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Script Analysis – Variations of Ascenders and Descenders

I had a look back at the original pages of the Bedford Psalter this morning (always a good idea) and noticed that a particular variation of the ascender was by far the most common – and it wasn’t the one I’ve been using the last couple of days.

I’ve listed them out in order of frequency, and included descender variations as well.

I’ve got back to my graphing of the letters, and re-done the ascenders (that I had re-done yesterday with the less frequent ascender variation)


They are actually looking like the originals now!

I’ve mapped up to R, but need to write up the details.

I will re-do this mapping, using watercolour so the details of the strokes can be seen, (like in Harris) and including stroke order to make a proper ductus, once I’ve been through the letters once. There are a few ticks and flicks that need to be added in, but I don’t want to worry about them yet. I want to get the basic construction of the letters correct first.

I’m also going to need to write up this script analysis as one huge document when I’ve finished all this, so all of the information is together, and coherent.

I’m aware that my letter width is a bit bodgy – my Speedball, which I need to use to do the letters this large, isn’t quite big enough.

Script Analysis – The different types of ascenders


Here are the 4 different types of ascenders. They are built by adding an extra line following the right hand side fishtail to the waistline, then placing the pen on top of that line and performing a pen twist. (and maybe a little bit extra to touch up)

I’ve measured the thickness of the ascender at the top as compared to it’s width below the waistline. It’s in proportion of 4: 3.

I’ve gone back to the graphing of the letters A-L, and re-done the ones with descenders. I’m using what seems to be my favourite version. :-

Script Analysis – Building the Ascenders

This is my collection of difference ascenders and descenders from the Bedford Psalter :

They differ a bit in exactly how the serif is finished, and there’s a fourth version of the ascender shown in the large picture of the b below. (The l is just a repeat of one of the versions shown on a b)

I’m working on the ascender and it’s serif of the leftmost b, of which the p’s descender is similar. I’ll look at the different versions of the serifs more later, but they are all more or less (literally) of this form.

Following up on the post http://elmsleyrose.blogspot.com/2007/01/script-analysis-l.html
I think I’ve got the curve at the top of the ascender correct, to form the right hand side of the fishtail serif that’s needed.

Referring back to the post above, I’ve realized that I’ve been forgetting to tilt the diamonds up to the left slightly. I shall go scream, then do a couple of lines to correct the problem.

(later). OK. done. easy – just had to remember to do it.

These are my notes on how to draw an ascender so far :

To build the ascender into a Bedford Psalter ascender, which looks like :

I need to build a fishtail with a flattening in the middle (not a typical fishtail, which has a ‘v’ top as shown in the figure from Lovett’s book below)

Here’s an extract from Patricia Lovett’s “Calligraphy and Illumination” (page 72), describing how to make the left hand stroke of the fishtail.

Even more relevant, “The Historical Source Book for Scribes” (Brown and Lovett), page 91, describes how the ascenders and descenders were made for the Bedford Psalter – the same method as described in Lovett’s “Calligraphy and Illumination”, but with mention of the extra line that flattens the inside of the fishtail :


The Historical Source Book doesn’t talk about the thickened ascenders – but they are there. I swear it. I’ve measured the width of the ascenders many times. They are thicker, gradually thinning until they hit the x-height line.

Script Analysis – The L

David Harris in “The Art of Calligraphy” shows the drawing of a curved right serif on a vertical, which is part of what I need to do to build the serifs on the verticals in the Bedford Psalter script.

A Bedford Psalter ascender

Drogin has the same information, but Harris shows a nib ladder right next to the vertical, which is what I wanted, so I could see exactly where the curve changed to the vertical line.

I’ve been practising the L’s on graph paper sized to the 1.5 mm nib width, and it seems that I’m curving at the right point.

In real life, these two lines combined are 2.5 cm (1 inch) tall – pretty small.

Having got the curve right, I have another problem.

Because the verticals are spaced one nib width apart (ie one blank column of graph squares between each) – the diamonds hit into each other.
I can’t let this happen. The letters will all be joined together at the bottom and be unreadable.
(Not that historically spaced gothic textura quadrata script is very readable anyway, given that it uses this spacing)

I had a closer look at the diamonds on my Bedford Psalter pages, and saw that the diamonds are actually a little tilted.

Having a look at the m or the n – you can see that the diamonds are actually a bit higher on the left than they are on the right hand side. That’s how the room is being made.

I figured this out part way through those two lines of L’s on the graph paper shown above.
But I’m finding that I’m tilting the diamonds the other way – with the right hand side being higher. I wonder whether this is happening because I’m left handed. It was the way that it seemed ‘to work’ for me.
I’m going to have a go today at trying to tilt the diamonds up on the left, rather than the right.