Repair calligraphy errors

Everyone who practices calligraphy, at one time or another has made a spelling error, ink blot or some other mark that has marred their final workpiece. It is always best to write when you are fully rested, alert and with few distractions, it also will help if you do some warm ups on practice worksheets, but most of all do not get discouraged.

Now there are many ways to fix the error, ranging from scraping off the annoying error, painting over it with gouache, or as a last resort by patching the error with a paper fiber mixture, the problem is that these methods will not always completely hide the error.

Note: A good rule of thumb to use is – that if you can see the correction, assume that others can as well.

It goes with out saying never try any correction method on your final workpiece – always test the method you are going to use on a scrap of the same paper and ink. Through trying the method on the scrap paper you can decide if it is worth correcting the error or starting over.  The short list below gives some questions to ask

Is there anything you can try, (if so try it)

If you were successful in correcting the error, is it noticable

Are you comfortable with the repair

There are many variables that can affect the success or failure of corrections: such as the type of ink used (is it waterproof etc), the type of pigment or dyes used in the ink, the papers texture (is it rough etc), the papers weight, the tools and the quality of the correction materials used, your skill level in applying the correction method.

Correcting errors takes a lot of patience and a little bit of skill, so it’s a good idea to practice correcting errors using your favorite inks and papers to see if a particulas correction method will be successful.

Note: There is no guarantee that any method will completely hide an error.

Below is a list of some tools that you will need to correct the error,

Dip pen and nib

Your favorite ink

Paper samples of the writing material you used for your final copy (e.g. watercolor paper or pen and ink paper)

Sand erasers

Exacto knife to scrape the ink from your letter

Bone folder to flatten the disturbed fibres after scraping

Scratch Nib: These are available in most art or craft stores. They are the perfect tool to use for scraping as they they are extremely sharp and are designed to fit in a calligraphy pen holder. (Speedball scratchboard tips #112 and 113)

Gouache Paint: Is a water-based, opaque paint and are available in several grades from the student grade (low) to the artist quality grade (highest).

Note; Artist quality grades use the best pigments and also the most colour fast

Note: Commercial whiteout liquids are designed for use on standard photocopy paper and are not suitable for calligraphy lettering repairs.

Note: Take a sample of your papers to the art store when buying gouache paint to help you choose mixing colors to match your papers

Brushes: Any small, round, pointed watercolour brush ( #1, #0 size range) can be used with the brushes coming in a range of qualities that range from the finest (sable hair) to cheap man-made fibers.

Note: A good quality watercolor brush will retain the point after being dipped in water. If the brush hairs or fibers “splay” out (poor quality or worn out) and will not come to a point, replace the brush.

Soft Flat Brush: This brush is good for brushing off bits of ink from scraping and brushing away eraser residue

Note: Do not use your hand or fingers as the oils from your skin may cause the ink bits or letters to smudge.

Mixing Palette: These are used for mixing paint and are available in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and materials with the plastic, glazed porcelain or enamel being the best for calligraphy repairs,

Note: A plain, white saucer will work fine. Some paint colors will stain the surface of plastic palettes which can be difficult to remove.

Note:  Check surface to ensure it is smooth and there are no rough areas that can damage the brush hairs.

Small bowl of clean water

Correction methods require patience and practice, a familiarity and confidence in your tools, the materials used and your experience using them will help you in deciding if correcting is the right choice.

1Correcting an error in a letter

Because calligraphy is made using a series of strokes rather than written, you are able to change the error on the letter into the correct letter. An example would be changing the lowercase letter “c” to an “a”, “e”, “d” or “g”.

In this example, an “a” can be easily changed to a “d” by adding the ascender and blending it into the downstroke of the letter “a”.

Note: This is the only method of correcting an error that would be completely invisible, with success being dependant on the letter style, a consistent pen angle and how seamlessly the stroke have been merged together.

2. Using the Scraping Method

This method uses an exacto knife or the scratch nib, with the nib in a calligraphy pen holder to scrape the ink, hold the the knife or nib at an oblique angle and then try to gently scrape off the ink.

As an example, you are trying to remove the bar from an Italic letter “e”, while trying to keep the surface damage to the paper to a minimum.

Start by scraping a little at a time, pulling the exacto knife point or scratch nib towards you and using a soft brush or gently blowing to remove any ink bits scraped from the paper.

Use a very light touch and holding the exacto knife or scratch nib at an angle to avoid it digging into the surface of the paper. then use the bone folder to flatten the fibres. The success in the removal of the error will depend on how much ink has been absorbed by the paper.

Note: This method works best if the ink has not soaked into the paper or if the paper is rough as shown in the  video below.

Another form of scraping method is to use a sand eraser, which can be good if you are trying to erase a drip type blot where the ink has not been deeply absorbed by the paper, just use a light pressure until the mark is removed.

 Note: If you rub to hard you will change the papers texture which will show where the repair is

3.  Painting over

If after testing you find that the scraping procedure has not removed the mark, you can try fixing the scraping marks by adding a bit of gouache to try painting out the error.

Note: You will need to mix a color that will blend with the colour of your paper.

1. Squeeze a bit of white gouache onto your mixing palette.

2. Load your round brush with a little clean water.

3. Remove any excess water by blotting the brush

Note: The brush should be damp. (drybrush).

Note: With this method you are adding water to your lettering, so if you used a non-waterproof ink it will dissolve and spread

Note: Some inks labeled as waterproof may not be completely waterproof and will dissolve as well.

Note: This is why it is important to test the correction method before applying to your final workpiece.

4. Squeeze out a bit of the tinting colour you are using and mix a tiny bit with the white gouache.

5. Cover the tip of the brush with a bit of the tinted gouache and paint a few strokes on your test paper.

6. Repeat if still too white by by adding tiny amounts of the tinting colour you are using to the white gouache until the strokes are invisible when dry.

Note: You will need to mix a color that will blend with the colour of your paper.

7. When you have a match for your paper, dip the brush and apply the paint to the error by dotting the colour over the ink

Note: since adding water to gouache makes it translucent, you will need to build up layers of paint to cover the ink through the method known as glazing.

8. After letting each layer of paint to dry, repeat adding thin layers until the error is covered.

Note: If you need to recharge the brush, remember to keep the brush damp enough to paint but not soaking wet.

9. Once the completed correction is dry, Now is the time to blend the areas around the correction using a few more thin layers of paint if required.

10: Once the completed correction is dry, Now is the time to blend the areas around the correction using a few more thin layers of paint if necessary.

Note: Clean your brushes after painting using a brush cleaning soap and clean water.

Note: Let the brushes dry on a brush rest (or horizontally) before storing.

Note: Never leave a wet brush standing vertically as the water might soften the glue holding the brush hairs

Note: Palettes can be cleaned with soap and water to remove any dried paint

Note: Keep corrected samples as a reference, to assist you to determine if the mistake can be corrected or if it’s time to do it over

As stated before all the methods mentioned above are not 100% certain in their outcome, so prevention is the best choice. An example is making a draft copy in pencil and then inking over the pencil guidelines. You can then gently erase the guidelines after the ink has dried (wait a few hours), after which you can erase the guidelines without smudging the ink.