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The Crafthood Top Picks of Modern Calligraphy and Lettering Books

July 12, 2018



 As complete learning enthusiasts, we are always on the look out for calligraphy books that will develop and grow our love for this practice.  Our style of calligraphy is most definitely in the modern camp and as a result our picks reflect this.  


We have grown our library of resources over the last two years so narrowing down our top picks was tough but here it is.  These picks are simply in the order that we purchased then.


Update - July 2018 - two of our recent purchases have made an impact so we have updated our blog to reflect this.


Nib + Ink - The New Art of Modern Calligraphy

Chiara Perano



This was the first modern calligraphy book we purchased and is great as an entry level offering.  For those new to this, Chiara is the owner of Lamplighter London - if you are ever lacking in lettering inspo then their instagram page is pure lettering goodness!  


The book encourages you to 'just begin' and this is a great ethos as no matter how much reading around the subject you do there is no greater learning than that which comes from experience.  


Much like our workshops the book is structured into mark making, letters, words and projects.  The book is very much like a school exercise book with lots of guide sheets to practice your alphabet and words.  The paper quality is great with no ink bleeding when writing straight into it.  However if you like to keep your books pristine then we would recommend photocopying the practice pages.  There are tons of helpful top tips throughout such as "Don't watch the nib! It's quite off-putting and disconcerting.  Focus on the shapes you are making with it instead" (pg 32).


Chiara knows how to make lettering modern and her projects section provides some excellent useable options like these partywear ideas.

 The only downside of the book is that there is no photography of actual projects but rather sketches, they are beautiful sketches though!


Best for - A Beginner 


Modern Calligraphy

Molly Suber Thorpe



This book is an excellent intermediate book.  Whilst it caters for absolute beginners too it moves this on to other techniques such as writing with watercolour and gouache and writing on dark paper.  


The book has a full chapter devoted to the art of the envelope which is such an on trend art.... we would recommend this book for this chapter alone.  Some of the tools that this book recommends are a little difficult to get hold of on this side of the Atlantic but the vast majority are available if you take time to look online.




 There are comprehensive table resources on things such as different types of paper, these are excellent if like us your background is not in art and design.  The book is also great as a resource for left-handed calligraphers with techniques suggested for both overwriters and underwriters.


The book is by Molly Suber Thorpe who is a driving force behind the art of modern calligraphy and also created the amazing online resource calligrafile.com.


Our copy of this book is not the most up to date as a newer version was published in May 2017.  If you like to try numerous different modern calligraphy styles, this book is excellent at providing lots of examples of the same letter in many styles.


We feel that this book is more suited to the developing calligrapher and may be a little overwhelming for entry level calligraphers.  The projects are great if you are looking to take your modern calligraphy to the next level.


Best For - Intermediate Letterer


Modern Lettering Workshop - The Creative Art of Pen, Brush and Chalk Lettering

Imogen Owen


Confession time - we have met Imogen Owen at a book signing and are fangirls ... BUT ... we wouldn't recommend a book we didn't rate.  Having seen Imogen in action, this book will help you emulate her unique modern calligraphy style which is perfect for creating a modern tone for a special occasion.


The book guides you through everything that you will need to get started in your modern calligraphy adventure.  The alphabet sheets provided have guidelines on helping you know where your nib should start and finish.  We have found this practice really helpful for beginners.  Imogen's style is most definitely that of an enabler and sharer; for example she provides advice on mixing your own colour inks.  We can say from experience that this information is really tricky to find without this book!


Imogen encourages you to be brave and creative when considering different surfaces to write on and some of the projects are so lust-worthy you won't know which one to try first.


As well as calligraphy, the book also has sections on brush lettering and chalk lettering.  This would be an ideal choice for someone wanting to try lots of different lettering styles and we would say is ideal for the beginner that wants to try lettering. If you are looking for more detailed learning or are at intermediate level then maybe this wouldn't be the best choice for you.


Best For - Multi lettering types


Modern Lettering - A Guide to Modern Calligraphy and Hand Lettering

Rebecca Cahill Roots


This is the most recently published of our selection, only being released in August 2017.


 Similar to the Nib + Ink book this book allows you to practice on guide sheets within it.  It also provides lots of examples of different forms of the same letter - perfect if you are new to lettering and want to experiment to find your style.


After a section on writing with a nib, Rebecca guides you through using different media such as paintbrushes & brush pens (brush lettering) and working with colour.  


Helpfully throughout there are small shopping lists to take out the trauma of wading through the amount of choice and focusing on some tried and tested products.


