Our eyes can tell if something is off. We can punch a few numbers into a computer and it can give us a “perfect” product, however, numerical precision doesn’t always equal visual perfection.
Perhaps the most common example of this is kerning, which is the spacing between individual letters. The computer may have given us a product with perfectly equal spacing between the letters, but when you look at it with your eyes, you can tell it isn’t correct.
It’s important to trust your eyes and make optical adjustments accordingly to ensure a beautifully composed piece.
Having some kind of guides to follow as reference helps reduce the risk of not having consistency throughout your lettering. Things might look fine from a distance, but at close inspection, angles may be off. Yes, details matter and again, it’s important to trust your eyes.
Developing a consistent script style starts with regular practice and eventually your muscle memory takes over. You can actually develop these muscles to help you with your consistency as well.
Guidelines are a great way to help you maintain a consistent angle/slant across your composition. If you want to have consistency throughout your lettering, draw out a grid with guides at a comfortable angle. This will help you carry out a consistent look.
Base your guides on the height of which you naturally write. Don’t work too big because you want to have as much control as possible. There isn’t a hard rule about the degree of your slant. I recommend starting with something basic, like 45 degrees.
Practicing over and over will help you build your muscle memory. Use words with a lot of up and down movement, like ‘minimum’ and ‘aluminum.’ These are great words to practice and warm up with. If you signed up to my newsletter, then you can use the printable practice sheets that will be included in the brush pen guide.
Let’s try an example. I’m going to calligraph the phrase “Make it Count” all on a single baseline.
The goal is to draw a baseline and x-height. Here, the gap between the horizontal lines is .375 of an inch. You can repeat that over an over to fill up your page if you want.
To keep things simple, add 45-degree lines with a .375-inch gap. After you’re done setting up all of your guidelines, you can begin with your brush pen.
If you want to learn how to construct a 45-degree angle with a ruler and compass, this example breaks it down for you.
You can also apply this to a stacked lettering composition. A trick I learned to help keep a consistent slant is to slightly rotate your sheet of paper counter-clockwise about 90 degrees. Having it this way instead of horizontally in front you, will put you in a better position to write from one letter to the next while maintaining the same angle. If you’re left-handed, then this approach might not work the same for you, but I found this article that might provide some insight.
Even as you move from word to word, your composition will have a consistent look because of the guides you have in place. They are your reference points as you glide across the page.
Another thing to keep in mind is the slope (slant) of stress. According to Typography Deconstructed, it’s “an imaginary line drawn from top to bottom of a glyph bisecting the upper and lower strokes is the axis…” It’s typically associated with the letter ‘o’. In other words, if your slope is at a 45-degree angle and you split the ‘o’ down the middle, it should have equal parts.
When working with scripts, it’s important to keep the angle of stress the same throughout your composition. This will also help with your overall consistency.
Now, this may seem basic to some of you, but it’s actually a great way to build up those memory muscles in your arm. With regular practice, you’ll eventually skip the guides and move straight into calligraphy or lettering mode to knock out those beautiful compositions.