Understanding Hairlines and Shades in Copperplate Calligraphy

One characteristic of Copperplate script is the intricate relationship between hairlines and shades. To construct proper Copperplate letterforms, we must understand how hairline and shaded strokes are made.

Note: I use the terms “pen” and “nib” interchangeably; they mean the same thing.

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Unlike broad pens and fountain pens, the pointed dip pens used for Copperplate script are designed to flex.  Because of the sharp point and flexible tines of pointed pens, we are able to achieve hairline strokes and thick, shaded strokes by controlling the amount of pressure we apply to the nib.

HAIRLINES

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Relaxed (closed) tines create hairline strokes.

Hairlines, the thinnest strokes, are achieved when the tines of the nib are relaxed (no pressure applied). The nib simply glides on the surface of the paper. Hairlines can be drawn in any direction (up, down, sideways, loops, etc.)  Note, however, that all upstrokes are hairlines.

SHADES

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Flexed (opened) tines created shades on downstrokes.

Shades, sometimes called “swells”, can be achieved when the tines of the nib are flexed.  Applying pressure to the nib flexes (opens) the tines, allowing more ink to be released on to the paper.  Because pressure is required to flex the tines, shaded strokes can only be made on down strokes.  The sharpness of the pen will cause the nib to snag or puncture the paper if too much pressure is applied on up strokes.

THICKNESS

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Depending on the pressure applied, a single nib can produce a varying thickness in shade. (nib: Tachikawa G)

Dependening on how much pressure you apply on the downstroke, shades can vary in thickness.   Dr. Joe Vitolo refers to this as “heft”.  The more pressure you place on the nib, the wider the tines open, creating thicker the shades.  Consistency is key.

TRANSITIONS

The hairline-to-shade and shade-to-hairline transitions of strokes are smooth, not abrupt.  To achieve smooth transitions, the pressure on the nib must be gradually applied or released on the down stroke.

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Inconsistencies are noted by red arrows

A) Smooth transitions and equal heft on the shades

B) Smooth transitions, inconsistent shading

C) Smooth transitions, inconsistent shading

D) Abrupt transitions, inconsistent shading (note the pointy curves).

Practice:

Try these basic strokes.  Draw them slowly and precisely.  Pay careful attention to:

1) The transitions of from hairline-to-shade and shade to hairline.
Does the shade gradually thicken and/or taper off?

2) The consistency of the heft of your shades.
Are your shades equal in thickness?

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Basic strokes drill exercise to practice the transition of hairlines to shade, and shades to hairlines. Note that the shades are made only on downward strokes.

The harmonious relationship between hairlines and shades make Copperplate elegant and beautiful.  When practicing these strokes, be sure to focus on the consistency of your shades and the smoothness of the transitions.

Learning a new skill requires a lot of practice and patience.  It’s ok if you don’t get it exactly right the first time or the second time.  Keep practicing.  Keep going.

Happy writing!

Your Copperplate Companion,
Nina

 

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