Letterform Analysis: The Descender Stem Loop and Baseline Crossing

In this article, I will examine the baseline crossing on descender stem loops. For the remainder of this article, anytime I use the term ‘stem loop’, I will be referring specifically to the descender stem loop found in letters such as ‘g’, ‘j’, ‘y’ and ‘z’. Figure 1 (script from Willis A. Baird), illustrates a typical descender stem loop in Engrosser's script. However, before I continue I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for indulging my ‘rants’ on letterform analysis. It is my hope that this series has been helpful to the reader/student of this beautiful art form.

1.jpgFigure 1

To set up this discussion we need to consider letters immediately following descender stem loops in a given word. These letters should have their hairline connector stroke emerging from the baseline on the right side of the stem loop. Consider the letter combination ‘yo’ written in the word ‘you’ in Figure 1. Notice that the lead in hairline stroke of the ‘o’ emerges from the baseline extending upwards from the ‘y’. The importance of this will be made clear later in this article. I will refer to this stroke as the 'Exit Stroke' with respect to the stem loop. The question I want to address in this article is ‘what should occur on the left side of the stem loop to facilitate proper transition through the baseline?’ Specifically, where should the hairline of the loop meet the stem shade? I will refer to this stroke as the 'Entry Stroke'. Both Entry and Exit hairline strokes are shown in Figure 2C.


Figure 2

The typical descender stem loop is shown in Figure 2A. We will now ‘zoom in’ on the baseline transition (Figure 2B). Note that this entry stroke intersects the shade exactly at the baseline (indicated by the gray doted line). This means the for the exit stroke to emerge from its proper position on the baseline, the imaginary line connecting both strokes would have to bend quite a bit (Figure 2C). In fact, it would be nearly horizontal to the baseline. Keep in mind that the crossing is meant to look like a continuous smoothly curving line to the mind’s eye. I will readily admit that the example in Figures 2B and 2C does not look way off and might be acceptable to some. However, masters such as Lupfer and Baird had a more refined and graceful look to their best script.

At this point I should state that I recently re-evaluated my own approach. I will now share with you the result of this study. After reviewing MANY specimens from stellar script penmen of the past including EA Lupfer and WA Baird, I discovered that their entry strokes insert into the shade slightly below the baseline (Figure 2D). The end result is a baseline crossing that is smoothly continuous as illustrated in the magnified image in Figure 2E. This is devoid of any acute imaginary bends, as per Figures 2B and 2C. The proof and effectiveness of this approach can be seen in the remarkable specimen of the words ‘Hoping you’ from the pen of WA Baird (Figure 1). Notice how the entry strokes of both the 'g' and the 'y' are slightly below the baseline and the exit strokes emerge from the baseline. This brings us back to a point I mentioned above about letters following these stem loops. Notice how the exit stroke of the 'y' in the word ‘you’ emerges from the baseline to form the lead in hairline for the 'o'. Both entry and exit strokes are harmoniously continuous without any acute angles. I hope you found this article helpful.


Engrosser’s script penned by the author