decorated colorful letters in headings in styles of calligraphy

Calligraphy Letters 

In calligraphy, styles of writing are known as "Hands". On computer the kind of typeface is known as a "font".  Mistakenly, people refer to styles of calligraphy as "fonts". But now you know the difference. 

Most people have computers now and are aware of the many choices of fonts you can use to write text. It's fun (at least for me) to pick different fonts to write letters or emails. Just don't get carried away and combine too many in any one document you're writing!

Serifs or Sans Serif

When choosing a calligraphy style or computer font you've probably seen a choice of picking a style with a "serif" or "sans serif".  That refers to the beginning and ending of the letters. It's the way old scribes used to get their ink to flow so they could start writing a letter! For example this blog post is written in a style that would be considered "sans serif". Helvetica is a common style of lettering without serifs.

Why Serifs?

Quills didn't have a constant flow of ink, so you had to start the pen by using a serif. It became a common "flourish" in writing.  Look at the beginning of the "i" and the ending of all letters. There's a flowing beginning to the letter that is not a spikey straight line. That's one way to tell if you are working with a professional calligrapher. Most of the serifs have an "organic look" - not like stick was stuck into the letter! 

exemplar of construction of calligraphy letter forms with rules how to create letters

"Old English"

Very often people ask me if I can write "Old English". But this too, is a misnomer. It's actually not "english" at all!

NY TImes Heading is not Old English

"Old English" style is actually know to calligraphers as "Black Letter".

Probably the most well-known lettering style of The New York Times is thought of as "Old English". The capital letters are very fancy with thin "hairlines" running through the letters and all sorts of decorations.

Before paper was invented you had to write on something! The obvious choice was something that would last and could accept ink or paint. Animals skin was used. That's actually what parchment is

Because getting parchment ready for writing was so time consuming and there was limited skin available you couldn't waste it with a lot of blank space.  So a lot of words had to be compressed onto one animal skin. The result is a page that looks very black because the letters were squished together.

Very often the paint was scraped off the animal skin and reused! Modern scientists now use Xray and other methods to see the very faint lines of older writing beneath the new lettering on the parchment!

Using Leading Letters

Contemporary leading letter W with gold background
Leading letters are decorated first initials for business award
Historical-leading-letter

Even when I don't write an entire text with Black Letter style (Old English) I like to use a leading letter written written in the style. It will be a larger letter, and often it's decorated or boxed with gold behind it. The use of gold in a leading letter is called "illumination" because it makes the letter "light up"! That makes it stand out and look beautiful. 

But if the style of the calligraphy is more contemporary I like to use a modern looking leading letter with color that's in the piece. Personally, I don't like to repeat the old style but adapt a letter with a contemporary look. But of course, I can do any kind of letter you prefer!

Italic Style of Writing

Italic is my favorite calligraphy hand. The term "italic" has been adopted in computer language to mean leaning to the right. But it actually comes from the first known writer of this style, Ludovico Vicentino degli Arrighi, who lived in Italy during the Renaissance. 

I use this style all the time because it is so adaptable. And most important it is very legible and beautiful at the same time. It can be made to look very "tailored" or very "flourished" according to your taste. 

comparison of tailored and flourished calligraphy lettering

Italic writing has also evolved. One of my favorite styles is called "Gothicized Italic". The reason for that name is that the curve at the top of the lower case letters looks like church windows from the Gothic design era!

Isn't it gorgeous? And there are many texts which just look so much better using this style of calligraphy- especially when they are religious texts or ancient ones.

Gothicized italic style of calligraphy


The capital letters are VERY ornate!

Gothic capital letters in calligraphy are very ornate

(I'm not 100% sure, but I think these are John Steven's letters- credit where credit is due!
I am a great admirer of John Stevens!)

Celtic or Uncial Style of Lettering

This style comes from the Book of Kells in Ireland. Since there were many scribes who wrote, there were variations in the look of the lettering. But most of it did not have "capital" or "lower case" letters. The letters were all the same size. That also helped with spacing between the lines. The Book of Kells was highly decorated and its origin was religious text.

The lettering below is the Celtic hand. It actually has a contemporary look to it, although it is really very ancient!

celtic-uncial style of calligraphy example

Copperplate Calligraphy

pointed pen nib used for copperplate and modern calligraphy

This style of calligraphy known as "copperplate" is really different from the other styles. It is made with a different type of pen nib. The thick and thin parts of the letters are created by putting pressure on the nib which causes it to open slightly. That makes the ink flow out thicker than when the pen nib is pushed upwards creating "hairlines". 

Parents letter to their newborn written in copperplate calligraphy and framed

Copperplate calligraphy takes a LOT of patience and can be hard on the hand and wrist. It's known as the style of the Declaration of Independence. There are many 
Master Penmen who practice this style and do very ornate decorations with it. I am not one of those! 

"Modern" Calligraphy

OK, I'm going to admit being a snob. But many people are taking one online class in "calligraphy" and claiming that they are professional calligraphers. It's called "modern calligraphy". Very few people can actually do this well. If you read this post you'll know what to look for in quality modern calligraphy. Don't get stuck with something that you can't read! 

Your Favorite Style of Calligraphy

When you order calligraphy I ask you many questions. You may not realize what style you prefer. I have a way to help you figure out what style will work best for you. I'll ask you questions about your decoration in your home, what type of clothes you like to wear, what kind of art you like? Then I'm more able to make suggestions and show you examples. In fact, the best way is to look at examples on my site and save the different examples so we can collaborate together and come up with a design and style that you will really love!


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