Letterform Analysis: The Fundamental Oval

In this installment I would like to examine the influence of the fundamental oval shape on letterforms that would appear to have little in common with ovals. An example of such a letter is the lower case 'p'. However, before I discuss these concepts I would like to talk about how to apply these concepts to your practice sessions.

The first thing a serious student of the art, in this case Engrosser's script, should do is to identify exemplars worthy of diligent study. Please be very careful when making a choice. Now it’s time to mention Vitolo’s ‘Rule of Penmanship’ that states, “If you choose to study mediocre letterforms the best level of proficiency you can expect to achieve is mediocre script.” As always, my first recommendation is The Zanerian Manual (see inset comments). Once your exemplar is selected, the practice session should proceed with a goal in mind. I firmly believe that ‘Goal Oriented’ practice is a sure fire method of improving. I would suggest you pick a single letter to study and apply the concepts I have been/will be discussing to that letterform. After studying the letter in detail, close your eyes and try to visualize the letter in your mind's eye picturing your hand executing the stroke. Please refer to Bob's article on visualization in the last issue. Then proceed to execute the strokes with your pen. Once you have several letters formed, pick the best letter and use the concepts I've discussed to critique the form. Identify areas to improve and repeat the process. Your letterforms will improve drastically.

Now let us move on to the letterform analysis and the letter 'p' (Figure 1A). This letter is unique due to the straight shaded stroke. While it is true that an oval has no influence on the straight shaded stroke, it will have an effect on the overall symmetry of the letter. Let us break the 'p' down into its component strokes. This letter is composed of three separate portions: 1) a hairline connector, 2) straight shaded stroke and 3) a hairline-shade-hairline (Figure 1B, C and D respectively). The first stroke is the lead in hairline connector (Figure 2A). For Engrosser's script connectors should be kept on or closely approach the main slant angle (see dotted line Figure 2B). In addition, properly formed hairline connectors also conform/harmonize with an imaginary oval formed on the main slant angle (see dotted oval Figure 2B).



The next stroke is the straight shaded line (Figure 1C). This particular stroke is deceptively difficult because it require constant and even pressure over the entire course of the line to get a uniform shade heft that is on the slant angle. Consistency comes only through diligent practice. As previously stated, the oval is not involved the formation of this stroke.

The final hairline-shade-hairline strokes are probably the most influential on overall letter symmetry (Figure 1D). Consideration of the imaginary oval is a must for proper formation of this portion of the letter. Please note that both hairline strokes are formed on imaginary ovals that are formed on the main slant angle. Properly formed strokes can be linked to form a rhythmic evenly spaced pattern (Figure 3A). At this point I would like to address a very common pitfall, namely the effect of dissimilar hairline transitions. This means that transition strokes made on inconsistent imaginary ovals will have drastic effect on how wide or narrow your letterform becomes. If the transitions are formed on narrow imaginary ovals, the result is letterform compression (Figure 3B). On the other hand, if the transitions are formed on wide imaginary ovals, letterform expansion will result (Figure 3C).

Now let us examine the shaded stroke in between the previously mentioned hairline transition strokes (Figure 4A and 4B). Please note that this is a fundamentally a compound curve. Therefore, all concepts for forming compound curves discussed in my previous article apply. This stroke is formed on the main slant angle with top and bottom curvature defined by imaginary ovals formed on the slant angle (Figure 4C) A very common pitfall is to make this a straight shaded line rather than a smoothly transitioning compound curve (Figure 4D). Be sure to study Figure 4A and 4D very carefully. Notice the beauty and grace of the correctly executed stroke (Figure 4A) versus the blocky ungraceful stroke (Figure 4D).

In conclusion, both the grace and symmetry of a given letter is determined by how well that letter conforms to the rules I have discussed. It should be noted that the final portion of the 'p' pictured in Figure 4A is essentially the same as the right side of the letters 'h', 'm' and 'n'. Therefore, the rules mentioned pertain to those letters as well. I wrote the word 'piston' in Figure 5 keeping these concepts in mind. Note the symmetry of the hairline-shade-hairline strokes between the 'p' and the 'n'. In the next installment I will examine the symmetry of curves and how curvature can be used to bring your Engrosser's script to a higher level of proficiency.