Prior to the invention of the printing press, all books were written by hand in decorative letters known as calligraphy, which literally means "beautiful writing." Different calligraphy styles, called scripts, developed in different regions and time periods and for different purposes. Some scripts were faster and easier to write, while others were more decorative or easier to read. Gothic script developed in the 11th century in England and northern Europe from an earlier script called Carolingian. Although Gothic script is known for its ornate, textured look, it originated from a need to write faster and fit more text into a smaller space. As such, Gothic letters exemplify a calligraphic style known as textura, where the appearance of words is more important than individual letters, giving Gothic text a uniform, rhythmic look on the page. Because Gothic script was popular when the printing press was invented, it was used also as a typeface and, even today, is used in the logos of newspapers like The New York Times.
- Skill level:
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Things you need
- Calligraphy pen and ink
- Writing desk or board
- Lined or graph paper (optional)
Choose a pen nib. In calligraphy, the correct height of the letters is determined in pen nib widths, so smaller nibs should be used to produce smaller letters. After reviewing medieval manuscripts using the Gothic hand, medieval calligraphy expert Marc Drogin estimated that Gothic script should be written three to five pen nibs in height. Choose a nib that will allow you to fit three to five pen nib widths into the letter height you desire.
Tape or tack your page to your writing desk or board. If the paper is translucent enough, align a lined sheet of paper behind it. If the paper is thick, pencil light lines of the correct line height onto the page.
Assemble your calligraphy pen, if needed. "Warm up" your pen by drawing waves and zigzags until you get a smooth flow of ink.
Hold your pen at a 30 to 45 degree angle from horizontal.
Make a short, angled stroke to form a diamond at the top of the letter.
Draw a straight line down from the initial diamond shape and end at the base of the letter.
Add a second diamond shape from the bottom of the line you just drew and to the right. According to Drogin, one of the hallmarks of Gothic calligraphy is that most letters are formed from slightly different arrangements of these three strokes.
Space your letters so that there is a single pen width between lines belonging to letters of the same word and two pen widths between words.
Add splits to ascenders. Ascenders are the longer lines belonging to letters like b, d and h. Make a small projection to the right of the top diamond to create a forked look on these letters. Some letters with descenders, such as p and q, have splits on the descenders.
Tips and warnings
- Gothic calligraphy requires uniformity between the letters, so achieving consistency with the three-stroke diamond-line-diamond shape is important. Be sure to keep your spacing even, as well—the space between letters is just as important to the look of calligraphy as the pen strokes themselves. The ornate details associated with Gothic script are added after the letters are drawn and do not affect the basic shape of the letters.
- If possible, use examples of Gothic script from medieval manuscripts or find a Gothic ductus—an illustrated description of how to form each letter—when first learning Gothic script. However, remember that each scribe in the Middle Ages formed his letters slightly differently from his peers. You will develop your own style as you practice, and looking at different scribes' work will give you ideas of different ways to form and embellish your letters.
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