Thursday, October 17, 2019

J.M. Bergling and the Golden Age of Penmanship, Part 3

Lettering project inspired by the Bergling book
For most of us, hand lettering is reserved for sentimental or ceremonial occasions, such as this announcement that I made for my son's graduation party.

(Continued from Part 2) But in the Golden Age of Ornamental Penmanship, which lasted between about 1875-1915, every business person was expected to convey their integrity and confidence by means of their pen skills, culminating in a confidant, flourished signature. To achieve this kind of writing, penmanship instructors stressed the importance of good posture.
Correct and incorrect writing position
First the pen artist must take the proper position, either standing at a podium lectern or seated in a straight chair with both feet flat on the floor, the back held straight. The pen is held, not in the tight grip of most beginners, but rather in a relaxed hold, the arm resting lightly on the table on the large muscle below the elbow.

“Whole arm” or “off hand” capitals, with their elaborate looping flourishes, are made without penciling the letterforms in advance. Their flowing grace requires a great deal of practice. They are formed with broad movements of the arm, swinging easily from the shoulder. Fingers, wrist, and arm cooperate to create fluid movements. Each part of the flourish uses a smooth continuous stroke. By contrast, small letters should be rhythmically created with controlled finger movements.

Ideally these scripts should be executed on a smooth cotton rag paper over lightly ruled guidelines drawn with a hard pencil. The slant of the letters should be absolutely uniform. The slant can be ruled lightly with an adjustable triangle set to a fixed slope and resting on a T-square or parallel rule.

Most scripts require a slant of between 52 and 54 degrees from horizontal, or the 3/4 angle diagrammed below. An oblique pen holder angles the nib to the right, allowing a better wrist position.

In settings where script writing needs to be larger and more precisely considered, it can be constructed by drawing the letters first in outline, and then filling them in with a brush or pen. In general it is a good idea for the student to begin constructing letters larger and at a slow speed. With improving skill, the execution typically becomes smaller in scale and more rapid. It is advisable to try for accuracy and quality first, and then for speed.

The pen-based script alphabets, with their German and French variants, derive from the models produced by engravers in the eighteenth century, requiring the artist to incise a series of fine lines into a copper plate with a sharpened steel tool called a burin. This copperplate engraver’s alphabet can also be constructed with the flexible steel pen nib. Each weighted or “shaded” stroke broadens on the pulling downstroke. Whichever tool is used, this thick-and-thin copperplate style is slow to execute, making it more suitable for headings and superscriptions than for everyday handwriting.

Bergling includes broad pen alphabets familiar to modern calligraphers, such as “Blackstone,”  “Mixed Roman Text,” and the single-stroke Roman and Italic alphabets. Informal round-tipped alphabets can be achieved with a Speedball “Style B” pen nib.

Series on J.M. Bergling and the Golden Age of Penmanship
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
You can get a signed copy of Bergling from my website store (with your name nicely lettered if you want. Send me an email after you order it explaining how you'd like the dedication.)
Here's where you can get the Dover book on Amazon. You can also still find a vintage copy on Amazon.
(Part 4 of this series tomorrow.)

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