The Calligrapher's Life

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Copperplate Handwriting: Considering a Classic

What can I say about Copperplate handwriting? Well, for starters…it’s the most romantic, yet dramatic lettering, I’ve ever seen. Its flamboyant flourishing grabs the eye and steals your heart thinking about the time it took to create such a lovely word or line. Classic and dainty, it’s no wonder brides around the world consider it a “must-have”. I call the Copperplate hand “the letters of love”.

The ornate, delicate design looks like loads of love went into writing this hand. You certainly can’t scribble out a name in two seconds and get it to look graceful. Maybe that’s why Copperplate is synonymous for formal occasions, especially weddings.

A few years ago when I started my calligraphy journey, my original exposure to this art stemmed from a friend’s impending wedding and Copperplate writing became my ultimate goal. I’ve been hooked to calligraphy ever since.

As you develop your own calligraphy journey, add Copperplate handwriting to your list for hands to learn. It’s a beautiful and challenging art; you’ll take pride in learning.
                                                                                                                               

What is Copperplate?          

Copperplate is a cursive handwriting developed in England, which spread quickly throughout the English speaking world around the 18th century. The lettering is characterized by looping majuscules (upper case letters) and minuscules (lower case letters), which are usually written with decorative flourishes.

Unlike Italic or Roman hands, Copperplate handwriting requires a 55 degree slope and they’re normally linked together since the release of the 1770 copy manual by John Sealy called “The Running Hand”. Although it’s an ornate and fancy letter, Copperplate started out with bolder lines for business use called “Round hand”. It’s counterpart we know and love today, offers lighter, narrower lines called “Italian” or “ladies” hand, which we use today for commercial and personal art.

When did it start?

Copperplate writing originated in the 16th century and grew in popularity in England around the 18th century. When Copperplate started, Americans wrote with feather quills to dip in ink for document preparation. Later, dip pens with sharp flexible nibs became popular.

Creating the slim, delicate lines and loops of the Copperplate letters worked better than the heavier nibs, which is common for the Italic hand. After the inception of the Declaration of Independence, the Americans used Copperplate handwriting for business and personal use until other hands like Spencerian prevailed in schools around the latter part of the 19th century.

What to use?

For most hand lettering, ink reigns. On the other hand, if you’re working with lightweight invitations or envelopes, depending on the grade of it, it might cause trouble. Certain paper grades (or weights) are too light to handle average calligraphy inks, so go with paints, like gouache. Gouache is versatile and fun for artists who don’t mind the added preparation for mixing paint (with distilled water) and placing it on the nib.

Although black and white inks offer dramatic and formal appeal, brides these days prefer color to matching wedding announcements with a specific theme.

Who should try Copperplate?

Any artist interested in learning Copperplate can do it. But, it’s not something you can master in one day. Whatever your skill level, dedicate yourself to practicing consistently to master this hand with confidence.

In my experience, I found classroom instruction worked better compared to using a practice manual. Unlike the italic hand, it’s not easy to learn Copperplate alone because you need to know where to place the thin and thick lines that characterize a proper Copperplate hand. And, believe me, class instruction helps, but frustration still reared its ugly head with me.

If you’re an extreme newbie to calligraphy, prepare yourself with mounds of patience and dedication. For the moderate artists with minor exposure to lettering, you’ll find Copperplate a joyful challenge.

Have you tried Copperplate writing before? If so, what was your initial experience like?

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