Left Handed Calligraphy Techniques
“If I’m left handed, can I still be a successful calligraphy artist?”.
YES. Left handed calligraphy is more common than you think. 10% of people are left handed.
This means that 10% of calligraphy artists are left handed.
This question gets asked more than you know and if you’re part of the 10% of people that write with their left hand, you shouldn’t be discouraged from creating. Personally, I’m right handed… but I know a handful of extremely talented left handed calligraphy artists.
I’ve also seen a lot of left handed calligraphy artists in action. And while a left handed calligraphy artist might not follow the traditional exercises found in books or tutorials, there is nothing stopping them from creating equally beautiful calligraphy work.
If you’re left handed and you’re hesitant about starting (or continuing) your calligraphy journey, this post is for you.
What Type of Lefty Are You?
Right handed folks might not be aware, but there are two general categories of left handed writing approaches that lefties tend to take when composing calligraphy.
There isn’t a right way to be left handed (no pun intended). However, determining what category you fall into as a lefty will help inform what techniques you can leverage to improve your work.
Overwriter (or “Curler”)
Overwriting is done when the left hand is wrapped around the pen in such a way that the pen angle is close to that of a right handed writer. As a result, more of what you’re writing is masked by your left hand and arm.
If you’re an “overwriter”, you’ll have an easier time achieving push strokes, pull strokes, and straight lines. But you’ll need to be careful to not smudge your work. This is because your hand is covering what you’ve written. And because you can’t easily see your previously written letterforms as you work, you’ll also need to pay close attention to letter spacing and uniformity.
Underwriter (or “Non-Curler”)
Underwriting is done when the wrist is not bent. In other words, your hand does not cover as much of what you’re writing.
If you’re an underwriter, you’ll have an easier time when it comes to smudging and consistency. However, you’ll face more challenges when it comes to pen manipulation.
Helpful Tips for Left-Handed Calligraphers
One of the most frustrating aspects of being a left handed calligraphy artist is that following traditionally prescribed techniques won’t work for you. This is obviously because the majority of resources out there are written for right handed artists by other right handed artists.
While this might be a setback initially, don’t let it discourage you. As a lefty, you’re going to need to improvise and make your own rules to figure out what’s best for you.
Here are some techniques to keep in mind as a left handed calligraphy artist.
This is advice that every calligraphy artist should follow regardless of which hand they use to write. When you work slowly, you’re forcing yourself to be more precise. This is important when mastering fundamental letterforms.
Focus on one stroke at a time. Get the curve just right. Get the line perfectly straight. Focus on the smallest bits of the work instead of thinking about the entire word or even the single letterform. When you finish a letterform, give it a minute to dry before moving on. You might be working slower than you’d like to, but it’s not a race.
Stroke consistency is the most challenging part of learning calligraphy, so if you can discipline yourself to focus on one detail at a time, you’ll be successfully training your muscles (and your mind) to produce precise work.
Use Your Forearm
Right handed artists tend to use their hands, wrist, and fingers to control their pens. Lefties can do this as well, but you’ll find more comfort and consistency once you train your forearm to do the heavy-lifting.
This is especially true for overwriters. As your arm is curled around the pen, you’ll need to focus on stroke precision while keeping your arm and hand somewhat lifted to avoid smudging. This is tiring at first and might lead to sloppy work after a prolonged stint — so don’t be afraid to take a break.
Try resting your forearm lightly on your writing surface while anchoring your elbow and pivoting accordingly. It will certainly feel unnatural at first, but continuing this practice will pay off in the long run.
Make Your Own Rules
If you’ve followed calligraphy tutorials at any point, you’ll probably recall the method of pushing the pen to create thin upstrokes and pulling the pen to create thick downstrokes. This technique works great for right handed calligraphy, but you might not have as much success as a left handed calligraphy artist.
Don’t be afraid to break the rules that you were instructed to follow. As a lefty, they probably don’t apply.
If you find it easier to pull strokes upward exclusively or on certain letterforms, then do it. Right handed calligraphers are instructed to push upstrokes and pull down strokes. However, many left handed calligraphy artists find it easier to not follow this rule.
Don’t fix what isn’t broken just because a right handed artist says “it’s the right way”.
Celebrate your uniqueness as a lefty and find the approaches that work best for you — even if it’s untraditional.
I’ve seen left handed calligraphy artists that write upside down! I couldn’t imagine doing it myself, but it works for them. Likewise, I’ve seen artists who have trained themselves to work at multiple angles and they adjust their positioning based on where they’re at with a given piece.
I’ve also seen an artist who built a “stage” that sits just a couple millimeters above the paper. It has pegs on the corners. This allows them to rest their hand on comfortably without having to worry about smudging.
Identify the specific challenges you’re facing as a lefty and brainstorm creative ways that you could overcome that one difficulty.
The Bottom Line
Let’s face it. As a left handed calligraphy artist, you’re going to face unique challenges that right handed artists don’t. It’s not fair by any means, but don’t let it stop you!
Once again, there are many lefties out there and they didn’t let it stop them from blossoming into incredible and influential artists. I promise you that if you stay focused and dedicated, you can do the same.
If you’re a left handed calligraphy artist, I’d love to hear from you. What struggles are you facing? What struggles have you faced that you’ve overcome? Let me know and I’ll do my best to keep this post as up to date as possible with helpful left handed tips.