Welcome to the third part of the blackletter tutorial series. In this post, we’ll learn all of the fundamental blackletter strokes so that you can begin creating the lowercase alphabet on your own.
If you haven’t read any prior parts of this series, I would recommend checking out the following posts:
Exploring the Textualis Alphabet
In the first post, we took a look at the different schools of blackletter:
When exploring different styles of blackletter and their many variations, you’ll notice a lot of differences. It can be a little overwhelming at first, but there are more similarities than meets the eye. Think of the individual strokes that the varieties of letterforms are comprised of as small building blocks. The more building blocks you familiarize yourself with, the broader your blackletter capabilities will become.
We’ll start with the textualis (textura style). This is perhaps the most common style, and because of it’s uniform structure, it is easier to learn. Having a firm understanding of the fundamental strokes that the textualis style is comprised of will expand your horizons and allow you to explore other styles of blackletter scripts.
There are no hard and fast rules about how to set up proper blackletter guides, but a common pattern is a 2:4:2 ratio. This means that your x-height is 4 units while your ascender and descender heights are 2 units. Each unit is represented by the width of your nib. If you hold your nib at a 90º angle and draw horizontally to create a square, this is represents a single unit.
You can make these guides yourself, but I’ve also created a guide sheet that you can print out to save time. This guide sheet is based on a 3.8MM unit, which is the width of the second largest in the Pilot Parallel pen series (the green one). This is the tool that I recommended in the “Which Tool Is Right For Me?” section of the previous post.
Fundamental Lowercase Strokes
Hold your pen (or the blackletter tool of your choice), at an angle of 30º to 40º. With a few exceptions, this is the angle at which you will create most of your letters from. Holding the pen in this manner allows you to achieve different line widths depending on the direction in which you move your pen.
Now let’s explore some strokes.
So simple, yet so important! You’ll find a diamond of some sort in almost every letter, so make sure you get comfortable. There are two varieties of diamonds; regular and elongated.
Diamonds are simple, but they take a little bit of practice. The key to making a perfect diamonds is to ensure that the left and right points are horizontally aligned. To create one, place your pen on the paper while making note of where the left edge of your nib is touching the paper.
Picture a line that goes horizontally across your paper right through that point. Now slowly pull down and to the right (at the same angle your pen is tilted) until the right edge of your nib is at that imaginary line.
Elongated diamonds follow the exact same technique, but when you pull down, you do so at an angle that is less than that of your tilted pen. In other words, move it further to the right than you are moving it down.
As a general rule of thumb, downstrokes are always thick. A large majority of the textualis style is made up by different combinations of these strokes, particularly the lowercase alphabet.
To achieve these strokes, firmly hold your pen and pull in the appropriate direction (very rarely will you push a stroke in blackletter). Be sure not to twist your pen. Maintaining a consistent angle is the most important part of a down stroke.
Once you’re comfortable with a basic downstroke, try mixing diamonds into them.
To begin with a diamond, follow the diamond technique, but when you finish with the diamond, don’t lift your pen. Instead, pull straight downwards.
To end with a diamond, pull your stroke down, but don’t pull it all the way to the baseline. Instead, stop about a diamond’s height shorter and pull your diamond out to the right.
Horizontal strokes are relatively easy. To perform a basic horizontal stroke, place your pen and pull it horizontally in a straight line. As always, make sure you’re holding your pen at a consistent angle.
To make a curved horizontal stroke, adjust the direction you’re pulling ever so slightly so that you can achieve the curve.
Creating a Basic Lowercase Alphabet
To wrap up this lesson and put our skills to the test, let’s create a basic lowercase alphabet.
Yes, there are 26 letters here, but once you know a couple of them, you know all of them. Nearly every letter is a combination of downstrokes and diagonal strokes.
To help you along with this basic alphabet, I’ve created a guide sheet. This guide sheet is also based on a 3.8MM unit, which is the width of the second largest in the Pilot Parallel pen series (the green one). However, you can just use it for reference if you’re not using this particular tool (or a relatively similar sized pen).
Taking Your Lowercase Letters Even Further
Now that you have the basics down, pay attention to the blackletter scripts around you. On the street, on TV, in advertisements, etc… they’ve always been there, but I bet you’ll notice a lot more from now on!
Study the strokes that make up those letters and compare them to the ones we covered. Observe the similarities and differences and try experimenting with those variations. You can even do a Google Image search if you really want to immerse yourself.
Alright! That may have been a lot to take in, but the hardest part is behind you. You’re now equipped with the basics that you need to go practice, explore, and progress your lowercase letters!
In the next section of our blackletter journey, we’ll explore the uppercase alphabet. This will involve learning a couple new strokes and will expose to you to even more techniques to help you create blackletter letterforms.