Lessons in Script: Fundamental Forms

In this article I will examine the fundamental strokes that make up the lower case letterforms in Engrosser's script (Figure 1). It is important to understand that I will be discussing my version of Engrosser's script. While I was heavily influence by The Zanerian Manual, this is not Zanerian Engrosser's script. My particular style of script involves fewer pen lifts. It is my hope to impart a way of seeing letterforms from the standpoint of what makes them similar rather than simply seeing individual letters. To help me accomplish this goal I've broken the lowercase letters into four basic 'groups' that I will detail in future installments. These letters (Figure 1) are essentially composed of eight fundamental strokes or forms (Figure 2A) that give rise to the all the letters. Practicing these fundamental forms is of critical importance since they form the basis of each lower case letter. Therefore, the focus of this article will be these eight forms.

A point of confusion for many novices is the direction of the individual pen strokes. As I stated in the first installment, Engrosser's script is not handwriting. We are literally 'drawing' the letters. Therefore, a different approach is needed to accomplish this. The technique involves creating letters using a series of strokes. These strokes can be thought of as being analogous to the ductus in text lettering. In addition, the position of the paper may be altered to facilitate certain strokes. To clarify this point, the paper is not moved while you are making the stroke. Rather, the paper is first repositioned then the stroke is executed. This 'paper-repositioning' will be used when we discuss the descender stem loop later in this article. As a rule all shades are created by applying pressure on the down strokes. I am not aware of any technique that would allow shades on an upstroke. The rule for hairlines is more of a guideline in that most hairlines are upstrokes. However, hairlines can also be formed on the down stroke. Using a down stroke to form a hairline is tricky since the slightest pressure will yield a shade. It is simply a matter of preference. I recommend using guidelines with a line spacing of either 3/16th or 1/2 inch for practice. A slant angle of between 52-55 degrees is recommended. The important thing is to be consistent in whatever line spacing and slant angle you choose to use. Guidelines for Engrosser's script can be printed off of my Zanerian.Com web site at: http://www.zanerian.com/P&ITemplates.html.

Let us begin with the fundamental forms (Figure 2A). Follow the both the direction and sequence of the Arrows indicated in Figure 2B. A word about how to follow the pen strokes indicated by numbered Arrows. Each component stroke is indicated by a separate number, i.e. 1, 2. A continuing stroke is indicated by the addition of a letter, i.e. stroke 1A and 1B. The designation 'B' of stroke 1B indicates that this is a continuation of stroke 1A made without lifting the pen. The use of an asterisk (*) with a number indicates that this is an optional stroke. Keep in mind that there few absolute rules when it comes to letter formation. In the end, how you form a letter will be dictated by your own experimentation to find what works best in your hands.

Ok, let us examine Figure 2B in detail. In Form A, we have a simple hairline connector stroke that should approach the slant angle. This is created by a single upstroke of the pen. Next we have the all-important oval as indicated by Form B. It is my personal preference to form the oval using two separate strokes. Starting at the top line form the primary shade in the direction of Arrow 1A swinging down to the baseline and around (Arrow 1B) stopping midway up on the right side of the oval. I then lift my pen and complete the second stroke from the top down as indicated by Arrow 2* placing a slight shade on the right side of the oval. This is a style that WA Baird frequently used often. This second stroke (2*) is optional. If you have better success completing the oval in one stroke then do so. However, you will need to use a hairline in this case since your nib will be on the upstroke. As I previously mentioned, trying to form a shade on an upstroke is not recommended. Simply go back and add the shade later or use the traditional half-dot as per The Zanerian Manual. I prefer to keep my oval shade weighted just below center as per The Zanerian Manual. Finally, keep the long axis of the oval on or very close to the main slant angle.

In Form C we have a very important shape that forms the basis of several letters. It is formed in one stroke as indicated. Note that the shading and curvature at the base of the form is identical to that of the oval (Form B). This concept is discussed in detail in my Letterform Analysis article elsewhere in this issue.

The next two Forms, D and E, are the stem loops. When properly executed the ascending and descending stem loops should appear as inverted mirror images. My preference is to form the stem loop using two separate strokes as indicated by Arrows 1 and 2, respectively. This approach allows for the highest degree of control in my hands. The primary shade (Form D, E: Arrow 1) should have a graceful wedge transition from top to bottom. I place a slight shade on the second stroke (Form D, E: Arrow 2). This is an example of when I will form a hairline using a down stroke. The only word of note is for the descending loop (Form E). I form the first stroke (Form E: Arrow 1) with the paper in the usual orientation. However, I invert the paper 180 degrees to complete the second stroke (Form E: Arrow 2). This is done only for the second stroke. It works best for me to form this stroke by an 'up and over the top' motion. This means that I will use the exact same motion for the for the ascender and descender loops to form the second stroke (Arrow2). Keep the loop hairlines curving gracefully. Try to avoid flattening the loop. I will be addressing stem loops in greater detail in the future.

A deceptively difficult stroke is the straight shaded stroke (Form F). It is composed of a single stroke but requires maintaining constant pressure to achieve best results. Only practice makes perfect. A few words about the square cutoffs are needed. I routinely re- touch my tops and bottoms to square them off. This technique was frequently employed by the masters and is not cheating. My online video clips on both the Square Cutoff and the Re-Touched Square Cutoff demonstrate how to achieve the squared final result.

The last two shapes, Forms G and H, are also formed in a single stroke. Be sure to review my online video clips that cover both forms. Practice these forms until you can properly execute them.