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Script Analysis – More investigation on density issues

I wanted to look more at my comment from a couple of posts ago :

I felt that heading towards a smaller x-height (the rightmost columns) gave me a denser letter. However, this was further away from the x-height given by the nib width ladder…..Also in why my nib ladder is so tall. Is it incorrect? Or is it correct, but I need to go for a smaller x-height simply because I want to go for the dense aspect of the script? Even at 11.5 mm x-height, I don’t reckon the letters look much like the script, but I just can’t pick what the difference is.

Before I did that, however, I had a quick look at something Yvianne said :

“(on relaxing). I was referring to the amount of pressure your hand has on the pen. It can play a great deal into how the calligraphy appears on the page. A heavy hand (regardless of the reason, be it pain, confidence, rushed, watery ink, …etc) can cause your strokes to be wider than the size printed on your nib. A feather light touch OTOH may not allow enough ink to reach the tip of the nib so it cannot spread out the full width of it… this would produce a thinner stroke. That’s why I recommended not going strictly by measurements but by the look of the hand you’re producing. Speedball nibs respond to very light pressure and have a tendency to splay out a little wider than the stated nib size.”

So how much could a nib width marked on paper vary according to pressure exerted on the pen nib?

That’s quite a difference! 3 mm between the heaviest pressure I could exert, and the lightest.
I used ‘my normal pressure’ and came up with something inbetween.

I thought there would be a difference, given differing pressure, but not that much!

Ok, so that’s a factor.

You’d definitely want to measure a good range of ‘broad’ strokes when determining a pen width from a mss page.

————————-
Anyway. Onto looking at variations of x-height.

I had a look, a couple of posts ago, at x-height variations between 13.5 mm and 11.5 mm, and felt that as I got towards a smaller x-height, I was getting towards the denser letters.

So now I’ve taken it further – with even smaller x-heights.

Here is the same line of script, repeated at x-heights between 13 mm going down to 8.5 mm in 0.5 decrements.


What I did was go through each line and mark the letters with my 3mm nib angled at 45 degrees, trying to find the best fit for the nib.
And the stroke width matched the nib at around 9.5 mm or 1 cm.

This match would indicate that my x-height and nib width were finally in proportion according to the source script.

This is so way off the nib ladder, which indicated 13 or 13.5 mm.

I started to wonder if the pen angle I had selected (45 degrees) was incorrect. Crazy thought, but I was trying everything. It was the one other thing that could vary (pen width, x-height, pen angle).

I found two things, one of which makes sense, and the other not

* Checking the number of pen widths for the line of script I used, I found that it was actually 4.5 pen widths, not 5.

This doesn’t suprise me. I found out ages ago that the ascender/descender and x-heights vary quite a bit between the lines on the one page (shown in http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger2/8051/3902/1600/Backhouse_Float%26A%26D.jpg

I’ve shown several different lines of script further below, and they vary between 4.5 and 5 pen widths. It just depends on which line you pick.

This, I can live with.

And a nib ladder with 4.5 pen widths at 45 degrees gives a 10 mm x-height, which fits my 3 mm nib. PERFECT! All in proportion. Yay!

(however)

* Pen nib ladders.

These creatures have become the bane of my life.

I’ve looked through Patricia Lovett’s book, and all the ladders are shown with the little squares made by a pen at zero degrees, not the major angle of the hand.

But the lines drawn in the script aren’t at zero degrees. The pen will be at an angle – 45 degrees for Gothic script. The x-height and the spacing between the letters is meant to be the same. But vertical lines (forming the letters, and the blank spaces between the letters) are skinnier than vertical lines drawn at zero degrees.

*stumbling block* *brain death*

So it all works out with a nib ladder with it’s squares drawn at 45 degrees, to give an x-height of 10 mm, which gives stroke width on the original mss that match my 3 mm nib.

Which, apparently, is not how you are supposed to do nib ladders. *sigh*

I wonder if you can disregard the nib ladder using it only as an indication, and work with the actual script instead, as I have – to get the same density of script as shown in the original mss.

