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Calligraphy is the visual art of fine lettering. It ranges from functional everyday script to sculptural art via the words and their layout. Calligraphy requires a steady hand and plenty of patience. Each stroke is permanent since ink is unchanging and cannot be erased.

Handwriting differs from calligraphy in that handwriting is specific to the writer, but it lacks the consistency required of a calligraphic font or style.


Prerequisites & Related Skills

Calligraphy is a complementary skill and requires that the person learning this skill must first know Writing, as one must know how to write plainly before they can attempt to write in calligraphic fonts. Please note that the points invested in Calligraphy must always be equal or lesser to those invested in Writing.

Calligraphy is related to many other skills:

The Basics

Scribe working on an angled surface.

Calligraphy is best practiced when working on a 45° degree sloped surface, but anywhere from 40° to 60° is acceptable. A slanted support is better for the scribe’s posture than a flat one. An angled surface also prevents too much ink from flowing out and flooding the work. To make an angled work surface, a scribe can hinge a drawing board to the edge of a table and secure the back with props.

When a comfortable position has been established, the lower part of the writing sheet should be protected by a paper guard. A paper guard is a clean sheet of paper folded lengthwise and placed, with a fold at the top, across the writing paper about 1 inch (2.5cm) below the writing line. The corners of the guard are extended at each side and pinned securely to the board. The guard holds the paper flat and protects it from stray ink stains. Writing lines are measured out on formal texts to maintain a neat finish.

Scribes should work in well-lit areas. If working by candlelight, the light should fall across the left shoulder of a right-handed writer, and vice versa for a left-handed writer. The angle of light should cast shadows away from the writing hand, rather than across the pen and writing line. Common sense will suggest the best arrangement of tools and materials.

While many scribes prefer to sharpen and/or make their own writing tools to their own style, it is not necessary to learn such processes to learn calligraphy.

Skills involved in formal penmanship are quite different from those of ordinary handwriting. Cursive writing styles develop to promote speed of writing while retaining relative legibility; handwriting may be elegant, but it is not aiming for a consistent structural beauty. In rapid writing, the pen stays on the paper and is pulled and pushed in any way that quickly describes the necessary features of letters and words. The calligrapher's edged pen naturally favors particular types of movement, and one of the basic precepts of calligraphy is that the pen is always pulled or drawn across the surface rather than pushed or driven against the grain.

Proper Workspace Overview

  • Slanted Writing Surface
  • Straight Backed Posture
  • Well-lit Work Space
  • Penciled Guide Lines
  • Tools Arranged Neatly and Placed Within Reach

Principles of Proportion

The proportions of letters should be visually pleasing. All alphabet or syllabary characters should follow constant proportions. For example, a perfect circle can be inscribed within a square, touching on all four sides. This can then be divided into four perfectly symmetrical quarters. It is the square that forms the basic unit of proportional measurement, which can be applied to those letters that are not primarily circular. The curving letters are formed by relating the arch or bowl to a section of the basic circle.

Weight of Letterforms

The broad-nibbed pen controls every aspect of the construction and appearance of calligraphic letterforms. The character of the writing is dictated by the width of the nib used and the angle at which it is held.

The weight of a letter is described in terms of the number of nib widths that fit into its height. There is a difference between the actual weight of a letterform and its apparent weight. This is the difference between a simple measurable quantity used in the letter construction (the number of nib widths to height) and the visual qualities of the lettering as seen on the page (its optical effect of massing or linear sequence). Rounded lettering with gently curved bowls and loops will appear less heavy than a compressed or angular hand with narrow inner spaces, although the same pen is used and the two lines of writing are of the same height.

Angle of the Pen

The angle of the pen deals with the gradation of stroke, and also directs the general stress of the lettering as it falls on the line. In straight pen writing, the pen is held with the nib edge parallel to the writing line.

Writing Tools



Quills are used for their sensitive touch and flexibility. Practical quills are cut to a convenient length of about 7-8 inches (18-20cm). The barbs on the shaft are stripped with a knife for easier handling.

Long quills with exaggerated pluming are used mainly for decoration. Long quills tend to twist in the hand during use and the plumage can obstruct the writer's view. Quill makers almost always use a bird's primary flight feathers for quills, because they are the most durable. Due to the sloping nature of feathers, left-wing feathers make the best pens for right-handed people, and vice versa for the left-handed.

Quill pens are very popular in Wind Reach due to their easy access to feathers. In the Avora caste, fancy painted quills are gifted to good friends. Wind Eagle feathers are also a particularly sought after gift for learned scholars. While the size is impractical for daily use, it is used to symbolize a larger than life love of learning. Wind Reach feathers, which come from a myriad of birds, are sought after throughout Mizahar for their sturdiness and flexibility.

