A different perspective

18 Jun
A different perspective

During my move from italic to gothic styles I picked up yet another book on calligraphy, this time Foundations of Calligraphy by Sheila Waters, which is probably now the most detailed book I have for basic technique, along with Margaret Shepherd’s book.

Actually though, the biggest breakthrough for me now came through seeing this video which is actually pretty bad (in my opinion!) except for the fact that the guy is left-handed and writes at 90 degrees to most people. So he writes the words vertically down the page towards him.

This gave me an idea because one of the biggest issues with left-handers is having to push the nib along the paper rather than pulling it. This can be a problem because the nib can catch on the paper, and spatter ink. For all this time I thought I was ok with this because I don’t get any of this, but in the video the guy says he couldn’t write calligraphy until his teacher recommended this new angle (!).

He’s an underwriter, which means that if he were writing right-side-up his hand would be below the line. I’m an overwriter on the other hand (!), curling my hand over the top of line. This gives me some advantage over underwriters with broad nibs because I can keep the same pen angle as a right-hander: the only difference is I push instead of pull. An underwriter could pull, but they’d need special nibs ground at an angle to accommodate the way their pen contacts the paper.

By rotating the paper 90 degrees and writing lines down the page towards him, forming the letters with a right-to-left motion, Klahr gets a good angle on the pen and pulls on the page, solving his problem. The only issue is getting used to the perspective, but that’s just practice. For me, the equivalent solution is a 180-degree turn: I already had the right pen angle, but I wanted to see what it was like to pull instead of push. This means writing right-to-left, bottom-to-top and all the letters are upside down.

It was glorious.

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Left: written right-side up, ink unevenly spread, uncomfortable shape. Right: written upside down, uniform ink

Except obviously now I have to write upside down like a chump, but along with Ms Waters’s book this turns out not to be so much a problem. The other thing I learned from Klahr here is it’s a good idea to save your practice sheet: like, the sheets you practice letter forms on. To me this means writing practice good enough to save, and this in turn means practising extra carefully. Practising carefully sounds obvious but if you know you’re going to save the work you’re doing it takes on a bigger significance.


Ms Waters begins with the foundational script, which is a recent, early 20th-century script developed by the first modern master calligrapher, Edward Johnston, resembling lowercase roman. Here the letter forms tend to be based on circles rather than ovals, as in italic, and as Ms Waters develops it, it can lead naturally into gothic forms.

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Apart from more consistent practice, from here the way forward seems clear. My next project is definitely gothic, but I’ll try Ms Waters’ approach of going via narrowed, angular foundational to see how it works.

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Posted by on June 18, 2017 in Calligraphy


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