Different styles of blackletter emerged over many years, but according to historical research, Textura was the most common throughout Europe. Textura-style blackletter solved the problems scribes faced in those times, but it is not a particularly readable font style and it was for this reason that the blackletter font continued to evolve. One of the most popular, even to this day, is the Fraktur style.
At the turn of the 16th century, German emperor Maximilian laid out plans for an exquisite library. Fed up with the difficult-to-read Textura hand, he had his chancery Leonhard Wagner work with Hieronymus Andreae (a renowned woodblock cutter) to develop a new font style.The new style quickly rose in popularity as it was printed and distributed throughout the country.
Fraktur didn’t fall out of popularity until the WW2 era due to the rise of the Third Reich. Since the Nazi propaganda was printed using this hand and the style unfortunately became identified with the Nazi Party. Because of this connection to the Third Reich it fell out of use.
The word Fraktur is derived from the Latin word “fractus”, which means broken. This word translates to English as “fracture”.This meaning is a very accurate description of the font as the letterforms are broken apart into fractured strokes laid out at many angles.
Take a look at the following image of the Fraktur majuscules and pay attention to the colors:
Each color represents a stroke that is repeated throughout the alphabet to make up the letterforms. Obviously, some strokes are varied ever so slightly to fit their size or placement placement within a given letterform. However, the technique used to create that stroke is still the same.
Note: The image at the right shows how the alphabet broken down into the individual strokes can be used to form a particular letter.
Image from jakerainis.com
Earlier blackletter hands are straight and rigid which tends to create a strong vertical rhythm and because the letters are often tracked together tightly makes it more difficult to read.
Fraktur on the other hand uses combinations of straight strokes along with curves to make up its letterforms. These angles and curves differ greatly from the Textura hand which is comprised of a smaller set strokes that fall at just a couple of different angles.This variety of angles is a major aspect of what makes Fraktur more legible.
There are no hard and fast rules about how to set up proper blackletter guides, but a common pattern is a 2:4:2 ratio. This means that the height of your letters body is 4 units and the heights of your ascenders and descenders are 2 units.
Note: Each unit is equal to the width of the nib you are using.
Note: Holding your nib at a 90º angle, draw a short horizontal line to create a square, this square will represent a single unit of height.
As you can see in the image at the right, is a 2:4:2 guide, where each square represents one nib-width.
Basic minuscule strokes
Since the Fraktur lowercase letters are more difficult than that of the Textura alphabet is because of it is made up of more angles and curves and it is not very hard to learn. All you need to remember is that Fraktur calligraphy is created by turning your nib at an angle of between 35º and 45º to the horizontal
Basic horizontal strokes are started by placing your pen’s nib between 35º and 45º to the horizontal and moving it to the right as shown in the images at the right.
To produce the “Fraktur edge”, move the nib upward at the beginning and end of the horizontal stroke..
The second stroke shown above is done in the same way as the first, As soon as you begin the stroke, move the pen up and over making a small hump, then back up to complete the sharp point at the same angle in which the stroke began.
The third stroke (labelled “fill”) can be created with a single pen stroke by flicking the nib at the right angle while flexing it with the right amount of pressure. This takes a whole lot of practice. .
Note: You can also fake the fills by drawing them in with the edge of your nib.
The vertical strokes used in Fraktur calligraphy are actually very similar to the horizontal strokes. The only major difference being that they are upright (and longer).
The vertical strokes are all made by moving the pen down in a straight line or with a slight bend as shown in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th examples in the image above.
Note: The most important thing to keep in mind is your pen must always remain at the same angle.
The last stroke in the above image is the most difficult since it tapers to a point as it gets towards the bottom. This is achieved by applying more pressure on the left side of the nib and less pressure on the right side of the nib as you finish off the stroke.
Note: This technique requires hours of practice before it becomes natural.
Note: If you are unable to get this tapered stroke to your liking, it can be filled in using the edge of your nib,
Once you are comfortable with the horizontal and vertical strokes, you can begin to make the lowercase alphabet. As you see many of the letterforms in the lowercase alphabet use the same pattern (ie. a, c, e, g, o, q) which start with a vertical stroke with the second stroke being the short horizontal diamond that connects to the top of the first stroke
Note: These recurring patterns are extremely helpful to quickly learn the alphabet.
