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Gothic Alphabet -- Step by Step

These Gothic alphabet tutorial pages are my online effort to give you a one-to-one lesson in how to write a particular form
of Gothic lettering.

Note: I don't teach the letters in alphabetical order. It's easier and quicker to start with the simpler forms and move on to the
more complicated. That way, you are always building on what you've already mastered.
This page starts you off with: i l n u c e.
The second page covers: m w r t h b f k o q p v.
After that, the third page shows you the rest: d g z x j y a s.
And on another page are sample capital gothic letters A-Z.
You might also enjoy looking through this page on how to make your own Gothic greetings card using similar lettering and
some decorative doodling.
There are loads of illustrations of how to write a Gothic alphabet step by step in the lessons themselves. But to start with,
here's a rough idea of what this form of Gothic looks like:

The above is not a particularly good or beautiful example, but it gives you an idea.
If you do the whole tutorial thoroughly, there are at least a couple of hours fun to be had out of it. By the end, you should,
I hope, know more about writing Gothic than when you started.
Lets roll up our sleeves ...

Gothic 'littera textualis quadrata'


The particular style of Gothic alphabet Ive laid out here is a formal hand that would have been used for copying the main
text (ie not translations or footnotes) of high-quality books in Latin between 1200 and 1500. Its Sunday title is littera
textualis quadrata. The littera textualis means its letters for the main text (ie high-grade formal writing)-- and quadrata
refers to the square, regular, four-sided look of it. This is the second-highest grade of Gothic alphabet from the period.
(Even more prestigious was textualis prescissa or sine pedibus.)
In case you want to know, its pronounced LIT-era tex-choo-WAH-lis kwod-RAH-tuh.

You will need ...


First, set up your workspace and materials comfortably. Check that you have:
1. A clear desk-space (preferably on a sloping writing-desk, or a desk-easel. You could use a board propped against a
dictionary.)
2. Fair quality paper (preferably lightly ruled).

3. Broad-nibbed pen and ink.


4. Tissues or cloth, and water if you like, for wiping ink off the nib, fingers, etc.
Strictly, you should be lined up squarely in front of the desk with all your materials in easy reach, feet flat on the floor,
back straight and shoulders relaxed. And, of course, this page in clear sight. Im going to assume youve made yourself
comfortable :-)

Gothic alphabet easy measurements


The wider your nib, the taller and larger your letters must be. You should write your Gothic alphabet at a size which is in
proportion to the thickness of your nib so that it shows a pleasing balance of black and white space. Rule your top line
accordingly, or just estimate and stick to it as well as you can.
Gothic alphabets can vary in density and spacing. A standard, fairly open version is written around 4.5 nib-widths high for
the x-height (the height of the regular small letters such as x, e, c, a, o.) Allow another 2-2.5 nib-widths above the x-height
and below the base-line for ascenders or descenders on letters such as b, h, g, p. There are a couple of letters -- d and t -that are in between 4.5 and 7 nib-widths high.
Here's an illustration of what 4 nib-widths looks like if your nib is very thick (your own nibwidths and, therefore, your
Gothic alphabet may well be smaller or larger):

Alternatively, if you have good eyesight and a very small ruler, you can measure your nibs width in tenths of a millimeter
and simply multiply by 4.5 and 7. (Joke.)
Once youre happy that you know roughly how tall the letters of your Gothic alphabet should be, its best to start with the
two simplest: i and l.
(Aside: heres how Ive laid out these tutorial pictures:

The top line of the illustration, going from left to right, is where I show -- separately, in sequence -- each mark you need to
be able to make in order to form a particular letter of this Gothic alphabet.

Then, underneath, in the bottom line of the illustration, youll see how the letter progresses as a whole when you add the
different marks together. The final letterform is outlined in a gold box.)
So make sure youre holding your pen relaxedly, at 45 degrees, and let's begin:

You will notice (I hope!) that a Gothic letter i is made up essentially of three marks: a symmetrical lozenge at the top, a
short vertical (a minim) and another symmetrical lozenge at the bottom, which has an optional small upwards tick on it if
its the final letter in a word.
(The thin diagonal slash as a dot above the i is not always found in the medieval originals but is very useful indeed for
making Gothic script more legible.)
The Gothic letter l is exactly the same, but the first lozenge starts about 7 nib-widths up and the descending vertical is of
course longer (and more prone to wobble).
Watch out for muscular tension and poor posture. It will make your letters stiff and clumsy. Relax your arm, straighten
your back, loosen your grip (no white knuckles please), keep the nib light upon the page and try to move your whole hand
and wrist to form the letters. (HANDwriting, not finger-writing.)
Its best to do each letter a few times, trying to improve it a little each time.
There are not many practice words containing only the letters i and l but, still, I recommend that you write out the
following. Try to keep the letters regular:
li ill illi lili
Okay. Enough lilili? On to the next Gothic letters: n and u. These are basically formed of two is joined together and
the join is an exciting diagonal line!
Feeling excited? ;-D
The trick with n and u (and, later, m and w) is to make sure that the joining diagonals at the top (n) or bottom (u)
are only a tiny bit longer than the lozenge you start the i with. The diagonal shoulder should create just enough white
space inside the letter to balance the black between 1.5 and 2 nibwidths worth of white space, thats all.

Yes, it really does take six separate pen-strokes to form this sort of Gothic letter n. (Wait till you try m.) That is why,
among Gothic alphabets, textualis quadrata was used for high-quality copying, not for scrawling shopping lists. But it gets
quicker with practice. And there really is no way to create the elaborate look of a Gothic alphabet other than by labouring a
little.
Labour a little more over these practice words. If you line up your lozenges nicely, they will look terrific:
nun lull nil null inn lulu
All right. Now, a pair of less complex Gothic letters these are only two pen-movements each. You must change direction
cleanly partway through each stroke to create a new straight line no curves.
And there is a little trick to these two letters: at the top left of each, you will join up the pointed ends of your lines to form a
straight diagonal edge, two nib-widths wide. Again, its easier to show you than to explain:

You see? You start the first vertical a little below what will be the final height of the letter. Make sure your nib is angled at
45 degrees. Then draw straight downwards. Before you get to the bottom, angle diagonally right, still drawing downwards.
At the bottom of the letter, change nib direction to move diagonally right and upwards to make a short, thin tail.
Then take the nib off the paper, and reposition it at the top of the letter again so that the nibs left corner just touches the
vertical lines top right corner. Keep the pen angle at a constant 45 degrees. Draw a slightly down-sloping bar across to
the right. The 45-degree corners of the lines have meanwhile mysteriously met up to create a tidy, squared-off c or e.
Neat, eh?
Youll use the same trick to form other Gothic letters later on. But meanwhile, here are some more interesting words to
practise with:

ecu ice eel nice clue lice cull uncle icicle


Icicle is such a lovely-looking word that its well worth writing it out again for the sheer pleasure of watching it form.
(Take that as a hint if you like!)

