When people say they “can’t draw”, it’s an excellent opportunity to remind them that writing is a form of art, too! It’s probably one of the oldest art forms: think hieroglyphs, Chinese characters, and the first symbols created to represent an object or pass on a message.

Fast forward to the present day, and calligraphy has evolved into something relatively modern yet still has a “handmade” feeling. Today, I’ll show you three different ways to use watercolour in calligraphy, from brush lettering and using other brush styles.

Quick Practice

Before we begin, it’s always good to practice a little. No matter what your handwriting is like, there are two basic rules to follow:

  1. Put more pressure on your downstrokes (i.e. thick lines)

  2. Use less pressure on your upstrokes (i.e. thin lines). 

Focus on these two rules, and your handwriting will be instantly transformed. Bonus tip: For curved lines, you can transition from thin to thick or vice versa, depending on whether you’re going from an upstroke to downstroke or the other way round. 

As for horizontal strokes like crossing your T’s, you can pick between doing thick or thin lines or even tapered lines. Keep them consistent in your calligraphy piece, and you’ll be fine. It’s ok to take it slow when writing, and going slowly helps you focus on seeing each letter as a shape rather than a letter.

You can see a simplified demo in the picture above. I’m using a brush pen here, as they’re perfect for practising with because the brush’s felt tip is easy to control.

Brush Lettering

One of the fancier forms of calligraphy, brush lettering, has become quite popular in the last year. All you need for this form of watercolour calligraphy is a round paintbrush, a container of water, watercolour paint, and paper (best to use the smoother hot press watercolour paper for this).

After picking or mixing your desired colour, start writing while following those two rules mentioned previously. If you start running out of colour, re-dip your brush in the paint and keep going from where you left off before the paint has time to dry.

You can even change colours whenever you like, which creates an “ombré” effect, where one colour blends into the next. Make sure the paint is still wet when changing colours, and thoroughly wash your brush between each colour change. 

Water Brush Calligraphy

Another way to do watercolour calligraphy is using a water brush, which is a brush that has a water reservoir in the handle. You can either fill it with clean water and do brush lettering the usual way, or fill it with watercolour ink, so you can do calligraphy at any time without having to refill your brush as often!

The downside with using the watercolour ink fill method is that you’re stuck with one colour until it runs out. However, you can dip the brush in a different colour and watch the colour gradually change back to the original.

You can also get several water brushes and fill each with a different colour, but in most cases, this method is best for those who prefer working with a limited colour palette.

A water brush is good for the “fade-out” effect, which you can do simply by writing continuously while the water gradually dilutes the paint in the reservoir.

Experimental Watercolour Calligraphy


Last but not least, you can experiment with different brush types while applying all you’ve learned above. The round brush is the most commonly used, but how about trying a flat brush for a more slanted look? Or even a filbert brush? What about trying a different handwriting style? The possibilities are limited only by your brushes and your imagination, so play around with what you have! 

Finally, when you’re comfortable with the writing portion, feel free to add embellishments to your calligraphy piece— flowers, leaves, other shapes and swirls to match your message, etc. The important thing is to have fun and to get your creativity flowing!

Have you ever tried watercolour calligraphy and/or brush lettering before? What’s your favourite inspirational quote, and have you tried turning it into a calligraphy piece? Let us know in the comments!  

Nicola Tsoi is a graphic designer and illustrator based in Hong Kong. She likes to watch birds do funny things, search for stories, and bake up a storm during her downtime. She keeps a pet sourdough starter named Doughy.

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