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Blackletter calligraphy is one of many scripts created using a broad-edged nib, and my friend Edgar is going to share the very fundamentals and how to get started step-by-step.
On top of that, Edgar has also prepared FREE practice sheets, including both capitals and lowercase letters – but more on that later on!
I composed this article to help beginners interested in learning ‘Blackletter’ calligraphy.
This blackletter tutorial will teach you these 6 things;
- Origins of Blackletter
- The tools needed to begin
- How to use your tools to get the best results
- How to use guidelines for perfect letters every time
- Understanding basic letterforms
- Basic flourishing
Let’s get started!
Origins of Blackletter
Blackletter, also known as ‘Gothic,’ was created during the 12th century at a time when more and more people began to read and write. The demand for books where increasing, and they had to be written fast to meet that demand.
Blackletter’s condensed written style made it so more words fit on a single page, and thus less vellum was used, which lowered production costs.
In short, Blackletter made producing a large number of books easier and more affordable.
Blackletter has many variations Fraktur, Rotunda, and Schwabacher, to name a few. Since Blackletter has a wide family of scripts, I will narrow it down and help you grasp the basics of a script known as ‘Textura Quadrata’.
Tools Needed for Blackletter Calligraphy
To learn blackletter calligraphy, you’ll need basic calligraphy tools.
However, I made my own recommendation here below.
- Broad edge nib
2. Straight holder
3. Paper that doesn’t bleed
4. Calligraphy Ink
- Dr. Ph. Martin’s India Inks
- Moon Palace Sumi Ink
- Winsor & Newton Gouache
- Or any ink meant for calligraphy purposes
5. Water and paper towel to clean nibs
- You can also use a cloth/rag, preferably a non-fibrous cloth
- I use a ‘rolling ruler’ because it helps me make even horizontal and vertical lines with ease
- A regular ruler will work just as fine
- 4H-HB pencils are recommended because any heavier graphite will make it hard to erase
- A kneaded eraser is perfect, but any eraser will do
The paper you choose for your calligraphy matters!
From day one, I used Rhodia’s paper; here are two big reasons why you should too;
- The ink doesn’t bleed.
- You have the option of getting the paper lined or dotted, which makes it easier to create straight lines that are required for Blackletter.
For any piece that I will hang on my wall, I will use the best paper I can get my hands on
But for calligraphy practice, any low-quality paper works.
How to use your calligraphy tools
Like any tool, be it woodworking or sculpting, each tool has a purpose, and there are ways to maximize the effectiveness of each tool.
Broad Edge Nib
If you are using a broad-edge nib, there is a good chance you may need to ‘prepare the nib’ before you even use it.
When you purchase a new nib, it comes with a protective coating that keeps it from rusting while held in storage. That protective coating, tho important, works against you when you dip the nib in ink.
If you do not prepare your nib for writing, the ink will not stick to the nib properly. You will also have ink blob up when you write, or you will need to re-dip the nib every few strokes.
Here are 4 ways to ‘Prepare A Nib’:
- Clean the nib with a toothbrush and toothpaste under warm water
- Stick the nib CAREFULLY into a potato for a few minutes
- Use a bit of your saliva on the nib and clean it with some paper towels
- Put the nib over a light flame
- Using fire is very dangerous, and I am not responsible for any harm brought to you or others. Use caution and be very careful. This method may also ruin your nib if left for too long over the flame. I don’t recommend this to any beginner. Try at your own risk.
There are two ways to load ink into a broad-edge nib, you either dip the pen in ink or fill the reservoir using a brush.
*Some broad-edge nibs do not come with reservoirs and need to be dipped for the best results
If you dip the nib, make sure you let any excess ink on the nib pour back into the ink bottle. If you have too much ink on the nib, it will blob when making strokes.
Furthermore, a low amount of ink will have you dipping your nib into ink every few strokes.
If the ink on the nib begins to dry into goo, be sure to clean the nib with water and a rag to remove any dried-up ink.