This lesson continues in Part 2 with a longer section of the alphabet: m w r t h b f k o q p v. Click the link below to
carry on. (Or have a cup of tea first. You've earned it.)

Gothic Letters Step by Step -- Part 2


Welcome to Part 2 of this online Gothic letters tutorial!
Note: remember, the letters here aren't presented in alphabetical order. By moving from the simpler to the more
complicated, you learn them as easily and efficiently as possible.
Were going to carry on with m and w before getting on to some of the more complex Gothic forms. Hope youre
feeling happy with your progress so far.
So, back to the grindstone! Here is 'm' to start with:

Nine pen-strokes! I know! Nevertheless, it looks great when its done with care. But straightaway, before youve even got
your breath back, here's 'w':

As you can see, 'w' is very similar to 'm' but the joins are at the bottom and perhaps its a little less hard work.
Amazing words are now pennable by you in authentic Gothic calligraphy. For instance:
me we mum win new mewl well clime mince wince eminence minimum
If you get minimum neatly formed and evenly spaced, it will look like a very attractive black picket-fence. And if you
turn it upside down, it will look almost exactly the same. Thats textualis quadrata for you! One of the reasons Gothic
alphabets gave way to roundhand is that sometimes they were hard on the eyesight.

Next, well do t and two forms of Gothic r. R comes in two varieties because its a letter that ordinarily carries its bulk
on the left and opens out to the right with a lot of white space. This means that when it follows a bulky, rounded letter
with a solid right-hand vertical, such as o, b, d, p or y, the combination of both letters looks crowded in the middle
and irritatingly empty on the right.
So, a different form of 'r' is used, more like the front half of a majuscule (capital) version. It fills the space better. For
example, have a look at the white spaces in these words:

(Basically, the alternative form of r looks more balanced after a rounded letter. I say rounded in quotation marks
because there are no rounded letters as such in this variety of Gothic lettering; it would be more accurate to say, letters that
would usually be rounded.)

So, at last, after all that, here is actually how to pen these forms of r. Oh, and t, too, of course! --

Note that the Gothic letter t is not 7 nib-widths tall. It is shorter than l but taller than i, e, n, etc. Start it about 5.5
nib-widths above the baseline, so that the first short, thin diagonal reaches down to just above the ruled line that marks the
top of the x-height. Then, angle cleanly down into a vertical, leaving a blunt corner where you changed direction. Make
sure your pen is still at 45 degrees. Then place your nib (45 degrees!) to the left of that new vertical, so that the nibs righthand corner is just barely touching the outward corner of the angle, and draw a short bar straight across. The two oblique
line-ends formed naturally by the nib should have joined at the top left of the t to create a smooth, diagonal edge.
(You might want to read that again and look at the example. Its like the trick for e and c, but youve swapped the order
you draw the lines in and youre working on the lower, left-hand corner of the vertical line, not the slightly higher righthand corner.)
I know, I go on a lot how about some practice of your Gothic letters so far?
tut rut tree writ curt mutt trice writer enteric trimmer recliner
(You may be wondering what to do if the bar of the t interferes with the lozenge at the top of the minim on the following
letter. Thats about ligatures (letter-joins) and for Gothic letters its a whole new lesson in itself.)
So, r you happy with your fine English t? Then lets move on to the next two:

These Gothic letters need little explanation. The h is basically an l joined to the second half of an n. The b is just a
little more elaborate: its most of an l combined with the bottom stroke of a u and the top half of an n. That makes it

sound more complicated than it really is. My point is that you already know how to form all the elements needed for these
two Gothic letters.
So after a couple of trials you can get straight into the practice words:
hub bib the web batch cheer whittle hubbub brunch inhibit nibbler humbler churchmen
At this point, Id recommend that you practise writing the many times. As its one of the most common words in the
English language and as it contains one short letter, one tall letter and one in between and as its balance (or lack of it)
can make or break any piece of calligraphy you produce its worth learning to write it well.
Here are some examples:

Notice how on the better-looking examples the verticals are all carefully spaced. The cross-bar on the t barely touches the
h. The e should be placed carefully too not so close to the h as to crowd the word, and not so far away as to look
orphaned.
The next two Gothic letters are formed with slightly more detail again:

(Yes, I have noticed that I mis-labelled the 'k' as an 'h'. It will be changed soon. Soonish.)
The letter f is a full-height letter but, like c and e, you start about a nib-width below its full height so that you have
space to add the stroke at the top and create a clean diagonal edge at the top left of the letter. The cross-bar should be
quite short and should sit fairly high.
On the Gothic letter k the main interest is to place the bow high enough to leave room for a foot that doesnt collide with
the lozenge at the bottom of the first vertical, but also which doesnt stretch too far out to the right. The distance between
the first vertical and the foot of the k where it touches the bottom line should be barely larger than the distance between
the first vertical and the outside edge of the bow at its furthest point.

If that sounds too pernickety, simply ignore it and have a go at the following:
if kill funk brink skiffle bicker Fokker muffler wrinkle chicken bumfluff
When you are writing two fs together, its a good idea to shorten the top diagonal stroke a little on the first one, to make
more room for the second.
The next two Gothic letters are about the skill of judging spaces. In fact, o is only made of two strokes, but each stroke
changes direction twice within 90 degrees and must be formed with the correct proportions so that both strokes fit together
perfectly to make the final letter.
As you can see below, q is formed very similarly, but the final stroke continues downwards below the line and terminates
in a short serif. (You could also finish it with a lozenge, as on all the other letters, but I rather enjoy this one defiant flash of
variety within the otherwise very uniform Gothic letters of this particular alphabet.)

