How To Create The Ascender Stem Brush Stroke (In Detail)
So in the past we have looked at the ascender stroke briefly as part of the beginners series for brush calligraphy. This stroke can still be a little bit frustrating for new calligraphers and letterers so I wanted to go through in detail what the ascender stroke is used for and how to create it.
The ascender stem can often go by many names. I’ve seen the Ascender Loop, Ascender Stem Stroke, Ascender Stroke and even the H Loop. A lot of the time these labels are interchanged, but just know that this is the stroke we are talking about.
Where To Use The Ascender Stroke
The ascender stroke is used on most of the letters that reach up to the ascender line (you can learn more about the lines here). The letters that are created with the ascender stem are h, b, d, k, f and l.
The letter t also (sometimes) reaches to the ascender line but it’s usually not created with this stroke.
The lowercase f is included and will be explained fully later on because it does use this stroke traditionally (or at least, a variation of it… all will be explained down below).
In a lot of these letters it is permittable to use just the basic downstroke but if you want to create a “cursive” or calligraphic look then you will want to use either the ascender stem with the loop, or the ascender stem variation (which we talk more about at the end).
How To Create The Ascender Loop Stroke
The ascender stroke can start with an entry stroke, this is optional for some letters but it’s a great stroke to add into your practices. You’ll want to start at the baseline with a hairline stroke curving up towards the waistline – this is the entry stroke.
At the waistline, pause and then create a hairline stroke to the right and upwards, towards the ascender line.
When you get to the ascender line, curve to the left and start a thick pressured stroke downwards to the baseline. The goal is to intersect where the entry stroke met the start of the ascender loop with the thick stroke on the way down.
Once you reach the baseline then you are done!
Incorrect Ascender Loop Strokes
I have to give a bit of a disclaimer here. Traditionally there are incorrect ways to create this stroke. Nowadays, it is all up to your personal style whether or not these would be incorrect.
I have found, however, that when you’re learning it is actually better for you to learn traditionally and practice the traditional strokes initially, before breaking out and creating your own style. I find this way can help stop you from hitting a creative ceiling later on.
I have noticed that people who learn modern calligraphy straight out of the gate end up only being able to create using that one method and then struggle to branch out and discover their own individual style.
Yet those that learn with a bit more of a traditional approach manage to branch out, try different styles, and can overtime create a style that is very individual, which they are satisfied and happy with.
That being said, here’s some of the (traditional) incorrect ways to create the ascender loop.
This is what happens when you don’t pause between the entry stroke and the ascender loop. When it’s created in one motion, the loop ends up being super long and thin. It’s best to pause between the strokes and be purposeful when creating each stroke.
Weird Entry Stroke
This is related to the optional entry stroke. If you create it too curvy you will be able to see it sticking out beside the ascender loop. If you create it too steep then it will disappear into the ascender loop. The goal is to meet the ascender loop at the waistline.
Creating Letters With The Ascender Loop
The next stage is to see how certain letters are created using this stroke, but it’s also important to see when this stroke in itself isn’t enough.
Modern Lowercase B
Firstly, if you want to create a modern b you use the ascender loop and add a reverse oval straight after.
Next, if you want to create the letter h you would use the ascender loop and join a compound curve stroke to it.
To creat a k, the ascender loop is joined with a rather irregular complex stroke, as seen below. The complex stroke is created starting from the baseline, with a thin hairline stroke going up towards the waistline.
As you near the waistline curve around to the right and down (with slight added pressure to create a thicker stroke).
Curve back towards the ascender stroke while releasing pressure, to touch the ascender stroke around halfway up the x height space.
The last part is made by creating a slight version of the compound curve stroke: keep your pen on the page and curve it out and down to the baseline (using a thicker stroke).
Once you reach the baseline curve up to the right with a hairline storke and finish it near the waistline.
Ascender Loop Variation
Before I get to the remainder of the letters that use the ascender loop stroke, I want to first introduce to you the ascender loop variation.
