Tag Archives: Calligraphy

Roman Capitals and The Odious O’s

Roman Capitals and The Odious O’s


Since my last entry I’ve had a bit of a change in direction with learning calligraphy – specifically, it’s going to take some pretty disciplined practice to get my lettering consistent. I think this is really the core of my issue with uncial and why I’ve had such little success with it, as well as why my Gothic is inconsistent.

So I decided to work on getting very comfortable with italic, and do it consistently, and then move on to regular Gothic scripts, before I tackle Batarde again, or indeed move onto any insular scripts. To help with this I followed The Calligraphy Pen’s general advice and got a book by Margaret Shepherd titled Learning Calligraphy on Kindle. This is a very readable book and in a lot of ways less obscure than Julien Chazal’s book, which I’ve been using up till now. For one thing, she pretty clearly addresses the issue fingers vs arm: keep everything free, but for small motions use your fingers, and for large motions use your arm. This seems blindingly obvious when you say it out loud and I’m a bit embarrassed for having been confused on the issue before, but there you go.

To learn the capitals of italic, it looks like one should first learn the Roman capitals. Once again I’m a bit annoyed with Mr Chazal, who was all “you’d better not start learning Roman capitals until you’re super good with everything else!” while it’s the first thing Margaret Shepherd talks about. To be sure, I’ve made the mistake of taking an author too closely at their word before, namely with Mr Chazal, and there is a thing or two about Margaret Shepherd’s that I think I’d rather get a second opinion on. But her style of teaching is very similar to Vance Studley’s book, and since the script styles she teaches are not particularly exotic (although, painfully, they do include uncial) I’ll go with her for the time being.

In the interest of obtaining consistency, why not begin with the dreaded O’s? For this I decided to undertake the boring but clearly necessary task of just writing whole pages of the bloody things. Here’s one:


A page of Roman capital O’s

I did this with a 2mm Brause nib at a module of 8 nib widths, and a pen angle of 20 degrees (I drew a 20 degree line in the top right to keep checking I wasn’t unconsciously changing my angle). As you can see it’s hardly perfectly consistent. When I complained about this to Sophie and wondered aloud if I’d be practising O’s my whole life she came as close to scoffing as I’ve ever heard her get, and told me I’d only done this for like, one night so stop complaining. In any case I feel a bit better about the inconsistency since even in Ms Shepherd’s book the O’s she presents are not exactly consistent.

Hopefully I won’t have to do pages and pages of every letter in the alphabet for every script I ever learn, but something tells me it will indeed come to that, and that it’s the cost of learning an art. Well, so be it!

Ms Shepherd wants the reader to be able to write S’s smoothly varying the pen from a 20 degree to a 45 degree angle, which I’ve not seen either Messrs Chazal or Studley say, so I’ll take it under further advisement for the time being but if it’s true I’ll probably have to practise those even more than the O’s (excuse the rhyme!). In the meantime it’s probably ok to reward myself with writing a few words in all-caps.


Roman capitals. I still have consistency issues but I feel better equipped to diagnose and deal with them them.

New ink

I recently got my hands on some Speedball Super Black India ink, and it’s definitely super black. It’s a lot thicker than the Higgins Eternal, and although Mr Chazal says “never to use it in pens” because it’ll congeal, I simply don’t believe him and went ahead anyway, especially since india inks like this appear to be commonly used in dip pens (definitely not fountain pens though). The Calligraphy Pen does suggest staying away from india inks with shellac (a binding agent) in them, probably for the same reason Mr Chazal recommends against them actually, but there’s no indication to me that Speedball’s formulation has any. To be safe I clean the pen immediately after using it anyway.

This ink really lasts, and it’s really black, which is just what I want. Although Higgins Eternal flows easily and is easy to clean, it shows clear lightness gradients especially in the larger modules along with a tendency to pool at the bottom of each stroke; I figure the Higgins is good for practice and the Indian ink for finished work. Since I’m doing pretty heavy practice now I don’t have much occasion to use the Indian (although the sample above is in Indian), but I look forward to being able to letter with it once I’m a bit more competent. Here is a small comparison of the two inks in some Batarde I did a while ago:


Batarde Gothic with the top written in Higgins Eternal and the bottom with Speedball India ink. Letter consistency aside, I think the tendency for the ink to pool at the bottoms of strokes is really obvious in the top one and while it’s still there in the bottom, the strokes are much more evenly inked.

That’s it for now – in my next post I’ll talk about lowercase italics.

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Posted by on March 30, 2017 in Calligraphy


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“Taking up arms” and Batarde Gothic

“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.

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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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