Key Words:

  • Nib: The tip of a quill
  • Plumage/Barbs: The fluffy bits of the feather
  • Pen Knife: A knife specifically shaped and sized for dressing nibs
  • Vellum: A writing surface made of animal hide

Dressing The Nib

Examples of quill nibs.

A quill's nib, cut sharp for precision, is not durable. It needs constant re-cutting and trimming to maintain its point. It is preferable for a scribe to bevel the nib to individual requirements. The sharpening knife should be held firmly in the dominant hand, cutting the nib downward to the tip. A regularly used quill should be replaced at least once a season.

Pen Knives

Pen knives.

A proper pen knife should have a long rounded handle to be comfortable to hold, and a short fixed blade. The blade should be sharp only on one side and should taper to a fine point. A pen knife needs to be very sharp for trimming and cutting or it will not be effective. They can also be used to remove an error by scraping the ink off the vellum, parchment, or paper.

Accessory Equipment:

  • Oilstone: sharpens knife
  • Slab: A base for cutting; needs a smooth, rigid surface
  • Magnifying Glass: to check nib quality

Reed Pens

Examples of reed pens.

A reed pen is made from a hollow-stemmed reed or cane. A reed or cane is larger than a quill, so it can be cut with a much broader nib. An artist will usually have a set of reeds cut and trimmed to different sizes in order to suit different purposes. Reed pens are popular for larger writing styles. Reed pens have a larger range between thick and thin strokes which are determined by the angle at which the pen is held.

Dressing The Nib

A length of about 8 inches (20cm) is cut from the reed, and then one end is sliced at an oblique angle. The soft pith around the hollow center is shaved down until the part forming the nib is fine and hard. The sides of the cut section are trimmed to form the shoulders of the nib and a vertical slit is made up the center. The tip is then cut cleanly across to form the writing edge, square or angled, and to the required width. A regularly used reed pen must be replaced at least once a season.


Metal styluses.

Styluses can be made from metal, bone, or wood. They can be equated to pencils; they just make indentations instead of leaving a residue-like ink.

Instead of marking writing lines with lead, scholars can prick measurements on vellum with a sharp point and then score the back of the page between the marks with the rounded points of the stylus. This raises a line faintly on the upper side of the vellum. It is not as visible or obtrusive as a drawn line, so as not to distract from the penned and painted letters.


Various brush sizes.

Early forms of brushes were reeds with the fibers beaten out at one end to separate them and make them flexible. Brushes have evolved to have a wood, metal, bone, or other rigid material handle with attached hair tips. The body of the hairs in these brushes vary in thickness, but they are all brought to a fine point to allow a variation in strokes.

Brushes are mainly used for the illumination of penned letters, except in Lhavit where they use brushes almost exclusively in writing.

An illustrator should have a set of many brushes. It is best to have a different brush for every color. Bright colors, favored in illumination, have very strong pigments which could stain the next color even after a thorough cleaning.

Writing Surfaces


Vellum is traditionally preferred by professional scribes. Vellum has a velvety nap and slightly springy surface that is ideal for the sensitivity of a quill. These qualities come from the material, which is a specially prepared calfskin.

Finishing Process


Fresh skins are first soaked in a lime paddle for 10 to 15 days to clean away salt and break down the fibers. Each skin is then individually passed through a machine with three large rollers, one of which is rigged with blunted knife blades, to scrape of the fur. If a machine is not available then it can be done by hand with a double-handled knife. After soaking in lime for another week, a skin is passed through a similar machine, with well-sharpened blades, to scrape off fat and flesh from the underside and is then returned to the lime paddle for a further two weeks.

The cleaned skin is stretched on a wooden frame using string attached to pegs, which can be turned to pull the skin taut. In fine weather it can dry naturally, but heat-drying can speed up the process. To prepare the writing surface, a craftsman shaves each skin with a semi-circular blade, taking account of its individual thickness and any weak areas. This removes the grain and smoothes the surface, which is finally treated by pumice.

For fine writing, vellum is finished to a light even tone. This may be browned or mottled, depending on the finishing process, as well as the fur and skin qualities of the animal it was taken from.

The type of the vellum chosen for a project depends on the calligrapher’s personal preference and project requirements. A light variation of warm tones in the vellum can add richness to the finished work. Colored vellums sprayed with dye are popular in Avanthal, while coarse and grainy vellum is popular in Wind Reach. Tougher vellums are intended for book binding.

Vellum is sensitive to the atmosphere and can absorb too much moisture or dry out if kept in the wrong conditions. If stored over a long period, residual grease in the skin will work its way to the surface. Powdered pumice can be used to rub the skin lightly, but it can be abrasive and may make the surface more porous. A light dusting of gum sandarac counteracts this effect, but if it is too liberally applied then the surface will resist ink. Gum should not be used before gilding as it may hold the gold leaf where it is not wanted.

