“Taking up arms” and Batarde Gothic

17 Mar
“Taking up arms” and Batarde Gothic

The hardest part of learning calligraphy has definitely been getting the right posture, because I tend to slouch when I write. Also, like pretty much everyone I know I write only by moving my fingers. But apparently you’re supposed to at least free your wrist, elbow, and shoulder (??). One site I found seems to imply you shouldn’t move your fingers at all, and write from the shoulder!

It’s not clear how seriously to take this. There’s at least one thread on the Fountain Fen Network about it, and people there are a bit incredulous about the idea of not moving your fingers at all. But it does look like you can get a happy medium where your whole arm is free to move, and your fingers do the fine control. So my biggest task, other than learning the scripts in calligraphy, is to consciously try to get used to this kind of motion.

Actually, it’s great for every script I’ve tried except for bloody uncial, which continues to be the bane of my calligraphic existence. In the sample below you can see that by the end my hand was pretty much giving up. It could be because the script isn’t clear if it wants to be rounded or straight, and so the hand has to work extra hard to be precise. If I try to reduce the action of my fingers and increase the role of my arm, my circles turns into triangles. Triangles!


Uncial: the Voldemort to my Lily Potter. Look at those awful Os!

Batarde gothic

I’m not willing to give up on uncial or derivatives of it, and I’d love to get going on some insular scripts at some point. But first I’ve been trying to get really nice and comfortable with Batarde gothic. I really like this script because it has an elegant logic to it, and as Julien Chazal puts it, a certain “whimsy”. It’s not as awfully regular as the more well-known gothic scripts like Textura, and I can see why Mr Chazal recommends it over the other scripts: I guess maybe it kind of forces you to be aware of the forms and how they fit together rather than following a strict ductus that doesn’t allow enough imagination to understand the script.

Anyway, I have a lot of fun with it. In the course of writing this I also found out firsthand why it’s important to “follow the module” – that is, to write the right letter size for the nib width.


Heraclitus. 2mm nib with the right module

The above picture is the right module: four nib widths to an x, and reasonable (though I didn’t measure them precisely) ascenders and descenders. The text looks reasonable dense but not overpowering, but as you’d expect the left-to-right spacing contributes as well. However:


Also Heraclitus, obviously. 2mm nib but with module too large

According to Sophie, this looks “comical”, which may also just be a reflection of my general skill level at this point. Here the module was something like six or maybe seven nib-widths to the x, and the letters look far more… anaemic. Higgins Eternal ink not coming through with a nice black finish isn’t helping either. But this is how you learn I guess!

The other thing I love about Batarde gothic, and I guess this is really true for any calligraphic script, is how it really looks better at a distance in a block of text. Again, this may just be because distance obscures errors, but I think this gothic in particular has a sense of mystique around it.

IMG_7190 (2)

Gothic batarde, somewhere in the middle of John 1

So that’s it for now! I’ll keep practising this guy, return a bit to uncial whenever I can sum up the courage, and think about learning lowercase insular. On that path, my goal is eventually Irish half-uncial. In the far distance I see gothic cursive, that illegible but sexy monolith of scripts…


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Posted by on March 17, 2017 in Calligraphy


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