The Calligrapher's Life

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Formal Writing for the Novice

Before entering the world of calligraphy, if I ever noticed a piece written in the Spencerian hand, I’d naturally assume it was Copperplate. For example, when you see a proper name written in Spencerian and decorated with flourishing, it carries a strong resemblance to the Copperplate style-unless you know specifically what to look for. Both hands offer ornate letter design with a formal touch, but they carry their own distinct differences.

For two weeks, Ms. Close has instructed our class on the proper Spencerian hand techniques, including a brief history of the early 19th century style.

The Spencerian hand originated from Platt Roger Spencer in the mid-1800’s. During this period, the style grew in popularity because it offered a faster writing method for business forms and letters. It also became the norm with students as a primary form of penmanship for classroom assignments.

Of course, when the typewriter emerged in the 1920’s, this graceful writing style lost its luster and retired to the art and history books waiting for its revival.

In contrast to Copperplate, Spencerian demands greater focus while placing pen to paper. The letters require a lighter touch on your writing surface to avoid creating heavier lines or shading. If the calligrapher is not careful, darker shading on upper and lower case letters could easily resemble Copperplate.

After a few practice strokes, Spencerian appears like your everyday handwriting. On the other hand, Copperplate exudes a more formal appearance because the dark shading enhances the letters.

For any beginner passionate about formal writing, I’d suggest the Spencerian hand for its similarity to basic penmanship. This style provides an easier and more graceful learning experience for a novice with a limited pointed pen history.

So, it’s safe to say…once a calligrapher feels comfortable with Spencerian, the transition to Copperplate writing should be a snap.


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