At the time of this writing, we’re in our third month of #52Letters; just in between the “i” and “j” weeks. If you’re into blackletter like me, you might be thinking that these two weeks are going to be a little less challenging… and the comes “l”. Trust me, I hear you! Let’s use the simplicity of these letters to our advantage and try out a technique that you might not be familiar with… stroke twisting. 

This is a very similar topic to the post I wrote about angle rotation, but I wanted to demonstrate it in a different context that can drastically change the way you write any letterform.

Stroke twisting diagram

The idea behind a twisted (multi-angle) stroke is that your pen does not stay at the same angle for the entire duration of the stroke. Instead, the angle fluctuates throughout the stroke (generally between 15º-20º above or below the “root” angle, which is usually around 40º degrees). The result is a more organic letterform with nuanced curves. You would not be able to achieve this effect otherwise because the slight pen manipulations create an intrinsic curve within your strokes.

In essence, the technique is straightforward and might appear easy when looking at the digram above. In actuality, it can be quite difficult to get the hang of if you haven’t trained your fingers to twist the pen ever so slightly mid-stroke.

Practicing Angle Manipulations

If you’re new to twisting or rotating the pen mid-stroke, then I would strongly recommend breaking the approach down into three phases of practice.

It’s worth noting that if you are already comfortable writing blackletter calligraphy with a chiseled brush, you might find this technique easier to learn with a brush (as opposed to a hard pen nib). The bristles are more forgiving and expressive. On the ther hand, if you’re more comfortable with a pen, then use that. It’s best to focus on learning one new thing at a time.

1. Loosen Up and Experimenting

Nothing too complex here. Take out your pen/brush and begin warming up. Begin drawing straight lines and while you’re mid-stroke, begin twisting the writing instrument counter-clockwise 15º-20º.

Stroke twisting experimentation

The point here is to start working those finger muscles in a way that you haven’t before. You might also find it helpful to use vertical lines as guides.

2. Twist Both Ways

Once you begin to get the hang of it, start turning the pen clockwise during the second half of the stroke.

Stroke twisting pen practice

Do your best to visualize the stroke before you actually draw it out. When the stroke begins, it should gradually get narrow (turning counter-clockwise). Approximately halfway through the stroke, the line should be at its most narrow. From here, the line should get thicker (turning clockwise).

3. Introduce Quads (“Diamonds”)

Time to put the technique into practice. Stroke twists are very common in advanced Texualis (Textura) Quadrata, so let’s start there.

Begin by drawing a top quad serif (the diamonds). Next, draw a vertical line using the stroke twist technique you’ve been practicing. Finally, finish off the bottom quad.

Stroke twisting with quad serifs

You’ll want to pay close attention to how these strokes interact with their surrounding quads. Look for the rounded connections on the left and right sides of the quad as it meets the stem. Perfecting these is difficult, but the clean consistency it can bring to your letterforms is worth the mastering.

One final note; if your strokes are spotty here and there, just touch them up with the thin tip of your writing instrument. It’s not cheating.

Revisit Your Alphabet

Now that you’ve gotten familiar with stroke twists, you should put them into practice. Revisit each letter in the alphabet and use stroke twisting to add some new edge to your letterforms. Be patient while doing this. You’ll only get better with time.

I’m relatively new to this technique, so you’re definitely not alone. I’m really looking forward to using it in the #52Letter challenge!

And just in case you don’t know what that is…

2018 #52Letters Challenge

What better way to bring your skills to the next level than with a hardcore, in-depth challenge? In an effort to promote creativity, practice, and community, I’ve decided to pursue a new weekly challenge and I want to invite you along for the ride.

The official announcement!

Here’s the deal:

  • One letter a week for 52 weeks (takes a whole year)
  • Weeks 1 through 26: lowercase a through z
  • Weeks 27 through 52: uppercase A through Z
  • Share your progress online with the hashtag #52letters

Jump in wherever we are (from the start of 2018) or just start from the beginning.