Tips on Engrossers Script

The Re-touched Cutoff

This re-touching technique is used to produce a chiseled edge on Engrosser's script letters. This is very different than the cutoff described in the Zanerian Manual that finishes a vertical stem stroke by a subtle movement of the nib tines. For letters a large size, and those who saw me write know I will sometimes make lower case Engrosser's script letters around one inch high, the standard method of producing a cut-off just does not work for me. When writing large script, or when I want very exacting script, I retouch. There is no shame in it. The masters did so all the time. I invariably use the retouched technique pictured in the image posted in the next message. It applies to finishing a stroke on either the top or bottom of the stem. The stroke basically stops short of the line. The squared edge is outlined, and then the ink is simply gently pooled into the space. This IS NOT coloring in. If you do so you risk damaging the paper's surface. You must be sure that there is enough ink in the main stroke. If not, re-dip your nib and gently touch the center of the main shade. Ink will flow into the shade. Once you have a good amount of ink in the shade gently coax it into the outlined area and let it dry.

The image shows both a computer-generated letter (top) as well as I letter I penned and scanned to illustrate the concept.


Nib Play: A Question of Tines

I want to discuss an advanced concept, namely the importance of the movement of nib tines to achieve subtleties in script. Ok, what exactly do I mean by this? When one examines the work of master scriptwriters it becomes apparent that in most cases shading had directionality. Most folks who write script know that the shade is produced by applying pressure to the nib thereby spreading the tines to achieve the shade. This is clearly illustrated in the Zanerian Manual on page 2 images 1-6. If you have the manual please examine the picture carefully. This particular image also illustrates the cutoff stroke that I will address in a future piece. Lets discuss the type of parallel shade shown in The Zanerian Manual illustration mentioned, please refer to my image's diagram #1. The parallel stem stroke that forms letters such as t and p requires maintaining the uniformity of the shade from top to bottom. I will say that this stroke is deceptively difficult. It requires a fair degree of skill to execute a shaded line of any length and keep it both straight and parallel.

Next let us examine the wedge shaped shade on the stem of letters like the lower case ‘h’. You can refer to the ‘how I form stem loops’ elsewhere in this article. The properly formed stem loop maintains the slant angle on the left side of the stem shade while the right side of the shade sweeps out to form the tapering shade. You can also see this style used by WA Baird on pages 12 and 13 of the Zanerian Manual. This concept is illustrated by diagram #2.

Next, let us consider the shading of an oval. If you study my instructional exemplars or those in the Zanerian Manual you will find oval having a shade weighted below the midpoint of the letter. Look carefully and you will notice that the right portion of the main shaded stroke maintains the slant angle line as well as the overall letter outline. Whereas the left side of the shaded stroke sweeps out to give the differential shade thickness which starts out narrow at the top, comes to full thickness below center then tapers down again. In simple terms the left nib tine was sweeping out while the right nib tine was maintaining the right side of the shade. This is illustrated by diagram #3.

Equally spreading the nib tines will produce a shade that can be bisected by the slant line. This means that there will be equal amounts of shade on both sides of the slant angle. This is illustrated by diagram #4 and the shade on the lower case ornamental m.

There are many approaches to forming letters and many letterforms. I will use examples to illustrate my points; however, I do not want to imply that this is the only way to make these letters. Rather I want to give insight into the fundamental strokes used to form these letter variants. I personally use these concepts in my own writing. Use good exemplars and give thought to how both the stroke and shade are formed.


Getting Looped

I would like to discuss the symmetry of stem loops. This subject has received some attention on this group previously. The image posted in the next message was penned by EA Lupfer. They are both the same image, except one has been inverted (turned upside down) to illustrate a very important point. Before I get to that I wanted to discuss the basics of the stem loop. Bill Lilly best illustrates the proper stem loop by cutting one out of paper. Bill points out that the loop should have fairly symmetrical halves near the top (h, l, k) or the bottom (j, y) (see red dotted line and red arrows). The hairline portion should curve gracefully towards the appropriate guideline line and cross at that line (see blue arrows). Now back to that important point. A lower case y should form a perfect lower case h if inverted. Lupfer’s example illustrates this idea since both the h and they are the exact same image. Lastly, EA Lupfer in the Zanerian Manual recommends a slight curvature to the vertical shaded stroke of the stem loop. Just in case you don’t believe me about this point, open your Zanerian Manual to page 4 illustration #14 and page 5 illustration #22. In my opinion, this is a very difficult effect to achieve for a beginner. I would recommend, that at least in the beginning, keep the stroke straight. It is all too easy to end up with an excessively curvy shaded stroke. Lupfer, in a series for the Business Educator (I own the originals) actually makes reference to something he calls the 'curved effect'. But more about this at a later date.


