Basic brush calligraphy strokes: The underturn stroke

Welcome to Part 2 of my Basic Brush Calligraphy Strokes series!

If you are new to this series, I highly encourage you to get yourself a brush pen and begin practicing with me. If you are on Instagram, share your work by posting it with the hashtag, #pieces_basicstrokes.

Before you get started, be sure to familiarize yourself with these previous posts:

Last week, we started off the basic strokes series with the entrance stroke. Now, let’s talk about the underturn stroke!

basic strokes: underturn stroke

What is the underturn stroke?

The underturn stroke is a u-shaped stroke that starts as a thick downstroke, transitions to a thin stroke, and the ends with an entrance stroke.

basic strokes: underturn stroke

How to create the underturn stroke

To create the underturn stroke, you’ll want to start with a thick downstroke at the waistline.

Apply full pressure to your pen. Press your pen firmly down into the page, being careful not to press too hard or press down at the wrong angle as to risk fraying or damaging the tip of your pen. (Read this post on holding your pen at the right angle for more tips on grip.)

Now draw a stroke downward. BEFORE you reach the baseline, begin to transition to the thinnest stroke your pen will create (also referred to as a “hairline”). Then curve the stroke upward, forming a u-shape. The end of this stroke is essentially the entrance stroke that we reviewed last week.

Basic brush calligraphy strokes: Underturn stroke

You may be shaky at first, or unfamiliar with how the stroke should feel as you create it. But as always, practice makes progress. I share practice drills at the end of this post for you to work on.

When to use the underturn stroke

The underturn stroke is used in the letters: a, i, u, and w. It is also used in the letters d and t.

basic strokes: underturn stroke

In the letters d and t, notice how the underturn stroke has a taller stem. For these letters, start the underturn stroke at the ascender line, and then continue to finish the underturn stroke.

Basic brush calligraphy strokes: Underturn stroke

Practice Drills

Do these practice drills to improve your underturn stroke.

Don’t worry about being perfect or creating strokes that are completely free of any shakiness. Shakiness is expected in the beginning! When you are still learning the brush pen and when you go slow (which you SHOULD), then shakiness is normal.

The key with the underturn stroke is to fully transition from thick to thin BEFORE you reach the baseline.

Try these practice drills. Focus on the position of your hand, your grip, your technique, and the forming of the stroke.

basic strokes: underturn stroke practice drills

  1. Underturn stroke: Fill a page with full-pressure strokes. Try to make your strokes the same size, width, and angle. After a couple of underturn strokes, review them and think about how you can improve for the next set.
  2. Connecting underturn strokes: Connect understrokes to each other without any breaks in between. Go slow at first, but try to find a rhythm as you write. This rhythm will help you immensely as you begin to write more. Note: lift your pen completely off the page before starting the next stroke. The idea is to draw the strokes so they appear to be connected, but in actuality, you are creating each stroke individually.
  3. Entrance stroke + underturn stroke: Connect the entrance stroke to the underturn stroke. After creating the entrance stroke, lift your pen and slightly move it to the right of the top of the entrance stroke, and then create the underturn stroke. Again, remember that the idea is to create what looks like a fluid motion, but this connection consists of two separate strokes.

If you mess up, keep going. Focus on the next stroke. Remember that you will only improve when you keep on practicing and experimenting and learning.

Video: The Underturn Stroke

Watch the video below to see a demonstration of the underturn stroke and practice drills you can start today!

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It’s your turn! Tell me in a comment below:

Have you tried the underturn stroke? How would you describe your experiences so far?

What is the hardest part about the underturn stroke for you?

Are you sharing your work on Instagram? Be sure to share by tagging #pieces_basicstrokes!

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24 thoughts on “Basic brush calligraphy strokes: The underturn stroke

      1. I think the hardest part for beginners like me is the transitioning from thick to thin.. 🙂 have watched your tutorial about that too but still have to practice more. Thanks sharisse

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Thank you so much for writing these posts! I found your site from the post Sara at wrote on hand lettering, and I am so excited to have your blog and videos as a resource for learning to use a brush pen. I have found your site so helpful. Thanks!


