• Sarah Pullen

My Copperplate Journey - Part 2

Hello! I hope everyone is keeping well.

This blog entry follows on from my previous post on My Calligraphy Journey So Far and aims to provide an overview of what Copperplate Calligraphy is and my recommended books to read and Calligraphy experts / masters to follow. All of the below reflects my own views and the research I have undertaken, and is very much based on what I know about calligraphy at this moment in time. I hope it provides a useful resource and a little bit of inspiration.

First off, what is Copperplate?

I am by no means an expert on this but I hope the following brief description helps explain what calligraphy is in its broadest sense, and how Copperplate fits within this wonderful art form umbrella.

First and foremost, the term ‘calligraphy’ derives from the Greek words for “beauty” (kallos) and “to write” (graphein) and therefore translates to mean the art of beautiful handwriting. Calligraphy encompasses a whole host of beautiful writing styles executed with broad nibs, fine pointed nibs or a brush. There are three main styles of calligraphy: Western, Oriental and Arabic. Within these overarching styles are a number of sub-styles, for example within Western calligraphy you have, among others, Roman script, Blackletter, Uncial and Copperplate. If Copperplate isn’t for you, there is a bound to be a style out there that you find more appealing.

Copperplate calligraphy derived from English Roundhand which originated in early 17th Century Europe when business and trade were on the rise and there was a need for skilled penmanship. At the same time, metal engraving became more accessible, enabling script to be engraved onto plates made of copper - hence the name Copperplate. Copperplate / English Roundhand grew in popularity due to its legibility and relative efficiency to produce. There is another similar calligraphy style called American Engrosser’s script, which I understand to be drawn, not written, as is the case with Copperplate / English Roundhand.

Unlike modern calligraphy styles, Copperplate calligraphy requires an understanding of a set of technical rules including x-heights and a characteristic 55 degree slant, which contribute toward its distinct and elegant form. I'll cover this in a little more detail in my next post.

One of my favourite descriptions of calligraphy is this quote from A History of Calligraphy by Albertine Gaur:

‘What is calligraphy? To answer this question we must first of all ask ourselves: what is writing, and how do the objective and purpose of writing differ from that of calligraphy?

Writing stores information essential to the social, economic and political survival of a particular group. It is thus intimately connected with the practical well-being and the physical survival of society.

Just follow your heart - my own calligraphy

My Favourite Books

Books are a wonderful, irreplaceable resource. Much of what I have learned has come from reading, and re-reading, numerous books. There is no doubt that online resources such as YouTube and Instagram are highly beneficial, but nothing can replace a beautiful book for providing inspiration and a source of reference; having exemplar scripts sat next to you as you practice is incredibly beneficial.

  • A History of Calligraphy by Albertine Gaur

Not a necessity for developing skills in calligraphy but if you would like to understand how calligraphy has developed over time and where and when the various styles began and evolved, I would recommend taking a look through some history books such as A History of Calligraphy by Albertine Gaur. History books give meaning to the practice and I find it incredible that the skills I learn are part of an art form that has been a part of our history for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. History books help establish a great foundation for learning.

  • Mastering Copperplate by Eleanor Winters

This book provides a comprehensive, step-by-step guide for learning the copperplate script. It starts with a brief history of copperplate, before providing an in-depth examination of the alphabet, numbers, and punctuation. Each letter is demonstrated stroke by stroke with a clear explanation.

  • The Zanerian Manual

Although this book is based on the American Engrosser's Script,The Zanerian Manual is one of the most comprehensive books ever to exist containing information about Zanerian Engrosser’s Script, Ornamental Penmanship, and American Lettering and therefore makes a fascinating and educational read. Engrosser’s script’s core characteristics are similar to English Roundhand (its primary influence), and so the guidance on how to write letters is worth a look at. You can download a (very large) pdf here: http://masgrimes.com/archive/zanerian-manual

  • The Universal Penman by George Bickham

George Bickham, a noted engraver and calligrapher, first compiled the best specimens of 24 of the leading calligraphers of his day back in the 1740s. This edition however contains every plate which Bickham engraved, and each is reproduced from an original. This book contains more than 210 full-page plates, each crammed full of beautiful and interesting material. I love this book and constantly look through it to compare my practice to the writing of the original and awesome masters of copperplate script.

  • Copperplate Script – A Yin & Yang Approach by Paul Antonio

This is currently my favourite book and is written by one of my favourite scribes / artists / penmans, Paul Antonio. Copperplate Script – A Yin & Yang Approach is an innovative, new technology applied to an historical script. The script presented in his manual is not an historical hand, but a geometric construct to aid in a more exacting understanding of the script. This construct assists with writing a cleaner and more beautiful copperplate script. It takes a little while to get your head around the guidance within this book but once you start working through it, it becomes easier, very logical and incredibly helpful. This book has definitely improved my Copperplate skills.

Should you like to learn skills in modern calligraphy I would also recommend giving Modern Calligraphy by Molly Suber Thorpe a go. It’s easy to follow and has some fun project suggestions.

People I Follow

In addition to reading books, I would suggest taking a look at the works of current day copperplate masters. Their work is simply outstanding and incredibly inspiring. There are a number of wonderful calligraphers out there, so search the internet or spend some time on Instagram, but these are some of my favourite:

Other Instagram accounts that I love to follow include @Halfapx, @oliveleafcalli, @kenfrastercalligrapher, @calligraphyquil and @thecalligrapherchristen (the latter two accounts, also host a podcast called The Calligraphy Podcast, which is a great listen). I would also suggest following the Calligraphy Masters Instagram feed or listening to their podcast for inspiration.

I hope this has helped develop your understanding of Copperplate calligraphy and that the suggested resources prove useful to you in developing your practice.

Please do get in touch if you have any questions, or comment below if there are other resources you find useful that I haven’t included in this post. And remember:

Never stop dreaming - my own calligraphy

Best wishes,

Sarah x

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