Blackletter (Gothic) Calligraphy for Beginners – Basic Strokes and Tips

I feel like there are imaginary barriers to starting new hobbies, whether it be learning the guitar, going to the gym or blackletter calligraphy, these barriers stop some people from ever starting. I believe it’s 2 things, a fear of sucking and an absence of knowledge of the topic. Now I can’t help the fear of sucking because when anyone starts anything it is not going to be very good, (look at my early posts on Instagram @richardwideman) yeeeesh. This teaches us all that everyone starts somewhere! Seriously though, if you press on and practice you will get quite good quite fast. I hope to motivate some people that may not have learned the art of calligraphy through this post. I intend to get rid of those barriers by posting some really easy to use beginner posts. Below are some basics for beginners as well as some tips and hints that any aspiring calligraphers should know for each script.

Before we start learning blackletter calligraphy I think it would be appropriate to learn where and when this style of writing emerged and who used it. If you are eager and want to jump in, I won’t blame you just scroll (or click) past this (very small) section. If you are interested keep reading.

A Very Brief History of Blackletter Calligraphy

First off, blackletter is an all inclusive term for a style of script that can be referred to as Gothic script, Gothic miniscule, Textura and even sometimes “Old English.” Some would say that these secondary terms are wrong but it depends on who you ask. I believe it is safe to call it any of these as most people would understand what you are referring to. This group of scripts were first popularized by being used in one of the first printed books, which was the Gutenburg Bible. It was first printed in Mainz, Germany, in 1455.

Blackletter style is a very distinct style of writing which is characterized with very thick and very thin lines, seen below. When it was first being popularized, people in 15th century would call it “Gothic.” At that time, to word “Gothic” was a synonym for barbaric. This would explain the amount of people that get tattoos in this kind of script. It was even edgy back then, and I can say this because I have considered a tattoo with a blackletter script.

RST

If blackletter was a person, Carolingian minuscule is the great ancestor to it. Carolingian minuscule was first developed in Europe in the 8th century, as a standard script. A standardization of the Roman alphabet made it easier to comprehend and more readable in different regions were different writing styles existed. This script was where all forms of blackletter were based and brought together Greek, Irish, Latin and of course English scripts to be used in monasteries for the duplication of religious texts. Below is a little example of what Carolingian minuscule.

Minuscule_caroline

From this standardization, four major varieties of blackletter emerged from mainly France, Germany and England throughout the between the 15th and 16th century.

From left to right: Textura, Rotunda, Schwabacher and Fraktur.

Multiple letters
From there there have been many subsets and variations of these 4 since then but everything stemmed from these 4 scripts.

NOW ONTO THE LEARNING!

Great! You made it! And you have your first Pilot Parallel or some such calligraphy tool, and some good paper. Unscrew the grey part off the back of the pen and insert the sealed ink cartridge into the opposite end to the blades (a little force may be necessary). Now the the first thing you will notice when writing is that at different angles you get different line thicknesses and slightly different shapes, as the image below shows.

directions

The thing with blackletter scripts is that you have to keep your pen at approximately a 30-40 degree tilt. If you were to put your tool’s tip onto the top part of the angle below it should be flush with that black line. You can then, making sure to keep the angle consistent, move your pen around to make the shapes below. Once you get these two down you have most of the shapes down that you can make with the pilot parallel. Now it just comes to how you arrange them!

things

Next we head to letters…

blackletter tips

Most blackletter scripts have some guidelines. As you can see in the above picture there are a bunch of squares, these were made by taking your pen when it is the thickest and matching edges. The x-height is generally 5 pen widths tall, and the ascender and descender height is usually 2-3 pen widths.

x-height: the size of the body of the letter given in nib widths

Ascender: The part of the letter that goes up

Descender: The part of the letter that goes down

If you hold your pen at 40-45 degrees (like the previous picture)  and follow the paths like what you see in the picture below you should get something similar to it.
how to

Don’t fret if things don’t look perfect, unless of course that makes you want to keep practicing and get better. That is because that is all it takes to get good at this wonderful hobby.

Here’s an example of a Gothic alphabet. Give it a shot and once you get the hang of it try the Fraktur alphabet below it. Good luck, and happy practicing!