There are some exciting project ideas in this book such as the rather lovely plate lettering.  Team Crafthood are really keen to give this a go (Christmas presents sorted!)


This book is a great, comprehensive guide suitable for beginners but also will appeal to those who have been practicing calligraphy for some time due to the exciting projects section.


Rebecca's business Betty Etiquette is a great place for lettering inspo.


Best for - Project Lovers


Creative Calligraphy inkspired

Betty Soldi


 This book caught our eye as it looks different to every other Modern Calligraphy book we own.  And guess what?! It is really different in a very identifiable way.  In our previous careers we both had started working with delivering mindfulness exercises and this book struck many cords around this.


In the introductory pages of this book we learn a little of the background of Betty Soldi and her family.  She tells us that historically her family were firework makers and she lives in Florence; once you know this these influences shine through in her lettering style.  And this is an important learning point that this book makes; calligraphy is not just about replicating another person's style but it is a representation of who we are.  This is a really empowering message but could be intimidating for those that like to have prescriptive guides to their lettering.


Betty tackles the idea of the fear people may have when starting their lettering journey and the first exercises encourage facing this fear and working with it/challenging the ideas we have about things having to look perfect.  The initial stages of the book look at handwriting as the starting point, the book encourages us to have an awareness of our handwriting and getting past any fear of judgement around how we write.


The book is very well designed and the spine allows the book to fold flat so it is very easy to write directly into the book.  Many of the first exercises require a pencil, then we move onto practice with a fountain pen and only later in the book is the use of pointed pen suggested.


Lots of other Modern Calligraphy books have mark making sections that are "drills"; in this book mark making still happens but through very creative based exercises such as creating feather shapes with thin upstrokes and thicker downstrokes.


Throughout this book the projects and prompts are unusual, creative and useful.  Betty has introduced us to the idea of panagrams as a calligraphy practice idea.  These are phrases that you can write that use all of the letters of the alphabet.  This beats writing the alphabet out over and over!!  Most of the projects suggested are unique to this book; we are particularly keen to give the writing with vegetables a go!  



Betty friend and fellow calligrapher Mara Zepeda (Instagram - Neither Snow) walks us through the section on pointed pen calligraphy.  There are some small drill ideas but in the same as Betty's style much more focus is placed upon exploration rather than looking for perfection.


Overall we love this book.  It is probably more suited to those that are very creative and alternative thinkers rather than people who like to be given instructional guidance.


Best For - Mindful creativity



Secrets of Modern Calligraphy

Kirsten Burke


 Kirsten Burke has been a calligrapher for over 20 years so you are in good hands if you choose this book.  Her experience and knowledge shine through in her writing style.  The book has clear direction - what you'll need, how to hold your pen, mark making, letters and projects.

It is the only one of the chosen books that has a technological interactivity.  Dotted throughout the book are QR codes, if you download a QR reader and scan the codes they open up you tube tutorials, this is great if your learning preference  includes seeing demonstrations as well as reading about the subject.


Instead of 'drills' the book has simple templates designed to teach the same muscle memory as drills but in a more fun way.  The book encourages a lot of tracing over templates, effectively you are then tracing over a predetermined style and the possible downside of this may be that it hampers a development of a unique to you style.


The book has a selection of 'pull out' art cards and each project in the book relates to these cards.  It also has a six sheets of layout paper to help trace over templates.  As with the inkspired book it is bound in such a way that it lies flat when open so is very easy to work directly into.


There is a comprehensive list of supplies and tools provided.  It has a number of 'Secrets' in the book and some great tips on getting started in terms of body, pen and ink position.


Kirsten provides a great series of mark making exercises that are very helpful in immediately guiding you through the idea of think upstrokes and thick downstrokes.  There's mark to trace where your aim is with a downstroke to cover the mark thus you can tell the optimum pressure to place on your nib.

There is a unique difference in how this book guides you through letterforms. On the alphabet sheets the downstrokes in every letter are in bold (and the thin upstrokes faded down).  We found this an excellent way to help beginners understand that the pressure of the pen varies throughout letter shapes.  The repetition of practising the letterforms in this way enables beginners to gain an understanding of the differing pressure needed throughout.


The projects provided are a clever way of dealing with individual principles and skills.  For example there is a project looking at proportions and another considering 'body shapes'


The book rounds off with some brief sections looking at techniques such as blending and using finetec metallic paints.


Best For - Those that want to produce some finished artwork.



So there you have it - our top picks of modern calligraphy and lettering books.  We'd love to hear what your top picks are, we are always keen to extend our library of resources.


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