Its well worth practising o until you are very satisfied that you can draw both halves exactly and make them match up at
the corners without much overlap. The Gothic letter o is surprisingly delicate for such a square form, and its delicacy
resides almost entirely in the precision and fineness of its diagonals as formed by the point-to-point technique.
The o also opens up a whole new caboodle of vocabulary (look how many os are to be found in those few words alone!)
quo look toque quorum quench clique rococo emoticon roquefort unbroken coquette luminous
But you still cant mind your ps and qs as we havent done p yet. So I guess thats my q to move on to the next Gothic
letters in this sequence:

You can already see that p is pretty much like a b with a longer, flat crossbar. And v is very like a u but make sure
it has a very, very slight, graceful outwards bow if you want it to be clearly distinguishable from u.
viper pump verve prove pelvic hover whippet fervent peopled revolver peppermint
Well, that is pretty much the end of the regular Gothic letters formed on the basis of the l or the c. The remaining few
letters are formed using moves that you will recognize from your work so far, in combination with some new squiggles and
changes of angle.
You will find them all in the third and final part of this Gothic letters tutorial.
Your Gothic calligraphy skills will already have improved through experience if you have worked through the first two
pages. Its time to move on to the elaborate, fiddly, final letters in this tutorial!
Lets start with d and g:

In fact, although these two letters may look like quite difficult Gothic calligraphy, both of them are much simpler than
youd think. You only take your pen off the page once for d, and g is made of far fewer strokes than youd imagine.
The important thing for you to bear in mind when forming both these letters is PROPORTION. If one element is too short
or too long, it will throw out the whole shape of the letter. Aim for compactness, precision and symmetry.
If it doesnt come right the first few times, dont imagine that you wont be able to do it. Shrug and have another go. Gothic
calligraphy really does get simpler and better-looking the more often its done. After a while your hand seems to make the
right moves almost automatically and you realize that all the elements in a letter were designed to fit together. You just
have to get them the right size in relation to each other.
When youre reasonably satisfied please note I only said reasonably try out the following:
dig god dough muddling gouged gripped dogged gilded grudging peddling giggled
Notice that its not always easy to get two ds or two gs to sit happily next to each other. With Gothic gs especially, if
you find that the second example is getting crowded out below the line, make sure that the descending portion of the first
g doesnt stretch too far out to the right. The main factor in forming both letters happily is proportion and spacing. And
practice. (Did I say that already?)
Now, here are two exotically zany Gothic calligraphy letters to take your mind off those doggone ds and gs:

Strangely enough, z is one of the simplest Gothic letters to write so long as you keep it simple. Try not to make its
horizontals too long and wiggly; its quite a plain letter.
By contrast, x is fiddlier to form. For this and a few other Gothic calligraphic forms, you need (ideally) to produce fine
lines at different angles.
To do this, rotate the pen lightly and slightly anticlockwise with your fingers so as to lift the right-hand corner of the nib off
the page. Then you can use the left-hand corner of the nib to draw out a thin line of ink (a hairline) extending from your
letter.
If this is too tricky for the moment, make your x plainer by using just a simple diagonal; its just as authentic that way.
With z and x you can now write the following to practise your spacing:
hex zip exit minx pixel quizzed pizzle mixture boxed exertion
On now to j and y. They are similar in that they both have tails that go below the line, and they are both quite modern
letters which were not generally seen much in historical Gothic calligraphy.

The simpler of the two is j. However, y is not difficult once you have seen how the two pieces fit together. Traditionally,
y carries a dot over it; you can leave it out if you prefer.
As you can see, the letter y is another example of Gothic calligraphy which is easier to form if you can draw its tail with a
hairline. While youre drawing the nib downwards and round, twist it gently a little so that the right-hand corner comes off
the page, and carry on drawing the tail of the y with just the left-hand corner.

If that doesnt work, draw the same slightly squiggly tail but with all of the nib-end held against the page as normal, for a
thick-and-thin effect. (Leave off the final lozenge or it will look too heavy.) Some people prefer that form of y anyway!
joy yoyo hajj yolk jolly day-job jaybird justify rejigged yellowy jejunum
You may have been wondering what has happened to two of the commonest letters in the alphabet. They have not been
forgotten. Here are the Gothic letters a and s to finish the sequence:

Form a in two sections which are then joined by the final loop. If you can, turn the nib to draw this final looping stroke as
a hairline with the left-hand corner, dragging a little ink with it from where you positioned the nib first at the top of the
letter. If you cant manage that yet, just draw a loop round with the pen nib held level on the page as normal.
The secret with s, as with most Gothic calligraphy, is not to draw any of the lines too long. It can take a little practice to
fit together the two first sections so that they just touch at their corners in the centre and still leave enough room top and
bottom for the next strokes. As with c and e, start the first downward stroke a little below the final height of the letter.
The diagonal joining line is more or less optional, depending on your taste.
General tip
Try to form Gothic calligraphy using lines which just barely touch, rather than which overlap each other. This gives it a
more angular and elegant appearance, saves time and makes best use of your pen.
(Remember, the scribes of the thirteenth century did not evolve this script solely to make life difficult for themselves. They
had a reason for developing each letterform, and they wanted to be able to produce texts quite efficiently. Supposing your
letters sometimes dont fit together right or their feet wander about on the base-lines the primary cause is just lack of
repetition and familiarity.)
Now that the whole of this Gothic alphabet is an open book to you, the following sequences will be a cinch:
as baa-lamb sassy sisters lassos aardvark sesame
straight pyjamas jealously abracadabra razzmatazz
sesquipedalian pandemonium assassinations exaggeratedly
circumnavigation antidisestablishmentarianism
floccinaucinihilipilification supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
Maybe youd prefer to try out an old favourite:
the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog
Or -- now that you know it all -- you could even write this:

abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz
You will soon be able to find out about capital Gothic letters (majuscules) elsewhere on the site. Meanwhile, you might
like to find out how to draw some versals to use as decorated initials. Then youre all set to write out deep dark Gothic
poetry, create a certificate of vampirehood or even compose your own sonnet and then present it in Gothic script with a
decorated border.
Congratulations on making it all the way to the end! I do hope you will use your Gothic calligraphy skills to create an
outrageous effect somewhere.

