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Spring 2024 ︎︎︎ SUNY Purchase (DES3440) ︎︎︎ Typographic Investigations

Roman Capitals

(Calligraphy pt.1)

Background (Historical)

The type of calligraphy that we will be starting with is called “monoline roman capitals.” They are based on the proportions of the inscription of the Trajan column. You may also hear these referred to as “square capitals” as the proportions of the letters are based on a square.

This inscription is also what the contemporary digital typeface Trajan (in Adobe Fonts) is based upon. Trajan, for cultural context is used quite often in movie posters.

One thing you may notice, is that Trajan does not have a “proper” lowercase (the digital font has slightly smaller characters for the lowercase). This is important for some historical context. All this has been relatively recently standardized. “Lowercase” letters and “italics” were not all part of the same font or family as they are today; the letters were adapted to what we recognize as “lowercase” as they were adapted from handwritten cursive forms. 

Getting ready

When you are getting ready for a calligraphy session:
    • Stretch your hands and fingers out
    • Be prepared to give your self 15 - 20 minutes to get into the “flow”
    • Make sure to give yourself additional time to warm up
    • Be very deliberate and disciplined about creating the lines (these will be based on the width of the pen)

Monoline Roman Capital Proportions

These are my preferred letter proportions for Romans. This is my favorite guide that is readily available on the internet. Let’s keep this at 7 nib-widths in height, and keep our pen at 30 degrees.

How to Approach

The strategy that we’ll employ here is to classify this style of calligraphy into subcategories based on relative letter shape. That is to say, we’ll start with relatively straight letters (E, F, T, L, etc.) and then move on to angled letters (A, V, etc.) and then move on to various curved letters (O, S, R, etc.). Along the way we’ll look at various outliers like Z. 

Serifed Romans

If you’re feelin’ spicy/that you’re getting this you can also challenge yourself with serifed roman letters. These are a bit more difficult to do, and easier if you are using a brush and drawing quite large. Just be careful about twisting your wrist/arm if you do this.

For HW ︎︎︎
Digitize and print one phrase (could be lyrics, pangrams, etc.) as a poster that is at least 11 by 17. Focus on finding the best letters and identifying how they might pair with other (existing) typography.

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