Lessons in Engrosser's Script: Group IV Lowercase

In this installment we will examination the last group of lower case letterforms (Figure 1). You will notice that the letters ‘z’ and ‘p’ are separated from the grouping of letters ‘b’, ‘h’ and ‘y’. This was done because the ‘z’ and the ‘p’ are special cases. While they do contain elements common to other forms they also contain unique characteristics as well. These will become apparent later in this discussion.


The letterforms in Figure 1, Group A, are stem loop variants of the basic 'v' shape. For example, the letter ‘b’ is essentially a ‘v’ with an ascender stem loop extending from its left side? Remember to always look for characteristics that letters have in common rather than seeing only the differences. Your script will benefit immensely from this approach.

I would like to first say a word about following the gray arrow stroke indicators used in the figures. Arrows in a given letter that have the same number indicate the stroke is continuous and made without lifting the pen. For example, the ‘b’ in Figure 2A contains two arrows both marked ‘2’. Both arrows represent the same stroke at different points on the letter, i.e. the stroke is continuous. Any arrow number designated with a (*) indicates that the paper should be inverted 180 degrees before making the stroke. The (--) indicates the join point between two separate strokes.

Let’s start with the ‘b’ in Figure 2A. The first stroke is the hairline connector formed on the upstroke (Arrow 1). The second stroke (Arrow 2) forms the gracefully transitioning shade of the stem loop. I start this down stroke at the point indicated by the (--) without out any pressure to the nib. Gradually increase the pressure as you proceed downwards to create the wedge. I continue this second stroke down towards the baseline quickly releasing pressure as I approach the baseline swing around to the right and upwards finishing the hairline at the header.


I complete the stem loop by starting the third stroke (Arrow 3) at the (--) proceeding up and over the top gracefully curving back the hairline to intersect the shade. There is a tendency for novices to make a shade of too much heft and abruptly transition into a flat rather than a curving hairline loop. This can be avoided by careful study of good letterforms. It is my preference to place a slight shade on the forward portion of the loop by applying the slightest pressure on the down stroke. Note how the 'b' finishes with the hairline curving gently inward with a connector dot and loop (Arrow 4). The dot can be filled in or when speed is needed can be formed with pressure on the down stroke of Arrow 4.

The 'h' (Figure 2B) begins with the same two initial strokes (Arrows 1 and 2) as the 'b' except that the second stroke (arrow 2) ends at the baseline in a cutoff. The lower right portion of the 'h' is a fundamental 'v' shape formed in one stroke as indicated by Arrow 3. The final stroke is the finish of the stem loop (arrow 4) exactly as previously described. If you prefer to first complete the stem loop then proceed to the ‘v’ shape you should feel free to do so.

The 'y' (Figure 2C), when properly formed, is simply an inverted 'h'. Go ahead invert the paper and see for yourself. Again, look for the similarities. While both the 'h' and the ‘y’ contain stem loops, I form my descender loops differently than the ascender loops. The first stroke (arrow 1) forms the 'v' portion of the 'y'. The descending vertical shade starts (Arrow 2) at the header line and ends at the (--). The gradual wedge shape is achieved by gradually releasing pressure on the nib as you proceed downwards.

I next INVERT the paper 180 degrees and complete the stem loop starting from the (--) by going up and over the top as indicated. I do this so I finish both ascender and descender loops the same way by going up and over the top (Arrow 3*). In my hands, this leads to consistent letterforms. I then return the paper to its normal writing position and complete the exit hairline up stroke (arrow 4). Do not cross the shade or you will run the risk of dragging the ink out of the shade. Please remember that this method of forming stem loops works best for me. If you want to form the ascender or descender stem loops using different strokes you should feel free to experiment. Even the Zanerian Manual allows for more than one approach to stem loops.

The 'z' (Figure 3A) can be a tricky letter to form correctly. The first portion of the letter is formed in one stroke (Arrow 1). This stroke should remind you of the first shaded stroke of the lowercase ‘m’. However, this shade constricts towards the left at the baseline. This is accomplished by lifting the pen quickly using a slight leftward motion just before you hit the baseline.


Now let us turn our attention to what makes the letter ‘z’ unique, namely its right-offset descender stem loop. The stroke forming the descender shade emerges from the baseline and travels towards the right for a short distance before curving downward (Figure 3A, Arrow 2). I end this stroke at the (--). This is very different than the usual descender stem loop. Another important difference is that the ‘z’ stem shade maintains a descending wedge shape while it gracefully curves downward towards the (--). This is very different from the straight descending stem shade of the 'y'. I form the stem loop in two separate strokes as described for the 'y'. This means I invert the paper 180 degrees for the third stroke (Arrow 3*). Return the paper to its original position and cross the baseline as indicated by Arrow 4.

The key to making a proper 'z' stem loop is keeping in mind those imaginary ovals I discussed at length in previous articles. This means that the imaginary ovals that make up the upper and lower portions of the ‘z’ have their long axis on the main slant angle. Therefore, both the upper and lower shades should parallel the main slant angle over all. I discussed this concept in detail in a previous installment of my Letterform Analysis series.

The 'p' (Figure 3B) is a deceptively challenging letter to form correctly because it contains a straight shaded line of considerable length. This shade must be uniform from top to bottom. The initial hairline is formed as before (Arrow 1). The down stroke forming the shaded line will require considerable practice to form correctly. This shade is formed in one stroke (Arrow 2) that starts just below the top of the first ascender space and continues down to the bottom of the first descender space while maintaining a constant pressure to the nib. The stroke ends in a cutoff as indicated in the exemplar at the bottom of the first descender space. The final portion of the 'p' is another 'v' shape and is formed exactly described for the 'h' and 'y' indicated by arrow 3.