On the Saturday before Easter Sunday, it seemed unlikely that our UCA meeting would boast a large attendance.  However, there we were on April 15, with a room full of committed calligraphers, ready to learn (or brush up on) the Black Letter alphabet.


Brecken Cook our UCA president, welcomed the group and informed us she would not see us in May, since her baby was coming early––the first week of May.  We all wished her well and look forward to seeing baby Fielding at our June meeting.  Brecken has this boy thing down pat, since this is number 4.


The meeting was then turned over to Liz Margetts who was prepared to review Black Letter, discuss the why's and wherefore's of the hand and coax some lovely letters from the group.

The Black Letter or Gothic hand developed after the Carolingian era.  Because of Charlemagne and his desire for knowledge, monasteries and scriptoriums were constructed, universities were founded and more and more people learned to read.  Thus, there was a large demand for books. We know there were no printing presses in the 12th century and all the books were hand-scribed.  Of course, this expansion of learning created a demand for more and more parchment or vellum, ink and other items. To handle this shortage of materials, books were made smaller, the lettering became compressed, and the spaces between the lines was decreased.  This was the 12th Century and Black Letter hands abounded throughout Europe.  The page pictured above is from a German Psalter and measures 2 3/4 x 3 1/2 in.  The hand drawn letters are 2mm in height.


The Black Letter family of letter forms is made up of Fraktur, Textus Quadrata, Rotunda and Batarde, to name a few of the most popular. One of the reasons these hands are classified as Black Letter is the fact that the lettering is so dense and packed together that it appears black on the page.

Liz had us use a Speedball C-1 nib.  We were instructed to hold our pen at a 25-30˚pen angle. The body of the letter is 4 pen widths high.  The ascenders and descenders are shortened so the interlinear space (space between lines of lettering) can be reduced.  This distinctive feature of the lettering, with its straight lines and tight spacing, resembles a picket fence.  We pulled a row of pen strokes and did our best to keep them evenly spaced. 


After a little practice at pen strokes and spacing, we wrote the letters of the alphabet as Liz put them on the paper taped to the wall.


Black Letter capitals are very elaborate and ornate.  We received a handout containing several different interpretations of Black Letter caps.  One of these, penned by John Stevens, we used for the beginning of a chosen word.  We traced the cap and lettered the lower case or minuscules.  Using colored pencils, we colored in the capital letters.  These turned out to be quite colorful and attractive.

The homework assignment is to letter a quotation of your choice using the Black Letter alphabet we studied.  You can find the handouts from our April meeting under the "Calendar & Handouts" tab on the upper left side of this page.

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