Calligraphy – Pen Ladders


On February 24, 2013 I wrote a post titled,”Ladders, Angles and Drills Oh My!”  Where I covered some basic terms, ladders, pen angles and some basic drills.  I included a picture that had the uncial alphabet written with 2 different pen angles.  The other two posts are on doing drills, warm-ups and analyzing; and on analyzing the alphabet.

Today, we will get more in depth with the picture and how to analyze calligraphy.  I will be making three posts so that each part can be looked at by itself and thereby won’t run the risk of being information overload.  The end goal being that you will be able to start analyzing your own (and perhaps other’s’) work so that you can see what you are doing well at, and what you can improve upon.  I cut up the picture I took and we will be using that familiar picture as we move forward.

Any picture you see you can click on and get a larger image of it.  You will probably want to take advantage of doing that.  I can only make the pictures so large on this page before they become distorted.

I’m pretty sure some of you already found some of the errors and problems from that picture.  Good for you!  Now I’m going to expose those errors to everyone.  Many of these errors were on purpose, some were not.

First things first, we’re going to cover the pen ladders up close. The purpose of the pen ladder is to make sure that you are writing the letters in the correct proportions. Get the proportions wrong and no matter how perfectly you have otherwise formed the letters, it will look wrong and people will notice.

To help learn how to draw the pen ladders correctly, I’ve added some analysis to the graphic. Red lines show that improvement is needed.  Green lines show what we were trying to accomplish and what worked.

Ladder examples

This graphic shows why it is so important to draw your pen ladder correctly.  You start drawing one by placing your pen nib perpendicular (90 degrees) to the bottom line, the underside of your dip pen toward the direction you will be pulling your pen.  Draw your pen as straight as you can along the bottom line until you have roughly created a square.  Lift your pen and place it on one of the top corners so that it can create a completely new square, shown in the above picture as being on the top right corner of the bottom square.  Draw a new square as straight as you can parallel to the bottom line.  Pick one of the two patterns you see above and repeat this step as many times as you need to get the appropriate X height.

As I noted in the February 24th post you do not need to be perfect when drawing your pen ladders, you just need to get them right enough to get the proper height.  On the left we see the that the pen strokes drifted down in each square that was drawn.  This had the effect of creating a ladder shorter than it should have been.  On the right we see that each square is not drawn perfectly, but that they do reach the appropriate height without being perfect.  The reason for this is that where the squares connect with the square below and above it, is correctly drawn.  For example the 3rd ladder (the first one with a green line next to it,) the second square isn’t square and it slumps down as it moves left.  No problem because the third square is on the right side of the square which is at the correct height.  Keep this in mind when you are drawing your pen ladders and you make a mistake.  Look at it and ask yourself, “Does it matter?  Can I fix it by placing the next square on a different corner?”

You might be tempted to draw one square directly on top of the square beneath it creating a single column.  Do not do this.  The bottom of the pen can drift down and you will never be able to tell.  Instead, keep your pen and yourself honest by using one of the two pen ladder diagrams in the picture above.  The pen ladder is a wonderful tool to help keep your calligraphy looking good in just the right proportions.

5 responses to “Calligraphy – Pen Ladders

  1. Pingback: Finding the X Height | scribescribbling·

  2. Pingback: Ink Ingredients: Modern and Medieval | scribescribbling·

  3. Pingback: Ladders, Angles, and Drills Oh My! | scribescribbling·

  4. Pingback: A Deeper Analysis of Calligraphy – The Alphabet | scribescribbling·

  5. Pingback: A Deeper Analysis of Calligraphy – Drills and Warm-ups | scribescribbling·

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