Sunday, June 2, 2013

Embedded capitals

It is easy to combine a Gothic Capital with any small Gothic text letter to create a medieval page.  Follow the steps here: 
  1. Choose a text at least 30 words long.  This gives you flexibility in line layout.  The passage here has about 200 words, and I still ended up having to hyphenate 10 of the words.  A medieval scribe would have used, or invented, abbreviations rather than hyphenate.  
  2. Arrange the line length to make the first 3-6 lines of the paragraph half as long as the rest of the lines.  Sometimes your chosen text cooperates, sometimes it resists.  Don't give up.*   
  3. Try to make the short lines stack up to the same height as your planned capital.  If the natural word breaks in your text don't leave you with enough short lines, you can fill the space with ornament. 
  4. Letter the text. Don't forget to start with the second letter of the first word!  (Trust me.)  Medieval scribes sometimes lettered the initial very small in the space left for the capital, to remind the illuminator, as shown with the letter V in the illustration here.  
  5. Try a rough draft of your capital, in the space, sketched on a separate scrap of paper with patches of color.  Stand back and squint.  
  6. Trace or transfer a light outline of your capital.  Ink it in and color it and gild it.  Those techniques are a whole other project, but you can start with a one- or two-color letter, improvised from your own skills.  

Design tips: 
Don't make every capital large and ornate.; they'll just compete with each other.  The letter O that starts the second column is simply lettered, with a wide pen; it could be blue or red.  
Illuminated capitals: Assorted Gothic May 29
Traditional text letters : Rounded Gothic March 6, Plain Gothic April 11.       
This illustration is a whole page from Capitals for Calligraphy, my hand-lettered how-to book about the history, design, and layout of capitals.  Each page delivers information both to the side of your brain that reads words and to the side that sees images.    

*You may have to make your first lines much shorter, as in the small example at left, where the large capital leaves room for "[A] S  T H E" in single letters stacked along its right edge. 

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