When I first got started using a calligraphy pen and ink, I bought a Speedball kit at Hobby Lobby and was so excited to give it a try. Um, let's just say it was messy, and I was convinced that I would never learn how to use the nib and holder. I couldn't get the holder to feel comfortable in my hand, the ink bled all over the place, and I was ready to give up on my calligraphy dreams right then and there.
Luckily, I was able to determine that it wasn't that I didn't have the right skills for calligraphy, it was that I wasn't using the right tools! After some (okay, a lot of) trial and error, I figured out what worked for me.
When you're first getting started using a nib and ink, simplicity is the name of the game. I still like to abide by that motto, so my tools haven't changed much since I started with calligraphy over a year ago.
-Nikko G nib
-Speedball plastic nib holder
-Container for ink
Nikko G is the very first nib I ever used, and it's probably still my favorite to this day (another favorite is the Brause Blue Pumpkin nib, but it isn't quite as sturdy as the Nikko G). Due to its sturdy nature, the Nikko G is a favorite among beginners everywhere. Nibs can wear out after a while, so I always tend to buy at least 6 at a time. I purchase nibs from Paper & Ink Arts.
There are literally. all. kinds. of nib holders (otherwise known as calligraphy pens), but I keep several of my trusty Speedball plastic oblique holders on hand at all times. They're cheap, virtually indestructible, and I don't feel bad getting ink splatters on them. I also own a few nicer, wooden nib holders but I tend to save those for special nibs or for taking photos. I started with a straight General Cork Holder (which is a straight pen), but I much prefer the angled look of writing with the oblique holder, so feel free to try either and see what feels more comfortable to you! The oblique holder tends to be easier for righties, while a straight holder will typically work better for lefties (at least from what I'm told!).
Now that you have your nib and holder, you still need ink and paper before you can get started! Sumi ink is hands down my favorite type of black ink. I've tried Higgins and India ink, but nothing compares to the consistency and richness of Sumi. It comes in a large container, but it's not something you can easily dip your pen into. I use Dinky Dip containers to hold my ink for easy dipping access! Both the ink and Dinky Dips containers can be purchased from Paper & Ink Arts, but the ink is also sold at Michael's or Hobby Lobby.
Let's talk paper. Regular ol' printer paper just won't do. Your ink will bleed, your nib will catch, and you'll want to give up on calligraphy as quickly as you started. You'll need to use a Rhodia pad or marker paper for best results (my favorite is Canson Marker Paper). This paper is smooth and non-porous, and works great for scanning if you plan on digitizing your calligraphy. Rhodia pads and marker paper are available on Amazon.
Water + rag
Next, you'll need water and lint-free ink rag to wipe your nib. I use a canning jar filled with water and an old pillowcase that I've cut up into smaller pieces. Paper towels, wash cloths, etc. can be difficult to work with since the tiny fibers can get caught in the tines of your nib. I've reused the same rag forever, and just throw it in the wash every so often.
Prep that nib!
Before you can dip your nib in the ink for the first time, you'll need to clean off the manufacturer's oils from the nib. If you don't prep your nib to remove these oils, it can cause gaps in the ink, uneven ink flow (aka blobs of ink), or a phenomenon known as "railroading". In order to prevent this, you can prep your nib by using a small amount of dish soap and gently scrubbing with an old toothbrush.