Tag Archives: lettering

How barbaric

Kind of funny: the ‘Renaissance’ is the historical period in Europe following the Middle Ages. It’s a French word meaning ‘rebirth.’ This cultural rebirth was of everything Roman: frescoes, sculpture, poetry, the sciences, and architecture. Promoters of the Renaissance thought to make their new movement look good by making the preceding centuries look bad. The Mediæval period got dubbed ‘the Dark Ages.’

Renaissance architects started using Roman arches again (instead of the pointed Gothic arch). They liked the old southern Roman basilicas and disliked the northern mediæval style of architecture and calligraphy. Those fancy-pants Renaissance promoters thought the northern style looked barbaric, so they called it by the name of the northerners’ barbarian ancestors—Gothic. The insult stuck. We still use ‘Gothic’ today to describe the buildings and the typeface.

Apologies to Robert E. Howard

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Black Letter

This is rough—just the lowercase letters. You can see that the space between the letters equals the width of a vertical stroke. When they’re together, it’s hard to distinguish i,m,n,u,v & w. I think that’s why they started dotting i & j.

I imagine at some point a German scribe looked at a tall, skinny cathedral and thought, “Huh. If I made lettering tall and skinny, we’d fit a ton more words onto a page. Think of the parchment we’d save!” and so Black Letter was born. Black Letter (or Gothic, or Fraktur, or Textura) typically has the exact same thickness of white space between vertical strokes as the thickness of each vertical stroke. The effect on a page is pleasing but a little hard to read.

If you’d like to try your hand at writing Blackletter, here are free downloadable worksheets:

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Guest blogger: Ilene Winn-Lederer

It would be madness to cover the Hebrew alphabet without asking my pal (and Western Civ User’s Guide Irregular) Ilene Winn-Lederer to contribute some thoughts and a few examples of her fantastic calligraphy using Hebrew letterforms. Click on the links to view more of her work. Thanks, Ilene!

John: Since you will likely cover the technical origins of Hebrew from its Paleo-Aramaic roots to modern usage, here are my personal thoughts on my use of the language in my work.

First, I find the old and new forms of the alefbet fascinating for the following reasons:

I did not grow up in a religious home nor experience a formal Hebrew school education. Coming at the Hebrew culture/language from a mostly outsiders’ perspective, I did not speak it at all but learned to read it gradually through native speakers and informal classes through the years. Ironically, because my grandparents generation came to the US from Eastern Europe, Yiddish was my first language as a child. Anyway, I viewed Hebrew letters as simply beautiful art forms with great design potential. My mystical understanding of the alefbet also came from personal informal studies/classes.

Rimmonim means pomegranate

On that note, here are thoughts from my ‘Alchymy of Alphabets’ collection at my web gallery:
While there have been myriad renditions of the Hebrew alphabet throughout history on stone, carved in wood, crafted in metal, drawn in manuscripts, books, art and calligraphy, I’ve rarely seen any that explore these beautiful letterforms outside the box of their traditional appearance. In 2008, for my portfolio with PaperRoad Art Licensing LLC, I designed a group of illustrated English alphabets whose theme defined the shape of each letter. This year, I’ve decided to work that concept into the Hebrew alphabet. With identification in Hebrew and English, Abundance weaves some of the abundant flora of Israel into the letters that brought all into being.

Finally, here are links to prints available from that gallery: http://www.magiceyegallery.com/GalleryPage.aspx?id=11

Also, my Hebrew calligraphy appears on a collection of holiday greeting cards at: https://m.greetingcarduniverse.com/search/go?w=Ilene%20winn%20lederer&ts=m

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.