Welcome to the fourth installment of the blackletter tutorial series! In this post, we’re going to explore more advanced strokes. By the end of this lession, you’ll be able to create the uppercase alphabet of textualis style blackletter.

If you haven’t read any prior parts of this series, I would definitely recommend checking out the following posts:

Fundamental Uppercase Strokes

Ready to learn a couple new strokes?

With few exceptions, these strokes are created by holding your pen at the same angle as the lower case alphabet (35º-45º). Pairing these with the strokes you learned in the previous lesson will equip you with all the skills you need to create the uppercase alphabet.

Print a couple copies of the guidesheet and let’s get to work!

Download Free Blackletter Guide Sheet

Downward Strokes

These strokes are similar to the down strokes we explored in the previous lesson, but they have a couple variations.

Blackletter downstrokes by Jake Rainis

The tapered stroke begins and ends in a point. To perform this stroke, begin slightly off to the right of where you want the body of your down stroke to be. As always, be sure to maintain a consistent angle. Starting with a point, pull inwards towards the body of your stroke, and then down. As you reach the end of the stroke, end in a point by pulling out and to the left.

Downward “strokes” with serifs are actually multi-stroke pieces of a letter… and you already know how to do them! They’re just combinations of vertical and horizontal strokes from the previous lesson. Start with the top chiseled horizontal. Release. Perform the downstroke. Release. Finally, perform the bottom chiseled horizontal. Voila!

Here are some common contexts in which you’ll see these strokes:

Blackletter downstrokes by Jake Rainis

Diagonal Strokes

Diagonal blackletter strokes by Jake Rainis

Diagonals follow a similar form to basic downward strokes, except they’re done at an angle. If you’ve been practicing, you shouldn’t have any trouble recreating these. However, getting the angle just right will require some trial and error.

Some common contexts in which you’ll see these strokes:

Diagonal blackletter strokes by Jake Rainis

Crescents & Circles

It’s important to get a feel for creating varying line-widths with a single pull stroke. Crescents are a great way to master that feeling. You got a little taste of this with some of the horizontal strokes.

Blackletter curve strokes by Jake Rainis

Hold the pen firmly, and starting from the top, pull out to the left towards the bottom of the stroke while maintaining a consistent angle. As you round the thick part of the stroke, pull towards the end of the crescent. If you did everything right, you should have a sliver with two tapered ends and a thick middle.

The full circle is done in two strokes. The strokes are actually identical if you were to flip the second stroke upside down. To create the second stroke, start at the top with your nib touching where the first stroke begins. Pull downward and to the right, rounding out the stroke and pulling into the left where the first stroke ends.

Again, here are some common contexts in which you’ll see these strokes:

Blackletter curve strokes by Jake Rainis

Hairlines

Blackletter hairlines by Jake Rainis

These often appear as little decorations but are occasionally used as structural lines in letters such as A, X and Z. The best way to achieve hair lines is to tilt your pen nib on its side, drawing with one of the two corners.

Once more, here are some common contexts in which you’ll see these strokes:

Blackletter hairlines by Jake Rainis

Creating the Uppercase Alphabet

Alright, are you ready? You’ve learned all of the necessary strokes to create the entire uppercase alphabet. Now it’s just a matter of putting them together harmoniously.

Blackletter uppercase alphabet by Jake Rainis

To help you along, I’ve created another 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).

Download Free Uppercase Blackletter Alphabet Guide

You’ll quickly realize that the uppercase alphabet is much more difficult than the lowercase, but don’t stress. Just start from the beginning and draw each letter many times, and it will quickly become natural.

Deliberate Practice

Any sort of practice is good, but there are efficient ways to practice that will enable you to strengthen your skills at a much faster rate.

Step 1: Start by Tracing

Don’t be afraid to trace. It can feel silly, but you’ll have the training wheels off in no time. There’s no quicker way to get comfortable with these letters.

I’ve set the guide sheet up in a way that allows you to start by tracing. The lines in the uppercase guide slowly gradate from dark to completely transparent. Begin by tracing and as you start to familiarize yourself with the feel of each letterform, you’ll need to rely on the guides less and less.

Blackletter uppercase alphabet guide sheet by Jake Rainis
Blackletter uppercase alphabet guide sheet by Jake Rainis
Blackletter uppercase alphabet guide sheet by Jake Rainis

Step 2: Draw from Reference

Once you feel that you’re confident enough to draw the letters without tracing them, get a fresh practice sheet and use it to draw your own letters. But keep the other guide sheet in front of you. Reference those letters as your draw yours.

You’ll likely need to draw each one of these letters dozens and dozens of times before you’re able to memorize all of the different combinations of strokes they’re comprised off.

Step 3. Draw from Memory

When you’ve drawn the letters enough to the point where you feel like you have them engrained in memory, print another fresh practice sheet and put the reference guide away. Draw the entire alphabet and then go back and check the guide to see how accurate you were.

You can begin writing full words and sentences. Here’s a couple sentences that utilize all of the different letters of the alphabet:

  • Jaded zombies acted quaintly but kept driving their oxen forward.
  • A mad boxer shot a quick, gloved jab to the jaw of his dizzy opponent.
  • The job requires extra pluck and zeal from every young wage earner.
  • A quart jar of oil mixed with zinc oxide makes a very bright paint.

Leveling Up

I hope you’re having fun with this!

We’ll take our skills even further in the next post. We’re going to explore how different combinations strokes can be used to craft variations of letterforms. We’ll take a look at how this ties into learning the other styles of blackletter. And finally, we’ll wrap up by taking a look at some amazing work from modern blackletter artists.