This year, I wanted to focus on learning calligraphy hands and how each hand changes the look of the same text. This experiment gives me kinetic memory of how each hand is styled and let me determine what I like about each hand.
I used a Pilot Pen (1.5mm nib) with black ink, several pages of Bienfang’s Calligraphic Paper, a sheet of Bristol paper marked with guidelines every 5/8/5 mm, a light box, and a copy of Herbert Mason’s Gilgamesh: A Verse Narrative.
My process was simple: pick a calligraphy hand and write out the first ten lines of Gilgamesh. The light box allowed me to write on calligraphy paper on top of the guidelines without reworking the guidelines on every paper.
The ductus for all hands come from Julien Chazal’s Calligraphy: A Complete Guide.
Gilgamesh was king of Uruk, A city set between the Tigris And Euphrates rivers In ancient Babylonia. Enkidu was born on the Steppe Where he grew up among the animals. Gilgamesh was called a god and man; Enkidu was an animal and man. It is the story Of their becoming human together. (Herbert 1970, 15)
Photos and Commentary
Chazal says this hand dates from the 1st to the 6th centuries (Chazal 2013, 34). This is a very legible script to read as it mostly resembles modern capitals. According to the guide, I should have used a calame or brush instead of a calligraphy pen but I used what I had. The characters were easy to write although I did have trouble with the swoop on the A and all the serifs. I do not like the serifs and left them off when I could. 5/10, I need more practice.
This hands dates from the 5th to the 11th century (Chazal 2013, 48). I like how this script consists of mainly of ‘o’ and ‘i’ like characters that are clear to a 21st century reader. Most of the recurring letters are easy to write with the exception of ‘a’ which takes up more room than expected. That swooping ‘t’ is nice to make but I did have trouble with the ascender on the ‘b’. It is fascinating how ‘similar’ characters in the 21st century like ‘R’ and ‘P’ are written completely different in this hand. 8/10 Would use again.
This is Merovingian, a hand from the 6th to 9th centuries as a precursor to Carolingian (Chazal 2013, 56). It is the first in this project to include true ascenders/descenders and minuscule text. My nemesis, the long ‘s’, makes its appearance – unfortunately it resembles the Merovingian ‘r’ too much for me to like this script. This one has nice ligatures – the ‘Gi’ part of ‘Gilgamesh’ does look good. Like Irish semi-uncial, the ‘a’ consists of two ‘c’s and takes up more room than I like. The ‘e’ and ‘t’ take up more and less space, respectively, than any other script I tried. 2/10 would not use again.
Bâtarde, dating from the 13th century onward (Chazal 2013, 82), was surprisingly a lot of fun. The main stroke is a left leaning curve followed by a small swoop as seen in ‘e’, ‘n’, ‘a’, ‘g’ and a ‘t’. The stems in ‘h’, ‘k’, ‘w’, and others curve and are fun to write. This hand is very legible to a 21st century reader with the exceptions of the long ‘s’ and the ‘v’. The ‘s’ letter redeems itself with a terminal ‘s’ character that looks nothing like a Roman ‘s’ but convenes an ‘s’-like quality. The closed ‘w’ is an interested but legible choice in both minuscule and capital form. 9/10 Would use again.
This was a fun project. I would like to try this passage with more hands after creating more guidelines.
- Chazal, Julien. Calligraphy: A Complete Guide. Translated by Jane Wolfrum. Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2013.
- Mason, Herbert. Gilgamesh: A Verse Narrative. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1970.