The Symmetry and Grace of Compound Curves

An important foundational stroke in Engrosser's script is the compound curve. This stroke is critical to perfect if you want to make certain graceful caps such as B, S, L to name but a few. As the Zanerian Manual states, the stroke conforms to two ovals. Please reference the computer generated image I created to illustrate this point (see next slide). An important aspect to keep in mind that is visually implied, but not directly stated in the Zanerian Manual is that the invisible ovals should also have their long axis ON the slant angle. In addition, the entry (top) and exit angles (bottom) indicated by the black doublesided arrows should be equivalent. Let me define what I mean by exit and entry angles: The distance of either the top stroke (entry) of the bottom stroke (exit) from the main slant angle (indicated by the red dotted line). I should state at this point that this stroke starts at the top (entry) and proceeds downward to the baseline (exit). Please note that image 1 is correct whereas image 2 is not. Lets concentrate on image 2. The top entry angle indicated by the red arrow is wider than the bottom exit angle (black double-sided arrow). This is because the top Oval (red) is tilted beyond the slant angle thereby increasing the entry angle of the stroke. This creates a disharmony that the human eye easily picks up on.


The Slant on the Story of N

I will discuss The Slant on the Story of N. My personal preference is to start with the left hairline stroke working from the baseline and proceeding upwards to the top line. I usually use a slant angle of approximately 52 degrees. Find a slant angle you find comfortable and stick with it. Now back to N. I will next move the paper so it is vertical in front of me. The shaded stroke is next. I like to make this stroke almost vertical with the lower point just to the left of completely vertical. I then finish with the final hairline starting from the baseline and proceeding up keeping it on the slant angle. My computergenerated model pictured in the image posted in the next message illustrates the effects of varying the vertical angle of the shaded stroke and/or the angle of the hairlines. My personal preference is for Form #2 and to a lesser extent Form #1. Notice how even small changes can have a big effect on the appearance of the letter. When keeping the hairlines on the main slant angle, varying the vertical angle of the shaded stroke will either flatten or fatten the letter depending upon the position. Form #3 is a little too obese for my tastes. Form #4 with both hairlines and shade off the slant angle just looks off to my eyes. Lastly, Form #5 is your classic tilting till it falls over cap N. This form imparts lots of tension in the appearance to my eyes. Best to experiment and learn.


The Art of Engraving on Paper

Stroke 1: Start with a compound curve, stop at baseline.

Stroke 2: With the paper in the same orientation begin at the top of the main shade stroke proceeding ‘up and over’ the top to form the loop and proceed to the junction of the mid and lower third of the shade keeping a smooth curve to the line as you proceed downward, STOP at the main shade.

Stroke 3: I now invert the paper 180 degrees and complete the rear secondary shade by proceeding from the shade. Keep the secondary shade ‘lighter’ in heft then the primary shade. The secondary shade should ‘harmonize’ with the primary shade.

Stroke 4: Keeping the paper in the inverted position, I complete the base curl and dot. I start from the primary shade 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.


My Approach to Stem Loop Formation

Stroke 1: Start with a hairline upstroke approaching the slant angle.

Stroke 2: Make the vertical shaded down stroke stopping just shy of the baseline.

Stroke 3: Do a re-touched cutoff while ink is still wet.

Stroke 4: Create a smooth curving stem loop by starting from the top of the shaded stroke and proceeding up and over the top. I apply slight pressure for a hint of a shade on the loop. I keep the max height of my loop just shy of three full spaces.

Stroke 5: Complete the letter using the stroke you have all been practicing.

The paper remains in the same position for all strokes. Also note that the finished ‘h’, if inverted will make a nice ‘y’.


The Symmetry of Curves

This is perhaps one of the most important and fundamental ideas to high-level script if we accept that ovals and compound curves have been learned. The idea is to not just see individual letters but rather the similarity between them. One could easily see the similarity between an 'o' and an 'e'; however, if you look CAREFULLY at the Lupfer specimen you will notice something very curious in the lower third of the lower case letters. That is many of them, but not all, are almost indistinguishable if written correctly. This is one of the factors that separate those who are good at Engrosser's script from the Masters of the past. I would suggest you study this image closely.