January 23, 2012 – Copperplate Class #2 at Sinai Temple

Today DeAnn had us do calligraphy calisthenics (“calli-sthenics”) and demonstrated writing the Copperplate lowercase alphabet.

To warm-up, DeAnn had us write ovals in the whitespace of the Large guideline using the nib of our choice. She had us place the left hand (or non-writing hand) on the paper pad above where we were writing to “hold” our body so that our right hand (or writing hand) could move freely to make the big strokes. First we made ovals that were clock-wise; then counter-clockwise. Then we wrote the basic strokes at this big size. The Large guideline has slant-lines space ¼” apart. We wrote the basic strokes in every other space.

The larger size magnifies where your mistakes are, so you can work on correcting them. At this size, the basic strokes are distorted, but the idea is to get a sense of even spacing.

PRACTICE:  write LARGE for this whole week. Do some of these exercises.

Review: The pen should be held so that the nib is in line with the slant-lines on the guideline sheet. The slant lines aren’t for spacing, only as guides for the slant. The letters are written on the line with the black rectangle at the beginning. This is the waist-base line. The line above the waist is the ascender, the line below the base is the descender. Strokes  #1 (most of the time), #2, #3, #4,  #7, #8,  and #9 are written between the waist and the base. Stroke #5 goes up to the ascender, stroke #6 goes down to the descender.

Spacing: the goal is for the whitespaces of strokes #2, #3, #4 and #8 to be the same so that your Copperplate looks like picket fence spacing, very even and regular. This will be the basis of flourishing that you’ll learn later. If the picket fence foundation isn’t strong and steady, the flourishing will look weak.

RATIO:  is the Rule of Pointed Pen. In Copperplate, pen width doesn’t determine x-height (height of the letter “x”) like it does for chisel-point nibs. Instead, the ascender and descender length depends on the ratio  and x-height being used. Currently, we’re using the large ¼ – inch guideline sheet. ¼-inch refers to the x-height, the space between the waist and the base. These lines are indicated by the black box on the left margin (i.e. the highlighted areas). The line above the waist is the ascender, the line below the base is the descender. Write 3:2:3 at the bottom of the guideline sheet to indicate the ratio of the spaces between the horizontal lines. 3:2:3 is the same as 1:1.5:1. If the x-height (base to waist space) is considered 2 units of space, then the ascender & descender lengths are 3 units of space. So if the x-height is 1/4” (= 2/8”), then the ascender is 3/8” from the waist and the descender is 3/8” from the base. The 35-degree slant lines are there as guides for the angle of writing, not for spacing.

The ratio of 3 : 2 : 3 is normal.  DeAnn addresses envelopes in this ratio, as this ratio provides better readability. 2 : 1 : 2 is elegant. This ratio leaves more room for flourishing if you’re creating an invitation or writing  a poem. 1 : 1 : 1 is simple. This is like writing in a spiral bound notebook.

Nibs: from now on, practice with all the nibs. If you’re having a nightmare with a particular nib, switch! Note on your Nib Identification Chart your observations of each nib, using the Gillot 404 as the measure for “medium sharp, medium flexible.” For example, you may find the EF 66 nib “very flexible” compared to the Gillot 404. Become familiar enough with your nibs that you can recognize them by sight. For example, the Gillot 404 has a ridge and the Gillot is shorter than the Gillot 1068. Learning your nibs is important because one nib doesn’t work for everything. Depending on the effect you want to achieve, different nibs will be able to do the job. For example, DeAnn prefers the Gillot 1068 or Brause Steno for envelope addressing because those are stiffer, duller nibs.

Lowercase alphabet: Refer to the Exemplar and the Copperplate Stroke Sequence handout. Remember: all the downstrokes should be the same width. All the whitespaces should be the same. DeAnn does pick up her pen with each stroke. The Copperplate exemplar that’s in color contains a lot of information – study the notes DeAnn has written on it.

