Quickly Add Perfect Calligraphy Guide Lines to Any PaperOct 27, 2022
When I have a calligraphy piece to do, sometimes the most daunting part is just getting ready. Preparing the paper for the calligraphy can be just as big a task as doing the actual writing. Mostly, this means preparing the paper with guide lines so our calligraphy is nice and consistent. If I had to pick one word to describe polished looking calligraphy, it would have to be “consistent.”
To keep our lettering consistent, guidelines are a must. Only some rare freaks of nature that we are all obligated to hate can write consistently on a blank sheet of paper (ahhhhem, Lise Hellström). The rest of us mere mortals rely on drawing evenly spaced parallel lines on paper in one of the below methods:
1) The Clear Ruler Shimmy: I’m sure we all own a Wescott clear ruler. These are clear rulers marked with a 1/8” grid. They have become a staple in the art/calligraphy world. First, run your pencil along the edge of the ruler to make a line. Then, shift the ruler such that the first line is matched up with one of the lines painted on the ruler (you are limited to multiples of 1/8 inch). Repeat this process for as many lines as you need across the paper.
2) Guide Sheet Extension: Most calligraphers have their preferred guide sheets. I know my dear friend Suzanne Cunningham always prefers a 5mm 2:1:2 guide sheet. Because my natural oval form is more narrow, my writing looks more proportional at a 5mm 3:2:3 guide sheet. (You can download free printable guide sheets in a variety of sizes here.) Another fairly trusty method for transferring guide lines to blank paper is to place the guide sheet under your final piece of paper with the guide sheet exposed on one side. This exposed part of the guide sheet gives you markings to use your ruler to extend those lines onto your final paper.
3) Connect the Dots: And we all know the good old fashioned mark both sides and connect the dots method. Use a ruler to make tiny marks along both the left and right sides of your paper at the same increments. Then, rotate the ruler to connect the dots.
In theory, all of these systems work great and I think we have all have fairly successfully relied on one or the other for a long time. However, all of them rely on great precision. Even the width of the pencil lead can shift the lines enough that the spacing is no longer consistent and parallel. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve “confidently” lined a paper only to finish, sit up taller from my desk (yes, I slouch!), and realize that some lines were not even at all! Arrrrrgh!
Whenever I get frustrated with doing something, my natural response is to stop until I come up with a better solution. This may be a brief intermission or it may be weeks/months of mulling thoughts over in the back of my head. I’m a processor. Silent brain churning in the background... often times at 3am much to Francisco’s annoyance.
Current 3am need: Find a way to make drawing perfectly parallel and evenly spaced lines a breeze. AND it has to work at all different measurements (so, not a stationery template cut out of plastic). AND it has to work on any size paper from little place cards to huge 36”x48” you-are-crazy paper.
A BETTER WAY: Combining different tools and ideas I own or have seen along the years, I came up with the idea of holes in a ruler that you would then slide along a straight edge, moving your pencil up one hole at a time. This idea is much like the function of the classic Ames Lettering Guide. However, the Ames is really best when only a few lines need to be drawn. I wanted lots of holes for making lots of lines without the need to readjust my base.
After various ideas and garage cut prototypes, the design was honed and perfected to the current state of the INKMETHIS Layout Liner. And, channeling my NYC calligraphy BFF Sondra, “Let me tell you,” this thing had had me more excited than anything we’ve done since launching the engraver! I literally squealed inside (not aloud because that’s just too emotive for me) when we got pictures of the first sample of our design from the manufacturer! Waiting for the first batch of 1000 to be produced was near torture.
Why would Francisco and I spend the money to have 1000 of them made? Well, my general philosophy has always been this: If I would find something super helpful in my calligraphy work, I’m sure I can’t be the only one! I sincerely hope you all find this tool to be a calligraphy life saver too!!
Set up and supplies needed:
- INKMETHIS Layout Liner
- Calligraphy quality paper (my favorite for finished pieces is Arches 140lb hot press watercolor paper)
- Drafting table or a ruler/straightedge secured to your desk (I have this slant board on my desk which also helps my neck and shoulders)
- Mechanical Pencil (I like this particular Pentel)