In the previous post, we learned the history of blackletter script and caught a glimpse of the different styles of blackletter that scribes have developed over the centuries. Now let’s explore some blackletter tools.
By the end of this post, you’ll know all about the common writing tools used to create blackletter. Equip yourself with one or more of these tools, and you’ll be ready to get your hands dirty!
As you might have guessed, creating blackletter calligraphy isn’t done with a traditional pen or quill. Of course, you can draw the letter forms in more of a lettering style. However, if you want to create them with isolated calligraphy-style strokes, you’ll need something more chiseled.
I’ve broken down the blackletter tools we’ll be discussing into four categories:
Blackletter letterforms are comprised of thick strokes and thin strokes. Therefore, the best blackletter tools have a chisel. You can find all sorts of chiseled markers from your everyday Sharpie to a calligraphic art marker. Chisel markers come in either a flat chisel or a slanted chisel. It is worth noting that the flatter the nib, the easier it is to control your strokes.
Chisel Sharpies are *okay* if you don’t have have anything else on hand. They’re a little more difficult to control due to the slant on the chisel nib.
Elegant Writer 3MM Chisel
The broadest tip of the Elegant Writer marker line is a good everyday blackletter utensil. I started out with these and bought them by the dozen. The tips tend to dull pretty quickly, but they’re available at every arts and crafts store.
Zig Calligraphy Dual Tip
In my opinion, the Zig calligraphy dual tip marker is the best everyday calligraphy marker on the market. It comes with a 2MM and a 6MM felt tip, which allows you to vary your letter sizes. Plus, you can get a 6 pack for $10!
XL Paint Markers
There are a variety of street-art/graffiti brand paint markerts like the Montana 15MM Acrylic. Other brands such as OnTheRun (OTR), Grog, Krink, and Molotow also carry similar style markers. They’re excellent for creating blackletter at larger scales.
Lamy Joy 1.9MM
Lamy makes a beautiful variety of fountain pens. The Joy 1.9MM is a great tool for creating all sorts of calligraphy. Due to it’s 1.9MM tip, the blackletter you produce will be of a smaller scale. This one is great for practice.
In my opinion, the Pilot Parallels are a king. They are an absolute must-have if you’re serious about blackletter. I honestly can’t speak highly enough of these pens. The tip is comprised of 2 parallel slabs of metal that feed the ink. They come in 4 sizes: 1.5MM, 2.4MM, 3.8MM, and 6MM. You can also buy a variety of colors and create beautiful gradations.
These pens are extremely precise, robust, and easy-to-maintain. You can also refill the cartidges they come with with your own ink.
Before all of these other fancy modern tools, scribes used nibs and quills that were dipped in inkwells. If you’re just starting out, I’d hold off on these. But if you’re looking for a fun challenge to expand your horizons at any point, these are a blast to experiment with.
Speedball “C” Style Nibs
Speedball has a set of nibs (C0 – C5) dedicated to flat, broad letters. Unlike other calligraphy nibs, these don’t flex and expand based on pen pressure. The ink is fed through two metal slabs similar to the Pilot Parallel. Ink consistency is key… I would recommend a goauche/water mix.
Speedball Steel Brush Nibs
Speedball also makes a set of “steel brush” nibs.. The lines they produce are sharp and crisp. In order to get consistent lines, you’ll need to constantly re-dip. However, depending on your ink consistency and dip frequency, you can produce some cool textures.
Automatic pens are more versatile than the Speedball nibs. They are beautifully crafted and come in a wide variety of sizes. They are an absolute must-have if you’re serious about blackletter. Not the cheapest option, but totally worth it if you’re really serious about blackletter.
I’m not going to pretend I’m a brush expert. There are countless brush styles made from different materials out there. In the interest of trying out blackletter with a brush, I walked into my art store, found a brush that looked good, and got to work.
Pick something wide and sharp. The shorter and stiffer the brush hair is, the easier it will be to control. Beyond that, experiment with what works best for you.
Which Tool is Right for Me?
Great question. The choices can be overwhelming. Fortunately, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get started.
If I had to tell you to buy one single item from this entire list of blackletter tools, it would be the Pilot Parallel 3.8MM (AKA: The green one).
The Parallel is an extremely econmical, inexpensive, and easy to use pen. It is, without a doubt, the first pen I reach for everytime I sit down to create blackletter.
That wasn’t so bad, was it?
What About Paper?
Don’t go crazy with paper when you’re just starting out. If you’re using basic ink, almost anything will do. If you notice some bleeding, use a thicker paper (bristol or any kind of marker pad).
Ok! Now the fun begins. In the next post, we’ll begin learning the strokes that comprise of the fundamental letter structures used to create blackletter script. In the meantime, start getting comfortable with the blackletter tools you chose to begin with so you can hit the ground running.