Create Beautiful Copperplate Calligraphy With A Brush Pen
Have you ever wanted to add elegant calligraphy to your projects but get overwhelmed at the whole world of dip pens and ink?
When learning calligraphy & lettering with a brush pen often the style that people initially learn is the big and bouncy style. Which is great! Big and bouncy is also beautiful, but I love using small brush pens for their elegant look and feel, and I wanted my calligraphy to seem the same.
So I dove into learning copperplate style calligraphy with the brush pens and I loved it! It’s a bit tough transitioning into this elegant style but it’s well worth it if you want to take your calligraphy and lettering to a whole new level of gorgeous and skill.
What Is Copperplate Calligraphy?
Copperplate is actually an overarching umbrella term for multiple different styles of calligraphy. The term started from the early days of the printing press (around the 1600s) as an Intaglio Process of printing, where the words/design were etched onto a copper plate before the plate went an acid treatment in order to print the designs onto paper.
Copperplate calligraphy became a term for the multiple styles of calligraphy that were used to engrave these plates, such as Roundhand and Engrossers Script.
Copperplate Verses Spencerian
You may have heard of Spencerian script as a style of calligraphy too. The two scripts differ in many areas, such as purposes, style and methods of use.
Copperplate calligraphy started in the 1600s in Europe due to the printing press, but later in the US in the 1800s there was a man named Platt Rogers Spencer who wanted to make an easy, legible and quick style of script to use in business documents. He created the oval based Spencerian style script, which became the main script taught in schools and used in businesses until the popularity of the typewriter boomed in the 1920s.
Tools Needed For Copperplate Brush Calligraphy
One thing that will make learning copperplate calligraphy easier is to use angled guidelines. Depending on the style of copperplate the angle could be anywhere between 35 to 55 degrees from the baseline. It’s hard to keep a continuous slant with your writing unless you use the guidelines, and even master calligraphers still use them, so there’s no shame in using them, whether you’re a beginner or a professional.
Well this seems pretty obvious but you’ll need a brush pen. I recommend a small nibbed one, such as:
- Tombow Fudenosuke
- Pentel Touch Sign Brush Pen
- Kuretake Fudegokochi
- Marvy Uchida Le Pen Flex
You can find out way more about these pens (and lots more supplies) in the Supplies List page.
Make your Brush Pens Strokes Look Like A Nib
Brush Pen Verses Nib
The difference between using a brush pen and a nib is enourmous. I’ve heard many dip pen calligraphers say that a brush pen is quite the learning curve, and vice versa. There are strokes and movements that a brush pen allows that nibs do not (especially traditional quill ones that aren’t made of metal).
Because of this, the strokes that you learn when starting out in modern calligraphy are not the same as the ones with copperplate calligraphy. For example, the reverse oval stroke used in the letter p was traditionally never used, as the nib just wouldn’t easily write in that direction without snagging. The compound curve was used instead.
Similarly, there’s some things that the nib does that requires an extra step with the brush pen, such as squaring the edge.
Squaring the Edge
It won’t take long creating Copperplate calligraphy with a brush pen before you notice the weird angles it leaves behind. Copperplate has all sorts of elegant squared angles on the strokes that make it look beautiful. Have a look at the shape of the bottom of this ascender stroke when created with a nib verses a brush pen.
You should be able to see that the angle the brush pen makes at the end of the stroke doesn’t actually line up with the baseline, like the dip pen does. This also happens with the underturn, the overturn, the descender stroke and the full length stroke.
The way to fix this is to make the shape of the angle with a hairline thin stroke, outlining where it’s meant to go, and then fill it in after. This will give your brush pens a nice dip pen look.
Go Back Over The Stroke
Traditionally when creating certain strokes with the dip pen, the calligrapher would sometimes break the one stroke up into two parts to make it easier to create with the old school quill, or they would even turn their page upside down to finish the stroke in a different direction. This gave it an extra bit of dimension to the look. When learning calligraphy with brush pens, these steps are not needed or never taught.
Have a look at how the ascender stroke can look when created with the nib verses the way we’re often taught to make it with the dip pen.
The direction the stroke is made in with the brush pen is different from the direction with the nib. To create a similar look as the nib, simply go back over the rounded part of the stroke and give it a (only slight) extra thickness.
Controlling The Transition
The other main thing to watch out for when creating this type of calligraphy is watching when you transition from thin to thick strokes (and back). Often if you’ve learnt the casual modern day calligraphy, the transition from thin to thick happens at the curve instead of after the curve.
When creating these strokes with dip pens, as I mentioned earlier, some ofthe strokes are split into two parts which ends up making the thin part of the stroke start way further down the stroke, rather than “as you start doing a downstroke”. Hopefully this image helps demonstrate what I am trying to explain.
Copperplate style calligraphy (to make it look good) takes a lot more control than regular modern day brush lettering so make sure you go slow. Also, don’t get disheartened if it takes a while, because it’s quite the learning curve.
