I’ve always liked working in color. Specifically, black and white — although some might argue that this doesn’t count. But in my never-ending quest to explore new tools and techniques, I’ve recently been in working with watercolor. And as it turns out, you can achieve some amazing visual effects.

I’m breaking this topic up into two posts. In this post, we’ll talk about the tools and materials you’ll need to begin blackletter watercolor calligraphy. In the next post, we’ll explore different techniques that you can leverage to get the most out of your own work.

Watercolor calligraphy by Jake Rainis

Materials

Before we get started, let’s cover the tools and materials that you’ll need to produce your own blackletter watercolor calligraphy.

Watercolors

Yes, you’ll need watercolors, believe it or not. Watercolor paints come in many varieties and forms. If you visit your local arts and crafts store, you’ll likely be overwhelmed by the selection. There are dry watercolors that come in little bricks as well as concentrated watercolor pastes. These can both be diluted to produce liquid pigment.

There are also ready-to-use watercolor inks that don’t require any dilution.

Any form of watercolor will do. However, for the sake of simplicity and convenience, I’d highly recommend you go go with liquid watercolors.

Ecoline Watercolors

Ecoline makes a beautiful and high-quality line of watercolor inks. You can buy the colors individually, or as a 10-piece set. They’re a little expensive, but they’ll last you a long time.

If you’re just looking to experiment and aren’t ready to invest in a set, check out Dr. PH. Martin’s concentrated and non-concentrated (Hydrus) water color inks. These are sold individually as well as in sets and are relatively inexpensive. They are also high-quality and can be diluted to last even longer (although, this is optional).

Dr. PH Martins Watercolors

Automatic Pens

Back in November, 2016, I wrote a blog post about automatic pens. I won’t go into depth in this post, so check that out if you’re unfamiliar with automatic pens.

When it comes to blackletter watercolor calligaphy, automatic pens are king. They hold a good amount of pigment with each dip and are capable of making crisp lines without stretching the ink too thin (this is an important aspect of watercolor — particularly if you’re planning to blend colors). Depending on how hard you press, you can easily produce thick layer of wet ink.

Automatic pen tip sizes
Automatic pen tip styles

Paper

When working with watercolors, you can’t just use any old paper. Chances are it will bleed and warp. Instead, you’ll want to use wet media paper, or ideally some proper watercolor paper.

Watercolor paper also comes in a number of varieties. You’ll need to experiment to find what works best for your style. However, I’d recommend starting with a medium or heavy weight cold presss style of sheet that has a decent texture. This will be sufficient for holding your ink.

Other Tools

In addition to your ink, pens, and paper, I’d also recommend having the following on hand:

  • A cup of water. You’ll want to have a vessel of water handy so that you can dip your pens and your brush before you swap colors. This will prevent you from cross-contaminating your colors.
  • A brush. Any small paint brush will do. Having a brush on hand will make more sense once we get into the second part of this post.
  • Paper towels. Keep a roll of paper towels handy in the event of spills or splatters. If you’re clumsy like I am, you’ll thank yourself later. We’ll also be using paper towels in the second part of this post for some cool techniques.

Writing With Watercolors

Now you have everything you need to get started!

When you set up your work space, be sure to have a blank sheet of scrap paper off to the side. This is called a stratch sheet and it is used to prime your pen.

Ideal watercolor calligraphy workspace

You’ll notice when dipping an automatic pen into watercolor, the ink itself is much thinner than traditional calligraphy ink. Use this scratch sheet to get any excess ink off of the tip of the pen. This will prevent unwanted splotches and un-crisp stroke edges.

Be sure to experiment with the pressure of your pen. Once again, pressing down harder will release more ink. Varying your pressure throughout your strokes will create subtle gradient effects where certain areas of your letters are darker than others.

In the next post, we’ll get into some awesome techniques that will bring your blackletter watercolor calligraphy to life even more.