Most, if not all, of the traditional calligraphy work you come across is done on a flat (0º) baseline. From an economic and utilitarian standpoint, this makes complete sense. It’s easier to read and and makes the best use of real-estate on a page (which is almost always rectangular). As an artist, I like to challenge conventions and lately I’ve been experimenting with slanted calligraphy to add an entirely new dynamic to my compositions. In this post, I’ll show you how to do the same with your work!

Slanted calligraphy composition by Jake Rainis

The Inspiration

Hand lettering, which is an entirely different school of thought than calligraphy enjoys the use of a variety of non-traditional composition treatments. Lettering artists push the boundaries of letterforms to give their pieces organic life. While maintaining true to the fundamental aspects of language, they tastefully break the rules of typography. This wasn’t always the case when it came to calligraphy. Calligraphy is an art in its own right, but perhaps not as widely celebrated as such until more recently.

Though calligraphy dates back countless years, it excites me to see it continually evolve and develop further into a modern art form. It’s aspects like this that inspire me to try new things and share them with fellow calligraphy enthusiasts.

Slanted Compositions

Okay, enough of the philosophical stuff, let’s cut to the chase. What we’re doing here is quite simple in essence. Consider the following diagram:

Basic baseline example

If you’ve practiced blackletter calligraphy before, you probably know what you’re looking at. It’s 2 spaced out lines that each consist of a descender line, a baseline, an x-height line, and an ascender line. Additionally, there are vertical guidelines throughout. These can be useful to help reinforce straight downstrokes. The ratio we’re using here is 2:4:2 (2 parts descender, 4 part x-height, 2 parts ascender). If this sounds like another language to you, refer to my post on calligraphy guides.

To illustrate the system behind a slanted composition, here’s an altered version of the above system:

Slanted baseline example

Essentially, all we’ve done here is slant the horizontal guides. However, it’s important to note that the vertical guides still remain at a 90º angle.

We’ll follow this same pattern with our letterforms. In other words, horizontal strokes will slant at the new angle we’ve established while downstrokes (like stems) will remain vertical at a 90º angle. This subtle warping adds a unique element of character the letterforms and in the end, you’ll have a sharp-looking composition.

Slanted calligraphy composition by Jake Rainis

You might find it a little more difficult to properly center your words in the case of a multi-line composition. I wrote a post about a system you can use to center your calligraphy that you might find helpful. Centering is difficult as it is, but doing it on a slant is even harder. Keep in mind that your letters will probably be more narrow in the slanted context, so you’ll need to take this into account when plotting out subsequent lines.

Flourish Opportunities

Traditionally, flourishes were used carefully as to not obscure the letters themselves. This would result in legibility. However, in the spirit of pushing the boundaries of an art form, what better time to enhance your composition with some flourishes? Fortunately, these slanted compositions lend themselves well to decorative ornaments.

Slanted calligraphy composition by Jake Rainis

Ascenders and descenders present opportunities to fill in negative space. Try going crazy with some underlines, filigrees, and other embellishments!