Wednesday, July 31, 2013

179 Italic swash alternates

There are an infinite number of ways to assemble an alphabet of Italic Swash letters (see Feb 13).  Here are a few more choices.  

Later next month we will look at ways to lengthen these swashes and let them interact.  

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

178 Stiffen

This alphabet, like others this week, comes from my book, Calligraphy Alphabets Made Easy.  
Stiffen has a lot of cousins; it is a short version of Rectangular Gothic [June 13], or a squared version of Heavy Bookhand [June 18]. 

It lends itself, among many tasks, to ambigrams [see July 12, #163] since so many of its letters turn into another letter if rotated 180°: b into q, d into p, n into u, r into j, m into w.  

Preview of tomorrow's alphabet. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

177 Swing

Note a uniform slant of about 5°, and the way some strokes extend a little above or below the guidelines.  Many verticals are slightly bowed.  

Swing is adapted from a typeface called TimeScript.  It may seem impulsive and casual, but in fact it relies on strong family resemblances and precise construction of serifs and joins.  

I will add Swing Caps shortly.  

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Five serif techniques

This illustration comes from Learn Calligraphy

As it says above, "calligraphy written with a pen usually has a serif."  But what kind of serif?  Here are five basic categories to choose from, each one illustrated in the text.  

Note small differences; they are what the eye sees even when the brain doesn't notice.  And try these serifs on other letters such as Bookhand.  Just stick with the same serifs throughout a page.  

Saturday, July 27, 2013

176 Breezy

Breezy is a kind of half-uncial style, with tell-tale Celtic letterforms like a and t.  Keep it light, about 6 pen widths tall.  This is nice, sweet, and elegant for invitations and place cards.  

Friday, July 26, 2013

175 Bright Idea lower left

I confess to a kind of fixation on these invisible letters made visible by their ink shadows.  Here is Bright Idea, with the "light" coming from the lower left.  

Thursday, July 25, 2013

174 Mended

A cousin of Shattered (last week July 13), Mended is built on a zig zag line with only half a pen width of offset rather than one pen width.  It's still a challenging style to control; take a good hard look at that diagram and work with plain Gothic letter underneath to trace if you need it to keep your letters together.  

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

173 Rustica

From the Roman chapter of Learn Calligraphy.  
Rustica narrates the decline of the great letters of the Roman empire, telescoping 500 years of evolution into 26 letters.  These stone-carved classics turned into utilitarian manuscript letters, through three major changes that you can re-enact: narrow the proportions of the letters to between 1 x 2 and 3 x 5; steepen the two pen angles to a single constant 60°; and add a wavy serif.  

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

172 BirthdayZ

This comes from my book,  Capitals for Calligraphy, now out of print but easily available second-hand.  
This is not actually a whole alphabet.  But today is my birthday, which I share with my daughter Zoë.  Her initial is a good excuse to offer you some versions of Z.  So here is a bouquet of Zs for all those other Zoës and Zacks out there who have to wait till the 26th letter to start their names... a B for anyone's Birthday. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

171 Parasol

Parasol is a simple two-step alphabet lettered first with gray ink and then with black.  Use a thick, monoline pen nib and remember to leave enough space between letters for those second lines to fit.

NB: let the gray ink dry completely before you add the black ink.  

These letters differ from the series of shaded letters (Bright Idea Overhead April 26; Equinox March 21).  Parasol is not a solid that casts a shadow on its imaginary side, but a flat letter that casts a shadow on the "ground" a little below the plane of writing.  Just like an umbrella overhead at the beach or pool.    

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Your birthday

I have a birthday coming up soon.  Like many summer kids, I never got to bring cupcakes to class for my friends.  Now I can share this calligraphy cupcake instead. 
This design arranges a short poem by E. E. Cummings to form a little birthday cupcake with candles and frosting. 

Note that the poet did not spell his name without capitals.  He was just very picky about what he chose to capitalize, which gave him an undeserved reputation for using all lower-case letters.  His typography was deliberate, too; for instance, he often did not leave spaces after commas, parentheses, or periods.  

I tried shaping the curve of the frosting freehand, but finally used an ellipse template.  The sharp corners of Gothic seemed like the best letters for the green pleated cupcake paper.  My resident physicist points out that the candle flames should actually point straight up... 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

170 Swash Italic capitals with options

These are from Learn Calligraphy, my basic survey of calligraphy technique, history, and design.  

