My Calligraphy Process

Many people have fonts memorized so when they pull out a pen or brush they can simply “go”. Others need assistance from time to time, whether that be looking at something for reference or tracing directly. In recreating the style of historical medieval manuscripts I have found it useful to create a virtual representation on the computer before committing more expensive media.

Find an image you like in a book or online.
Download the highest resolution image available. If it’s in a book, you can scan or take a picture with a digital camera or phone to get a digital file to work with.

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King David playing a harp in the Luttrell Psalter, England c. 1320-1340

Find an appropriate typeface.
For this example, I searched online for “Luttrell Psalter typeface” and found it to be Gothic Textura Prescisus. The following search for “Gothic Textura Prescisus” resulted in a downloadable font called Textura Prescisus.

Bring picture into editing software program.
I use Adobe Illustrator.

Adjust artwork to correct size.
The Luttrell Psalter is 350mm x 245mm with a 253mm x 170mm text space. You can choose to size it differently to suit your project but realize that’s a departure from the source you are working from.

Recreate type on the page.
Medieval texts, especially Latin, can be difficult to read. In this particular case I found what Psalm 1 said in English then translated it back to Latin to figure out for certain which letters were which.

Beatus vir qui non abiit in consilio impiorum et in via peccatorum non stetit , et in cathedra pestilentiae non sedit.
Sed in lege Domini voluntas ejus,et in lege ejus meditabitur die ac nocte.
Et erit tamquam lignum quod plantatum est secus decursus aquarum, quod fructum suum dabit in tempore suo: et folium ejus non defluet; et omnia quæcumque faciet prosperabuntur.

Try to match the text as well as possible. The default font will almost never match what you are trying to emulate. You will need to adjust these things.

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Default settings on the pasted text.

First adjust the leading, or the space between lines of text.

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After leading has been adjusted.

Then adjust the kerning, or space between individual characters on a line. This can be applied to the entire copy and also between individual characters to best match the original calligraphy.

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After characters have been kerned.

Swap any characters that do not match. The medieval s often looks like an f. If the typeface is robust you may have choices for alternate characters and ligatures. You should now have an editable digital recreation of the example.

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Typed and adjusted text on the left compared with the original document on the right.

Note: The true benefit of this method is to give a convincing appearance to copy differing from the source material. If you are recreating not only the style but also the exact wording, or it is a very short passage, it would be easier to just copy or trace it directly.

Paste copy (award scroll, indenture, etc.)
Copy and paste the text into your modified text box. Feel free to fuss with the kerning and characters to best match the style you have so far been modeling after. This is where your creativity and eye for detail comes into play.

Know that we, in recognition of the honorable works & deeds of Serf, especially for reasons, are minded to make unto them and (note the spelling error. The website I pasted the text from contained the error) Award of Arms.
We bestow upon them the right to bear Arms as duly registered within the society and all responsibilities and rights conveyed by elevation to this rank without let or hindrance from any person from this day onward.  Done by our hands this day Anno Societatis LI from somewhere.

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Text from the manuscript (left). New scroll text pasted in and adjusted to match (right).

Print out
Black and white print on fairly thin white paper is best. Do not change the size to fit the paper. Print out at 100%.

Tape printout to light box then tape whatever media you are using on top of that.
I tend to use masking tape or painters tape to do as little damage and leave as little residue as possible. I use this same method whether I’m copying to heavier paper, Bristol board, parchment, or vellum.
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Write!
Put pen and ink to paper using the printout as your guide. The style of pen and ink are up to you. Some prefer chisel point markers. Others use fountain pens or dip pens. Some even cut their own quills. Whatever you feel comfortable with and achieves the proper line weights.

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India Ink on 9×12 Bristol paper. I saw an error on my copied text (double check your work!) and worked around it. I should have used a slightly wider nib, but it worked for the example.

Finished.
Your calligraphy is done. Sometimes (as with my contracts) that’s the end of the artwork, but other times you will add illuminations and border artwork. I will likely finish this scroll in the style of artwork from the page in the Luttrell Psalter. I’ll post that blog when I get to the illumination.

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Finished calligraphy. Missing letters will be added in color along with any additional artwork.

 

 

 

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