Decorated Letters
Creating decorated letters is not only a useful skill to employ in making your illuminated texts, greetings cards,
scrapbooking and gifts. It's also a great pleasure whether as a calligrapher, a graphic artist, or just a human being looking to
have some fun.
It's not calligraphy, as such. But the ability to decorate a letter or set of letters is certainly one of the core calligraphy skills.

One important thing to remember is that the foundation of all successful decorated letters is a clear letter-form to begin
with, so that the reader can pay attention to the decoration in, on or surrounding it. (Gothic, as in the example above, is a
slight exception in having quite ornamental letters to start with, but then gothic letters are not usually expected to be very
legible!)
The general rule is that any flourishes added to the letter itself should not detract from its legibility if it is also going to be
decorated.
Which calligraphy alphabet to use? Decorated letters are often Roman capitals, uncials, versals, or somewhat less
commonly Celtic (insular half-uncial) or gothic capital letters. Popular and effective forms of decoration include:

colour, whether in the letter or its surrounds or both


patterns of flowers and/or foliage
ornamental or geometric lines in or around the letter
some kind of illustration inside the letter-form ('historiation')
shine or sparkle in the form of gold, silver, glitter, pearlescent colour etc. ('illumination')
varied texture glued-on beads, fabric, paper etc

Many of these can be combined. Below, you can see a step-by-step breakdown of some of these decorative techniques used
to create the 'Happy Birthday' above.
So, next time you're planning to write out a poem, a name-card or a birthday greeting, imagine something more than the
utilitarian black squiggles that we usually read. Set letters free with art and fancy.

Easy decorated letters: a gothic example


This is a built-up decorating method I used at a local medieval fair recently. In return for their name in gothic decorated
letters on 'parchment' paper, visitors were asked to make a donation to the event charity (the local town museum). They
could donate as much or as little as they pleased. But I did say that the more silver coins crossed my palm, the more
flourishes and ornament would be added to their name!
Here, I've used the text 'Happy Birthday'. Feel free to print or copy any part of the sequence for your own (non-commercial)
use.

The first step is to decide where to place the decorated letters on the page in this case, H and B. Remember, these
letters will grab most of your reader's attention and carry most of the visual weight of the page, so they need to be balanced.
I judged by eye, based on how long the words would stretch across the page, and drew rough pencil boxes by hand to show
their location. In this example, I wanted 'Birthday' to stretch well beyond 'Happy'.
Then, write any text which is not going to be decorated in this case, 'appy' and 'irthday'. It's important to get the plain
text written first. That way, you know how much space you have for the decorated letters and also exactly where that space
is.
The first decorative technique I've used is to change the colour of the initial letter. I'm using the traditional vermilion of
the European Middle Ages (here, mixed from cadmium red, cadmium orange and a little ochre).

For a not-too-ornate decorated letter, this can be enough in itself. In fact, red lettering for decoration and emphasis has
always been a very popular technique with its own fancy name: rubrication. (It's the origin of the 'red-top' on tabloid
newspapers, as well as 'red-letter' days on calendars.)
Notice that I've left the letters slightly incomplete. That's because there's plenty of room on the page for some flourishes, a
feature of many fancy letters and therefore something to consider for your decorated letters too so long as they don't make
them too hard to read.
(Because 'Happy Birthday' is such an easy phrase to recognise, I can get away with a bit more fancy-schmancy stuff than if
it were a more difficult text.) So, flourish away!

You might notice I've used two nibs: the broad-edged nib which I had used to write the letters with, and a thin, flexible,
copperplate nib for finer flourishes and lines.
Next, in imitation of the great old illuminated manuscripts, and also because it's very easy to do, I've painted a coloured
area around each letter. This 'gold' square is actually just mixed up from ochre, a little cadmium orange, cadmium yellow
and a touch of warm sepia. It gives the right weight and colour, but of course real gold leaf or even shell gold would look
far more reflective and dramatic.

Notice how the gold-coloured square really focuses attention on the initial letter and holds it in place on the page. The
white line left all around the letter helps make it crisper and easier to read. If the yellow were painted right up to the red, the
letter would appear to sink into the background.
Next: ornamental line. Page decorators in the Middle Ages were keen on a kind of scallop pattern which turns up in
various forms in different illuminated letters and borders. I've created one here which looks like a row of little clubs from a
deck of cards: it's relatively easy to draw quickly and if you get it slightly wrong here and there it doesn't much affect the
overall look and feel of your decorated letters.

Here's a close-up so you can see that it's all pretty rough and ready.

(In case you're interested, the colour is ultramarine blue gouache let down with a little viridian green, lamp-black and white
so it's not too glaringly blue. In a medieval manuscript it would have been either the fabled lapis-lazuli or else azurite.)
So far, so good and when I was writing gothic names for passers-by, quite a few were content with just that much
decoration. But as you're still with me (I'm impressed!) how about we add some foliage and flowers just to see what it
looks like? Oh and, while we're at it, a little more weight of colour around the initials?

Again, I've stuck to a typical fourteenth-century design for these decorated letters, with stylised ivy leaves in unrealistic but
pleasingly bright colours, and little 'gold' burrs emphasised with sepia.

The outlining in a traditional gothic manuscript would more usually be a heavy black, but sepia gives a warmer, softer
effect. Tip: draw the main branches and the leaves first, and then join them up with leaf-stems drawn in afterwards. This
helps get everything well placed and proportioned.
Lastly, since the decoration on these letters has now in fact gone rather over-the-top, the whole design needs some
steadying influence. A heavy outline around the whole lot will help keep it in one place, as it were (see the design at the top
of this page). I used the same nib I used to write the text, with a few doubled lines for extra weight.
It may not be great calligraphic art, but it was fun to doodle, it would make its recipient happy, and it at least illustrates the
basic principles for creating fancy decorated letters!
Of course, there are hundreds of other ways to create decorated letters. I hope the ideas above will inspire you to use
colour, line and illustration in a variety of ways to bring your own alphabet to life.

Make your own card 1:


Gothic doodle
Turn off those stressful cat videos, relax, and make your own card for the next hour or so instead? It's a calligraphic nobrainer!
(Here's a superb cat for you anyway, by Siyah Kalem, 15th-century Turkic genius:)

Let's assume that today, like me and the cat, you dont want to try to get everything perfect to make your own card. You
just want to have fun.