This stroke is used in a traditional b, d and the letter l. It’s actually a stroke that’s a mix between the ascender loop and the underturn. It has it’s own exit stroke and it’s great for these letters.
The ascender loop variation is created in the same way as the ascender loop with two small differences:
1 – The entry stroke is omitted for the letter d, purely because this stroke forms the second half of the letter, so the entry stroke isn’t needed.
2 – As the pen is reaching the baseline after creating the ascender loop, we immediately transition into an underturn stroke. So the pen moves into a thin hairline stroke as it reaches around to the right and up towards the waistline.
Letters with the Ascender Loop Variation
Let’s look at the ascender loop variation three letters: d, l and a traditional b, before we finally get into creating the letter f.
Creating A Traditional Lowercase B
The lowercase b is created with an entry stroke, the ascender loop variation stroke and a small dot stroke. This is a traditional elegant looking b which may not be everyones style but I love it.
The dot stroke becomes the stroke joining this b to the next letter.
Creating A Lowercase L
Once you know the ascender loop variation stroke, this one will be easy for you; because they are essentially the same thing.
If you’re creating a lowercase l without any preceeding letters, then you can simply create an entry stroke and the ascender loop variation stroke and you’re done. You can end the “variation” part of the l earlier to make room for the next letter if needed.
Creating A Lowercase D
The lowercase d is the only letter where we create another stroke first, and then add the ascender stroke on (or the ascender variation stroke) at the end.
The d is comprised of an oval stroke and either a ascender loop or the ascender loop variation (it depends on what look you’re going for, but I prefer the variation). The goal is to have the ascender loop variation stroke touch the oval stroke in the x-height area. The ascender stroke usually touches the spot where the oval stroke starts/finishes.
Creating The Lowercase F
The lowercase f is one of the weirdest letters to create and often those who aren’t trained conditionally find this letter hard to master, since there are no “set rules” for the lowercase f in modern calligraphy.
Traditionally, the lowercase f is often created with an ascender loop stroke that extends past the baseline. It’s the only letter that has an extender and a descender within the one stroke.
To create a lowercase f based on copperplate methods, we start with an entry stroke, and then the ascender stroke which reaches up to the ascender line (as per usual) but then extends down, stopping approximately two thirds into the descender space.
The cross stroke of the copperplate f is made using a hairline thin stroke starting at the baseline on the thicker downstroke. Move up and curve immediately to the left. As you reach the waistline curve around to the right to cross the thick stroke. As you cross it, dip downward and immediately back up to the waistline.
Copperplate calligraphy has plenty of very specific rules to follow when creating letters which I won’t get into here. I just want to show the difference between a traditional f to help give you a better grasp at making a modern f look good.
The modern f is created by starting with the ascender loop variation stroke, but the last hairline part ends up curving back up and touching the body of the stroke, and then a hairline exit stroke extends out to the next letter.
There’s been a few things about creating a modern f that baffles people: should the last part touch all the way back up at the waistline? Half way between the baseline and waistline? Should the tail of the f extend this far? Should the height of the f go all the way up to the ascender line?
Since we are dealing with modern calligraphy there seems to be an infinite number of variations on a modern f and most of it simply comes down to how people were trained to create it as well as what their style is.
If you’re learning, I recommend keeping it simple before branching out and developing your own style: practice both the traditional f as well as the extra loop which ends halfway up the x height.
Practicing The Ascender Loop
When practicing the ascender loop stroke and the variation it is a good idea to pair them with other strokes to create letters as you practice, as well as creating them on their own.
There’s a new worksheet in the resource library which has the standard ascender loop stroke, the ascender variation, lowercase l, h, k, d, as well as a few versions of b and f included. This worksheet is available to download, trace and practice for free.
If you don’t have access to the library make sure you sign up here and the password will be sent to your inbox.
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I hope this has helped you understand the ascender stroke. If you have any questions drop a comment below.
Until next time, keep creating!