Before we venture into the land of calligraphy ourselves, let’s first take a look at some calligraphic styles. I’m going to show several of the most common and traditional, but be aware; there are literally hundreds of styles and variations.
Fun Fact: This is the script where the two-story ‘a’ became the one-story ‘a’ we most often use in handwriting today. (Click to enlarge image.)
This is often one of the first styles taught to budding calligraphists and I know a few calligraphers that would say it is the most used. The creator of this handwriting style is Niccolo Niccoli of Italy(get it? Italy… Italic?). His goal in developing this script was to improve efficiency and write faster. He basically reduced the number of strokes found in most of the letters (thereby reducing the amount of time it takes to write them) and set it on an angle, which made writing a bit more comfortable and faster.
Blackletter Script or Gothic Script
Fun Fact: German-speaking countries loved this script. (Click to enlarge image.)
This style of writing is dark, angular and heavy. It was mostly used in pre-17th century times, but it’s still requested for special occasions today. Many educational books of the time (like books on law or business) were written in this script because it was less expensive (in terms of time it took to write and in how much space on the page it took up). I tend to see it used today on things like certificates and in logos.
Fun Fact: You really can’t go wrong with Bookhand. This style can be used for both formal and informal applications in modern times. (Click to enlarge image.)
Bookhand is pretty much a go-to everyday style of writing. It came about as a way to quickly and neatly write out text from bound books. Now, there are actually lots of Bookhand styles, but the one pictured should give you a pretty good idea. Many agree that Bookhand is the most readable of all calligraphic styles, likely due to its roundness and the rounded ascenders and descenders. This style can actually be written with a ballpoint pen or pencil, making it super accessible and a great place to start if you don’t have a fountain pen or dip pen. The image I’m using to illustrate this style of writing comes from James Pickering. He has a really great web page that covers all the ins and outs of this style.
Fun Fact: The Declaration of Independence is written in this style.(Click to enlarge image.)
Believe it or not, this is actually a pretty simple and straightforward script (aside from all the flourishes and swashes). If you want to show off, then this might be the style of writing for you. Copperplate traditionally uses a really fine nib instead of say, a flat nib you might use in Blackletter. The actual name for this script comes from books students used to learn how to write in this style; they were printed from copper plates. You can actually make really great use of a finer-tipped flex nib fountain pen with this script because you can control the thickness of the stroke with variances in applied pressure.
Fun Fact: Click this image for a page full of wonderful examples of library cards written in Library Hand. You can see the similarities between the cards, but that each writer wrote the style slightly differently.
This is my current favorite and the script we’re actually going to learn together! Library Hand was once taught in library schools so cards in card catalogues would be easily readable as well as other library records. It’s a great place to start because you’ll learn how to write uniformly and legibly. Melvil Dewey (of the Dewey Decimal system) was a big developer and supporter of this hand.
Finally, I just want to note that this is by no means a quintessential guide to calligraphic styles. There are countless variations and lots of argument about what exactly makes a certain style a certain style. This is just meant to be a brief overview and a quick glance.
Meet the Writer: Cole Imperi is a business owner and a proponent of the handwritten word. When not at Doth Brands, a Branding & Identity firm catering to the health, wellness & deathcare professions where Cole works as Owner and Creative Director, you might find her on her yoga mat teaching yoga or behind a laptop writing for Simplicity Embellished, a letter-writing and lifestyle blog.
Editor’s Note: This is Article #3 in a series of 6 on the topic of penmanship & calligraphy by Cole Imperi. Read the others so far here:
Article #1 “Where to Start”
Article #2″Where it all Started & Where it is Today“