The reason you should focus on the thin stroke, but not the hairline

Over the past few weeks, you have seen the importance of holding the pen at an angle and practicing how to exert pressure to achieve those thin strokes in brush calligraphy.

But you might still struggle with the fact that your thin strokes do not exactly resemble a hairline.

In fact, you may be complaining that your thin strokes are shaky, and too thick, and inconsistent in size.

Well, I’m here to tell you that your focus should not be on the hairline. At least not in the beginning.

thin strokes

Quitting My obsession with the hairline

When you are first beginning to learn and write brush calligraphy, it is easy to become obsessed with getting the thinnest upstrokes possible.

I know because I was obsessed myself.

I was so obsessed in the beginning, that I threw my first Tombow brush pen into a box and didn’t pick it back up until weeks later. Seeing other brush calligraphers achieve such fine lines and ultra thin strokes made me want to strive for that standard, and only that standard. Anything less than a hairline must mean that I was doing something wrong. I blamed the pen, my hand, and the fact that this (brush calligraphy) wasn’t even real calligraphy (I’ll tell you more about that in another post).

But then something clicked.

I opened back up to the idea of brush calligraphy, retrieved my brush pen, and began to write. Still frustrated that I couldn’t achieve the hairline, I wrote anyway and just kept on writing.

thin strokes

Learn your pen well

Here is when things clicked: I stopped obsessing over the hairline, and instead I focused on getting to know my brush pen really well.

I started by closely observing how it wrote, how much thick I could make my strokes if I put the maximum pressure on it, and how thin I was able to make my strokes if I barely touched the page.

Once I saw my pen’s “minimum” and “maximum” stroke width, I accepted that my writing would ONLY fall in between that measurement. It was when I changed my mindset from achieving an ideal to embracing the nature of my brush pen that I began to find progress.

Not all brush pens were created equal

…therefore, we must not treat them equally! The thicker the brush pen tip, the thicker its strokes will be in general. Naturally, the size of the brush pen tip will dictate the width of the strokes you can create with it.

brush pen tips - comparison
L to R: Tombow dual brush pen, Tombow Fudenosuke Soft Tip, Pentel Fude Touch Sign Pen

Take a look at two of my favorite brush pens. The Tombow dual brush pen has a thick tip:

brush pen comparison

The Tombow Fudenosuke Soft Tip is a bit thinner:

brush pen comparison

This does not mean it is impossible to create similar strokes, but there is definitely a difference. In fact, the thin strokes above for each pen look similar. But their thickest width varies greatly, and that plays a part in the overall width of your strokes.

Why you should keep writing, even if you cannot achieve the hairline

If you are still holding onto the ideal of a hairline upstroke, try to loosen your grip (pun intended). What I mean is, give yourself a break. Let go of your desire to achieve the hairline stroke – because trust me, it WILL come and we will talk about how in a future post.

Instead, get to know your pen, learn how it writes, and focus instead on being consistent in your letterforms. You can read more on brush calligraphy drills here.

It is much more important to build the muscle memory for the proper letterforms, than to achieve the thinnest upstrokes.

brush calligraphy drills

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It’s your turn!

Are you obsessed with achieving the thin upstroke?

What is something you are struggling with when creating brush calligraphy?

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18 thoughts on “The reason you should focus on the thin stroke, but not the hairline

  1. Hi! I’m from Poland and I just love your page and instagram feed! Great job! This post is about me.. i’ve tossed my tombow to trash because my line was just too thick and I tgought I cant do it. Thanks for these words! Greetings!!


  2. Thanks for this. I am obsessed with the hairline hahaha and have been frustrated on why I don’t seem to be able to create equal width down and up strokes, as well as not being able to write on straight lines!! It may be the way I am holding the brush pen but am not entirely certain. Will watch your videos again! Thanks for your tutorials and inspirations!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So grateful for this post. You are so right. I thought the pens were faulty. Haha! But so good to know you have been through this beginners trauma and now I’m ready to drop the hairline crusade and just do an upstroke with light pressure. Thanks so much your posts are so encouraging. We see you and others as the experts and we compare our lettering to yours and we feel so hopeless. Yet you too started somewhere and it’s really good to hear your struggles in the beginning. Keep up the good work


    1. One step at a time, Colleen! The beginning is such a challenge because you see so many others who have started earlier than yourself. But really, everyone starts somewhere. Enjoy your own unique journey and embrace the learning process. Let me know if you have any questions!


  4. Thanks for the encouragement! I’m so used to getting that thin, crisp line when using a nib that when I went back to the brush pen yesterday, I got a bit frustrated! But you got me back on track now. 🙂


  5. Hi,
    I am so happy to you website! I was looking for something similar so I could learn calligraphy at home! I ll starting practice in the coming week and I’ll def post what I am practicing 😀
    May God Bless you!
    You are truly an artist!


  6. This post particularly struck a chord with me. I tried to learn brush calligraphy by myself but got so frustrated with the hairline that I left the pen alone for some time. Finally I attended a calligraphy workshop for the first time yesterday, and I was still very worked up over my upstrokes! It surprised me that my teacher didn’t seem to care about it at all as long as there was a significant difference between the thin and thick strokes, and instead she emphasized the elements of angle, direction, and pressure (the tip just “kissing” the paper). I understand it now.

    Your blog posts are incredibly useful, and the videos really help me understand what’s happening 🙂 I actually stumbled upon your site during my first days of getting familiar with brush calligraphy, but your tutorials are so good that I’m going to go through your basic stroke posts to follow through what I’ve learned in the workshop.

    Thanks so much, Sharisse!


    1. Hi Liz! Oh, I am so thrilled to receive your message. Glad this post helped you and that you are finding my blog useful. I am currently taking a blogging break, but am avidly taking notes for when I return. Please let me know what else you would like to see or what questions you still have. Thanks so much and happy writing!


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