Begin by printing out the these minuscule guide sheets from jakerainis.com. You may want to print out a blank copy of the last page for each letterform to get you comfortable with the strokes used in each of the letterforms. as you can see from the guide sheets they start with a dark stroke then get progressively lighter, this was how we were taught to write as children because it is the easiest way to learn the stroke and letterforms.
Note: Trace the guides carefully, and as they fade out, reference them visually until you’re comfortable creating the forms from memory.
Note: As you practice focus on both the angle of the stroke and the consistancy of the negative space which will give your letters a uniform appearance when you assemble them into words.
Note: It is all about practice. It takes many hours to become proficient at writing blackletter consistently, don’t be discouraged. Just keep at it.
Just like the minuscule alphabet, we’ll work at a 40º angle and use the same 2:4:2 guide system. As you experiment further, you might find yourself straying from this angle. This is okay as Blackletter is typically done between 35º and 45º. just remember; the angle itself doesn’t matter as much as keeping the angle consistent in each letter
Rounded strokes start at the top and end at the bottom. To perform the stroke successfully, take it slow and pay close attention to the inside of the stroke. Essentially, you’re creating a half of a circle or crescent (due to your pen angle).
Start with the individual crescent strokes and when you’re comfortable with both the lower left crescent and the upper right crescent, put them together to form an “O”.
The final stroke to the right in the sequence is a 2-part stroke that begins with a crescent as the first stroke. To practice the second stroke, place your pen nib at the exact spot where you start the lower crescent. Pull the pen down slightly to the left and then round it out, pulling it diagonally down and to the right. As you get near the end, round it once more, inwards and to the left.
As you can see in the image to the right, these rounded strokes play important roles in several majuscule letterforms.
Other stroke forms
Trying to change the construction of the letterforms in this alphabet is a little more difficult than with the Fraktur minuscules The fact is the majority of the majuscule letterforms are comprised of their own unique strokes.
Start from the left of the image at the right. The first stroke looks a bit odd on it’s own, but you’ll see how it comes together in several different letters shortly. Start with the long vertical (labelled “1”). Position your pen’s nib at a 40º angle slightly below the ascender line. Move upwards and to the right briefly, but then quickly loop around and bring it down till it is a single unit about the baseline as shown.
The second stroke begins directly to the left (about 1.5 units) of where the first stroke ends. It’s one of those “squiggle” strokes, so move the pen slightly upward at a 40º angle and loop back down, continuing down through where the top of this stroke meets the previous stroke until the bottom of this stroke meets the baseline. Then finish it off with that upward curl at 40º.
The second exercise from the left should look familiar to you. It’s comprised of two of the basic strokes from the minuscule alphabet. You’ll also find this series of strokes throughout the majuscule alphabet as well.
The third and fourth exercises are pretty self explanatory. Begin with a hairline stroke (you can achieve this by using the edge of your nib) moving straight upwards until you get towards the ascender line. Finish off the stroke with the respective horizontal (third exercise) or diagonal (fourth exercise).
The diamond is optional, but it certainly adds to the visual complexity of your letter.
Here are some examples of letters
using these miscellaneous strokes. That unique combination from the first exercise is pretty prevalent, right?
Begin by printing out the these majuscule guide sheets from jakerainis.com. You may want to print out a blank copy of the last page for each letterform to allow you to get comfortable with the strokes used in each of the letterforms
Again as with the minuscule guide sheets the majuscule guide sheets are set up the same way to allow you to start by tracing and. Like the minuscule guide, each line slowly gradates from black to completely transparent. Start by tracing the letter form untill you feel comfortable and you rely less on the guides.
When you feel comfortable enough to draw the letters without tracing them, using a fresh practice sheet draw your own letters. But keep the other reference guide sheet in front of you as you practice.
Note: You will need to draw each letter many times before you’re able to memorize them. Then you’ll need to draw them each many more times to get them perfect.
Once you feel comfortable with the memorization of each letters construction, print more practice sheets and with no help from the reference guide, draw the entire alphabet, then check the guide to see how accurate you were.
At this point, you can start introducing minuscules and writing words and sentences. Below is a couple sentences (panagrams) that utilize all of the different letters of the alphabet:
Jaded zombies acted quaintly but kept driving their oxen forward.
A mad boxer shot a quick, gloved jab to the jaw of his dizzy opponent.
The job requires extra pluck and zeal from every young wage earner.
A quart jar of oil mixed with zinc oxide makes a very bright paint.
There will be a few problems as you practice, try not to get discouraged. Take a break and remember that to become competent in a style of calligraphy takes many hours of practice.