You are just talking” Wangari Maathai (Environmentalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner).

On the opposite side of the spectrum, you may want to experiment with a rough surface, as you’ll face this situation if you want to create personal greeting cards for friends or clients. I use Canson watercolour textured paper 340gsm.



Bring different paper sizes and colours to the course, so you can plan your short and longer pieces. The piece below is written out by Amanda Adams using Canson paper and Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bleed Proof White ink.


Copperplate calligraphy by Amanda Adams.

3. How to select the best calligraphy pens and brushes?

If you are going to spend a few days writing calligraphy, bring different nibs to experiment with. For Copperplate specifically, there are nibs are stiffer (William Mitchel Elbow nib) and others softer and more flexible (Hunt 101, Nikko G, Zebra G, Gillott 303 EF). You can also write Copperplate with synthetic and natural brushes to tune your wrist muscles.


“We’ll never know the worth of water till the well is dry” Thomas Fuller (Historian and chaptain to the King of England).

Your eye is the muscle you want to get fitter

Calligraphy, lettering and typography courses in my opinion, are all about learning to see and understanding that the foreground (positive spaces) and background (negative spaces) have both the same volume of importance.

Calligraphy in particular is about synchronising your brain, with your eye and your hand, and there are no shortcuts, only practice and learning while doing it.


Earth provides enough to satisfy every man (and woman’s) needs, but not every man’s (and woman’s) greed” Mahatma Gandhi (activist and pacifist).


Getting to Saint Antoine L’Abbaye

From my hometown to Saint Antoine l’Abbaye is a six-hour car ride. This year, I was very fortunate to have three of my very good friends and colleagues traveling together, so I joined them for a super fun girls road trip. Laia Soler, Ingrid Marquès and Carol Van Waart are three talented designers and calligraphers and above all, five-star humans, so spending five days together was a pretty good way to end my trip to Europe.


Every morning, I tried to go for one-hour-long walk before the six hours of daily practice. Photo by Ana Navarro.

Saint Antoine l’Abbaye is an abbey of around one thousand years old. It is run by members of “La Communauté de l’Arche, Non-Violence et Spiritualité”. The accommodation and facilities are basic but beautiful.

If you decide to include the meals in your stay, you’ll enjoy a range of vegetarian dishes made out of vegetables grown in the abbey’s garden, plus a great selection of French cheeses for dessert at lunch time.



On the second last day of the course, we had a fantastic dinner altogether to cheers for the experience and the company.



If you would like to learn from Amanda and Keith Adams, they will be publishing their next calligraphy courses in Europe for 2019 shortly. Stay tune!