You can also remove the reservoir to give the nib a deeper clean. *remove the reservoir CAREFULLY because it’s VERY FRAGILE. Also, to avoid breaking the reservoir, you can get in hard-to-reach places with a toothbrush*
Pilot Parallel Pen
This pen is ready to use and beginner friendly. The main tip for using this pen is to apply even pressure to get the best results. Too much pressure on the left side will make the right side of the stroke choppy and vice-versa.
I highly recommend you use Pilot brand cartridges ONLY.
When changing the ink cartridge, make sure you clean the pen so the previous ink color doesn’t mix with the new one and give you a color you may not want.
Let’s get started! – Guidelines
When I start a new project, I will use guidelines even in the sketching phase. The guides help me keep all my letters even and consistent.
Textura Quadrata typically requires 4-5 nib widths for the x-height and 6-7 nib widths for the ascenders and descenders.
I rule horizontal lines to keep my letter the same height and rule vertical lines to keep my vertical strokes as straight as possible.
Don’t be afraid to try something new.
You don’t have to stick to the 4 and 6-nib width spacing; mix it up and try different letter weights.
Remember, rules are meant to be broken.
Understanding basic letterforms and spacing
If you look at any manuscript written in Textura Quadrata, you will notice dense and heavy strokes, giving it a dark overall feel.
Straight vertical lines and tight spacing is what give Textura Quadrata its unique style.
Set aside some time to focus on practicing your vertical lines and diamond serifs.
Practice makes perfect
Don’t feel bad if a few of your strokes are not as straight as you would like. Take your time and remember with practice, your strokes will improve.
Begin with easy letters: b,c,e,f,h,i,j,l,o,p,q,r,t,u
Then move on to more difficult letters: a,d,g,k,m,n,s,v,w,x,y,z
The angle in which Textura Quadrata is written varies from 40-45 degrees.
Letter spacing is IMPORTANT
There should be at least one nib width of space between each letter
and one nib width of space inside of the letters, also known as the ‘counter’.
Word space should have 2 nib widths between.
Give your letters style.
Once you get the hang of the basics, you can slowly start giving your letters some style. You can add what I call ‘spikes’ to the ascenders. This can be done using the edge of the nib.
You can make the spikes full and heavy
Or make hairline spikes. It’s up to you.
You can add some flourishes to your ascenders.
One step at a time
After you learn to construct letters, you can start manipulating your letters and extending your flourishes. In time you will create perfect letters and balanced flourishes.
Be VERY careful with that eraser.
When I am done and the ink is 100% dry, I will carefully erase the guidelines. I found that using a kneaded eraser will erase the guidelines with ease.
Always remember when using an eraser that you be very careful around any ink, even if it looks completely dry.
Remember to clean up when you are done. You don’t want to come back to a nib with dried-up ink, so clean it after every use.
Mistakes make you great.
I can’t tell you how many times I misspelled a word or had too much ink on the nib, which left a big blob to start from the beginning. It happens to the best of us, so don’t let that stop you.
Learning from your mistakes will help you grow and be a great calligrapher.
Is Blackletter right for you?
If your answer is yes, you can continue to improve your skills by downloading my FREE study guide. It will help you with forming basic letterforms for the Blackletter Textura Quadrata script.
If your answer is no, I would still suggest you download it and give it a try. Maybe it will be a start to a new interesting hobby.
Feel free to message me on Instagram if you have any questions. I always try my best to help out and respond to everyone. Also, if I don’t have an answer to a question, I will try and point you in the right direction.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my Blackletter tutorial, and I hope you found it useful.
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If you’re interested in learning some other styles, be sure to check out my article on the 10 calligraphy styles for beginners.
Hope this tutorial was helpful for you, and in case you have any questions, don’t hesitate to comment below.
Until the next one,
About the author
My name is Edgar Villa. A few of you may know me by my social media handle ‘Made by Edgar’ and I am a Mexican calligrapher/artist from Jersey City. I composed this article to help any beginners interested in learning ‘Blackletter’ calligraphy