How To Vary Your Stroke Widths & The Importance Of Fundamentals


Iknow you're anxiously awaiting to begin the Crayligraphy series. I know you have goals in line so you can apply the art of calligraphy with a marker to your own work. You might even be holding out for the fun stuff Crayligraphy has to offer like the stylized letterforms, smooth swashes and crazy ligatures. Don't worry, we'll get there.


It's natural to want to skip ahead and bypass the initial tutorials. I get it. I skim through tutorials and skip video lessons because I'm eager to get to the meat of the information. However, it's best to recognize that your favorite calligraphers are successful because they practice fundamentals every—single—day.

Understanding the foundation that make up letterforms is extremely valuable. More importantly, when you apply calligraphy fundamentals to your daily warm-ups, you’ll get better and produce desired results much faster. Just like professional basketball player and 5 time champion, Tim Duncan—whose alias is “The Big Fundamental”—routine will make you a winner.

Whether you are an aspiring or experienced calligrapher, understanding how letters are constructed and practicing basic strokes is integral to growing your skill-set and eventually, finding your own style.

Without further ado, let’s begin!

Hopefully by now, you've signed up to our newsletter and downloaded the free Crayligraphy reference guide. Perhaps you've started to work on the key ingredients that make up letterforms. If so, that's awesome!

When starting off, try not to be too concerned with the correct angle, width or height of your strokes. Determine what is most comfortable for you. As long as there is some continuity and your slopes are consistent (try to avoid backsloping or excessive forward sloping) you'll find your way. Crayligraphy is meant to be fun and relaxing, so make sure you are in the right mindset.

I would first like to stress two very important methods when practicing your basic strokes:

  1. Upstrokes are thin

  2. Downstrokes are thick

Embed this in your head so that it becomes second nature. Repeat these words each time you move the marker upwards and then downwards. If you happen to be one of those people who think aloud, make sure you isolate yourself from any living creature. This includes your cats.

* Illustrations exagerate the positions so you can understand the placement of the marker more clearly

How to apply thin upstrokes

I've had a lot of people tell me how much they struggle with hairlines. This is not surprising at all. Think about it—anytime you go against gravity, you're fighting nature. Maintaining a consistent upward movement is difficult. Whether you are using a metallic nib or brush pen, you have to pay close attention to your wrist and finger motion so that the point of the pen is able to glide across the paper without “catching.” Of course, this is much easier said than done, but fear not! There's a marker out there to make your life a little easier when performing this task!

Markers make your job as a calligraphy artist far less difficult.

For thin upstrokes, use the tip of the marker with little finger pressure. This might sound crazy, but grip the barrel as if you are picking up a baby bird with your thumb, middle and index finger. I know you're an experienced hatchling caregiver, so imagining this shouldn't be too difficult.

While moving upwards, keep the marker as perpendicular to the paper as possible by bending your fingers and pushing them away from the palm of your hand. This takes the broad edge out of play and allows for an easier coast as you are marking the paper.

Take advantage of the firm marker nib.

Unlike the brush pen, you don't have to move slowly when applying an upstroke because the tip of a marker is firm with very little flex. You're able to move quicker with a harder tip, taking the shaky, unflattering lines out of the equation.

Already, this makes calligraphy with a marker an easier alternative than any other traditional instrument.

Writing tools like your casual, everyday pen are made to make writing effortless. When the point touches the paper, there's enough resistance to help shape your letters with ease. Think of your marker tip as a ballpoint pen. Now write the following sentence like you would with your normal handwriting:

‘Crayligraphy is the art of calligraphy with a Crayola.’ (This sentence should have a thin, consistent weight throughout each word since you're not applying much pressure.)

See how easy it is to create those thin lines? Now apply this technique when creating your upstrokes.

How to apply thick downstrokes

Downstrokes can be a breath of fresh air after a session of hairline practice. As a matter of fact, I often find myself breathing in tandem with the movement of my marker. Try it out yourself—breathe in on the upstrokes, and exhale on the release of the downstroke. A great word to practice this technique is ‘minimum.’

Alright, this isn't yoga class, so let's move along before we get into the downward dog and start drinking Kombucha.

Managing broad, downward strokes isn't as complicated as the aforementioned upstroke. When handling thick strokes, apply pressure and pull down, utilizing the broad edge of the marker.

Contrary to keeping your marker perpendicular when managing your thin strokes, the angle at which the broad edge of the marker is able to rest horizontally in its most natural position, is best when applying your downstroke. By default, the edge of the marker will be able to do the job for you, but you shouldn't stop there.

Don't be afraid to apply pressure.

The weight of your stroke is determined by the amount of pressure that is applied from your fingers, through the marker and onto the paper. You can vary your widths by shifting the tension within your fingertips. The firmer your grip on the barrel, the greater the force the marker has when pressed against the surface of the paper—creating broader stroke widths.

Depending on how fast you move downwards, you'll be able to create different visual effects. Keep in mind, the faster your downstroke, the thinner the width. This quick movement permits smoother lines while also creating some really nice textures if you're going for that effect. 

If you want thicker lines, move slowly. Pause on the initial mark, pull downwards and pause again to complete the stroke. You might find your lines are seesawing when moving at this speed, but you'll discover through repeating this motion over and over again, that the shakiness isn't nearly as noticeable. Give it a go for ten more minutes and you'll remedy the problem naturally.

Remember, practice what feels most comfortable to you. If you feel like you're not ready to make swift strokes, go slower. How you handle your speed will not reflect your advancement as a calligraphy artist. You have your own unique solution when solving a problem. The fact that you're using a marker is already unconventional, so you might as well implement this uniqueness within your own style.

In the next tutorial, I will cover the arcing up and downstroke so that you will be able to take all of the basic strokes that you have practiced and begin to build letterforms.

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