The hair-side of vellum is tougher than the skin-side. Any abrasive treatment should follow the grain of the skin and be applied gently to the skin-side. If vellum is used in making a book, it is advised to match the pages hair-side to hair-side and skin-side to skin-side.

A scholar can easily correct mistakes on vellum by scraping the ink off with a sharp blade, but they must take extra care not to cut into the surface.


Parchment is made from the inner layer of sheepskin. The creation process is similar to vellum preparation. The sheepskin is limed and split. Flesh is removed from the inner layer and the skin is treated again with lime, then stretched, scraped, and de-greased. The stretched skin is dried, shaved and pounced to create a surface finish.

Parchment has a tough, horny texture, and the sheepskin is naturally oiler than calfskin. Parchment is sometimes used for books because it is thinner than Vellum.


A wadj scroll.

Wadj originates from Ahnatep, where the House of the North Winds has a monopoly on its production and exportation. It is commonly found throughout Mizahar, as it has the advantage of being fairly cheap and easy for Ahnatep to produce.

Wadj comes from the wadj reed, a tall, leafless, aquatic plant that grows in both the Eye of Syna and the man-made swamps that the North Winds have since invested in. Not much is known about the production process of wadj, as the North Winds and their workers keep it a closely guarded secret. It is supposed that the wadj reed is mixed with other materials in order to improve its durability; some people guess cotton, while others say linen.

In its finished form, wadj has a thicker surface than vellum and plant fibers that are easily identifiable. It has a fairly coarse and grainy texture. Wadj is most often rolled into scrolls, although strips of wadj could be bound in books if desired. Brushes are the ideal writing tool for this surface, as they allow for easy variation in line thickness and take to the material well.

Individuals using wadj would be wise to remember that it is vulnerable to the opposing extremes of moisture and excessive dryness. It should ideally be kept in an environment with a relatively low and stable amount of humidity in order to last longest, The surface can also be irregular unless perfectly produced, which can make the Calligraphy process a bit more difficult.

Clay and Wax Tablets

If a scholar is training a new student and is not inclined to waste precious and expensive vellum, wadj, or parchment, they can have the student practice on cheap and disposable clay or wax tablets. Students can also practice on broken pottery. Instead of ink, a student would scratch out letters with a stylus.


Stick Ink

Stick ink and brushes.

Stick ink is most popular in Lhavit and is frequently partnered with brushes, which they use almost exclusively. The ink is sold in sticks of varying colors which have to be rubbed down with distilled water. Ink stones are used to hold the watered-down ink. Distilled water is poured into the central well of the rubbing stone and the ink stick is pushed back and forth in the water against the abrasive surface of the stone. Stick ink should never be stored when it is still wet as this will cause it to flake. The ink stone should always be washed after use.

Due to the packaging process, scribes can easily control the density of color and texture of the ink to their preference. It is very important to keep the stick dry when not in use.

Paints & Pigments

Colors of illuminated manuscripts are applied using pigments bound in gum or egg. Water colors are pigments bound in gum arabic, with one or two additives to maintain flow and texture. They have a luminosity that other paints do not. For pen work, they should be diluted to a milky consistency with high color saturation so that the hues are not devalued. When watercolor is used for painting without a brush, it should be of a stiffer consistency because washes are difficult to control, especially on vellum. Watercolor is the most fluid and translucent medium, and has colors that maintain their brilliance as they dry out.

Pure, finely ground pigments must be used and the richest hues can be extremely expensive. Distilled water should be used to maintain the purity of the colors. Egg tempera has a brilliance achieved by overlaying thin layers of color. It dries to a tough, waterproof finish. Once mixed, tempera cannot be stored long as the egg goes off quite quickly. Only small quantities should be prepared at any one time.


An example of gilding.

Gilding is the decorative process of applying fine gold leaf or powder to paper and burnishing it to give a thin coating of gold. A gilded object is described as 'gilt'. A less reflective form of gold is used as background for ornamental letters and painted ornamentation. Gilding is an art in and of itself, and does not require skill in Writing.

Powder gold is sold loose or in tablet form and can be used like paint or ink when dispersed in distilled water. It may be mixed with gum arabic as a binder. Colored texts are sometimes placed on a gold ground; fine ornamentation is sometimes filled with gold. Using powder gold, ornamentation can be done quite simply with a quill, pen or brush. Although powder gold cannot match gold leaf illumination, it is a simpler way of enriching the effect of a piece of lettering.

