Lessons in Script: Introduction

This will be the first installment in a series of instructional articles on Engrosser's script. I would like to begin with a discussion of what Engrosser's script is and more importantly, what it is not. This beautiful form of pen art can be viewed as an American twist on the old English Round Hand script so wonderfully represented by Bickham's The Universal Penman. Engrosser's script, also called Engraver's script, attempts to simulate the burin of the copperplate engraver. The script evolved as slow, deliberate strokes with letters that were drawn, not written. This means that Engrosser's script is NOT handwriting. Rather, it is an art form where letters are constructed using individual strokes that are loosely analogous to the ductus strokes in text lettering. I personally like my mentor Bill Lilly's statement about Engrosser's script. Bill has said on numerous occasions, "Engrosser's script is NOT handwriting, it is the equivalent of engraving on paper." I would like to make one last note of clarification regarding terminology. The term used in modern calligraphy describe most styles of shaded script is Copperplate. However, classifying the script of George Bickham with that of EA Lupfer obscures the differences between the two styles. These differences are a topic beyond the scope of this article. Please refer to my article ‘Styles of Script’ for a detailed explanation of the various styles. For simplicity, I will use the term Engrosser's script in my articles.

Material Requirements for the Art

The Oblique Penholder

Anyone wishing to attempt this script should purchase a good oblique penholder. This penholder places the nib at an angle relative to the staff of the pen allowing alignment of


the nib with the main slant angle thus facilitating smooth shade formation. Use of a straight holder sets the nib at an unfavorable angle relative to the main slant angle. This will cause one of the nib tines to drag producing a jagged edge. Interestingly, this 'jagged edge' effect is used to great effect by French calligrapher Jean Larcher in his free flowing Copperplate script. The best oblique penholders have an adjustable metal flange to accommodate personal writing styles. Good penholders can be purchased through Paper and Ink Arts, John Neal Booksellers or directly from either Michael Sull or Bill Lilly.


There are currently several high quality inks currently being manufactured for pointed pen work. The flow characteristics of a good ink should allow for fine hairlines and thick shades. This is easier said than done. The best inks are being made by IAMPETH members Neil McCaffery and Brian Walker. Neil makes McCaffery's Penman's Ink. The wonderful inks come in three colors including Indigo Blue, Red-Violet and the iron gall based Black Ink. Brian Walker of England also makes a wonderful iron gall ink sold as Walker's Copperplate Ink. A personal preference for practice is Tom Norton's Walnut Drawing Ink. This sepia ink provides great hairlines. All the inks listed work right out of the bottle. Several IAMPETH members including Angela Welch and Bob Hurford produce wonderful Walnut Inks.

Instructional Text

I consider The Zanerian Manual the best instructional book for Engrosser's script. Please see my commentary on the manual elsewhere in this issue. This is the text I used for my studies. I consider it a necessary text for this instructional series and will refer to it from time to time. If you don't already own a copy, please try to purchase one if at all possible. The manual is available through either Paper and Ink Arts or John Neal Booksellers.


My personal recommendation for practice is Kodak's Brite White 24 pound inkjet paper. I also use preprinted guidelines placed beneath my paper rather than ruling the paper with a pencil. This paper is available at any Staples or Office Depot. Guidelines are available for print out on my web site at www.zanerian.com. My recommendation for practice guidelines is either a 3/8 or 1/2 inch spacing with a slant angle of between 52-55 degrees.


This is an area of much frustration. The best points are the vintage nibs; however, they are almost impossible to find and beyond the scope of this article. Of the modern nibs currently available the Leonardt Principal is a great choice. Other serviceable nibs are the Hunt 22B and the Gillott 303. These nibs make are an adequate starting point.

Preliminary Strokes

Since it is not my intention to reinvent the wheel I would ask you to carefully examine pages two and three of The Zanerian Manual for the necessary preliminary strokes. The manual does an excellent job in defining these fundamental strokes. Diligent practice of these strokes will allow you to execute letters with greater ease. The Zanerian Manual does an excellent job on the fundamental strokes.

Drawing, Not Handwriting

My goal for this first installment is to drive home the point that Engrosser's script is drawing letters. This form of script, unlike the progenitor ‘Roundhand’ script of England, is not handwriting. Rather it is the drawing of letters. To help make this point I will demonstrate how I make the letter 'S'. Before I proceed I would like to state that there are many approaches to forming letters. In fact, the Zanerian Manual states (see page 8 of the manual) that this particular letter should be made in one stroke beginning from the rear shade. I have no problem with someone who prefers that approach. Unfortunately, it simply does not work for me. Therefore, I will demonstrate my personal approach to drawing this letter. It is only through trial and error of goal oriented practice (discussed above) that you will find what approach works best for you. The ultimate goal is to form a good letter. Now let us proceed to my approach in drawing the letter 'S'. Please refer to Figure 2 for the following:

Stroke A: Start with a compound curve, stop at baseline. Stroke should be in the direction indicated by the dotted arrow.

Stroke B: With the paper in the same orientation begin at the top of the main shaded stroke. Proceed ‘up and over’ the top to form the loop proceeding to the junction of the middle and lower third of the primary shaded stroke. Keep a smooth curve to the line as you proceed downward, STOP at the primary shaded stroke.

Stroke C: I now invert the paper 180 degrees and complete the rear shaded stroke by proceeding from the primary shaded stroke outward. Keep the rear shade ‘lighter’ in heft then the primary shade. The rear-shaded stroke should 'harmonize’ with the primary shaded stroke and form an oval shape as indicated.

Stroke D: Keeping the paper in the inverted position, I complete the base curl and dot. I start from the primary shaded stroke and extend out a graceful curve, finishing with the ‘comma dot’. This dot is best illustrated in the Zanerian Manual on the page bottom of page 5, illustration No. 4.

The completed letter 'S' is shown in Figure 2E. It is my hope that with this first article in the series you now have a slightly better understanding of this beautiful art form. In the next installment I will begin the actual lessons with the lower case letterforms.