Gothic
fraktur

Here is a Video I Made Teaching My Script called Simple Gothic:

Practice Sheets

To download a FREE simple Gothic practice sheet head over to my practice sheet post here: Gothic Practice Sheets

You can download it, print it out on good paper and follow along with the video above. If you think you have got the hang of this video/ alphabet. Check out the other free calligraphy tutorials I have posted to YouTube here.

3. Flourishes

Flourish: an ornamental flowing curve in handwriting or scrollwork

To be honest, I use that word to define anything that is a stroke that is not lettering. They can add flavour to any letter, or just fill the white space (which is what I do). They are some of the most fun things to do in calligraphy when you get them right. It can really make or break a piece that you are working on. Too much just looks gimmicky, and too little makes you want more. You will really want to practice these, but unfortunately there is no practice sheet with these. Here is a little bit of inspiration but I believe every calligraphy develops their own style of flourishing. So what I am trying to say here is experiment! Try different shapes, swoops and swirls until you find what you really like. Then practice those!

flourishes

 

Thanks for reading all the way! Hopefully you found this useful, if you did let me know what this helped you with in the comments!

Also, any questions or comments, I promise that I will answer you!

Thanks a lot 🙂

-Richard

Ready to Get Started With Calligraphy?

Download the gothic calligraphy practice sheets I use – for free.

16 thoughts to “Blackletter (Gothic) Calligraphy for Beginners – Basic Strokes and Tips”

  1. Hi Richard! Thanks for this great tutorial. I was wondering if you could add another image or two showing the ascenders, decenders and stroke numbers for more letters? The entire alphabet would be great – but no pressure!

    1. Hey Katie,

      I most definitely can! I can’t believe I missed such an important piece (the ascenders and descenders). I will add those but as for the whole alphabet. When I have more time I will add it as it’s own post

      Thanks!

  2. Hi Richard,

    Great posts. I’ve been interested in starting with calligraphy for a while (fear of sucking), and i guess your website inspired me to actually get started! Buying some pens tomorrow, beginning with this style (font?).

    Would love to see some more material as I progress, perhaps some videos.

    Would you recommend focusing on being proficient in one style when learning, or experiment between different ones?
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Kim!

      Thank you so much and great on you for getting started (that is truly the hard part). I have some videos planned, I just haven’t got to it but I definitely am putting it on the top of the to do list. I’ll get something up by the end of the week for sure.

      What would be most beneficial for your learning? My thought would be to go through each letter in a script slowly and kind of show the different strokes associated. I’ll post something and I’ll wait for your critique!

      I would definitely stick with one script when you are first learning because it allows you to really learn what makes up a letter and you can get some of the muscle memory down. As you get better and better it’s good to try another script to shake it up and apply your learning.

      Hope to hear from you soon!

      1. Hi Richard,

        Sorry for the late reply! Unfortunately I haven’t had the time lately to indulge in calligraphy, but i really appreciate the videos! They look great, I’ll have a chance go through them more thoroughly soon and work on my blackletter 🙂

  3. Hi Richard, thank´s for your incredible Web Site, I´am a Graphic Designer from Mexico City, and I want to learn Blackletter, and your tutorials are very useful. Thanks a lot.

    1. Hey Toni! I’m glad my website can help you, is there anything you think I need to add to the website that would help you?

  4. Hey Richard,
    Everything you described is really helpful starting from scratch. Moreover, I tried to download the practice sheets. I downloaded all of them except the Lower Case Gothic sheet has some problem in downloading. Do consider and recheck the pdf.

    1. Hey Krisha! You’re welcome and thank you for the heads up! I just checked it now and it worked for me, the only difference in the sheets and links is the size of the PDF. The lowercase Gothic sheet is much larger, I may update that if anyone else has a problem.

    1. Hey Jason,

      As I said in the post it is usually 5 nib widths, but certain alphabets/scripts are 4 nib widths (ex: Foundational). So it’s just something you get to know over time, if you are following a specific script. If you are making your own, change it up why not?

      Thanks,
      Richard

      1. I think you mean that the letter “height” is 4-5 nib widths. He was asking about the “width” of the letters, which would vary per letter. For instance a lower case “i” would be much thinner than an uppercase “W”.
        For letter widths, I just try keep everything proportionate, like notice that this Mark starts 2/3 between this and that, or that this line curves out about one nibs width, that sort of thing.

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