Advanced Calligram Techniques

I received some great response to my previous post about creating mandala calligrams. In the interest of keeping up the momentum, I thought it appropriate to take our learnings a step further with another calligram tutorial.

When it comes to making calligrams, the possibilities are truly endless. In addition to this post, I’d recommend exploring other artist’s work for inspiration. There is some incredible talent out there. But in the mean time, let’s cover some more advanced approaches you can take when creating your own calligrams.

Go Abstract

Personally, my favorite kind of calligrams to make are ones with abstract blackletter calligraffiti. If you follow my work, you’ll find a lot of abstract treatments. These pieces are comprised of fundamental blackletter strokes. However, the strokes are put together in abstract patterns to create visual interest.

Abstract Mandala Calligram by Jake Rainis

Abstract Mandala Calligram

I plan on putting together some tutorials on how I create these patterns, but I’d encourage you to try your hand at some of your own abstract patterns and see what you come up with!

Multiple Ring Sizes

In our example from the previous post, we created a two-ring mandala. Both of those rings were the same size:

Double circle calligram example

These are great, but you can take your calligram even further by mixing ring sizes. Try creating a four-ring calligram where each ring is a different size than the one adjacent.

You can also try using different nib sizes to add more dynamic rhythm to the composition:

Mandala calligram with 2 different ring sizes by Jake Rainis

Abstract Mandala Calligram

Ring Flourishes

Use your letter’s ascenders and descenders as opportunities to sprinkle in flourishes. These flourishes help break up white space and can also contribute a sense of gesture to an other wise rigid set of circular rings.

Calligram with flourishes

Add Some Color

Why not?! Try mixing together some different color combinations:


If you happen to be using a Pilot Parallel, you can create an “ombre” effect in your pen strokes by touching the tip of your pen to another Parallel that contains a different color. Or just dip it into a different container of ink. The colors blend elegantly and create beautifully organic gradients.

Ombre effect

Ombre effect

Levels, Jerry! Levels!

Sorry, I love Seinfeld.

If you dilute your inks, you can create different levels of opacity with your strokes. These levels create an awesome illusion of depth and layers.

Abstract Mandala Calligram by Jake Rainis

Abstract Mandala Calligram

Creating Texture

One of the beautiful aspects of calligrams beyond the impact of each stroke uniting together to form a rigid shape is the feeling you can give it by adding some simple texture.

Muddle-up your calligram by splattering some pigment on top. You can do this by shaking/flicking pens or markers on top of your finished work. You can also achieve tiny little splattered specks by blowing on the tip of your pen. Sounds crazy, but give it a shot.

Textured abstract calligram by Jake Rainis

Break out of the Circle.

We’ve been talking about mandala (circular) calligrams, but you’re certainly not limited to circles. Try some other geometric shapes (or even combinations of geometric shapes)!

Geometric calligram by Jake Rainis

Show Me the Calligrams

I want to see your calligrams. Send me an email at yo@jakerainis.com or tag me on Instagram at @jakerainis. I’d love to check out your work and see what you come up with!

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