Descenders – Blackletter Calligraphy Recipes
When you study an alphabet, you generally encounter a couple of types of descenders. You know, the parts of a letterform that descend below the baseline. In the context of a typeface, there are generally one or two different descenders that were designed to be part of that font’s cohesive design system.
However, in the context of calligraphy, this nuanced aspect of a letterform can (and should!) be explored in more depth. With blackletter calligraphy, diversifying your arsenal of descenders can breathe new life into your calligraphy compositions.
Let’s take a look some different descenders throughout the alphabet, how to apply them, and how they can be used to enhance your own work.
We’ll start with the basics — makes sense, right? If you take a look at the blackletter alphabet, you the simplest of strokes you’ll find is the minuscule (lowercase) p, q and j.
These probably don’t need much explanation. They’re pretty much just straight downstrokes where the stems of the letters descend below the baseline and stop. In the case of the j, the pen veers off to the left in a sharp edge.
A more exciting example of a basic descender is with the minuscule g and y letterforms.
You could treat these similarly to a j in the most basic of scenarios (pictured above), but we can also take it a step further with an alternative downstroke.
Or… what if we curved that downstroke?
This is when it starts to become more interesting. In some forms of blackletter calligraphy, the minuscule g and y letterforms have a slight bend in the stem that connects the descender.
All of the sudden, we have many variations of the same letterforms and they’re all quite unique. Hopefully, you can see how easy it is to achieve a degree of uniqueness throughout your letterforms with a single piece of its structure.
Let’s take it a step further, shall we? I’d like to show you some cool approaches that I’ve picked up over the years through my own experimentation as well as studying and drawing inspiration from other calligraphy artists.
Using stroke building techniques, you can make a minuscule p and q more exciting by enhancing the bottom tip of the descender.
I personally love the look a “capped” descender on a majuscule p or q.
Or… instead of adding to our strokes, we could use pen pressure techniques and/or stroke rotation techniques to turn those descenders into a sharp point.
This application can be useful when it comes to multiline compositions. Instead of stretching your letter deep into a subsequent line, you can taper it off so it doesn’t bump into other letters — particularly if the letter below it has an ascender.
There are also times in which descenders can provide opportunities for flourishing and additional decoration. Trying looking for these opportunities in your own compositions.
In this example (don’t worry — I don’t actually believe the earth is flat), I leveraged the descender of the y in the word society to create a flourish by stretching it out across the width of the word and adding some additional loops.
Sometimes, you can also use the finishing stroke of a majuscule (uppercase) K or R to achieve similar flourishes. Technically, these aren’t true descenders, but the notion is similarly relevant.
I hope you found this helpful!
As you can see, there is much to be explored when it comes to small nuances of a letterform. In this particular post, we only touched on descenders, but you saw first hand just how extensive this exploration can be.
In digging deeper to better understand how unique a single letterform can become, you will progressively move closer to a signature style that is truly unique and unlike the work of anyone else.