Learning Blackletter Calligraphy (Gothic) for Beginners

1. Getting Started

First things first, 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 even starting. I think 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 of course when anyone starts anything they are not going to be very good. (Look for yourself at my early posts on Instagram (@richardwideman).

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Getting better

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Yeeeesh.. This teaches us all that everyone starts somewhere! Seriously though, if you press on and practice you will find that you 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.

A Quick Aside…

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.

2. 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 agree because I have considered a tattoo with a blackletter script.

RST
A mixture of Gothic and Fraktur Blackletter Calligraphy

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. These 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 between the 15th and 16th century. Since then, there have been many subsets and variations of these 4 since then but everything stemmed from these 4 scripts.

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

3. The Calligraphy Tools You’ll Need

A Blackletter Writing Tool

Pilot Parallel Pen and Blackletter Calligraphy writing Example
Something you can do with a Pilot Parallel Pen

Long story short, the best tool for Blackletter calligraphy is the Pilot parallel pen. I have all the reasons and lots of examples outlined in my in-depth review. If you don’t want to buy calligraphy tools until you learn more about blackletter calligraphy, I have a video on learning Blackletter calligraphy with pencils! Check it out below:

How to do Blackletter Calligraphy with a Pencil Tutorial

Good Paper for Calligraphy

Best paper for copperplate calligraphy
The Best Paper for Calligraphy

The best paper for blackletter calligraphy is the HP premium 32. If you are using the Pilot Parallel pen, it can bleed on papers that are not as dense. However, if you are learning with pencils, you can obviously use any paper you can find.

That’s it! Now it’s time to make your first strokes!

4. Your First Blackletter Calligraphy Strokes

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). The first thing you will notice when writing is that at different angles you get different line thicknesses. Depending on the direction you go you can get slightly different shapes, as the image below shows.

directions
If you keep your pen at 45 deg, your stroke width varies.

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. Making sure to keep the angle consistent, move your pen around to make the shapes below. Once you get these two strokes 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
Keeping your Pilot Parallel Pen at 40 deg

5. Writing Gothic Calligraphy Letters

blackletter tips
a, b (an ascender), c, and g (a descender)

Most blackletter scripts have some guidelines to show you the height of each letter based on the width of the pen nib. As you can see in the above picture, there are a bunch of squares which were made by using your Pilot parallel pen. The x-height is generally 5 pen widths tall, the ascender is 2-3 pen widths tall and the 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 above the x-height
  • Descender: The part of the letter that goes down below the x-height
how to
Blackletter stroke order examples

If you hold your pen at 40-45 degrees (like the previous picture) and follow the paths like what you see in the picture above you should get something similar to it. If this isn’t clear, check out the video below.

Learning Blackletter Calligraphy Tutorials

How to Learn Blackletter Calligraphy for Beginners Video Tutorial (Lowercase)

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.

How to Learn Gothic Calligraphy (Uppercase)

Calligraphy Alphabet Exemplars

These were done a while ago, but 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
“Simple” Blackletter
fraktur
Custom “fraktur” Alphabet

6. FREE Gothic Calligraphy Practice Sheets

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

Simple Gothic Lowercase Calligraphy Practice Sheet
Simple Gothic FREE 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.

7. How to Make Blackletter Calligraphy Flourishes

To be honest, I use the word flourishing 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!

Flourish: an ornamental flowing curve in handwriting or scrollwork

flourishes
Blackletter Calligraphy Flourishing

Calligrams

Some other things you can make that adds to you blackletter calligraphy would be calligrams! They are a method of arranging your letters or strokes into a layout that represents a visual image. I have a full video demonstrating what they are and how to make them!

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

28 thoughts to “Learning Blackletter Calligraphy (Gothic) for Beginners”

  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.

    1. Hi Jack, Sorry for the late response!

      The order is intended to be that way, I grouped letters together that have similar strokes/shapes. It makes sense if you watch the associated video with it.

  5. thank you for taking your time and putting this all together for people like me who are trying to teach themselves! this helped me immensely how you explained how to hold the pen, gave me knowledge on where this style originated from, when/ where to apply pressure. I think you are a great teacher.
    I am thinking about purchasing a fountain pen.
    any good recommendations ?
    blackletter is my favorite calligraphy style I would like to continue practicing fancier gothic styles. thank you again for your post. 💖

  6. Hi there, this might be a silly question but how can I be sure I’m holding the pen at the correct angle? I may just be really dumb and can’t tell 40 degrees from 30 but tbh am struggling with it so any help will be much appreciated! Thanks

    1. That’s not a silly question! When first learning I would suggest not being too tough on your angle but try to keep it consistent as best you can. Try to hold it at something that’s easy to visualize like 45 degrees. If you want to know exactly what angle you are at just touch your broad edge pen to the baseline of your writing and you can see the angle produced <

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