One of the most difficult aspects of learning any sort of calligraphy is drawing a controlled straight line. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? You just put the pen on the paper, and pull it towards you as steadily as possible.
The truth is that it takes many hours of dedicated practice to be able to control a pen like that, particularly when writing blackletter or other styles of gothic fonts.
In this post, we’ll explore how to control the pen to draw a variety of common straight blackletter calligraphy downstrokes.
4 Steps to Executing Straight Downstrokes
There are several tips and techniques that you can leverage to improve your consistency when performing straight downstrokes.
1. Position Yourself to be Comfortably Stable
One factor to drawing a well-executed stroke is ensuring stabilization. You want to make sure you’re not straining your body in an uncomfortable or unbalanced way that might inhibit your writing ability.
In my previous post about calligraphy posture, I wrote about optimizing your calligraphy output by practicing good positioning habits while writing. This includes maintaining a straight posture while keeping both feed planted on the floor, and not hunching over your work too far. Your elbows should be able to bend at a right angle (90º) with both forearms resting on your writing surface.
You should hold your pen as close to the nib as possible without your fingers getting in the way. This allows you to hold the pen firmly with control and precision.
Finally make sure your torso isn’t twisted at an angle. You want to be facing your work straight on. If you’re an overwriter, or write in such a way that you twist your wrist or rotate the page, that’s fine. Just make sure your body is resting in a comfortable, planted position that absorbs the pressing of your pen.
2. Use Guides
As we’ve said many times, there’s nothing wrong with using guides. It’s not cheating.
For straight downstrokes, you don’t need any sort of special guide. Just use a ruler to draw lines that are perfectly perpendicular to the baseline of your page. Alternatively, you can use gridded paper.
3. Maintain Angle Consistency
Wobbly downstrokes are typically the result of holding the pen too firmly or not holding the pen firmly enough. I find the more I pay attention to maintaining a consistent angle, the straighter my line turns out.
Make sure you’re not inadvertently twisting the pen’s nib as you draw your downstroke. If you’re executing on a straight line, even the slightest shift in angle can produce an inconsistent line.
4. Use Your Eyes
I’m not suggesting you’re closing your eyes while doing calligraphy! However, we often tend to focus too much on the nib of our pen as we’re writing instead of focusing on where the pen will end up.
Once you become comfortable holding your pen with the right amount of firmness and can maintain its angle, start directing your attention to the future of your stroke. In other words, look a couple centimeters ahead of where you are at during your stroke up until the point in which you complete the stroke.
When practicing your strokes, or warming up for a long calligraphy session, you might find it helpful to practice a variety of the following down strokes.
The first downstroke is a classic stem from the Textura (Texturalis Quadrata) style of blackletter. It is simply a straight line with the pen held at ~45º degrees. In the second stroke, I’ve added a quad (diamond) stroke. This is a common treatment of many minuscule letterforms in the Textura alphabet.
The other 2 downstrokes are derived from the Fraktur style of blackletter and can be broken apart into two different parts (far right example), similarly to the Textura versions.