Notes on individual letters:

a: 7 – 8 – 3.  The entrance stroke #7 goes up 2/3 of the way to the waist. The outer edge  of the #8 stroke doesn’t overlap the #7, but meets it. Then the #3 stroke should not overlap, but just kiss the #8 stroke so the the whitespace of #8 is still oval.







   b: 7 – 5 – 3 – 9:  #7 goes up to the waist, then jog over to make the #5 stroke. The downstroke going all the way to the base will cover the jog-over. #9 should come down from the waist to exit at 3:00. If it’s too high, it’ll be difficult to connect to the next letter.





c:  7 – 8 but leave open – dot.

d:  7 – 8 – long 3: stroke #3 starts halfway between the ascender and waist and should just kiss #8.

e:  7 – jog-over & 8: all the #8 strokes should be the same width, so be careful not to make the jog-over too small.

f:  7 – jog-over & long 5 – 9: stroke #5 ends halfway between the base and descender. Start stroke #9 a little above the base-line, then touch the baseline before surving upward.

g:  7 – 8 – 6:  the loop of stroke #6 should cross below the baseline to avoid a dark spot.

h:  7 – jog-over – 5 – 4:  start stroke #4 from the base line, go upward along edge of wet ink. This creates a better connection; you don’t want to start stroke #4 near the waist – this creates an awkward jog from #5’s downstroke.

i:  7 – 3, then dot: the dot on the “i” and “j” is also called a jot or a tittle. The dot should be the same width as the downstroke.

j:  7 – 6, then dot.

k:  special case: 7 – jog-over & 5 – upstroke with terminal dot – modified #3

l:  7 – jog-over & 5 – 3

m:  2 – 2 – 4. For the 2nd #2 stroke and #4, slide up the edge of the wet ink. All the whitespaces should be the same width.

n:  2 – 4. Same as for “m”.

o: 7 – 8 – 9. Start the #9 at about 2:30 so that it comes out at 3:00

p:  7 – long 1 – 4. Stroke #1 should start halfway between the ascender and waist. It should end halfway between the base and descender.

q:  7 – 8 – 6 (backwards loop): the downstroke of #6 should just kiss #8, not overlap. The loop should not touch the downstroke.

r:  special case: 7 – loop – modified #3. The loop is above the waist with no pressure on the upstroke; fill the loop on the downstroke. This is the French “r”. The English “r” is a #2 – loop.

s:   special case: 7 – loop – curvy downsroke with terminal dot – 7. Downstroke starts with little pressure, increase to full pressure for belly of “s”, then no pressure before the terminal dot. Pick up pen to make the final #7 stroke.

t:  7 – long 3 – crossbar. Start stroke #3 halfway between ascender and waist. Crossbar should be slightly longer on the right side.

u:  7 – 3 – 3.

v:  4 – 9. Dot of #9 should be inside #4.

w:  7 – 3 – 3 – 9. Dot of #9 should be inside #4.

x:  special case:  4 with diagonal downstroke – upstroke with initial dot and terminal dot. Alternate x is a #2 that curves in and ends with a dot; then like a c with no pressure

y:  4 – 6 or 7 – 3 – 6. Loop of #6 should cross below the base. Use alternate “y” depending on previous letter.

z:  special case:  2 with loop at end – 6. It’s OK for the #6 loop to go beyond the top half – don’t squish it.

alternate x and alternate y

Mix sepia ink: Vermillion ink with a few drops of Higgins Eternal makes a sepia-colored ink. Fill one of the inkwells about halfway with Vermillion ink, then add 6 drops of black ink from your Higgins Eternal + gum Arabic dropper bottle. Stir with the end of your pen holder. It may not mix right away; wait a day and the color will look more blended. Add less or more black ink for a lighter or darker shade of brown.

1. Practice the letters
2. Try different nibs
3. Label the writing (also label the nib ID chart)
4. Use black & vermillion ink. & sepia
5. Do some of the large-size exercises every time you practice

If you get confused and discouraged, just go back one step and practice the strokes. Practice the letters slowly and carefully and think of all the stroke numbers.  It may be helpful to trace the letters of the exemplar .