“In a word”

Repetition is the easiest form of organizing. Understanding vertical downstrokes at a 45% pen angle as the basis for letter construction is a practice that continues throughout our study. Now, to really look at any letter in a word, to really see and value what kind of pen strokes, letters are made of,  we have to examine what pen strokes are repeating themselves and how they can best serve us – The Writers.

We know the vertical downstroke repeats itself, and if we are really paying attention, we should realize this is the most dominate stroke. This hand is based on a rectangle but what keeps the rectangle activated?  The next most common stroke is the branching (activating the rectangle) the diagonal thin stroke from base to waist. The letters u, a, g, q, d and y all share the same branching, that connects their vertical downstrokes. The arches that create the letters n, m, h, b, and p are also branching from base to waist.

As you practice, you might notice your ability to move the pen nib on its corner in order to keep the branching stroke thin. On that note we can look at these less dominate strokes that are just as important. The push and pull strokes, that are the cross bar of the t and the f. The nib here can be flattened, in order to keep the cross bars subtly thinner than the vertical downstrokes. Now, note that this horizontal stroke also occurs at the bottom of descenders and the tops of ascenders. The lower case g is a great example of how these repeated strokes work. Keep in mind, these strokes are not wiggles, just beautifully pushed or pulled strokes.

We can think of these vertical, horizontal, push, pull, branching strokes as the rhythmical changes in ocean waves, blades of grass, tree branches, and even musical notes. Beautiful rhythms that repeat themselves.

So what’s in a word? Your own discovery is in a word. To see, to really see, is your head-start to making beautiful forms. My tasks are the same as yours, practicing a functional rhythm.

Thanks for hanging in here with me!

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You Rule!

Now that you have made friends with your pen, learning some lines will give you a place to start. “In the beginning” we talked about setting the stage. This preparation keeps you on track and secures your next direction. Writing is motion, so we want to know where we are going before we get there.

Set up is important, margins are important, and height of letters are important. White space around text teaches us allot about presentation. Determining the height of letters is like having a safety net, and paleographers have already done that work for us. We don’t have to make anything up we can rely on some rules, for instance, 15th century italic has a predominate x-height of 5 nib widths, from the base line to the waist line. This seems a good place to start.

Knowing your lines and marking your grid:

-Baseline- this is home base, the writing line, the line that all the letters sit on, a place you always return to in order to find your way, think of it as safe haven, we can depend on it, like we depend on the sun. It keeps us grounded.

-Waistline- this line is above the baseline, the space between the baseline and waistline changes according to the x-height of the letter (in this case 5 nib widths). The body of the lower case letters sit between waist and base. That means if you look across a line of writing you will  read between waist and base. Try it with any line of writing, cover the ascenders and descenders and see that you can read the words without ascenders or descenders.

-Ascending line- this is the line that all your ascending letters look for, except the letter t. This rule also applies to what you are reading right now. The lowercase t is it’s own height. The ascending line keeps your ascenders related to one another in terms of height. The ascending line is 5 nib widths from the waistline.

-Descending line- this is the line that all your descending letters gravitate to, the descending line is five nib widths from the base line. Some thought to the fact that the descending line, for the next line of text becomes the ascending line. This keeps your ascenders from running into your descenders. This is an important consideration for any envelope addressing or page layout.

-Capitals- well, they fit between the waistline and the ascending line. Once understood, the x-height being 7 nib widths, you will realize the study of the italic hand’s history shows the ascending letters are 2 nib widths higher than the capitals. Capitals throughout history are somewhere between 7 and 8 nib widths.

Before we actually make letters we need to rule up lines according to our nib width, and name our lines, so that we can know where we are going and how to get there.

Please see above a practice sheet, that shows a way of accessing all the concepts discussed, as well as checking in with our consistent nib (pen) angle to the writing line. Once we are comfortable with these safety nets, we are ready for letter forms.

Writing as movement:

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What’s the angle?

Thank you for your comments and questions, your voice is my inspiration. I welcome all the feed back you are willing to share. It will help me to be clear and concise, so again thank you for participating.

Any broad edge tool should help you to get a clear understanding of weight distribution. I grew up on a fountain pen with interchangeable nibs, we always started out with the broadest nib so that the thin stroke was an extreme contrast to the thick stroke.

planting the point:

1. Read directions on your packaging, it is important that the cartridge of a fountain pen is attached to the nib, so that the ink can flow through to the tip. If it is sluggish try dipping the tip of the nib in a small amount of water, this is a sure way to pull the ink to the tip.

2. If you are dipping or feeding the nib with a brush, test the ink flow of the nib on a scrap

piece of paper, if the flow is too fast, less ink, if the flow is too slow dip the very tip into water for pull of ink to the tip.

