Welcome to the second part of my Fraktur mini-course! Hopefully, you caught the previous post about the rich history and evolution of Fraktur calligraphy. Familiarizing yourself with the history of a typeface is incredibly helpful in learning how to recreate it. Not only that, but it also allows you to appreciate the typeface much more. Now that you know the history, you’re probably ready to get your hands dirty. I don’t blame you, let’s get to it.
This week, we’re going to start with guide sheets. We’ll explore the fundamental strokes that the minuscule (lowercase) alphabet is comprised of, then we’ll create the alphabet itself.
I touched on guide preparation in a post about creating the Textura alphabet. In this post, I explained how there are no hard and fast rules about setting up guidelines for Textura calligraphy. Fraktur is no different. However, the 2:4:2 ratio is quite common and it’s a perfect way to learn, so we’ll start there.
A 2:4:2 ratio means each line is comprised of 2 parts descender space, 4 parts x-height space, and 2 parts ascender space. In blackletter, one “part” represents one nib-width of the pen you’re using.
As you can see in the image above of the 2:4:2 guide line, each square represents one nib-width.
I recommend you learn with a 3.8MM or 6MM Pilot Parallel. These pens are staples in any blackletter calligrapher’s tool-belt. If you’re using the 3.8MM (green) Parallel, you’re in luck! I’ve designed guide sheets specifically for this pen.
These guides contain 2 pages of stroke exercises, 2 pages of the alphabet, and a blank sheet of guides. The strokes and letters fade out as you advance along. This way, you can start by tracing and end with creating the letterforms on your own.
Fundamental Minuscule Strokes
Although the minuscule (lowercase) Fraktur alphabet is more complex than the Textura alphabet because it is comprised of more angles and curves, it’s not terribly difficult to learn. Particularly if you’ve practiced the Textura alphabet. I have a guide for the Textura alphabet just in case you haven’t.
Just like Textura, Fraktur calligraphy is done at an angle. This angle falls between 35º and 45º. In the guide sheets I’ve prepared for you, we’ll use a 40º angle, but the angle itself doesn’t matter as much as keeping the angle consistent in each letter.
Basic horizontal strokes are executed by placing your pen’s nib at a 40º angle and moving it to the right. However, to give it that “Fraktur edge”, move the nib upward at the beginning and end of the stroke to give it those points.
The second stroke in the image above is executed much in the same way as the first, it’s just more of a fluid motion. As soon as you begin the stroke, move the pen up, over, down, then back up, finishing with a sharp point at the same angle in which the stroke began.
The third stroke (labelled “fill”) is something I refer to as a “flare”. These flares can be achieved in a single pen stroke if you flick the nib at the right angle while flexing it with the right amount of pressure. This takes a whole lot of practice. Even after years of writing blackletter, it’s still a skill I’m personally refining.
You can fake your flares by drawing them in with the edge of your nib.
Vertical strokes in Fraktur calligraphy are actually very similar to the horizontal strokes. The only major difference is they’re upright (and longer).
These vertical strokes are all achieved by moving your pen down straight (or at a slight bend like the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th example in the above image). The most important thing to keep in mind is your pen must always remain at the same angle.
The last stroke in the above image is by far the hardest. Notice how it tapers off to a point as it gets towards the bottom? This technique requires hours of practice before it becomes natural. It can be achieved by applying more pressure on the left of the nib and less pressure on the right side of the nib as you finish off the stroke.
If you can’t get this tapered stroke just yet, you can fill it in manually with the edge of your nib, just like the flare we talked about in the horizontal stroke.
Creating the Minuscule Fraktur Alphabet
If you’re comfortable with these small variety of horizontal and vertical strokes, you’re equipped to create the lowercase alphabet!
You’ll notice many of the letters in the minuscule (lowercase) alphabet follow the exact same pattern. For example, a, c, e, g, o, and q all start with the same vertical stroke and their second stroke is the short horizontal “diamond” that meets the top of the stroke at its edge. These repetitive patterns are extremely helpful in learning the alphabet quickly.
Begin by printing out the guide sheets. Additionally, I’d recommend printing out 26 blank copies (the last page) and filling each sheet with one letter of the alphabet. It might seem redundant, but getting comfortable with perfecting each letter is what will help you cement this style.
As you go through, focus diligently on the angles of the strokes as well as the negative space. Maintaining consistency with the negative space will help your letters look uniform when you begin putting them together. Trace the guides carefully, and as they fade out, reference them visually until you’re comfortable creating the forms from memory.
Like most styles of calligraphy, the letters in minuscule Fraktur alphabet can have variations. Once you’re comfortable with the fundamental system in the downloadable guide, try experimenting!
It’s all about practice. It takes many hours to become proficient at writing blackletter consistently. So if your letters look wonky at first (and they will), don’t be discouraged. Just keep at it.
Keep the practice up, because we’ll be diving into the majuscule (uppercase) alphabet in the next post. The majuscule alphabet is much more challenging, but it’s incredibly rewarding and I promise your hard work will pay off.
If you have any questions, please shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to see your work and I’m more than happy to help!