  2. Hello, I’ve just started learning calligraphy and came across your helpful website! Thank you 🙂

    I’m really struggling with this stroke 😦 Mostly with these:

    1. Thick to thin transition isn’t smooth but feels abrupt.
    2. The bottom curve is very shaky and I find it hard to smooth it out to continue up. Mostly stop at the beginning of the curve and lift the hand, and then have to finish it. Instead of one movement.
    3. The bottom curve is too long. Not sure how to explain this.. Instead of having /((..) I have /((….) So the bottom curve looks more square like rather than a curve.

    I hope that makes sense. Do you have any tips on how to improve those?

    Also, do you have print outs of your strokes so it’s possible to trace on top of them? At least somehow to better understand the movement and figure out where I’m going wrong. That would be super helpful.

    Many thanks 🙂


    1. Hi there! So glad you found me!

      What pen are you using? How big is your x-height (or the height of your underturn stroke)? If your pen tip is too large, you will need to draw a bigger underturn stroke in order to have enough room for a smooth transition. Otherwise, the space is too small and then you get that abrupt transition.

      Do not worry about shakiness right now – I am still shaky to this very day! Over time as you build muscle memory for the stroke and letter forms, you will be faster and smoother (and hence, less shaky). It is totally OK to do the stroke in two motions, lifting at the curve and then continuing to draw the thin stroke. As you get more comfortable with your pen and with this stroke, you will find the best place to lift your pen and then continue.

      You might be drawing the stroke too wide. Don’t be afraid to make it narrow. For the Copperplate style, for example, all strokes are very narrow and tight. It really just depends on the look/style you are going for. Whatever you choose, just be consistent.

      I have a sheet of my lowercase alphabet that you can download and print. Go to my “Learn” page ( I also added guidesheets that can help you practice. Let me know how it goes!


  3. Is underturn stroke the official terminology? Really can’t figure out when to start applying less pressure and how get the bottom curve to be smooth 😦 Could you explain a bit more in detail how to do the stroke?

    Many thanks 🙂


    1. Definitely! What brush pen are you using? Sometimes it can be difficult to nail the transitions when your pen tip is too soft/flexible. I would suggest trying the Koi coloring brush or Tombow Fudenosuke hard tip.

      As for explaining how to do the stroke: Start the transition about halfway down the x-height. Don’t wait until the very last minute. Start to gradually use less pressure about 1/2 or 2/3rds of the way to the baseline and try to smoothly reach the hairline of your pen. And remember, a hairline doesn’t have to be EXACTLY a hairline, especially if your brush pen is pretty large. The goal is to make the thin stroke/upstroke significantly smaller in width than your thicker strokes/downstrokes.


    1. Definitely! Check out my Instagram (@piecescalligraphy) and YouTube channel ( I have also have some videos using the Tombow soft tip. Let me know what you think!

      Also, do you have the Tombow hard tip? That one is a lot easier to control since the tip is not so flexible and bendy.


  4. I think I may have frayed the tip of my pen. I had a feeling, but I wasn’t entirely sure until I read your note to be careful not to put too much pressure. And I have a feeling that’s exactly what I did. Any way to repair? Or tips work around?


  5. Is the key in this to shift your hand so you’re going from the side of the brush tip to the top of it where it’s the skinniest, or to simply (though I don’t find any of this simple at all) change the amount of pressure when you transition? You are very clear in your explanations and I’m loving this series but I’m really struggling with this stroke 😦


    1. Hi Allyson! It’s actually a little bit of both! By changing the pressure you are putting on the pen, you are essentially moving the tip from it’s side to the tip. (And vice versa.) This stroke can be challenging, especially for right-handers. Lefties have it a little easier because their pen tip is coming from the opposite direction.

      Also, the type of pen you use can affect your stroke, so be sure to try different ones and also don’t be discouraged easily. Sometimes it can take a while until you really get comfortable with a pen! It took me a couple of months to love the Tombow dual brush. =)


  6. Thanks so much! I’ve been at this all morning and actually seeing progress with my basic strokes! Appreciate your hard work.


  7. The step by step guide is very helpful. Now I can see my mistakes. Trouble #1 is the pen angle and the slant. I have to keep my eye on my pen all the time. Whenever the pen is wrong, i see it fray.

    Thank youi!


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