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History and Geometry in Medieval Scripts

Annie Cicale
  • 2.5 days (1st half)
  • Intermediate
  • EN

There have been two traditions in the 20th century development of contemporary letterforms. The British tradition, rooted in Edward Johnston’s studies in the British Library and his method for teaching alphabets, resulted in Foundational, a great start for any calligrapher. The Europeans, beginning with Anna Simons and Rudolf Koch, took a different approach. Looking at geometric forms and experimenting with proportions, weights and textures, they invented many alphabet styles. In this workshop we will look at both approaches, looking at manuscripts and experimenting with variations to come up with a unique hand that suits our times. We’ll begin in the 600s and work our way through to the Renaissance, with leaps to the 20th and 21st centuries.

Sorting through all the options for variations in contemporary scripts can be daunting. We will begin with the Carolingian era, covering about 400 years of scripts, and expand to cover the beginnings of Black Letter scripts as well. The student will have an opportunity to refine the basics of a number of scripts, but more importantly, will understand the fundamentals and will be able to further explore all the variations that letterforms can take. This is a great course for the intermediate scribes who haven’t yet immersed themselves in the glorious past of manuscripts.

This class is geared to intermediate level students with some experience, but who want to concentrate on improving their lettering skills.

Supply List


  • Calligraphy easel if you use one
  • T-square & triangle, or rolling ruler
  • Masking or drafting tape
  • Scissors
  • X-Acto knife or snap-off knife
  • Pencils various hardnesses (2B, HB, 2H, etc.)
  • Soft eraser, such as Magic Rub
  • Water container
  • Ink rags or tissues
  • Notebook
  • Old toothbrush for cleaning pens
  • Dividers (they look like a compass but they have two metal points)

Pens & Ink:

  • Dip pens in assorted sizes, especially ranges 1.0-3.0 mm, whatever brand you are comfortable with, such as Brause, Mitchell (Rexel) or Speedball. 2-3 pen holders, ones that feel good in your hand.
  • Non-waterproof ink, such as black sumi or walnut or your favourite.


  • A few sheets of layout bond, 11” x 14”
  • A few sheets of good paper, such as Arches 90# HP, Canson or Strathmore Charcoal. Bring only if you have some. Most of your work will be on paper included in the lab fee.
  • Tracing paper for rough drafts
  • One full sheet of Canson Mi-Tientes paper, any colour

Writing with Colour

  • Designer’s gouache in assorted colours (at least red, yellow, blue) plus white, or Pro White, and black
  • Palette
  • Old brushes for mixing gouache
  • Gum arabic
  • You also need something to say: quotations, poems, etc. Short ones for practice and longer ones for projects. Write words that are significant to you.

The supply fee is for inks and loaner tools.

Supply Fee CA$20.00