Review: Beginners Modern Calligraphy Workshop with Quill London

Quill Beginners Modern Calligraphy Workshop exercise worksheet and cake on table

Quill London is at the forefront of the local and national calligraphy scene, with a huge social following, a calligraphy workshop programme, pop-up projects and a physical store keeping up with customer demand.

I’ve chosen to test Quill’s entry-level course, the Beginners Modern Calligraphy Workshop (FYI, there’s no apostrophe). This is the perfect class for a novice because it’s only 2.5 hours long, so there’s no big commitment to make. The question is: can you actually pick up a new skill in less than half a day?

Calligraphy workshop practice with brush style modern lettering and bokeh effect
Some of the words I managed to make during the session.

Who is this workshop for?

Anyone who loves calligraphy, craft or design. Given the undying enthusiasm for anything handmade or text-based across retail (whether that means an alphabet print, ampersand bookends, text-based light boxes or inspirational quotes), calligraphy is a massive trans-seasonal trend, and a constant talking point on social media.

The ‘modern’ bit in the workshop title means this isn’t the lettering you’d find in an illuminated manuscript from the 13th century, or the styles my mum learned at school. We’re talking soft and rounded lettering that flows across the page and resembles brush lettering, only there’s no brush involved – just a straightforward nib, holder and Indian ink.

The emphasis is on small group tuition (maximum 12 people). I join a group of 11 mostly 20-something or 30-something enthusiasts for a Sunday morning class; you might assume it would be all-female, but there were two men in our group. As our tutor for the calligraphy workshop explains, this session is popular with brides looking to produce DIY invitations or place settings for their wedding. “There’s usually at least one bride in every class,” she says. Not in this case.

Packs for beginner calligraphers including nibs, holders and Indian ink in London workshop
In the words of Julie Andrews, let’s start at the very beginning.

What does a calligraphy workshop involve?

CAKE. No, really, it does. More on that later. After a brief introduction, we start making marks on our smooth dotted paper (much like the ‘guidelines’ paper from school days) and learn to make the ‘down’ strokes thick, letting the ink flow straight down from the nib, and the ‘up’ strokes are thin, with a light pressure. Then we go through the lower and upper case alphabet, taking as long as we need to master it.

There’s a coffee and cake break and the chance to reflect on our work. Each section of the workshop involves watching the tutor demonstrate the next challenge, then she comes around to help with any letters we’re stuck on.

We then move onto joining up letters, which is harder than it looks. The final part involves writing words – whatever comes into our heads, or a chosen phrase. I try out a few Instagram-friendly words, then work on mastering the political quote du jour: ‘Nevertheless, she persisted’, which refers to a letter from Coretta Scott King, read aloud by Senator Elizabeth Warren in the US Senate. Warren was interrupted by Steve Daines, the Senate chair. Another politician, Mitch McConnell, went to halt the rest of her speech, but – to his horror – she carried on.

She persisted text in brush lettering text by hand using dip pen and ink
New pen, new skills?

Do you leave with a new skill?

As long as you have the patience to keep correcting yourself, you will definitely feel you’ve learned something in this workshop. There’s no pressure to be ‘perfect’; in fact, there’s a certain camaraderie amongst us as we moan about the letters we’re worst at (it seems to be different for everyone).

Though the lettering style is quite uniform, our tutor tells us that everyone adopts their own quirks. I find my letter ‘e’ has a mind of its own, and I quite like it. Meanwhile, ‘f’ and ‘x’ are my downfall. However, it’s not the end of the world. In fact, it’s really fun to focus on something so small and fiddly, instead of worrying about big issues or how I’ll get through the following week.

There’s a mindfulness-style element to calligraphy, only without the sycophantic preaching practitioners on the mindfulness bandwagon. Calligraphers are much more down-to-earth; there are splodges of ink on our hands and we’re nursing back-ache, but we can all see this is slightly addictive stuff, and the workshop could be just the start of our adventure. Also, did I mention there was coffee and cake?!

'Nevertheless, she persisted' quote, from Elizabeth Warren political incident, written in calligraphy workshop.
I DID IT. Thank you, brush lettering.

Can you get value for money?

We leave with all the basic skills and the materials to carry on, plus we’re emailed a day or two later with the full list of kit we’ve used. This means nobody’s reliant on future courses to improve – important because these courses are in such high demand, it’s difficult to secure a place.

To see improvements, the tutor advises everyone to spend 15 minutes practicing every day (spoiler alert: I haven’t kept this up, but I want to get back into it soon). Some people practice with marker pens, but the best thing is to test out different nibs on the pen holder, play around with inks, and find what works for you.

At £60,  Beginner’s Modern Calligraphy isn’t cheap, but you’re paying for a quality calligraphy workshop with a small enough class size to get plenty of help during the session. It’s also a really relaxing way to spend a Sunday morning. I’d recommend this as a great present for someone (you can buy gift vouchers), or a treat for yourself.

Visiting Notes

I attended the workshop at Quill London’s shop (37 Amwell Street), a short walk from Angel Station. Workshops are also held in other parts of London, and sometimes in Brighton; sign up to the mailing list for details of future sessions.

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