And what if you make a mistake, create an effect you don't like, or the card doesn't turn out how you wanted? No problem.
This time, it's not about 'practice makes perfect', but just the pleasure of doodling with whatever you've got.
(As the master of calligraphy, Edward Johnston, would tell you: sometimes the best way to practise calligraphy skills is not
to futz about writing more alphabets but to make a finished piece. Now.)

Make your own card: tools & materials


First, gather enough tools and materials, but not too many.
In or around the desk Ive quickly found the following:

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.

mixing palette, newly washed, yay!


wooden ruler (if you're wondering, I tried to sandpaper off the markings to make it acceptable for a medieval fair)
printer paper, for scrap
artist's colours red, yellow, blue and white are all youll really need for this exercise I've selected ultramarine blue (a
medieval-looking colour), vermilion (ditto), titanium white (good coverage) and ochre (useful for gold effects)
a rectangular scrap of heavy, cream, watercolour card (400gsm I think) left over from a commission last Christmas
a 4H pencil
a size 1 sable spotter (a useful size of brush) or any good fine-pointed small round paintbrush
two rather horrible-looking bent-nibbed quill pens I cut more than a year ago one wide, one narrow they might work,
they might not use your pens of choice
(not shown) a slanted board to work on, cup of rinse-water, eraser, audio entertainment, and insouciant attitude

You may not have just the same materials from which to make your own card, and the ones Ive found are not necessarily
ideal for example, my piece of card scrap is too small to fold but its all about improvisation. 'Start where you are, use
what you have, do what you can,' and all that.

Ruling up and laying out


Usually, to make your own card or indeed any calligraphic piece, you would select a text, experiment with preliminary
sketches and layouts, practise the writing of final piece, practise more on the type of paper that will be used, and then
choose the final paper size and rule up according to the nature of the text to be written. And even then you might end up
doing the final piece two or three or four times.
Personally, I have no idea what Im going to write, and no intention of spending time trying to choose a 'good' quotation
(let alone all the practice). So why not just start ruling up the easiest way possible?

My ruler is a nice width compared with my piece of card: Im simply going to lay one edge of the ruler along the card,
draw along its other edge round all four sides, and then my writing space will be whatever ends up in the middle.

So rule up however you like. Hope you found a nice simple solution.
As for mine, you can't see the lines in the above picture, but you can work it out from the ruler width. I reckon I can get a
bare two writing lines out of the rectangular space that's left in the middle lets say a slightly wider line on top, a slightly
smaller one underneath, and a spacer line in between (for ascenders and descenders).
However many lines you've got, make sure your pen is roughly a width that will produce legible words inside them.
While we're ruling up, what do you think to an illuminated initial on this home-made card? It would be fun, they're easy,
and it will give some impact to the text. I fancy a versal B because of the nice curly bits in the middle.
So now Im going to lay out a square for that to sit in.
Whatever letter you're starting with, pencil the square in lightly, flush with the top writing line, leaving some space around
it for decoration later. Versals and Roman majuscules are good choices for initials.

(A note on this make-your-own-card exercise, and on design and calligraphy in general. I find its much easier to make
something decorative which involves fiddling around and adding details than it is to execute a really good, simple, rigorous
design straight off. Doodling around in a Gothic style will allow for lots of decoration and addition of new layers, and so
it's actually lazier than, for example, working to get three lines of spare, elegant, undecorated, jet-black italic just right.)

Make your own card, make your own ink

Now we need ink. Home-made greetings card => home-made ink. Or at least home-mixed. With the particular blue, red
and yellow Ive got I can mix a reasonable dark brown/black, testing on the scrap as I go.

Too brown means add more blue; too purple, add more ochre; and then it's nearly black. If you're following along here,
your colour will vary according to what kind of blue, red and yellow youre working with. But, diluted to the consistency of
thin cream, any dark brown or grey watercolour paint will function as ink.
(This making of black from primary colours is about complementaries and subtractive colour mixing. If you're interested,
check out Michael Wilcox' excellent Blue and Yellow Don't Make Green.)
And as there are only two lines to work with on this card, I think Ill do the top line in a nice broken red, to add contrast and
emphasis on the first words of whatever it is I'm going to write. (If you'd rather stick to just black text, skip the next two
photos.)
The vermilion straight out of the tube is almost eye-wateringly bright. To take the edge off, I mess it up with a dab of ochre
yellow and some of the black ink Ive already mixed:

Mix it up ... still too bright ... add more 'black' ...
There. The bottom scribble below shows the final colour I've decided on. Not too brown, but not too glaringly vivid, either.

Prepping the pen


Now, on to prepare for the writing. (Perhaps my text should be 'Make your own card', to be meta. Except I've started with a
'B' now and 'Bake your own card' takes silliness too far.)
I have no idea whether these ancient quills will still work

As it turns out my broad-cut quill does need trimming, and even after trimming is warped and not easy to use. Observe the
horrible gap at the slit, and the remains of the inks of yesteryear. Please note (a) your nibs shouldnt look this messy and (b)
you do not need to make your own pen in order to make your own card use whatever calligraphy pen you have to hand
that suits you :-)
However, if you are using a quill pen to make your own card, now is the time to check whether it's good to fit the writing
space youve got, and trim to size if desired.
Into the trimmed quill, I poke a small piece of bent foil I searched out just now in a drawer (probably cut from a drinks can
ages ago) to act as an ink reservoir so the flow is steadier. You can see the foil loop lying against the nib-slit. You could
turn it round so the unfolded end is sitting on the slit, too.

SIDE-NOTE for dip-nib users


Its usually easier to fill a quill or dip-nib using an old brush, rather than dipping into a pot. This is especially true when
using small quantities of ink, as with colour mixed from a tube.
How to do it: wet the brush thoroughly with the ink, so it's well loaded with colour. Then gently brush it over the side of the
nib till you have a decent-sized drop of colour sitting between reservoir and slit. Park the loading brush somewhere close to

hand, but not with the wet end poking out towards you (or you will end up with painted elbows) or lying on your desk (or
you'll find the ink migrates onto fingers, other tools, etc and quite likely onto the finished piece).
Always test the nib and ink flow on scrap before you go back to writing on your final piece.

