A Calligraffiti Tutorial
If you’re not familiar with calligraffiti, I’d recommend checking out this post I wrote last September. Calligraffiti is an incredible form of art that blends modern graffiti and street art with classical calligraphic letterforms. I won’t spend time in this post writing about its background. Instead, I want to give you what you need to start creating your own calligraffiti. Consider this a calligraffiti tutorial!
Every calligraffiti artist has their own style. With that said, it’s not like a certain script that you can just learn by referencing letters. It tends to be much more abstract and unlike traditional utilitarian calligraphy, there are no rules! In this calligraffiti tutorial, I’ll teach you how I create my own style of calligraffiti.
You don’t need much to get started… just a flat pen of any sort. This could be a Pilot Parallel, an automatic pen, or even just a chisel tip Sharpie. If you’re interested in learning more about tools and mediums, check out this post on Blackletter Tools of the Trade. In this demonstration, I use a 6MM Pilot Parallel.
Step 1. Familiarity with Fraktur Majuscules
Learning an alphabet isn’t a prerequisite to learning calligraffiti. However, my particular flavor of calligraffiti is largely derived from strokes found in the uppercase Fraktur alphabet.
When you study an alphabet such as Fraktur in depth, you learn about the intimate relationships between the many different styles of strokes that make up these letterforms. I find the Fraktur majuscules to be fascinating and endlessly extendable. In other words, there are many ways that you can “twist” these strokes to give letters unique character.
Understanding these relationships and stylistic nuances will make the process of learning this style of calligraffiti much easier.
With endless flexibility also comes a certain degree of complexity. Learning the Fraktur style of calligraphy takes time and practice. Fortunately, I’ve covered it extensively in a 4-part post series:
- Fraktur 101: What is Fraktur Calligraphy?
- Learning the Fraktur Lowercase Alphabet
- Learning the Fraktur Uppercase Alphabet
- Advanced Fraktur Calligraphy Techniques
And if you’re looking for a more hands-on way to learn, I also published a 100 page Fraktur workbook available for purchase in my online store:
Step 2. Stroke Abstraction
You’re here to learn how to make calligraffiti style compositions, so you might be wondering why I’m telling you to learn a calligraphy alphabet. Well, here’s where Fraktur comes into play.
Take a look at the following image of the Fraktur majuscules and pay attention to the colors:
Each color represents a stroke that is repeated throughout the alphabet to make up letterforms. Obviously, some strokes are varied ever so slightly to fit their size or placement placement within a given letterform. However, the technique used to create that stroke is still the same.
This demonstrates how the alphabet is systematically broken up into individual strokes that can be reused.
For this calligraffiti tutorial, our composition will be no different. In fact, we’ll use these exact same strokes. We’ll simply rearrange them into different patterns.
Here’s an image of these same exact strokes isolated outside of an actual letterform:
Step 3. Exploring Stroke Relationships
Time for the fun part! Now that we’ve abstracted out individual strokes from the alphabet, let’s start putting them together in different ways. This is where your own artistic treatments will come into play.
Start by taking 2 or 3 different strokes and putting them together. They can be on top of each other, next to each other, overlapping each other… whatever you want. Don’t be afraid to have fun and try new treatments. Most importantly, have fun!
This exercise will require a lot of experimentation to discover how your application of an individual stroke works with other strokes. Here are a few examples if combinations:
This stage of experimentation is iterative and I’d encourage you to revisit it often. Since there is no end to the combinations of strokes and the spacial relationships you can create with them, you should always be pushing yourself to try new applications in the interest of achieving new and interesting results.
Step 4. Creating a Calligraffiti Composition
Ready to go big? Let’s take our compositions to the next level my mashing them together into a bigger piece.
Start by creating a square. It can be any size you’re comfortable with. For demonstration purposes, I’ve drawn a 6″x6″ square and added 2″ guides to help me keep the composition balanced.
If this is your first attempt, I’d recommend adding the guides. Instead of thinking about the entire square 6″ square, focus on each individual inner square as a standalone “mini” composition. Here, I’ve filled in my first couple of inner squares:
Develop each individual inner square with a consider how the surrounding edges of each one can tie seamlessly into the next. Eventually, you’ll have build out and entire composition:
Step 5. Development and Exploration
If you made it this far, you essentially have all you need to progress further on your own! However, keep in mind that this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are no limits to what you can create when you delve into the abstract realm of art.
As you get further along, you’ll begin to think of new ideas. Make sure you try them out. Art is all about experimentation and trying new techniques. Plus, it’s these unique ideas that only you have that will differentiate your work from that of other calligraffiti artists.
Here are a couple of ideas to get you started with more advanced abstract compositions.
Work in Different Shapes and Sizes
We started in a small square. Now try a bigger one! Then work in a rectangle. Then try a circle. Calligraffiti works very well within circular calligrams:
Work with Different Tools and Mediums
Different tools and mediums will produce different results. One of my personal favorite mediums is watercolor. The color blending and bleeding that you get from the ink is very neat:
Likewise, working with a brush will give more gesture and texture to your strokes than a Pilot Parallel or automatic pen.
What would graffiti be without some grit and texture? After all, it’s a welcomed side-effect of using spray paint. Adding texture to your calligraffiti will compliment your compositions. Try some of the useful grunge techniques I wrote about in my blog post: Grunge Calligraphy: 5 Ways to Add Texture to Your Work
I hope this was helpful and has gotten you excited about creating calligraffiti compositions of your own. I’d love to see what you create. Tag me in a post on Instagram (@JakeRainis) so I can see your progress! And as always, let me know if you have any questions or comments. Drop me a line at email@example.com.