3. When you are ready to write, it is helpful to get in the habit of using a guard sheet under your hand, this keeps the paper from collecting oils from your hand, so that the surface of your paper stays consistant.

4. Finding the write pressure, when we put our nib to paper, the penhold should be comfortable, as well as the pressure we put on the paper, if you press too hard you will get a distorted width of the nib, if you press too light you will get ragged edges.

5. Finding your feel, there is a place where all is well, flow and slow, conscious and clear,very crisp lines thick or thin, the nib is making sharp edged strokes, you are in the zone, be patient with yourself and know there is growth at every effort.

6. Place nib horizontally to the writing line (this is a zero degree nib angle), make a vertical downward stroke holding the nib flat to the paper, you will see the full width of your nib as you pull toward your body, this pen angle makes the thickest downstroke. If you pull the nib horizontally across the page from left to right, you will see the thinnest horizontal srtoke. now make boxes , the vertical downstrokes will be thick and the horizontal strokes will be thin, this is getting to know your weights.

7. Now place your nib parallel to the vertical line (this is a ninety degree pen angle), when you pull downward toward your body, you should get your thinnest downstroke, when you pull the nib horizontally across the page from left to right you will see your thickest horizontal stroke, again make boxes, the downstroke will be thin and the horizontal stroke will be thick, this is understanding your pen angles to the writing line.

8. Remember the forty-five degree pen angle is half way between 0 and 90, if you cut a right angle in half , place you nib parallel to that diagonal line, if you pull the nib down towards your body, the weight of this line will be equal to the weight of your horizontal line, that you pull from left to right, now make your boxes, both horizontal and vertical lines will be equal in weight.

9. You are ready to make diagonal upstrokes (thin) vertical downstrokes (thick), staying conscious of your 45 degree nib angle to the writing line. practice a sawtooth pattern, lifting your pen every third stroke, give yourself margins, and try to complete a full page with this exercise, no more than 8 by 10 in size, date this page for your record of intention.

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“In the beginning was the word”

Thank you for finding, and especially for your interest in www.calligraphyforbeginners.com. My passion is teaching, which I have been doing since 1976. My love is letterforms and my goal is to keep calligraphy alive and accessible. My intention is to give a simple step by step method of study, that teaches  what to look for, a new way of seeing letters. We will share in the concept of shape structure form and fun.

Here are 10 insights for you to consider:

SETTING THE STAGE, comfort is important, like meditation set yourself up, a comfortable chair, good light, conscious posture, feet flat on the floor. A notebook or folder to keep track of progress.

BROAD EDGE TOOLS, markers, fountain pens, staff with insertable nibs, brushes, quills, reeds, all give characteristics of a weighted line (thick and thin strokes).

PEN HOLD, the thumb and the first finger are considered the grippers and the middle finger is the resting finger, the staff of the pen should rest between the first two knuckles, not in the crease of your hand. Pen hold should be comfortable not cramp inducing. Practice as if you are ‘learning to walk’, quite the feat!

INKS, again a huge variety, favorites for calligraphers are water soluble, drawing inks have a lacquer in them and  tend to clog fountain pens and rust metal nibs. Even kitchen food coloring is a safer ink than india drawing inks.

Inks

FILLING THE PEN, markers are lovely for mark making until they dry out or lose their sharpness, fountain pens come with cartridges and directions, and staffs, with inserted nibs, can be filled with a small brush or dipped into ink or watered down paints. Prang water colors are an inexspensive source of color.

PAPERS, need to like your inks, we want to avoid bleeding (when the ink feathers). Sometimes humidity can be the problem. For practice, notebook paper can work well. Papers with a cotton content give a good crisp line. There are also a variety of practice pads and archival papers for calligraphers, discussed later.

MAKING YOUR MARK, a sure lesson for you is to play with any one of the tools, broad edge markers will serve you here, play with the thinnest downstrokes to the thickest downstroke and take notice of what angle your nib is to the writing line. Draw tents, boxes, and circles (with a proper pen hold in place) no need for letters, it is more important to get to know your pen, work slow, but play hard.

PEN (Nib) ANGLE, a very easy nib angle to find is 45 degrees, with a pencil draw a right angle, place your nib in the corner and let it slide upwards to cut the right angle in half, you should see a very thin stroke, see if you can retain this nib angle as you pull down. Try a plus sign, both horizontal and vertical lines will be equal in weight if you are holding onto 45 degree pen angle, remember gripping does not hold the angle, being conscious keeps the angle in place. Now see how many shapes you can make at a 45 degree pen angle.

MARGINS, if you are using note book paper stay within the red margin lines, always try to create white space around your practice, if we consider white space around our practice, we are beginning to design layouts. Save and date your practice sheets for evidence of your growth and commitment.

Nibs

Quills & Reeds

Pens & Markers

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