In my previous post about Pilot Parallel pen techniques, we discussed how using pressure can be used to apply variable stroke widths regardless of the angle in which you’re holding the pen. This allows us achieve an entirely new quality of stroke that is often gestural and expressive. Pretty cool, right? In this post, I want to show you how you a different Parallel pen trick that will also allow you to diversify the strokes you’re able to create. I like to call this technique “angle rotation”.

This technique also works the same for any sort of flat pen with a solid nib — or even a flat brush.

Angle Rotation

Rotating your writing instrument as you apply a stroke isn’t exclusive to any one type of calligraphy. For example, check out this video from Calligraphy Masters (and subscribe to their channel — it’s amazing).

In this video, you can see how Nicolo Visioli rotates his brush as he begins and finishes each stroke. This results in an impressively precise letterform. This is a beautiful example of angle rotation.

Evolving our Approach to Blackletter

This technique can also be utilized in blackletter calligraphy. However, depending on how you learned blackletter calligraphy, it might require a slightly evolved way of thinking. At least, it did for me personally.

For many aspiring calligraphy artists, their initial immersion into blackletter begins with the Textura (AKA Textualis) alphabet.

lowecase blackletter alphabet by jake rainis

When learning this style of alphabet, we meticulously train ourselves to maintain a consistent pen angle. In maintaining this angle to produce our strokes, we achieve a rhythmic uniformity throughout our letterforms. Constantly conditioning ourselves to write at a consistent angle cements the idea that our pen should only move in a limited number of directions.

This training is crucial in learning traditional blackletter calligraphy. However, when it comes to introducing the notion of angle rotation, we need to learn how and when to break out of our comfort zones and abandon the rule of angle consistency.

Learning Angle Rotation

The concept of angle rotation is not a hard one to grasp. As we apply a stroke, we simply twist the pen to the desired angle. Sounds simple, but it’s easier said than done.

A great exercise to begin practicing angle rotation is with a physical guide. Find a circular item such as a coin. Use your non-writing hand to hold the coin in place and slowly draw a circle with your Parallel pen around the coin starting from the top.

Stroke rotation using a coin
Stroke rotation using a coin

Keep in mind that your pen should be at a 90º (straight up) angle when you start. As you round the first quarter of the coin, the pen should rotate another 90º. The pen should continue to do this for every quarter of the circle.

Not too hard, right? It’s certainly helpful to have a physical object guiding our stroke. Once you’re comfortable with this exercise, trace that coin with a pencil. Then complete the exercise again by following the drawn guide without the coin.

Stroke rotation without using a coin
Stroke rotation without using a coin

Because you can’t rely on the presence of a physical guide, such as the coin, this exercise is more difficult. You’ll find you need to train your hand muscles to carefully manipulate the pen accordingly while in the middle of a moving stroke.

You’ll also find that you probably won’t be able to complete the stroke in one gesture. For me personally, it took stopping and continuing my stroke 6-8 times to complete the circle. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be able to draw a perfect circle right from the start. Aim to reduce the amount of times you need to pause the stroke to readjust, but don’t get frustrated. Just continue to practice and get comfortable with the technique.

Real World Examples

Angle rotation techniques can be utilized in traditional blackletter calligraphy. As you practice and develop your blackletter calligraphy skills, you’ll begin creating your own unique style of letterforms. This is a perfect opportunity to apply angle rotation.

Personally, I use often use angle rotation techniques on my majuscule letters. For example, check out this majuscule B.

Majuscule B with and without stroke rotation

In the first B above, I did not use stroke rotation. In the second iteration, I rotated my pen on the curved stem to reinforce the letterform’s “backbone”. While the difference might seem minor or trivial to the untrained eye, it’s these small details that can reinforce the strength and powerful presence of a word or alphabet.

Angle rotation can also be applied to abstract calligraphy. In the image below, you’ll notice different circles throughout the work. These were created the same way we created circles in the coin exercise. As you can see, circles are a great way to balance a composition.

Abstract composition that uses stroke rotation