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Italic calligraphy is one of the most famous calligraphy scripts in the history of the Latin Alphabet.
It is a very dynamic and versatile script with many variations, and in today’s tutorial, we are going to cover the very basics to get you started.
This tutorial was created in collaboration with the very talented South Korean calligrapher known as @Slo.Leecalli.
Slo is a professional calligrapher focused on traditional scripts, and he was kind enough to share tool recommendations, helpful tips as well as the practice sheets that you will be able to download from the Lettering Crate – the very same practice sheets he uses for the workshops he organizes.
Before we jump right into it, let’s have a quick overview of some of the things we will cover today –
- What is Italic calligraphy and where does it come from
- What tools do you need to get started with the Italic calligraphy?
- Basic strokes & rules for the Italic script + the different lowercase letter groups
- FREE downloadable practice sheets
- A few extra tips
- Additional resources
- Final words about Italic calligraphy
Keep in mind that this is just a beginners introduction guide that covers the basics of the Italic script that will help you get started.
There is so much more ground to cover, and it would be impossible to cover everything in a single article – precisely why I will recommend additional resources for further studying and practice.
Without any further delays, let’s get started with this tutorial!
Handwriting by Niccolò de’ Niccoli (1364–1437), which served as the origin of italic type. Source -Wikipedia.com
1. What is Italic calligraphy and where does it come from
The Italic script (also known as Cancelleresca) was developed in Italy (hence the name) during the Renaissance era (14-15th century).
It is said that the Florentine humanist Niccolò de’ Niccoli used a cursive form of the Humanist minuscule to transcribe books for his own use – as the Humanist minuscule took too much time to write.
In other words, a new way of writing was born partially motivated by functionality.
The Italic hand went under several stages of development in the next couple of hundred of years, and from Italy, it spread across the continent as the new and improved way of writing.
There was a significant decline in penmanship after the invention of the typewriter.
However, with the help of several calligraphers and their publications in the 19th century, the art of handwriting had been revived.
Publications such as “Writing & Illumination & Lettering” (Edward Johnston, 1906), “A Handwriting Manual and “Dryad Writing Cards” (Alfred Fairban, 1932) are some of the sources that impacted the way we learn and use the Italic script today.
2. Tools needed – a quick rundown of the recommended tools for Italic calligraphy
2.1 Writing tools
You can use almost any kind of writing tool to do the Italic script; however, the most common choice is the broad-edged pens.
And here is why –
The Parallel Pen is a fountain pen that uses ink cartridges, meaning that you won’t have to worry about dipping your pen in ink every couple of strokes – allowing you to focus entirely on learning the basics of a script.
Besides that, the parallel pen is super simple to use, and it’s ready as soon as you take it out of the box.
The only down-side of the Pilot Parallel Pen is that it has a more substantial ink flow, meaning that some types of paper are not suitable for this tool because the ink will bleed all over it – don’t worry, we will mention some appropriate kinds of papers further in the article.
Slo also says –
Calligraphy paper is a SUPER essential tool/element and understandably, often overlooked by beginners.
Generally speaking, you should look for the low-absorbent smooth paper since ink bleeds are one of your worst enemies during practice.
This also depends on the combination of ink and paper.
For example, it’s more likely that the Pilot Parallel pen will bleed through due to the heavier ink flow, while on the same paper using a dip pen and ink won’t have any problems at all.
For practice sessions it’s alright if the ink bleeds (although i find it quite irritating).
However, if you are working on a more important project – you can’t go wrong if you invest in quality paper.
Also, using paper with a slight tooth will give you an additional grip to your nib, making it easier to control your strokes – at the same time, using paper with too much tooth can make it too hard to control.
Another significant mention is to distinguish practice paper from paper used for final pieces.
I mention this because the good paper is usually more expensive and you don’t want to just use it for practice.
Here is a personal paper recommendation for both practice and final pieces –
Practice calligraphy paper (cheaper) –
- Marker pads, bleed proof paper
- HP Premium 32LB – Not the best for the Pilot Parallel Pen but works excellent with dip pen and ink or gouache.
- Rhodia pads – great for both the parallel pen and dip pens
Calligraphy paper for final pieces (more expensive)
2.3 Other tools – inks, rulers, pencils, erasers
Before we jump to the actual writing part, I just wanted to pitch a few more recommendations that could be useful not only for the Italic script but generally for calligraphy.
Here are a couple of recommendations for different calligraphy inks –
The rolling ruler is a ruler with a wheel on the backside that allows you to draw quick parallel lines – ideal for calligraphy guidelines.
As for the pencil, I prefer to use a mechanical pencil simply because it can create very faint and fine lines without ever have to sharp it.
Finally, my choice for an eraser is the kneaded eraser – ideal for deleting fine and gently drawn lines + it never leaves any crumbs (no mess).
3. Basic strokes & rules for the Italic script + the different lowercase letter groups
When learning the Italic script, it is crucial to learn the fundamental rules that dictate how to create it.
Of course, once you have learned these basic rules, you can start tweaking them and create your own styles and variations.
In other words – to break the rules, you must first learn them.
3.1 Sizing –
Let’s start off with the sizing of the italic script.
Like with many traditional scripts, the size of your letters is determined by the size of your tool.
In the case of the Italic script the rule is pretty straight forward.
The Italic script uses 5 contiguous nib widths for the central body part (x-height), ascenders and descenders – a 5:5:5 ratio.
