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: