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Script Analysis - Summary of answers on "Density"

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12 June 2007

Script Analysis - Summary of answers on "Density"

The 'geometrical' type answers

from george (I'm sorry - I don't know your title)

"For me density is more of a Y axis thing, not X. (Y is width --- and X is height | ).

Look at the width between the vertical lines of each letter and the space between letters. In both cases, it's less than the width of the line itself. It looks to be about half a line wide in your pictures. Are you able to get that spacing correct? It's very hard mentally to think of such narrow spacing for our modern aesthetics. The space between words is closer to a whole line wide. "

from James Cornwell aka Sir Bjorn Jorsalfar, OL, KB
There is more than one way to achieve greater density in your letters; a shorter x-height is just one of them. Another is the narrow the centers of your letters that have centers (in other words, letters generally based on "o"). Julian Waters once told me in a workshop that good Gothic calligraphy is a fistfight between black and white, and white should never be allowed to dominate. In other words, lotsa black is good, and getting enough of it in there is a struggle, not just something to do, for a lot of us, so keep at it.

from Maitresse Yvianne de Castel d'Avignon, OL.

"The density or heaviness of a hand is easier to see in whole words, lines or passages. It's really hard to see in individual letters. It has to do with the white space within a letter as well as the space between letters.... and it is all relative to the width of your pen strokes. The term we use around here to describe the opposite of heavy is wispy. That's when there is too much white space.

If you look closely at the page you put on your blog you will see that the lettering it begins with is different in density from the letters it ends with. Most likely the difference was caused by the quill, but who knows for sure. It could have been half finished when the sun went down (or any other reason the scribe could have interrupted his work) When he returned, the writing was different.

Don't worry that you are having trouble discerning slight variations. It will come. For me it took about 7 years ...and now comes the realization that even though I can recognize the fine details I am sometimes unable to correct it in my own work"
The "other factors" type answers

from
Maitresse Yvianne de Castel d'Avignon, OL. again,

(on relaxing). I was referring to the
amount of pressure your hand has on the pen. It can play a great
deal into how the calligraphy appears on the page. A heavy hand
(regardless of the reason, be it pain, confidence, rushed, watery
ink, ...etc) can cause your strokes to be wider than the size
printed on your nib. A feather light touch OTOH may not allow
enough ink to reach the tip of the nib so it cannot spread out
the full width of it... this would produce a thinner stroke.

That's why I recommended not going strictly by measurements but
by the look of the hand you're producing. Speedball nibs respond
to very light pressure and have a tendency to splay out a little
wider than the stated nib size. Brause nibs are stiff by
comparison and less responsive. They don't work as well on some
of the rounder hands, but I prefer them for blackletter hands
because they are so stiff and make such a consistently precise
line."

And from The Honorable Lady MelbrigĂ°a Leifsdottir

"I think this is one of those times when you have to just sit with a handful of nibs and keep trying different letters until you get as close to that which you are trying to achieve. And remember that medieval letters were not written with a metal speedball nib, but either a quill or a reed pen, so there is going to be thickening of the letters after a time as the quill or reed soften some. This is going to cause a variation in the size of the stroke (which if you look through lines and lines of text you will eventually recognize and also be able to see where the pen is changed or re-cut.)"

to which I responded about the difficulty of having a variety of nibs since I'm left handed. I have a choice of Speedball (not really suitable), William Mitchell (better), or Brause (best, but only in small sizes unless I import more from America). I wish that I had quills.

And further useful tips from Yvianne

"I was once asked to calligraph a scroll
at an event. I sat down and went right to calligraphing from
memory. After a couple of lines I came across a letter I drew a
blank on how to make properly in that hand. I looked at a scroll
another scribe had completed for the event that was calligraphed
in the same hand... somewhere in searching for the letter I
needed, I scanned enough a's to subconsciously convince myself
that I was writing them the same way. I went back to work and the
very next "a" I wrote was different from the rest of the ones on
my piece. I knew it as soon as my hand started making the strokes
that it didn't feel right, but by then it was too late to change
it. Very period, but it annoyed me. That's when I adopted the
habit to write out the alphabet before I start a piece and keep
it nearby for reference... no matter how well I think I know the
hand."

and

" Does a small fraction of difference in the nib width to line
spacing ratio really cause that much of a difference?

It all depends on the scale you are working in or how much a
slight variation of the hand you are attempting to recreate
bothers you. Most exemplars do have lettering that varies a bit.
Aside from letters that are obviously formed differently, if you
look really closely at your exemplar you will see slight changes
in the calligraphy due to the quill soaking in the ink and
swelling or the scribe trimming or changing quills. I have heard
numerous stories about modern scribes throwing out pieces that
have such noticeable "errors". For the most part we use metal
nibs and the variations we get are due to operator error ;-)
but the result can be a very period aesthetic.

When creating a ductus, learning a new hand or trying to figure
out why something I've written doesn't look quite right, accurate
measurements do matter."

Many, many thanks to george, James, Yvianne and Michelle

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