Okay, they aren’t really secrets. But there are 9 very important things you need to know when it comes to learning brush calligraphy and that is your 9 basic strokes. These 9 strokes form the foundation of most script alphabets so… You need to know them!

Unfortunately, if you read the first post in this Lettering for Beginners series, most of beginners don’t know this and skip straight to letters and words, which is pretty much like trying to walk before you can crawl!

Today, in Part 3 of this series, I want to make sure YOU don’t make that mistake and have all the information you need on these basic building blocks. Let’s get started!

Learn Brush Calligraphy Basic Strokes

As the saying goes, there’s beauty in the breakdown. Remember how you learnt to write as a kid? Well, that’s what we’re going to do here: we’re going all the way to the basics, which are strokes. Not letters, but strokes!

Frankly, when I first read “start with the basic strokes”, I almost ran screaming for the hills because oh shite, that sounds terribly like Mandarin class and I *hated* Mandarin class with the passion of a thousand exploding suns.

But take it from someone who tried to skip the strokes first? Learning the strokes really helps! Nothing gets you familiarised with how much pressure you need to put on the brush or pen than the basic strokes — or drills as some call them!

Not all brush pens are created equal, so learning the 9 basic strokes and running through them helps you figure out how flexible the pen is — you can read all about recommended (budget!) beginner supplies over here.

Upstroke + Downstroke

Brush calligraphy is based on the simple premise that your downstrokes are thicker than your upstrokes. It makes sense then that a simple thin upstroke and thick downstroke are the foundation strokes.

Upstrokes are usually at a sharper angle to lead into letters or connect them, while downstrokes follow the overall slant of the alphabet!

When it comes to upstrokes, just remember that steady is better than skinny!

Learn Brush Calligraphy Basic Strokes

Underturn + Overturn

Of course, the calligraphy alphabet is fairly curvy, so the next step is to form strokes that have curves by combining upstroke and downstroke.

The underturn starts with a downstroke before turning up into an upstroke, while the overturn is the opposite. In both strokes, the up and downstrokes are roughly parallel and mirror each other!

Many people would call the underturn ‘the U stroke’ and that would be somewhat accurate, since it is used in the letter ‘u’! But it can also be used in many other letters like lowercase ‘i’ and ’t’ — just for starters!

The overturn stroke is harder to identify. Most commonly, it is used to lead in letters that start with a downstroke — like a lowercase ’n’, or in the letter ‘m’ itself.

Learn Brush Calligraphy Basic Strokes

Compound Curves

Calligraphy is really building together what you know already. This next set of strokes are best used for connecting letters together, and are formed by combining the underturn and overturn strokes.

These are some of the trickier strokes but really crucial since connecting letters is kind of the point!

The first curve on the left is more commonly used. It gives many letters a ‘tail’ to connect to the next one — for example, the letters ’h’, ’m’ and ’n’! The second curve is less common, but connects letters that end with a downstroke with one that starts with it, like ‘m’ and ’n’!

Learn Brush Calligraphy Basic Strokes


Another craaaaaaazy important stroke is the oval. The oval — or ‘the O stroke’ — is used for more than just that one letter. It is actually used in many letters like the lowercase ‘a’ and ‘d’ as well as the base form for the letter ‘c’, for example!

The trick to this particular stroke is to start it at the side, so you have more time to prepare to adjust your pressure.

Bonus point? The part where it joins up is almost always covered by the next stroke so that doesn’t have to be perfect! We all know how annoying drawing perfect circular shapes is — especially when it comes to closing them up!

Learn Brush Calligraphy Basic Strokes

Ascending and Descending Loops

This last set of basic strokes are the largest! These strokes are used in the taller or longer letters like your lowercase ‘b’ and ‘g’.

The ascending loop starts with an upstroke that turns down into a downstroke. The secret to this one is to start it inside the area where the downstroke will be eventually. This gives you a seamless stroke.

The descending loop is simpler — you just have to aim the upstroke part of the loop properly to close it up!

This set of strokes are my favourite because they are the easiest way to start personalising your script to something that’s unique to you. Just change the size of those loops!

Learn Brush Calligraphy Basic Strokes

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves! First of all, you need to master your basic strokes and and I’ve just the thing!

The (absolutely free) Brush Basics Booster Challenge delivers free detailed video lessons and to your inbox over 2 weeks so you can your basics right! There’s also a free workbook so you’ve something to practice your strokes on, and have I mentioned that it’s all absolutely free?

Are you in?