The capital Italic letters are a bit smaller than the ascending strokes, usually 7-8 nib widths.
Here is a visual representation –
3.2 Letter and pen angle –
The Italic script is written with a slight forward slant usually between 5-7 degrees.
There are also variations where the slant can go all the way to 30 degrees, but I would strongly suggest that you keep it between 5-10 degrees if you are just getting started.
The pen angle is kept on a 40-45 degree angle for nearly every letter of the alphabet.
There are a few letters and strokes where you have to switch up the angle to maintain the proportions, and it’s relatively easy to memorize them.
Another noteworthy mention is that the pen angle must change depending on the slant – if you are writing with a heavier slant you must adapt the pen angle to it; otherwise, the letters start to lose their shape.
This is something to consider once you begin working with a different variation, but as mentioned earlier, if you are just getting started – just stick to the 5-10 degree angle.
3.3 Letter proportions –
Generally, the Italic letterforms are contained in a parallelogram shape with a horizontal to vertical ratio of 2:3
– meaning that the letters are longer than they are wider.
Of course, you won’t be measuring every single letter with a ruler to get the exact proportions right.
Just try to remember to keep your letters within this shape.
3.4 Basic strokes
The Italic alphabet is reasonably straightforward in its construction, but don’t let that simplicity fool you because it’s precisely the simplicity of its shapes that makes it challenging to learn.
The image below shows the basic strokes used to construct most of the lowercase alphabet.
3.5 Pattern drills (super helpful!)
If you are entirely new to calligraphy and generally broad-edged scripts like Italic, I would highly recommend getting started with (pattern) drills.
This will help you to get to know the tools you are working with, and it will also help you to develop rhythm (super important), consistency and precision.
These sort of drills are great warm-up exercises even for those who are more familiar with the scripts.
These pattern drills were taken from the book by Sheila Waters – Foundations Of Calligraphy.
I would recommend that every time you practice, and before you start writing words, you simply fill one of this drill sheets.
It will help your hand muscles warm up and get you ready to practice with letters and words.
I’ve added a FREE downloadable and printable sheet along with the others – you can download them by signing up further below.
3.6 Lowercase letter groups
A lot of the letters in the Italic script share similar shapes, and this is precisely the reason why we divide the (minuscule) letters into different groups – makes it easier to understand their relationship, and it’s easier to practice them as well.
The Italic lowercase (minuscule) alphabet can be divided into 4 different groups –
Group one – n, m, h, b, p, r – branching letters
Group two – i, j, l, k, f, t – straight letters
Group three – a, d, g, q, u, y – reverse branching letters
Group four – o, c, e, s, v, w, x, z – oval and diagonal letters
Check out also this YouTube tutorial by Joanne Fink where she demonstrates how to write the whole lowercase Italic alphabet –
4. FREE downloadable practice sheets
Here you can download the free practice sheets as well as the pattern drill sheet (as mentioned before).
The practice sheets contain both majuscules (uppercase) and minuscules (lowercase).
Drop your email below, and you will get instant access to the Lettering Crate – a resource library filled with calligraphy worksheets (for different styles and techniques) procreate brushes and more.
Stay updated with our tutorials and get instant access to the Lettering Crate –
A growing library of free lettering & calligraphy resources that includes – FREE downloadable calligraphy practice sheets, Procreate brushes, the 30-day lettering planner, printables, and more.
5. A few extra tips for Italic calligraphy
Here are a few additional tips from @slo.lee that you should consider when practicing the Italic script.
- DO NOT PRACTICE WHOLE ALPHABETS –
It is not an efficient way to practice, you should write the same kind of letter groups like “n” and “h”
It is a better way to write alphabets consistently
- Avoid keeping the start and endpoint of strokes too round
- Practice minuscule more than majuscule
- Do not be scared about making mistakes when learning
6. Additional resources for learning the Italic script
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, it is impossible to sum up everything about the Italic script in single article.
Precisely the reason i would like to share some additional helpful resources –
- Sheila waters – Foundations Of Calligraphy
- Fred Eager – The Italic way to beautiful handwriting: cursive and calligraphic
- Margaret Shepherd – Learn calligraphy
- Edward Johnston –Writing & Illumination & Lettering
- Loyd Reynolds – Italic calligraphy and handwriting.
- On YouTube, you can also find a video series on the Italic script by Loyd Reynolds – in fact, 20 full episodes! The video quality is not the best but keeps in mind it was filmed 40 years ago. Nonetheless, it’s a real gold mine for anyone who wants to learn more about Italic calligraphy.
In this brief tutorial, we had the opportunity to explore some of the very basics of the Italic script.
It’s a beautiful and very dynamic style of writing with a ton of variations to offer.
The construction of the letters is quite clear and straightforward.
However, it takes a lot of time and practice to develop the skill of writing consistent letterforms.
Consistent practice is essential, but please remember that the way you practice plays a vital role in the development of your skills.
That pretty much goes for every lettering/calligraphy style.
Is there something you don’t understand?
Maybe you have a specific question in mind, or perhaps you want to get some constructive feedback on your artwork?
Feel free to drop a comment below, or even better –
Join our official Facebook group!
Our group is a place where you can –
- Share your work
- Get constructive feedback
- Network with fellow lettering & calligraphy artists
- Ask specific questions about lettering & calligraphy
- Much more!
Thank you for joining for another tutorial, and until the next time –