These Swash Italic capitals offer you yet another set of choices to add drama to your text letters.  Choose the swash configuration you like, and use them sparingly, just one or two stars in a supporting cast of plain letters.  

Friday, July 19, 2013

169 Heavy serif Bookhand

Here's a deceptively simple alphabet, Heavy serif Bookhand.  It actually pushes these basic letters to the point of difficulty, by thickening the weight and adding a heavy serif. You don't have to put serifs everywhere (those along the bottom of w can be omitted, for instance). 

If you can keep this one clean and uncluttered, you'll rule Bookhand.  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

168 Italic Speedball D x 4

As you may have noticed, I'm a fan of the Speedball D nib, which is midway between no line contrast [monoline] and maximum line contrast [broad-edged pen].  

In addition, I can feel sympathy for readers who may feel I've been giving them too many new alphabets recently, so here to relax with is Italic Speedball D x 4.  This simply means a review of Italic, at a height of 4 pen widths, with medium-low line contrast.  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

167 Miscellaneous Grab Bag

Here from my files is a quicker brown fox, a better version of the wingding alphabet from July 15.  The figures are clearer, their meanings are annotated, and I think the thick and thin line makes them more fun to decode. The original title from Calligraphy Alphabets Made Easy, Miscellaneous Grab Bag, is written in these wingdings.  

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

166 Gothic Edge

Your eye seems to see the invisible edge.  As R Crumb says, "It's just ink on paper, folks."
Gothic Edge creates the illusion that the Gothic letter is a three-dimensional white solid slab on a white background, made visible by its shaded edge. As with many Gothic variations, this is easier to write if you have Plain Gothic (April 11) guiding the placement of your stroke.  

Monday, July 15, 2013

165 Quick Brown Fox

I will add a higher-resolution image tomorrow.  Tech problems here.  

Quick Brown Fox relies on the eye's willingness to use context to find meaning when reading.  Most of these "letters" are wingdings masquerading as letters.  You can probably find more.  

Sunday, July 14, 2013


I have great ambitions to be organized, and once in a while I actually find time to do a project that moves me closer to my goal.  Alphabetized spice jars !  That's the nirvana of kitchen cleanliness for me.  Here are some labels--you can print them out on sticky paper, or modify them to make your own.   

Add caption
These illustrations come from Calligraphy Projects for Pleasure and Profitnow out of print. Note that the ornaments and borders are pen-sketches of the plants that the spices and herbs come from.
My loved ones remind me to remind you to replace your spices and herbs once a year.  It's easy to overlook.   

Saturday, July 13, 2013

164 Shattered

Shattered is a challenging alphabet.  Read the directions carefully and, if you need help, lay your paper over a copy of Plain Gothic, from April 11, to keep the strokes aligned.  (Trust me. Your eye can play tricks on you.)  

Friday, July 12, 2013

163 Italic ambigram

This comes from Calligraphy Alphabets Made Easy.  That's why it tells you to "turn the book around..."
Italic Ambigram makes an asset out of our alphabet's oddity--that some letters become different letters when you rotate them 180°.  No other writing system does this; in early Greek, for instance, letters and their mirror images were read as the same letter. Rotatability makes Italic easy for beginners, since once you learn p you know d, h and y, u and n, and so on.  It also, however, partly explains the prevalence of  dyslexia among those who read and write using the ABCs.  

There are four levels of transformation by rotation, from no-brainers to real challenges.
  1. Some letters virtually don't change: o, z, s, x.  You could cross t in the middle, omit the dot over i.  
  2. Many of the letters are simply transformed into other letters when rotated; d to p; b to q; n to u.  
  3. Some are somewhat the same: h and y; f and j; m and w.  
  4. A few stubborn characters just won't change into anyone but themselves, and you have to hope that the context will make them readable; v, k, c.  These are indicated as outlined letters above.  
Try rotating sample words 180°.  Some stay the same: bug is still bug.  But noh becomes you; sung becomes buns; did becomes pip, and my favorite, mom becomes wow.  Try it! 

Ambigrams were pioneered as "inversions" by Scott Kim.  

Thursday, July 11, 2013

162 Angular Italic

While you may find Angular Italic too stark for eye appeal and too sharp-cornered for easy reading, it is a good review of Italic structure.  A common mistake that beginners make is letting the "a" and "b" letters look too much like each other.  They have to be clearly one or the other.  Exaggerating their angularity will help you check the letters' architecture.  

