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).
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.
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.
3. The Calligraphy Tools You’ll Need
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. 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:
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. 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.
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!
5. 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!
6. FREE Gothic Calligraphy 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!
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 🙂