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Giveaway: The ABC of Custom Lettering


A great place to start learning calligraphy

I don’t want to seem hyperbolic, but The ABC of Custom Lettering by Ivan Castro has changed my life; creatively, at least. For years, I have lamented my inability to progressively learn more scripts — the ones that make a great calligraphic foundation such as Roman Capitals, Italic, and, of course, Foundational hands. I don’t mean my inability to learn in the technical sense; I can definitely learn new things. I mean my inability to know where to start. To pick a script and go. To wade through the technicalities of pen angles and x-heights. To do it on my own at home as a full-time mum and working calligrapher.

A word from the author, Ivan Castro

I quickly realised how great this book was for me and thought I’d say thanks to the author, Ivan Castro, via email.

Me to Ivan:

I'm currently working through your latest book, The ABC of Custom Lettering, and wanted to send a personal word of thanks. In the three years since I started learning calligraphy (Copperplate script), it's the first time I haven't felt overwhelmed by all of the various hands that I should be learning as a great foundation. So, thank you.

Ivan to me:

You make a point in not being overwhelmed by a lot of information and different hands. After a few years of teaching calligraphy, I know that what a beginner needs is not one hundred models, just mastering three or four basic scripts. All the rest will be variations of that. So, thanks for getting the point and I hope it really helps you through the way of the pen.

Since 2014, I’ve focused my attention on Copperplate (English Roundhand), consequently using it as a jump-off point to its rule-breaking counterpart, modern calligraphy.

Use the ABC of Custom Lettering to better your calligraphy skills

The book is broken into two key sections —

Calligraphy: The written Word

The first section walks you through building a foundation of calligraphic skills, featuring five main models:

  1. Carolingian Miniscule
  2. Roman Capitals
  3. Italic
  4. Brush Script
  5. Blackletter
  6. Numerals

Lettering: Drawing Letters

The second section uses the calligraphic foundations you build in the first section to draw letters and create your own style and design. Example projects using Gothic Letter, Slab Serif and Script include a title for a musical movie, a logotype for a BBQ restaurant and a logo for a burlesque dancer.

I’ll be focusing on the first section of calligraphy in this blog post, with my primary interest in familiarising myself with a broader range of alphabets to see what suits me and where I might apply them in my working life. I’ve set a goal of working through a different calligraphic model each month, and posting my progress here.

Take a look at Korero Press's walk through of the book

The ABC of Custom Lettering Giveaway

As part of this blog feature, Ivan’s publisher has kindly offered some books to giveaway — an excellent opportunity for others to learn calligraphy and hand lettering, too. To enter, submit your entries via the widget below. It will require you to sign in and then check off each step that you take to enter (e.g. if you tweet something, you need to indicate that you’ve done it in the widget — it’s not automatically detected).

a Rafflecopter giveawayThe giveaway is open to anyone worldwide, so please do share with friends and family who you think would benefit from this book.

Learning Carolingian (pronounced Caro-lin-jian)


Materials I used for practice

Ink: Parker blue ink (for my near-daily letterform practice).

Paper: Goldline layout paper (links to Penman Direct), a very smooth 50gsm paper that you can see through but doesn’t bleed. It allows you to see your guidelines easily underneath the really churn through your practice.

Nibs: Manuscript Tape (3mm) bought many years ago in a student calligraphy set (links to Amazon.co.uk). I wouldn’t necessarily recommend these nibs, but they did serve me just fine to begin.  

Holder: When I have to use a straight holder, my go to is this cork-tipped one (links to Amazon.co.uk).

How the ABC of Custom Lettering helped me prosper

I was surprised, but pleasantly, that the first script to try my hand at was Carolingian. I was expecting to be launched in with the big guns such as Roman or Italic. Having heard only the slightest mention in my travels (via Joan Quiros and Amanda Adams) of Carolingian, I have to admit I felt that the pressure was off. I had no preconceived idea of what my alphabet should look like, so very much focused in on Ivan’s direction without the constraints of expectation. Suddenly I had grasped a broad-edge nib alphabet without much fuss at all.

My struggles with Carolingian script

One of my main challenges with this hand was having no concept of overall proportions for the script. This is no fault of the book’s. When writing in Carolingian, my words would always end up much longer than I anticipated and completely misaligned. I’ve spent years learning the ways of the much finer pointed pen, so, of course, my brain tries to overlay that information. This is purely something only time and practice can fix.

The other issue I had was trying to get my head around scale. Maths has never been my strong point, and the pointed pen doesn’t require adjusting for nib width, so, unfortunately, Ivan’s explanation of drawing up my guidelines and applying it to different sized nibs and scale didn’t correlate with how my brain works. I wanted to recreate the variations of scale Ivan had outlined, but I struggled to adjust my scale for playing around with varying x-heights. I chatted to a calligrapher friend who is familiar with this script and she told me that, as varying the scale of the script created a more modern effect anyway, I could play around with working out what ascender and descender heights worked for me.

Carolingian calligraphy after a month of practice

After my month of focusing on Carolingian (and this probably actually amounted to about two weeks of daily 30-min practise, really), I’m really happy with how I’ve progressed and confident about using this script when it’s called for. I’m looking forward to mixing majuscules with it to see what works best. Stay tuned as I progress through the scripts in coming months. 


Some examples of Carolingian in practice

I have been writing birthday cards to friends this year, and decided to use Carolingian combined with Copperplate or Spencerian scripts to highlight recipients' names.

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