Lowercase italics

24 Apr
Lowercase italics

Continuing in the theme begun by Roman capitals in my last post, I’ve been continuing to practise with italics. In typography these are very often implemented in word processors as simply oblique versions of upright styles, but in cases like this on they are genuine italics – you can tell because the a’s are different. In handwriting, italic script, or chancery cursive, is where italic typeface came from, as you’d expect. It seems that you don’t need to know any roman (properly “humanist” I guess) scripts to learn italic, but I did start with Roman capitals last time because it seems that at least to begin with, italic capitals are just oblique forms of the Romans. The fancy swashes seem to come later.

Practice, practice, practice…

Margaret Shepherd’s book Learn Calligraphy has by far the most exercises for italics compared to the other scripts. These begin with squiggles and swirls, straight lines, very slightly oblique straight lines (5 degrees!), which are amazingly hard to get consistently right by the way, and then onto basic versions of the letter forms themselves.


I’m taking Ms Shepherd very seriously when she says “rhythm is more important than consistency” for those squiggles


A variety of exercises from Ms Shepherd’s book. You’re supposed to do two lines of each. The o’s are, of course, not very well done here!


I feel like I’m going through primary school

At some point you get sick of just doing the straight exercises and do just a small bit of writing. Obviously this should be done in moderation so I’ve got to just keep working at this. Unfortunately over the last few weeks my workload spiked and I’ve not had as much time to give to this but I hope this’ll change soon.

Another thing I like about Margaret Shepherd’s exercises is how they approach the letter forms themselves. The a’s and b’s are really good examples of this:

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The top line is an angular, simplified version of the bottom part of the b. The idea is it teaches the shape of the counter, the space inside the look. The bottom line is the proper version, with the corners softened and the shape smoothed out. The ‘a’ minuscule is just this shape upside down. These forms show up in g’s and p’s and q’s and d’s.

As always, there’s always more work to be done. Here’s me trying desperately to get used to consistently writing at 5 degrees. Being a left-handed overwriter I naturally slant really strongly to the right, and rotating my arm and the paper and learning to write with just the right amount of slant takes a lot of concentration.

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To treat myself I tried doing an actual bit of writing.

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Dune’s opening line, because why would I pass up an opportunity to quote it?

It’s not lost on me that it looks like the entire purpose of my last post was to prepare for writing the capital “A” in this and nothing else. It did also occur to me to move the ironically misaligned “correct” to hide the fact that my guidelines slipped at the critical last moment without me noticing, but it’s better not to start down that road!

Lastly, since italic is really a cursive script I also should practise my letter joins. Might as well try a swash on the capital while I’m at it…

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I hope in my next post I’ll have some prettier examples. Once you get past the initial hump it’s really fun to see the amount of progress you can make, even though there’s clearly still a long way to go. I’m going to stick with italics for a while, maybe try and write smaller letters. It’d be really nice to incorporate these lessons into my regular handwriting, which is barely legible even to me!

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Posted by on April 24, 2017 in Calligraphy


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