Aside from writing the letters themselves, one of my favorite aspects of calligraphy is muddling it up to give it a grunge style texture. Not only is it fun and easy, but it also gives a unique life and texture to your work. And if you’re into blackletter like me, there’s nothing better than making a tough-looking script even grittier!

In my experiences over the years, I’ve found several simple techniques to add grunge to calligraphy work and the best part is they don’t require any special tools. These work with fountain pens, brushes, paint markers, and even automatic pens.

Today, I’ll show you 5 approaches you can take to add grunge texture to your own work. Let’s dive in!

Blowing

Okay, this is going to sound weird. And when you try it at first, it’s going to feel awkward. But trust me. If you blow (yes, with your mouth) on the tip of a fountain pen (like a Pilot Parallel), brush, or paint marker, it will spray tiny little flecks of ink or paint in the direction you point it.

I saw someone suggest this online somewhere and I thought they were being trolls… but seriously, give it a shot. It works.

Example of blowing ink on to the page to achieve texture.
Example of blowing ink on to the page to achieve texture.

I achieved the speckled grunge effect in the above images by blowing on the tip of my pen.

Pro tip: Be careful not to get too close to the pen while blowing. One time, I went crazy blowing ink on to my work and afterwards, my lips were covered in black ink. Not a good look!

Flicking

If you don’t want to get ink in your mouth, a good alternative to blowing is to flick your writing instrument. This won’t work with a ball point or thin fountain pen. However, it will work with a thicker fountain pen (again, a Parallel works great), a brush, or a well-saturated paint marker.

If you hold your writing instrument like it’s a whip and crack it forward with a flick of the wrist, you’ll be able to project ink or paint from the tip. This might take a little practice.

Example of flicking ink on to the page to achieve texture.

If your composition is small, you can achieve a little more control by holding up a finger with one hand, and banging the writing instrument against that finger with your other hand in the direction of the paper.

Dripping

Flicking techniques will generally create linear splotches of ink or paint. If you’re looking for a more precise approach and just want some drops here or there, dripping is great method.

My favorite tool to use for dripping is paint markers. Grog, OTR, Montana, and Molotow are some of the more common paint markers you can find at your local art store. These are “pump” style markers that allow you to control how much paint is flowing through the nib.

Example of dripping ink on to the page to achieve texture.

Get the nib nice and juicy by pumping it a few times. I would recommend doing so on another surface — not your artwork. Now, instead of flicking it, thrust it up and down (as if you were “stabbing” your artwork). If the nib is saturated enough, round drops should emerge and cover the page.

You can also tilt your piece and turn thouse splotches into elongated drips.

Paint brushes also work great, but you need to get your pigment to a proper consistency or else you risk ruining your piece — and making a mess!

Pro tip: The density of ink or paint when dripping can often mask your work. If this isn’t the desired effect, try laying down a layer of drops prior to adding your letterforms.

Reduction

This is a cool little grunge method that I learned by mistake (though I’m sure others have done it).

Have you ever pulled tape off of a newspaper and found that the some of the ink sticks to the tape? As it turns out, you can do this with standard inkjet printer ink as well.

Example of reducing ink from the page to achieve texture.

First, scan your image and boost the levels of the image so that you have a nice black on white contrast. Then print it out.

Next, take some standard clear Scotch tape and put it sticky-side-down on to your work. As you pull away, some of the ink will as well. The result is a neat worn texture that makes the surface of your work look weathered.

Pro tip: Roll the tape into a ring around your finger and poke at your work with the sticky side of the tape. This will give you more control and variance over where (and how much) ink gets reduced from your work.

Layering

Take a second to think of some of your favorite works of historic or modern art (like Van Gogh, Monet, or Pollock). Most of these painters layer paint to achieve the feeling of texture and depth in their works.

You too can take this approach in your own work.

There are many ways to go about layering, but they all involve putting a layer down, letting it dry (optional), and adding on top of it. Start by experimenting with multiple colors, multiple stroke-widths, different opacities, or other grunge techniques mentioned above to create multiple layers in your work.

Pro tip: If you have graveyard full of canvases with old work that you’re willing to let go of, try painting (or even spraypainting) over them with a thin layer of pigment so that there is a “ghost” layer of what was there before. Then add new work on top.

Example of layering ink on to the page to achieve texture.

What are Your Grunge Techniques?

I’m always looking for new techniques to give texture and depth to my work, so I’m curious. Do you have any techniques that you’d like to share? Shoot me a message at yo@jakerainis.com if you’re willing to share. I’d love to chat!