—————-

The next thought was – well, I’ve only been working with one line of the script and that came from the top of the page of the original mss. Michelle and Yvianne pointed out that the script increased in density further down the page.

So I had a look at other lines. I took out the first 3 lines, some from the middle, and the last line.

There’s the variation between 4.5 and 5 pen widths.

I’ve marked all the letters up with my 3 mm nib, and they all fit nicely at 45 degrees.

So I’m happy, as long as I don’t think about nib width ladders., or find out that you don’t have to work from them.

Things I need to do :

* confirm the ascender/descender heights at this x-height. I’ll do a quick check that they are 2 nib widths as I’ve found before. I haven’t worked with single lines of blown up text like this before.

* quickly draw out the alphabet to check that it ‘looks right’ at this x-height

* I’ll be able to closely compare the letter forms now I have the original letters in the same size that I’ll be drawing them. So I guess it’ll make sense to put together a ‘source’ alphabet, sized to 10 mm x-height so I can do the comparison. I’ve already got a lot of letters from the lines of script shown above, but not all of them.

* have a look back at what the x-height and nib width is in the original mss, remembering that I’m using a 3mm nib width pen simply so I get bigger letters and can see what I’m doing. The actual nib width is 1.4 mm – half the size.
This will also involve looking at the rest of the layout of the text block in terms of density.

george, from the SCA_S&I scribes wrote to me

For me density is more of a Y axis thing, not X. (Y is width — and X is height | ).

Look at the width between the vertical lines of each letter and the space between letters. In both cases, it’s less than the width of the line itself. It looks to be about half a line wide in your pictures. Are you able to get that spacing correct? It’s very hard mentally to think of such narrow spacing for our modern aesthetics. The space between words is closer to a whole line wide.

* draw out the alphabet using an x-height of 10 mm, adding notes as I go. Which was what I was doing before all this started.

* finish doing this script analysis rather soon! :-)

Script Analysis – Summary of answers on "Density"

The ‘geometrical’ type answers

from george (I’m sorry – I don’t know your title)

“For me density is more of a Y axis thing, not X. (Y is width — and X is height | ).

Look at the width between the vertical lines of each letter and the space between letters. In both cases, it’s less than the width of the line itself. It looks to be about half a line wide in your pictures. Are you able to get that spacing correct? It’s very hard mentally to think of such narrow spacing for our modern aesthetics. The space between words is closer to a whole line wide. “

from James Cornwell aka Sir Bjorn Jorsalfar, OL, KB
There is more than one way to achieve greater density in your letters; a shorter x-height is just one of them. Another is the narrow the centers of your letters that have centers (in other words, letters generally based on “o”). Julian Waters once told me in a workshop that good Gothic calligraphy is a fistfight between black and white, and white should never be allowed to dominate. In other words, lotsa black is good, and getting enough of it in there is a struggle, not just something to do, for a lot of us, so keep at it.

from Maitresse Yvianne de Castel d’Avignon, OL.

“The density or heaviness of a hand is easier to see in whole words, lines or passages. It’s really hard to see in individual letters. It has to do with the white space within a letter as well as the space between letters…. and it is all relative to the width of your pen strokes. The term we use around here to describe the opposite of heavy is wispy. That’s when there is too much white space.

If you look closely at the page you put on your blog you will see that the lettering it begins with is different in density from the letters it ends with. Most likely the difference was caused by the quill, but who knows for sure. It could have been half finished when the sun went down (or any other reason the scribe could have interrupted his work) When he returned, the writing was different.

Don’t worry that you are having trouble discerning slight variations. It will come. For me it took about 7 years …and now comes the realization that even though I can recognize the fine details I am sometimes unable to correct it in my own work”

The “other factors” type answers

from
Maitresse Yvianne de Castel d’Avignon, OL. again,

(on relaxing). I was referring to the
amount of pressure your hand has on the pen. It can play a great
deal into how the calligraphy appears on the page. A heavy hand
(regardless of the reason, be it pain, confidence, rushed, watery
ink, …etc) can cause your strokes to be wider than the size
printed on your nib. A feather light touch OTOH may not allow
enough ink to reach the tip of the nib so it cannot spread out
the full width of it… this would produce a thinner stroke.