The illustration at right is Step 13 out of 23 in the Italic chapter of my book Learn Calligraphy.  Following its guided exercises will help you master Italic, or any of the seven other basic styles covered in its pages.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

161 Garden variety Roman

You can never have enough Roman letters.  Well, I can't.  These are 6 penwidths tall and still formal though not monumental.  I've named them Garden Variety, though that's a compliment.  When they go on vacation, they relax into their informal version, Friendly Roman (see April 24).  

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

160 Heraldry basic

Now that we've celebrated Independence Day in America, we can get back to the country's British roots.  Today's Heraldry alphabet evokes the hereditary titles that no longer exist in the US, with letters in the shape of shields and an occasional banner for a swash.  We will develop these into real emblems later in the year.  Meanwhile, enjoy turning your family name into an aristocratic title.  

Monday, July 8, 2013

159 Backhand [Italic]

The forward slant of almost any letters that aren't squarely upright is so familiar that we almost need to slant them backwards to add real emphasis.  This alphabet, Backhand, only tilts about about -4° but it makes a big difference.  

Somehow, these letters turned out very slender.  I'll try them in the future, with wider proportions.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Seven American Kinds of Independence

Varieties of American calligraphy: Documenta, Wild West, Declaration, Deco, Vernacular, Machine-readable, Graffiti. From Calligraphy ALphabets Made Easy.   

It's just too hot to do a calligraphy project today.  So here's our favorite word, Independence, written in seven distinctive American letter styles, as a final toast to the recent holiday.  We really do write differently here, with styles that now appear around the world.    

Saturday, July 6, 2013

158 Bold Bookhand

Bold Bookhand illustrates how adaptable Bookhand is; a tiny increase of the pen width in relation to the letter height gives this basic style a whole new look: heavy, simple, almost childish.  This version is about 3 1/2 pen widths tall.   

Friday, July 5, 2013

157 Moneon

Moneon, a combination of the words monoline and neon, offers an alphabet with a hint of illuminated signage.  The challenge of making each letter from one unlifted stroke continues when you string them together into words without lifts between the letters, just like a neon sign.  

Thursday, July 4, 2013

156 The people yes

The title is from a poem by Carl Sandburg, and the design first appeared in The Calligraphy Calendar for 1983, by Margaret Shepherd.  When you zoom in to see detail, remember that printing processes were not as sharp back then.      
This is not exactly a new daily alphabet, but an explosion of Friendly Roman and Basic Italic to honor America's Independence Day.  Each string of letters radiates from the center, just like the sparkles from a fireworks rocket, changing color as they cool down and start to drift away.  Note the smaller bang of exclamation points at left and just to right of center, and the dim outlines of "The people, yes" who sit together in the foreground to watch.  

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

155 Stars and Stripes

This alphabet, one day in advance of American Independence Day, is based on basic Roman with half a dozen of the letters dressed up in the Stars and Stripes of the national flag. You can probably come up with some more ways to add red stripes, gold stars, or blue strokes in general, if the words you want to letter don't add enough decoration to your design.  

Please excuse the slight backward tilt of the verticals.  I'm working at my picnic table in a stiff breeze.  Actually, if you look at those five-armed stars and wavy stripes while you're on vacation, they start to look like starfish and ocean waves....

Preview of tomorrow's alphabet.  

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

154 Rough Draft

It is even possible to imitate thick and thin strokes by flattening the end of your pen.  But it's not necessary.  A draft is a map, not a portrait.    

Rough Draft lets you approximate the space that a proposed piece of calligraphy will occupy, and experiment with the line breaks.  Keep it loose and sketchy, so you haven't invested too much in each stage of the design's progress.  

Monday, July 1, 2013

153 Stencil

I made this alphabet for a project.  (That's why some of the letters look "used.") Now I'm trying to remember what the word was.  I'll send a calligraphy reward to the reader who can figure it out.    
Stencil letters can be simple cut-outs, or you can take them a few steps further to include thick and thin strokes and decorative swashes.   

They have a physical reality about them that forces you to separate them into strokes, so that the internal spaces stay connected to the external spaces.  Don't isolate any pieces!  

You can fill in the letters using spray paint, airbrush, a stiff brush, or, for these letters, a device from Crayola that transforms a marker into an airbrush.