Did I mention to always test the nib on scrap paper, before you start writing and in between refills? This is the one great
piece of time-and-labour-saving advice.
This broad nib Im using is sulky. One side of it has distinctly bent away from the other (badly cured, age, poor original
cut, uneven slit, whatever), so getting the ink flow to start is challenging. Priming the tip by dipping into some ink helps,
and then putting slightly more pressure on the right than on the left. It's not ideal, and the test strokes are messy, but hey.
As I keep saying, the aim of this make your own card session is to have fun with whats available right now, not to try to
perfect everything.

Writing out the text


I've decided. I'm going to write Blingety blingblingbling on my hand-made greetings card. Because why not? Blingety
starts with B.
(You can sketch the letters in with a hard pencil to check theyll fit, as I have below. It's a bit of a cheat, and you have to
watch out because the pencil lines aren't the same thickness as the pen lines. It's better and more professional to use the pen
to do a test run of the whole text on the scrap paper, so you can predict how long each word will be. But we are feeling
lazy, remember?)
So 'lingety' goes straight on, in red, with a curl on the 'y' to fill the line ... which looks like an unintended comma from a
distance. Oh well. Then, for my next line, it's necessary to clean the red off both the quill and reservoir, and transfer a few
drops of the mixed-black ink to the pen with the brush to write 'blingblingbling'. Which I start too large, and have to cram
in towards the end. Meh.
So how are you doing over there? Here, after both batches of writing are done, is my home-made card in progress.

Let it be noted, this is not good Gothic. What's wrong with it?

incorrect proportions
uneven spacing
too much sway on many of the downstrokes

uncertain verticals which dont line up well

ragged edges to the strokes

Why? First, because I havent practised for a while and nor have I warmed up. Second, I didnt do a test run of the design
on scrap paper to get the spacing sorted out. Third, the nib size isnt quite right for this line height my own fault. Fourth
(not making excuses, but) this quill is genuinely difficult to write with. Fifth, I failed to note that the watercolour paper is
textured, which means the nib end doesnt meet the paper exactly that in combination with the sulky quill and the
uncertain hand has resulted in the ragged edges.
Yeah.
Yours is probably going to be much better than mine.
Who cares? Mines legible just about. And I'm having fun.
Onwards!

Flourishes ... and all that jazz


Remember the other quill? Have you got a fine pen there, too?
So far it hasn't been used. So I've decided to load it with red ink and draw some flourishes above the writing. (Even for this
super-casual make your own card exercise, I dont fancy trying to draw flourishes with that other nib.)
The flourish is partly for fun, partly to balance the visual space, and partly to see whether I can distract the viewers eye
from the poor quality of the Gothic lettering. The thin lines dont look quite right (no pic, sorry), so I doubled some of them
up in the places where a broader nib would have given a broad line.
And wow, does it look messy now

O.K.! Not the intended effect! But let's not throw it away
instead, how about filling the lines in with the paintbrush and pretending it was done with the broad nib after all?
Haha!

SIDE-NOTE on authenticity
Before my conscientious visitors write in and tell me that authentic medieval Gothic writing shouldnt have flourishes like
that: yes, you are right. I did it because I'm doodling a greetings card, not stickling for medieval authenticity. (If there are
'sticklers', surely 'to stickle' is a verb?)
If you want to make your own card look true to period, its best to work from a model, rather than making it up as you go
along like I am doing here. Of course, if you want to make your own card in exactly the same manner that a medieval
scribe actually would have made it, then I believe you should shamelessly copy about a third of it, do another third by
memory of some fancy manuscript you saw somewhere, and otherwise, absolutely, make it up as you go along ;-)

Thinking about decoration, gilding, etc


Around now, it would be useful to make some decisions about decoration of the initial letter. I think something simple, like
gold. So I'll get some ochre onto the palette, for outlining. And I'd like to start filling in that initial 'B' with the colour its
finally going to be, so we get an overall impression of weight. A mid-dark blue ... Ill need a dab of the ultramarine and
some white.

(Most medieval illuminated letters are not one plain colour, and often the way to make them stand out and to make
expensive coloured pigments go further was to mix the basic colour with cheaper white to create subtly modelled 3-D
effects or highly patterned textures.)
How do you want to decorate your initial letter?

So in the picture below I've now outlined the area to be gold I've selected a square area that doesn't interrupt the
flourishes, and maintains a little distance from the 'l' of 'Blingety', so that the gold doesn't swallow that first letter. Usually,
of course, gold is put on before decoration like flourishes. Not today.
If you'd prefer some other form of decoration instead of gold round the initial letter, now's the time to decide what kind,
how much room it should take up, and whether it's going to have a hard outline or needs to be pencilled in as lots of
twiddly flowers and leaves, for example.

Now for the basic colour on the initial B. For the moment Im just going to go with half dark blue to get a feel for how it
will look. My blue painted curls don't follow the pencilled curls, because I changed my mind about what would look better.
And on impulse I'm adding some protruding stalks for later leafy-and/or-floral-decor, thus:

How's yours? I'm sitting here genuinely feeling very curious about what your decorated calligraphic Gothic doodle homemade card might look like right now.

Fake 'gilding', and decoration cont.


Frankly, my dear, I simply cannot be bothered today with real-gold gilding on this make-your-own-card, so Im mixing up
some gold colours here out of the ochre, red, black, and blue.

You thought we were going to do real gilding? Apologies. But painting fake gilding using ochre or raw sienna is a lot of
fun too.
By the way, how do you feel about adding some gold balls to the initial B? Gold balls are good. And we might as well
begin to get the pale blue onto the B; and I'm suddenly in the mood to add little fourteenth-century-looking ivy leaflets
as decoration, too:

So now for the fake gilding. If you're doing some other kind of decoration, skip the next three pictures. If you're hanging in
there with me, just start by painting roughly diagonal stripes using plain, dilute, transparent ochre watercolour, like the
picture on the right
and then fill in some darker colour in between; I've added small quantities of the previously mixed black ink to the
ochre to make browns, a little red to make orangey yellows, and even smaller quantities of blue to make a dull greenish
colour.