City Lore


Ahnatep produces wadj, which gives the Eypharian race the ability to create a myriad of writings. Appearance is highly valued, so Ahnatep's calligraphy is suitably elegant, bold, and elaborate. Notably, Eypharians have a strong fondness for gilding. Just as they embellish and gild their own skin, they similarly embellish and gild their calligraphy. In Ahnatep, skillful calligraphy is meant to denote status and wealth, and it is often used to impress social or political peers with one's affluence and social aptitude. Calligraphy is most often seen in official documents for the Pressorah and the four Houses, in invitations to social events, and throughout Eypharian texts.


Lhavit's language and calligraphic fonts have changed little throughout history and the passing of the Valterrian. Lhavitian calligraphy is composed of gentle strokes and oval circles, sometimes incorporating symbols as well. Lhavitian scribes predominantly use brushes, or reed pens, as quills are unable to properly form Lhavitian strokes.


In Ravok, calligraphy is influenced and driven by religion, particularly by the Ebonstryfe. Scholars are expected to write in a manner that exalts religious and philosophical thought, as well as providing subliminal propaganda to Rhysol's cause within the elaborate fonts.


In Syliras, calligraphy is an art form akin to painting. Hand-painted characters are used as decoration in homes, with or without accompanying pictures. The streets of Syliras are also covered in hand-painted signs, banners and notices. Calligraphy is accepted as a laudable form of self-expression. Fine calligraphy is appreciated as a mark of good breeding and education.

Wind Reach

Though Wind Reach is not particularly scholar friendly, it is especially known for its unrivaled selection of quills. Wind Eagle feathers are a particularly sought-after gift for learned scholars. While their size is impractical for daily use, they are used to symbolize a larger than life love of learning. While quills in Wind Reach are free, their painted feathers, which are usually the sturdiest in all of Mizahar, are highly valued in places as far away as Sahova.

Skill Progression

Novice (1-25)
A novice calligrapher is proficient in one writing tool, at most (quill, stylus, or brush). They rely heavily on penciled writing guidelines to maintain proper spacing and proportion of their letters. Without a line, novices have a tendency to write at a slope. Novices are also unable to dress their own nibs - if they do attempt to, they are likely to cut themselves with the knife and will not be able to make the perfect angle . Novices must take regular breaks to prevent eye strain. They can work for around one hour until they get fatigued. It takes an average of five chimes per one penned word. They make mistakes often, through ink blotches and wobbly lines. At this level, hands are still very unstable and cramp often. Novices stick to learning penmanship.
Competent (26-50)
Once at a competent level, a calligrapher has started to learn much from experience. Competent scribes only need vague lines to maintain spacing and proportion. By now, they are very comfortable with their preferred writing tool and can begin practicing with another. Competent scribes can also dress their own nibs fairly well; it may take around ten tries to get the perfect angle, but they are less likely to cut themselves. They have also begun to build a preference for the angle of their nibs, the angle of their workspace, and the type of surface they like to write on. Competent scribes can work for around three hours straight without getting fatigued. It takes them an average of five chimes per three penned words. Their posture is near perfect; they are no longer stiff and can write comfortably. At this level, scribes have begun to build an instinct for clean and visually accurate relationships between letters. Most competent scribes have also begun to learn illumination of their letters.
Expert (51-75)
At an expert level, a scribe can work up to five hours without fatigue. They can also work much faster than a novice or competent scribe. An expert's hand is practiced enough to make quick and steady lines without hesitation. They are very practiced at dressing their own nibs, and are usually required to dress the aspiring Novices' nibs. At this stage, a scribe has officially determined their preference for the angle of their nibs, the angle of their workspace, and the type of surface they like to write on. While an expert has close to perfected their penmanship, they have only begun to master illumination. An expert's posture is perfect; they can relax while maintaining a straight back and steady hand. An expert only needs a few guidelines for the overarching layout of the page, but not for individual lines. By now, the scribe has a natural instinct for clean and visually accurate relationships between letters and the page as a whole.
Master (76-100)
A master's calligraphic work and services are highly regarded. Their work is as detailed as a painter’s, if not more. A master scribe can work very fast at two penned words a chime, and for over eight hours without fatigue. Their hands have hardened callouses from where they learned their writing tool. They are completely comfortable in the writing position. Masters can dress their nibs in one try. They have mastered both penmanship and illumination. A master needs, at most, one or two guidelines on a page since they have built up a muscle memory for the proportions of their letters. A master's hands guide their work almost as much as their eyes. While they make Calligraphy look like a breeze, it actually has become a simple task for them. The calligraphic fonts have become more of their handwriting style than a perfectionist art. As well, a master calligrapher, while able to copy traditional fonts to the letter, can now properly design their own font set. Their uniform flourishes and their strokes are recognizable by other masters and experts, almost like a personal signature.