The Actual Strokes In Copperplate
Let’s get into each stroke in detail, and the difference between doing it with a dip pen and a brush pen (if there is a difference).
This stroke is generally the same in regular brush calligraphy as it is in dip pen: minimal pressure thin stroke up from the baseline. It is used in nearly all lowercase letters as the lead in stroke when they are used on their own or at the start of the word.
I’ve noticed a few different places that people start this stroke in modern calligraphy but in copperplate make sure you start at the top of the stroke (the x height) and go around and down, creating an oval that finishes again at the top.
The only main difference when making a copperplate style oval stroke is the option of going back down over the right side to give it a little thickness.
This used to be called the “i shape” or something similar but it’s used for more letters than just a lowercase i. This is a stroke that needs the top squared off after the stroke is created so that the top is straight with the x height.
Generally speaking this stroke doesn’t finish all the way up at the top of the x height, it actually finishes around halfway up. Practice transitioning in smoothly from the thick to the thin when curving around to the right.
The difference between creating this stroke with the brush pen and dip pen is quite dramatic. If you were to do the “brush pen method” with the dip pen your nib might snag on the paper because nibs can’t go certain directions very easily. This is where brush pens changed the game.
The dip pen method starts the stroke at the top of the straight, with a thin hairline that transitions into a thick stroke with a squared edge at the bottom (so don’t forget to square off the edge when creating it with a brush pen).
Head back up to the top of the stroke you just made, and create the loop, heading in the other direction. This method means you get the extra thickness on the loop, but it also makes one thing so, so much easier: flourishing!
If you want to add a flourish to your ascender stroke, simply start from the top of the straight part and it allows you to go in many directions with lots of control.
Next we have essentially the same stroke but upside down. This stroke extends from the top of the x height down, down to nearly the bottom of the 2nd descender space. When creating this stroke with the dip pen often there’s a pause where the writer lifts their pen at the bottom of the straight part, before continuing.
I have seen the loop created in so many different ways, including turning the page upside down in order to finish the stroke. This is way too much effort that brush pens eliminate the need for.
So, the options to finish the stroke: start at the baseline and curve your way to the rest of the stroke (this option might be tricker but it gives the thickness on the loop) or start at the bottom of the straight part and curve your way to the baseline, and then you have the option of going over the loop again in the opposite direction to get the thickness.
Either way, pausing at the bottom of the straight can also make flourishing the descender stroke easier and gives you more control.
Lastly, don’t forget to get the top of the stroke squared off to the line at the top of the x height.
Next there’s the thick basic downstroke. This stroke will likely need both edges squared off to make it in line with the baseline and ascender line when there’s a slant. Other than that, there’s not much difference in making this stroke with the brush pen than with the dip pen.
This stroke is very similar to the underturn, but it’s upside down. It starts halfway up the x height with a thin stroke curving around to the right and transitioning to a thick stroke down, ending on the baseline. Square off the edge and you’re done.
Sometimes this stroke is called the “v shape” but more often than not in modern calligraphy it’s called the compound curve. Traditionally there’s another stroke that is sometimes called a compound curve amongst old school calligraphers which can get a little confusing.
This stroke is a mix of the underturn and overturn stroke. It starts and finishes half way up the x height.
In copperplate calligraphy you’ll often see a smaller version of this stroke as a bit of a flourish leading into the capital letters, as well as forming the foundation of many lowercase letters.
Lastly we have the uppercase stroke. This stroke doesn’t exist in modern calligraphy and often the uppercase alphabet isn’t taught by strokes, the new modern calligrapher has to generally “wing it” with the uppercase alphabet. This is where copperplate calligraphy differs: there are more rules and structure to the uppercase letters.
This stroke extends through three spaces (x height to the 2nd ascender space) and it’s used in so many letters in the uppercase alphabet. This is also the stroke that was often called “the compound curve” by some traditional calligraphers.
The goal with this stroke is to have the curves of the stroke equal to wach other and create this stroke along the slant line. It’s not a square top or bottom, it’s only thick briefly in the middle of the stroke so ease into it and make sure that both ends are thin.
The Stroke That’s Missing
In modern calligraphy (only recently) people are starting to teach a stroke called the reverse oval, becuase of the sudden realisation that this stroke is actually used when creating letters such as lowercase p and b. Traditionally this stroke didn’t exist because nibs couldn’t easily move in that direction. The stroke would be replaced with the compound curve in order to create the p, and an underturn for the letter b.
If you want to learn the elegant style of copperplate, you can put the reverse oval stroke on the shelf for a while.
Copperplate Alphabet With A Brush Pen
Hopefully you can see that the basic strokes when creating copperplate vary from regular modern day brush calligraphy. Copperplate is a beautiful style of script and once you learn the strokes you can create your own beautiful alphabet at home. I will be going through all the letters in the posts coming up so make sure you sign up to get updated here:
Another option is to grab the practice pages booklet which includes all the strokes, uppercase and lowercase alphabet before I even finish the articles about it. The worksheets are available here for $10AUD.
Until next time, keep creating!
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