That’s why I recommended not going strictly by measurements but
by the look of the hand you’re producing. Speedball nibs respond
to very light pressure and have a tendency to splay out a little
wider than the stated nib size. Brause nibs are stiff by
comparison and less responsive. They don’t work as well on some
of the rounder hands, but I prefer them for blackletter hands
because they are so stiff and make such a consistently precise
line.”

And from The Honorable Lady Melbrigða Leifsdottir

“I think this is one of those times when you have to just sit with a handful of nibs and keep trying different letters until you get as close to that which you are trying to achieve. And remember that medieval letters were not written with a metal speedball nib, but either a quill or a reed pen, so there is going to be thickening of the letters after a time as the quill or reed soften some. This is going to cause a variation in the size of the stroke (which if you look through lines and lines of text you will eventually recognize and also be able to see where the pen is changed or re-cut.)”

to which I responded about the difficulty of having a variety of nibs since I’m left handed. I have a choice of Speedball (not really suitable), William Mitchell (better), or Brause (best, but only in small sizes unless I import more from America). I wish that I had quills.

And further useful tips from Yvianne

“I was once asked to calligraph a scroll
at an event. I sat down and went right to calligraphing from
memory. After a couple of lines I came across a letter I drew a
blank on how to make properly in that hand. I looked at a scroll
another scribe had completed for the event that was calligraphed
in the same hand… somewhere in searching for the letter I
needed, I scanned enough a’s to subconsciously convince myself
that I was writing them the same way. I went back to work and the
very next “a” I wrote was different from the rest of the ones on
my piece. I knew it as soon as my hand started making the strokes
that it didn’t feel right, but by then it was too late to change
it. Very period, but it annoyed me. That’s when I adopted the
habit to write out the alphabet before I start a piece and keep
it nearby for reference… no matter how well I think I know the
hand.”

and

Does a small fraction of difference in the nib width to line
spacing ratio really cause that much of a difference?

It all depends on the scale you are working in or how much a
slight variation of the hand you are attempting to recreate
bothers you. Most exemplars do have lettering that varies a bit.
Aside from letters that are obviously formed differently, if you
look really closely at your exemplar you will see slight changes
in the calligraphy due to the quill soaking in the ink and
swelling or the scribe trimming or changing quills. I have heard
numerous stories about modern scribes throwing out pieces that
have such noticeable “errors”. For the most part we use metal
nibs and the variations we get are due to operator error ;-)
but the result can be a very period aesthetic.

When creating a ductus, learning a new hand or trying to figure
out why something I’ve written doesn’t look quite right, accurate
measurements do matter.”

Many, many thanks to george, James, Yvianne and Michelle

Script Analysis – Confusion

Yvianne has been incredibly kind in helping me recently, but I’m still confused. The problem is that the letters don’t look ‘dense’ enough (too spread out)

I’ll try and lay the problem (my confusion) all out.

* Firstly, just to show it done, here’s a suggestion of Yvianne’s. She checked it anyway, and it was correct, but here ’tis, just to establish that it is correct that the Bedford Psalter has an x-height of 5 nib widths, and an ascender/descender height of 2 nib widths.

.I lay a straight piece of paper on my exemplar and line it up horizontally with the middle of the letters, I mark the exact width of straight stroke and color between the marks I’ve made on the paper I adjust the paper and next to my dark space mark one stroke width and do not color this in. I repeat going from making a dark space to light space until I have a sufficient length of evenly spaced marks. Turn the guide vertical and use it to measure the height of the body of the letters, the ascenders & descenders.” (Yvianne)

* The nib width I measured on the B.P. pages was 1.4 mm. I will be working, when I work to size, with a 1.5 nib, simply coz I can’t get a left handed nib with a width of 1.4 mm. So my letters will took a little different in the end anyway.

