Getting Started With Any New Hobby/Skill
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).
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 with this post, offering 3 ways of learning for 3 different kinds of people!
A Very Brief History of Blackletter Calligraphy
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tools You’ll Need For Blackletter Calligraphy
1. A Blackletter Writing Tool
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. However, if you don’t want to buy calligraphy tools until you learn more about blackletter calligraphy, I have a few videos on learning Blackletter calligraphy with pencils! One is below, the rest are here.
2. Good 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 (such as regular printer paper). However, if you are learning with pencils, you can obviously use any paper you can find.
Two Ways to Learn Blackletter Calligraphy Online
Normally, I have three ways, (like my Copperplate Post), but I do not have a Blackletter Video Course available yet. Stay tuned.
1. For the Eager Self-Learner – Practice Sheets
If you are someone who is persistent on learning Blackletter calligraphy, and are a self-learner, then practice sheets are for you. This isn’t just an old copybook. These sheets offer structured practice by teaching you the building blocks of blackletter calligraphy and then detailing letters of 8 blackletter alphabets stroke-by-stroke. This workbook will fast track you to learning the skills you want. It includes:
- Tools you will need
- Introduction to Blackletter Calligraphy
- Basic & advanced strokes
- The 5 Guidelines of Flourishing
- These 8 Scripts: Fraktur, Rotunda, Textura, Batarde, Italics, Uncial, Roman & Neuland
2. For the Careful Spender – Instructional Tutorial Blogpost
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.
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!
Writing Gothic Calligraphy Letters
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
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
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.
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!
FREE Gothic Calligraphy 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.
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!
How to make Blackletter 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!
That’s all folks! 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 🙂
37 thoughts on “Learning Blackletter Calligraphy (Gothic) for Beginners”
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!
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
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?
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!
Sorry it took so long, (I am not that familiar with video stuff) but here is a link to a video teaching “Simple Gothic” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lopPcqoZHq4
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 🙂
No problem at all! Get to it when you have time. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have a good one!
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.
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?
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.
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.
In gothic caligraphy how wide should the letter be? 4 or 5 nib width Or does it vary from person to person and letter to letter?
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?
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.
Please suggest some good and affordable pen for gothic calligraphy
My go to gothic calligraphy pen is the pilot parallel. Check out my review here:
Hey thanks man…I jus saw ur email on spam…. Sry for being rude..!! Its a great work u r doin ! 🙂 🙂
No problem! 🙂
Hey Richard,I think Lowercase Gothic Practice Table have something wrong,the order of the letters isn’t right
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.
Hi! I just want to say “Thank you!” very much for this site, materials and practice sheets 🙂
No problem I am glad you are finding them useful
Thanks a lot richard.
Glad I could help!
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. 💖
Pilot parallel is the best pen for blackletter. Check out my review here: Pilot Parallel Review
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
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 <
Hi, Richard; I’ve been lettering for 40+ years, never tried gothic anything before! Loving it – having some trouble with the fine lines used in flourishing… like you’ve made a lovely long swash element, but when I try to ride up onto one corner of the nib, to make a thin line, the ink doesn’t always follow me.. is that just me or is there something else I should know? TIA Linda Weeks
This site is really very helpful….you are great….please send more worksheets if it is possible. I am also a calligrapher i am calligraphy teacher in a school.
Thank you so much, Richard! Your site is fantastic. The instructions are simple, concise and easy to follow. I homeschool my 10 year old grandson and we are learning together. He is also enjoying it and figures he can make some side money once he learns the technique. Love it! I always thought it would be interesting to learn, but seemed to complicated. You took all the apprehension and scariness out of it. Initially using the double pencil technique made success easy….once you got the knack of two pencil pressure. I was skipping a lot in the beginning. Well, I still struggle with conjoined pencils. We just started and I didn’t wand my grandson ~~ or myself :-} ~~ to get discouraged. However, we got so enthused I ordered “official” pens and set. A real nib makes life much better. You are fun to listen to and directions are relaxed and down to earth. On top of that…IT’S FREE!!! THANK YOU, THANK YOU!! What a great guy!
Thank you so much Sandy for your kind words! I really appreciate it. It’s affirming to hear that it helped you and your grandson. You two have got this! Just keep practicing.
Ps, I am working on a masterclass blackletter practice sheet set which will cover a variety of blackletter scripts, so stay tuned 🙂
P.S. Opps and duh. Didn’t click the boxes. Don’t need to post this. :-}
I’ve been interested in calligraphy for a while but I found your tutorials the most helpful in getting started. But I was wondering if you had any advice on flourishing. I know you said to experiment but I’d love to see your favourite ways of adding detail. If you can, please add some pictures of examples you use on letters or maybe a video? Whatever is easier for you, no pressure! Thanks again for all the help 😁
Hi Tas! I am working on a Master Class Blackletter sheet set which will include teaching flourishing. This will be my longest project yet but I am working on it.
Til then, I can give you some ideas and guidelines on what to flourish, but it really comes down to practicing. What I mean by practicing would be to find blackletter flourishing work on Instagram or social media that you think looks good and try to mimic it. The simple act of making the strokes with your hand and getting used to spacing will help you. Then rewrite the word then try to add flourishes yourself with your own style. Then repeat and repeat. Keep experimenting and trying new things.
It is an art and there is no one right way. However, I am working on my 5 guidelines of flourishing and 20 alphabets for the new blackletter sheets.
Hope this helps. There will be a video when I release the sheets and maybe even a course but this will take a while. Stay tuned!
Hi im not sure if u still reply but what is the pen’s name? Thanks <3
Hey I WILL reply. 🙂
Its the Pilot parallel.
You can find it on Amazon here: http://amzn.to/2kQKiJo