Blend the dark to the mid-tones, and blend the mid-tones with water onto the plain paper to make a very pale, transparent
ochre, almost white. Plain ochre gives a lovely glowing gold when it's dilute, but if you lay it on thickly, it turns khaki.
If you put too much paint on and its looking too muddy or heavy, you can take some back off again in selected patches by
cleaning and wetting the same brush and gently stroking it over the surface of the paint to loosen the particles of pigment
before pressing with a folded corner of kitchen towel or other absorbent paper.

And finally, you should end up with something that, if you squint a bit, looks like a painted 'gold' background for the initial
'B'.
I hope you are having as much fun as I am as you make your own card!
Meanwhile, while you weren't looking, I took the opportunity to paint some dark blue onto those little leaflets on my card,
and started to fill in the floral design in the middle with details.
So I'm going to fill in the gold dots now, using some more crude trompe-loeil technique dragged out of a secondary-school
art class on how to shade a sphere.

Once you've got the design in the middle of your initial sketched in, it's also a good time to think about filling in a coloured
background. On my card, I've used the dark red left over from writing the first line which both harmonises with the lingety and saves mixing up any more colours.

SIDE-NOTE: trompe-loeil

Theres a whole art of painting trompe-loeil (French for deceive-the-eye) to give an impression on the page of gold leaf
and precious or semi-precious stones, realistic flowers, insects, small objects etc which is hugely enjoyable. Try searching
for gold sheet in Google Images and study the colours and effects. Most of what we think of as gold is a quality of
reflectivity, while the actual colours involved can range from brown and yellow to orange and green. Its how those colours
are linked, shaded and textured from darker to lighter that makes people think gold.
As a quick dirty fix to make your own card look as though it has a gilded initial: paint slightly uneven lines of fake
reflection on a rough diagonal (basically, imitating a cheesy Photoshop effect). The diagonal doesnt have to be 45 degrees,
but just some angle so the eye registers it as a quality of naturally uneven light in the environment rather than something
thats suspiciously exactly lined up with the verticals and horizontals of the page.

Finishing touches to make your card fancier


Now to add lots of twiddly-fiddly, possibly unnecessary, but highly enjoyable detail!
Since I don't know what you're doing exactly with the initial letter on your home-made card, it's hard to offer help or
guidance at this point. I used dark on light and light on dark to make the 'B' more elaborate, and white dotting down the
middle to give the whole letter some sparkle, and added some outlining, and here's what I ended up with:

Your gilding will need outlining, too, if you've used it. If you want that slightly crude, cheap-Book-of-Hours feel, all gold
should be outlined in fairly heavy black.
The little leafy flowery bits inside the letter have been filled with light blue, and crisped up with thin painted outlines, and
are fine.
In a fourteenth-century idiom, the leaflets have a single white line down their dark side for an impression of central veining,
and the gold blobs have a white dab of highlight and radiating lines in black around them. (I used my thin quill to draw
these fat black lines, and the brush to do the finer lining round the leaves and the B where it touches the gold.)
Final verdict: my B has lost some of its nice contrast between light and dark. It could have been left as it was, but in my
heart I just wanted lots of ornament. And I quite like the density and decor now.
How's yours? :-)

Make your own card: result!


So there you have it: something less than two hours lazy, pleasurable activity, from assembly of materials to erasure of
pencil lines, including breaks for tea, phone calls, and taking the photos for this page. Here's the whole card:

It's not a calligraphic masterpiece. However, it was fast and easy to produce, I had fun, and didn't worry once about whether
I was getting things 'right' or not.
Just think, I could have watched a film in that time (or approximately sixty cat videos) but this way I have exerted myself
painlessly and ended up with a nice little something to gift, sell, or keep. I think I'll put it up on Etsy. You never know :-)
And the next one will be even better!
Hope you've enjoyed yourself, too.

To make your own card even more pleasant to produce, use your ears as you work. Audio-books and podcasts are
excellent accompaniments to doodling, and if theyre useful or interesting then you get two things done at once. You may
find that difficult music becomes easier to get into while working creatively. Hands-free phone calls allow you to catch up
at leisure with friends and family. Or if you work from home, you could shed some illumination on a boring conference call
:-)
Happy home-made greetings-card doodling!

Demystifying Gothic Lettering


April 13, 2009 by wolfgangcat

11 Votes

Gothic lettering sometimes referred to as Blackletter is often a favorite of beginner calligraphers as it lends a sense of
formality to a work. There are many variations of Gothic lettering in manuscripts textura, prescissa, quadrata, rotunda,
etc. generally characterized by dense, vertical strokes and a variety of built-up serifs.
Historical Gothic styles are usually replaced with less mechanical, more lively variations (e.g. Compressed or Gothicized
Italic) in contemporary calligraphy although understanding the structure and construction is a good starting point to
developing variations. A beautiful example of a contemporary variation of the Fraktur style by Denis Brown can be seen at
the QuillSkill website the style is so fluid and dynamic the letters almost dance off the page!
A well-executed Gothic can be elegant and beautiful; a poorly lettered Gothic is obvious and distracting as it is much less
forgiving than other styles such as Italic or Uncial.
Gothic can be very easy if you apply a few basic concepts:

consistency
straight, vertical strokes
awareness of negative space

In this demonstration, well use a very simplified variation of a Gothic style to practice the pen strokes and develop an
understanding of consistency and negative space.
What you need:

calligraphy pen dip pen and ink, calligraphy fountain pen or calligraphy marker
graph paper or guideline sheet (refer to Stroking the Rules post to create your own sheet for your pen nib size)
scrap paper

Tip: A pen nib size of about 2mm 3mm is easier to work with when practicing Gothic letters as it can be difficult to see
serifs and counter spaces with very small nib sizes. A stiffer nib such as a Brause nib might also be easier to work with
than a flexible nib.
Pen Nib Widths and Pen Angle
Gothic is a very dense, compressed style and this can be achieved with a pen angle of about 40 and pen nib widths of 4 for
the x-height and 2 for the ascenders and descenders.

Pen Nib Widths and Pen Angle


Tip: If you are having problems with the serifs, increase the x-height to 5 pen nib widths to give yourself a little more
serif construction space.
Basic Strokes
Well first practice a few basic strokes and then use the those strokes to construct letters.

Basic Gothic Strokes


Stroke 1:
A simple straight stroke try a row (about 3 to 5 at a time) keeping the distance between each stroke even with about a pen
stroke of space between them.

