As you might be aware of by now, I’m making a great effort to provide calligraphy-forward content for the aspiring scribe and/or calligraphy enthusiast. Some of my most popular posts were from October 2016, when I did a 5-part blog series on blackletter. In the interest of providing the same amount of value, I want to take those lessons a step further with Fraktur February!

For the entire month of February, I’ll be going into depth teaching you everything I know about the Fraktur style of blackletter. Here’s the agenda:

  • Week 1: What is Fraktur Calligraphy? This post will cover the history and background of Fraktur, what differentiates it from other styles of blackletter, and the tools used to create Fraktur calligraphy.
  • Week 2: Learning the Lowercase Fraktur Alphabet. Here, we’ll begin getting our hands dirty by learning the fundamental lowercase strokes. I’ll be providing a free guide to get you started and by the end, you’ll be equipped with everything you need to create the lowercase alphabet.
  • Week 3: Learning the Uppercase Fraktur Alphabet. Picking up where we left off from week 2, we’ll tackle the uppercase alphabet. The uppercase alphabet is a little more difficult, but I’ll have guides for these too!
  • Week 4: Advanced Fraktur Blackletter Strokes. By week 4, you’ll be comfortable with the alphabet, so I want to show you so some fantastic ways to give your letters a unique edge.

Welcome to week one of Fraktur February. I hope you’re as excited as I am! Let’s dive in.

What is Fraktur?

Fraktur is a letter style that belongs to the “blackletter” category of calligraphy. If you’re not at all familiar with blackletter, I’d encourage you to read this brief blackletter primer I wrote a few months back.

Blackletter, or “gothic” calligraphy has been around since the 11th century. Given its rich history, learning to intimately understand of all its styles can be quite overwhelming. If you dig in and do some research, you’ll find references to the more common styles like Textura (AKA Texualis), Cursiva, Rotunda, Bastarde, Schwabacher, and Fraktur.

Blackletter variations from Wikipedia

Variations of blackletter. Image credit: Wikipedia.

It takes an extremely keen eye to understand the distinct differences between these styles. So to better understand what makes this style of calligraphy unique in itself, let’s look back in history.

Blackletter is the result of an earlier Latin hand known as Carolingian (AKA Caroline Miniscule), which was developed in the 7th century under the Emperor Charlemagne. Carolingian was widely used over the course of the next 400 years throughout the Carolingian Renaissance in religious and educational texts.

Examples of Carolingian Manuscript

Examples of Carolingian Manuscript. Image credit: The Carolingian Renaissance by Zoe Bancilhon

Blackletter came about in the 12th century as a response to Europe’s evolving literacy. As more Universities opened their doors, the need for educational text books increased greatly.

Carolingian was the standard hand at this time. However, despite its clear legibility, it was time-consuming to produce and its wide letterforms occupied a lot of a page’s real estate. For these reasons, scribes began developing alternative forms of Carolingian which began to resemble what we think of as blackletter today.

These blackletter strokes were more uniform and carried a repetitive vertical rhythm. This allowed scribes to work faster and since the letterforms were much narrower, more text was able to fit on a single page.

The History of Fraktur

Different styles of blackletter emerged over these years, but according to historical research, Textura was the most prominent throughout Europe.

Textura-style blackletter was a great solution to the problems scribes faced in those times, but it’s not a particularly legible hand. It was for this reason the blackletter continued to evolve into new styles. One of the most popular, even to this day, is Fraktur.

At the turn of the 16th century, German emperor Maximillian laid out plans to open an exquisite library. Fed up with the difficult-to-read Textura hand, he had his chancery Leonhard Wagner work with Hieronymus Andreae (a renowned woodblock cutter) to develop a new typeface.

Portrait of Leonhard Wagner

Portrait of Leonhard Wagner. Image credit: Wikipedia.

The typeface quickly rose in popularity as it was printed and distributed throughout the country.

Interestingly enough, for a time it marked a distinction between catholic and protestant texts. Protestants printed in German using Fraktur while catholics printed in Latin using a various types of Antiqua (similar to Carolingian).

Old German Bible

Old German Bible. Image credit: biblerecords.com.

Most other European countries adopted Antiqua as a standard over the next 5 centuries, but Germany stuck with the Fraktur hand.

Fraktur didn’t fall out of popularity until the WW2 era with the rise of the Third Reich. Much of the Nazi propaganda was printed using this hand and the style eventually (and unfortunately) became synonymous with the Nazi Regime.

Fraktur in Nazi propaganda

Fraktur in Nazi propaganda. Image credit: http://www.faktoider.nu/nazi-typografi.html.

Coincidentally, Hitler actually ordered to terminate the use of Fraktur in favor of Antiqua because it wasn’t widely recognized outside of Germany. However, this order was never effectively carried out.

Because of the association to the Third Reich, many designers still hesitate to use gothic typefaces. But the calligraphy movement is strong, so let’s hope the resurgence of Fraktur continues!

What Makes Fraktur Different

The word Fraktur is derived from the Latin word “fractus”, which means broken. This word translates to English as “fracture”.

The meaning is actually quite accurate as the Fraktur letterforms are broken apart into fractured strokes laid out at many angles.

Textura alphabet by Jake Rainis

Textura alphabet
Fraktur alphabet by Jake Rainis

Fraktur alphabet

These angles and curves differ greatly from the Textura hand which is comprised of a smaller set strokes that fall at just a couple of different angles.

This variety of angles is a major aspect of what makes Fraktur more legible.

Earlier blackletter hands are straight and rigid. This tends to create a strong vertical rhythm and because the letters are often tracked together tightly, it is more difficult to read. Fraktur on the other hand uses combinations of straight strokes along with curves to make up its letterforms.

Fraktur Tools

I covered blackletter tools extensively in this post. This post was written as part of my 5-part blackletter mini-course and the tools are the exact same for Fraktur.

As always, I’d recommend learning with the Pilot Parallel (3.8MM or 6MM). These versatile pens are amazing whether you’re a novice beginner or an experienced scribe.

Next Week

In week 2, we’ll study Fraktur letterforms in depth by learning strokes and creating an alphabet.

In the meantime, get your tools ready. And if you haven’t gone through my blackletter mini-course, be sure to check it out! Throughout the installments, you’ll learn the Textura alphabet. And it even comes with free printable guides!