But that’s irrelevant for the moment.

At the moment, I want to work with a Speedball C-2 pen, with a width of 3 mm. I want the letters to be a bit bigger in these initial stages, so I can see what I’m doing!

Just to confirm that the C-2 is of 3 mm width, there’s a nib width table at

http://elmsleyrose.blogspot.com/search/label/nib%20width%20charts

and another one in the SCA_S&I Files, both of which confirm that it’s 3 mm wide. (bear with me on why I checked this)

* I drew up a nib width ladder using my Speedball.

Here’s what a nib ladder should look like (from Patricia Lovett’s Calligraphy and Illumination book

When I measured the x-height produced by this nib ladder I found that it was 13 or 13.5 mm. I’m not quite sure which, after a lot of staring.

When I measure the x-height used on the graph paper (where the letters weren’t dense enough) I found that the x-height was SMALLER at 12.5 mm. That means, by using the nib ladder to produce the x-height, I’m going to end up with even less dense letters, coz the x-height is greater.

And now I have collapsed in a small ball of confusion.

I’m not even going to ask why the x-height is not 5 multiplied by 3 mm = 15 mm, even if I’m not sure if I’ve got 13mm or 13.5 mm. *sigh* (that’s why I confirmed the width of the Speedball. For awhile there I was thinking it was of 2.6 mm width or something. 13 mm divided by 5 = 2.6 mm)

Back to the density issue, – there are two dimensions to affect the density of the letters. Horizontally, this is the width of the nib in the strokes, and the counterspace of the letters, which is one nib width wide.
Vertically it’s the x-height (and ascender/descender height where relevant).
The nib width is staying the same – I’m using the same pen.

So, to use the nib width ladder rather than the graph paper will give me letters than are even LESS dense, when I’m trying to go more for more dense letters.

About this point I was banging my head against the wall.

When I stopped, I thought that I’d have a look at how variance in the x-height affected the density of the letters.
Yvianne talked about this in one e-mail :

Now, that’s interesting. A difference of only 0.5 mm in x-height can make a discernable difference in the appearance of the letters.

*I felt that heading towards a smaller x-height (the rightmost columns) gave me a denser letter. However, this was further away from the x-height given by the nib width ladder.

I went to the original text of the Bedford Psalter, and blew up some letters to give an x-height of 13 mm, so I could see what their proportions looked like.

I chose 13, rather than 12.5 or 13.5 or whatever, arbitrarily. I just wanted to compare the source letters with my letters at a particular x-height.



The line is crooked and some of the letters are cut off towards the right, unfortunately but what is shown is at 13 mm x-height.

Now, my column from the sheet above that shows 13 mm letters should look the same as these letters.

They don’t.

The letters from the source mss look like they have thicker strokes.

What these means in practical terms, I just don’t know. My brain has died, and stayed dead.

All and any help would be very much appreciated in why the letters look different.

Also in why my nib ladder is so tall. Is it incorrect? Or is it correct, but I need to go for a smaller x-height simply because I want to go for the dense aspect of the script? Even at 11.5 mm x-height, I don’t reckon the letters look much like the script, but I just can’t pick what the difference is.

In other words, where Yvianne said
” Yesterday when I looked at your ductus, my impression was that it looked less bold and dense than the tiny bit of exemplar you have posted. In looking at other pages in the same manuscript I found calligraphy that did match the slight variation but since it appeared that you were going for the heavier aspect of the hand I took a closer look to see if I could help you achieve that. >From experience, I know that one of the things that causes this is even just a slight overage in line spacing. I made a measuring guide like the one I describe above and checked your exemplar to see if the 5 nib widths you used were correct. You are absolutely dead on with that. :-) Having that knowledge allowed me to quickly deduce that while you had the correct number of spaces in your graphed ductus, it was the grid itself that didn’t match up with your nib width.

- ok the nib ladder measurements are different from the x-height given by using on graph paper, but they don’t seem to be helping me at all. How do I get there in terms on density?

Here’s the page of the Bedford Psalter that I’m working from :