Row of First Pen Stroke


Stroke 2 Serif Stroke at Bottom:
Start a little below the waist line (about a pen nib width), draw the straight stroke and pull the stroke to the right one pen
nib width before the baseline for a serif stroke.
Stroke 3 Serif Stroke at Top:
Start at the waist line, pull the stroke one pen nib width to the right (serif stroke) and without lifting the pen continue to
about one pen nib width above the baseline.
Stroke 4 Serif Stroke at Top and Bottom:
Start at the waist line with a serif stroke (Stroke 3), continue a straight stroke and finish with serif at the bottom (Stroke 2).
Note: Serif strokes in Gothic lettering are usually built up with the pen and vary depending on the letter style. The
simplified serifs in this demonstration can also be built up by adding the serif strokes as separate pen strokes.

Building Letters
With these few basic strokes, we now have enough to almost build an entire alphabet with a just few exceptions. Letters
such as the a, k, s, x and z will be discussed in the Special Letters section.
Note: The examples were lettered using a 3mm Brause nib with an x-height of 5 pen nib widths and 2 pen nib widths for
the ascenders and descenders.
Letters i and l
As you might have noticed, we have already written two letters with Basic Stroke 4 the letter i, and if we extend the
stroke to an ascender, the letter l. The dots over the i and j are a hairline stroke with the pen angle at 40 or 45.

Letters i and l
Letter o
Next, well build a letter o using Strokes 2 and 3. This will establish the counter (negative space) for similar letters and
also help with letter spacing.

Letter o and Counter Shape


Note the parallelogram shape of the counter space and try to maintain this shape as you practice the letters. Common
problems with Gothic lettering can often be identified and corrected by looking at the counters and negative space.

Common Construction Problems and Counter Spaces


In the above example of common construction problems, compare the counter spaces of each problem to the shape of the
counter space in the exemplar letter o. It is quite easy to see the problems if we look at the counter spaces and not just
the pen strokes.
Practice a few rows of the letter o until you are comfortable with the serif construction and looking at the counter space.

Letters n, m, u
Well use Stroke 4 to construct the letters n, m and u.

Letters n, m and u with Stroke 4


With these letters and the letter i, well write out the word minimum to check the serif contruction, strokes and
negative space.

minimum
This is also a good example of how Gothic can be difficult to read!
Grab two pieces of scrap paper, and place one covering the serifs at the top and one covering the bottom serifs. You should
see a row of fairly straight lines with even spacing (negative space) between the strokes.

mimimum with Covered Serifs


Letter h
The letters l and i (Stroke 4) remember to watch the lines, counter space and keep the serifs short with longer vertical
strokes.

Letter h
Letters v and w using Strokes 4 and 3.

Letters v and w
Letter b using Strokes 4 (or the l stroke) and Stroke 3.

Letter b
Letters c, e and r starting with Stroke 2 and adding a serif stroke. Note the hairline extension of Stroke 2 at the
bottom of the c and e stroke, and at the end of the second r stroke.

Letters c, e and r
Letters g, j and p extend Stroke 3 to descender length. The g and j add serif strokes for the tails. The p
stroke adds a bit of a hairline at the bottom and the horizontal stroke (#3) is straight.

Letters g, j and p
Letters y and q with y a combination of Stroke 4 and the j stroke. Note the hairline stroke at the end of the q.

Letters y and q
Letters t, f and d. The t and f crossbars are under the waist line. The second stroke of the d starts above the
waist line and continues as the second stroke of the letter o.

Letters t, f and d
Special Letters
Letters a, k, x and z are constructed with modified variations of the basic strokes.
Letter a the first a is a very simple variation using Strokes 2 and 4. The Gothic a is constructed by using Stroke 4,
then adding a shortened version of Stroke 2. The thin line creating the bowl is done by using the edge of pen to draw the
line beginning inside the top serif to the top of Stroke 2.

Simple a and Gothic a


Letters k and s. Notice the top half of the letters are above the center of the x-height.

Letters k and s
Letters x and z. There are many variations of the x and z these are simple constructions to fit with the rest of the
letter style.

Letters x and z
Now lets try putting it all together in a quote by Richard Torregrossa:

Quote by Richard Torregrossa in Gothic Lettering


The quote has more generous spacing between the words than is usually found in manuscripts to help with legibility.
Gothic lettering can be quite complex with compressed proportions and letter spacing, changes in pen angles, and built-up
serif construction. This simplified variation of a Gothic style is helpful as a starting point to become aware of how lettering
is constructed by focusing on negative space and minimal serifs.
Once you are comfortable with basic construction techniques, look at images of Gothic lettering in manuscripts or at the
British Library Digital Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts (enter 1300 or 1400 in the search box to see a variety and
range of Gothic styles), or try combining Gothic lettering with a Simple Painted Initial.

Lundicalli Blackletter

With its historical and cultural


formal connotations, blackletter is a
very interesting graphic land to
explore. It offers a lot of
experimentations.
This article will try to give some
keys to play with blackletter and
calligraphy through four exercises.
Basics in the first, exaggerate its
modularity faculties in the second,
modify its height in a third time and
find a way to simplify uppercase
structure at the end.
Basics

1 The angle of your nib is 45.


2 It is important to keep the angle
(45) when you trace your strokes.
3 You need to trace 3 strokes,
dont hesitate to stop and raise your
nib between each stroke (and
breath).
4 It is better to take your
time & trace slowly to be more
sensitive, ALWAYS from the top to
the bottom and from the left to the
right.
5 It could be a good very exercise
to keep the same rhythm (1-2-3-12-3-1-2-3).
6 It could be great to have same
counter shapes between
strokes! Here its not very good but
some mistakes in calligraphy can be
charming

Modularity

From the first exercise, you can observe the modularity of blackletters. You can see in the series above all letters emerge.

1 With these two strokes, you can try to do almost everything.

2 This exercise try to demonstrate the blackletter modularity. With only 4 modules you can obtain every letters. Only
rotation is available to keep the angle and the ductus of the writing.

Modify

1- Play with different ways to start and finish your strokes & define the stylistic of your blackletter.
2- Play with the height of your letters. Blackletters are easy to stretch. Example:

Here is a proposition of a less historical blackletter uppercases with their strokes order.