Letter Spacing

I’m working on the behind-the-scenes systems to set up the Membership Sites and the processing systems. That’s a rather major learning curve for me, so it might take me a week or two more to get this all put together.

In the meantime, I thought this week I would share a section that is included in the Free Intro Membership as a sample section from the Calligraphy Basics Membership.

Getting your letter spacing right goes a long way to making your calligraphy look beautiful. So here’s how to go about getting it right.

Letter Spacing

Spacing is a huge part of what makes a piece of calligraphy successful. And yet it is sometimes missed because in a way it is an invisible element in the piece.

Positive & Negative Space

In art there are two terms used which will help us here. One is called positive space and one is called negative space.

Positive space is usually what we refer to as the letter itself – the thing that we can see.

Negative space on the other hand is the space inside of, or surrounding the letter/positive space.

Positive & Negative SpacesSo for example here we have a letter “o”. The wide black lines create the positive space or shape of the letter. But there is also another space inside the letter. And there is the space surrounding the letter. These spaces are referred to as negative spaces.

There are times when those negative spaces will be more important to watch and get right – by doing them right you will actually do better at getting the positive shapes right. You’ll see and hear examples of that in the Basic Italic video lessons.

Spacing Between Letters

How you space your letters may well make or break your piece. So how do you make sure that you are doing it right?

Each alphabet and each style of that alphabet can have a different spacing. Blackletter for example doesn’t have a lot of space between letters, or within the letters themselves – that’s part of what creates the “black” or dark appearance of that alphabet.

Italic on the other hand is a more open alphabet and needs more space.

But here’s a general way to think about this matter of spacing. Think of the space between the letters as a shape of its own. Actually, this is the negative space we were talking about earlier. Just as each letter has a volume or weight of its own, so does the negative space between letters.

So let’s use some lower case italic letters to show what we mean.

Spacing Between Letters

Here we have the word minimum where all the letters are basically upright strokes. If we were to cover over the tops and bottoms of the letters, we’d have something like this:

Spacing Between Letters
Spacing Between Letters
Spacing Between Letters

See how evenly the vertical strokes are spaced apart.

Spacing Between Letters

Here the spacing is easily figured out. Just imagine the space between the letters having a rectangular shape – in pink. All the pink spaces are the same shape and volume. Here the letters themselves have widths (in yellow) the same as the letter spacing widths.

But what about letters with other shapes? Like this:

Spacing Between Letters

Well, just imagine that pink space having flexible edges so that you could squeeze or stretch the sides anyway you wanted – only the volume of the space would have to stay the same. Then you’d end up with something like this:

Spacing Between Letters

It’s the kind of thing that comes with practice – but if you can keep it in your mind that there is volume to the space between the letters and that the volume should be approximately equal, then you’ll start to get the hang of it.

Decorated Letters

Decorated letters are a special feature in calligraphy pieces. So here you will find some ideas for creating decorated letters. For samples and inspiration be sure to visit the Calligraphy Letters section, starting here.

Decorated Letter Style I

This is a simple but very effective way to create a decorated letter. It works great in just black and white, or you can add colors any way you want. Use the video instructions or the notes below.

Start with your letter. This works best if you use a wide penwidth for the letter so that you have a darker letter, one that is easily visible.



Next, outline the letter. Leave enough white space so that the letter really stands out.




Now add an outlined square around the letter. Make sure to leave some space between the letter and the outlined square so that you have room for the pattern.




Next, fill in the space between the letter outline and the square outline with some kind of pattern. In this one I’ve just done a simple cross-hatching.




Finally, add a second outline around the square, and then add some detailing around the edge.




I love using this as a quick decorated letter when I do people’s names on bookmarks.


Swipe Files for Inspiration

Where do you go for ideas when you want to do some calligraphy?

To your “swipe files”.

Okay, you say, what are swipe files? Swipe files are ideas you have swiped from other sources.

Maybe I should clarify something here. Maybe instead of calling them “swipe” files, the better term might be “inspiration” files. All of us learn by seeing what others have done and even by copying their work or ideas.

So when I talk about swipe files, that’s what I’m referring to. What I am not referring to, and definitely don’t condone, is copyright infringement, where you copy someone else’s work and sell it as your own.

So what can you put together as your own swipe files?

Calligraphy Ideas Files
Start collecting calligraphy ideas wherever you find them. This could be a file on your computer, or it could simply be a file folder, or a nice box, or whatever works for you. But get into the habit of collecting ideas that you like or would like to try. Do you see a font in a magazine that you like, and that you think you could adapt to a calligraphy style of lettering? Do you see color combinations you like? What about calligraphy on cards? Or on signs? Just start collecting the ideas. Then once in awhile go through and play with the ideas you’ve collected? Try out possibilities.


For more ideas on swipe files you can create, get the Calligraphy Basics course here.


Alphabet Sentences

Alphabet Sentences
Here are 4 short and fairly well-known ones:

  • A quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog
  • The five boxing wizards jumped quickly
  • Sphinx of black quartz judge my vowel
  • Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs

And here are 10 more to have fun with:

  1. A large fawn jumped quickly over white zinc boxes.
  2. A mad boxer shot a quick, gloved jab to the jaw of his dizzy opponent.
  3. A pox on you, jergens, old beanbag, you’ve squashed my favorite zwieback.
  4. A quick movement of the enemy will jeopardize six gunboats.
  5. About sixty codfish eggs will make a quarter pound of very fizzy jelly.
  6. Alfredo just must bring very exciting news to the plaza quickly.
  7. All questions asked by five watch experts amazed the judge.
  8. An inspired calligrapher can create pages of beauty using stick ink, quill, brush, pick-axe, buzz saw, or even strawberry jam.
  9. Anxious Paul waved back his pa from the zinc quarry just sighted.
  10. As we explored the gulf of Zanzibar, we quickly moved closer to the jutting rocks.

There are another 100+ alphabet sentences included in the Calligraphy Basics course – available here.


Calligraphy Tips

Here are an assortment of calligraphy tips for improving your calligraphy, your experience, your tools and materials, etc.

Use hairspray on paper to keep it from bleeding. (You can also use this on charcoal and pencil work.) The best way to do this is to spray two coats by spraying from above and letting the hairspray fall down onto the work.

When working with horizontal strokes, give them the “smile factor” by lifting them just the tiniest bit as you go from left to right.These horizontal strokes have more life to them and more of a positive feeling. Horizontals that go down as they go to the right have a heavier, more depressing feeling to them.

A tiny dab of extra ink at the ends of thin horizontal strokes adds that special touch.

Especially when doing a piece with black ink, one bit of red somewhere in the piece will add a strong point of interest.

A tiny squeeze of vermilion added to black ink will give you a much richer black.

When doing work for reproduction, make the hairlines slightly thicker or they may not show up at all.

When bouncing letters, keep the first and last letters on the same line (also the first and last words on a line). Doing that will make the eye read them as straight.

Flourishing too much or in the wrong place is like laughing at a joke before the punch line or laughing when you don’t really get it – there’s a hollowness to it.

You need enough interlinear space for the eye to travel back to the left to start the next line, or it becomes difficult to read.