Liam Quin / Pictures / calligraphy / Resources for calligraphers

Books for Calligraphers

If you find books you think I should add, please let me know.

The books listed here are in three main sections: learning, reference and examples.

Learning about Calligraphy

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    Writing, Illuminating & Lettering by Edward Johnston, the man who started the Western calligraphic revival, was first published in England in 1906, and is still in print.

    Contents include chapters on the development of writing; acquiring a formal hand (both tools and methods); sample scripts and exercises; manuscripts, versal letters & coloured capitals; black & red; laying & burnishing gold, the use of gold & colours in initial letters & simple illumination; a theory of illumination; the development of illumination; `design' in illumination; good lettering—some methods of construction & arrangement; the Roman alphabet & its derivatives; an appendix on special subjects such as binding manuscripts, monograms, title pages and inscriptions; an appendix on inscriptions in stone, and finally a letter about how to cut a quill pen from a feather.

    The writing hand that Johnston advocates is perhaps a little dated now, but still looks very fine, and is still widely used for formal calligraphy.

    If you only get one book, get this one:

    See Writing Illuminating & Lettering at Amazon

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    Painting for Calligraphers, by Marie Angel

    Marie Angel is a minaturist and calligrapher, and the examples and practical hints in this book are first class. If I have one criticism it's that it suffers a little from Blue Peter Syndrome: instead of showing you all the steps, sometimes she'll show you a stunning finished piece that leaves you thinking you could never do anything so good! But remember that people generally select their best works forprint, and also that the process of photo-reduction and printing often makes the works look much more professional and slick than the originals, so don't be discouraged!

    Chapters include Materials; Colour; Pigments; Design; Drawing; Watercolour; Gouache, dry ground pigments and shell gold; Decorated initial letters; Heraldry; Notes on technique.

    There's also a section of further reading and a short list of suppliers, and even though the book is a few years old the suppliers are still around.

    The Notes on technique by contemporary scribes is about fifteen pages—the pages are about 200 by 240 mm (8 x 9.5 inches in the US), and the writers are Irene Base, Ide Henstock, Thomas Ingmire, Dorothy Mahoney, Joan Pilsbury,John Prestianni, Sheila Waters, Wendy Westover and John Woodcock.

    See Painting for Calligraphers at Amazon

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    The Calligrapher's Companion by Mary Noble & Janet Mehigan, 1997.

    Billed as a ``complete reference to over 100 alphabets,'' topics include what nib to choose and how to hold the pen, how to understand the skeleton of a letter and how to render it, how to add colour/color or decoration, using backgrounds and coosing a text. This really doesn't do justice to this book which also has a hundred scripts shown with alphabet, pen angle and short sample. The scripts are not only historical but also modern.

    See The Calligrapher's Companion at Amazon

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    Art of Calligraphy by David Harris

    This is the only book I list here that I don't own; the older book by David Harris I have is Calligraphy: Inspiation, Innovation, Communication, and you can search for this book if you want.

    I'm including David Harris' newer book because it looks really useful, judging by the sample pages at Amazon.

    See Art of Calligraphy at Amazon

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    The Complete Guide to Calligraphy: Techniques and Materials by Judy Martin

    Well illustrated, clear, and wide-ranging, covering topics all the way from quills, brishes, pens, gold leaf (and preparing the surface with gesso), a chapter on letterforms both modern and historical, layout and design, tons of examples and some really inspiring colour plates.

    See The Complete Guide to Calligraphy at Amazon

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    Illumination & decoration for calligraphy by Margaret Morgan, 1995.

    This is a fabulous book, with sumptuous photographs and illustrations. There are lots of pictures of the artist's work area, showing her hands as she uses various pens, brushes and tools, as well as clear guidelines and instructions. Topic covered include borders, painted and decorated initials, greetings cards, floral borders, making a concertina book and gilding, with a calendar of the Zodiac.

    See Illumination & decoration for calligraphy at Amazon

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    Illumination for Modern Calligraphers by Christopher Jarman, 1988.

    If you want to try mediæval illumination techniques, this book is probably easier than Edward Johnston's, and is filled with colour illustrations. Topics include working with paper, vellum and parchment (including how to prepare the surfaces for writing on), inks, colour and pigments, pens and brushes, gilding, outlining & finishing (including scoring tiny patterns into a large area of gilding), planning, and sample projects.

    See Illumination for Modern Calligraphers at Amazon

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    The Anatomy of Letters by Charles Pearce, 1987.

    A fairly plain presentation of foundational hand, uncial, running book hand, gothic black letter, rotunda and italic, but it is also very clear, shows the pen angle and gives examples as well as a clear Latin alphabet. He also shows the tall s, and gives a chapter on page proportions taken (of course) from the writing of Jan Tschichold.

    See The Anatomy of Letters at Amazon

Examples of Calligraphy

I get a lot of inspiration from looking at what others have done, and maybe you will too. These books have some fabulous examples.

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    A History of Illuminated Manuscripts by Christopher De Harmelt, Phaiden, 1997 (there was a first edition of this in 1986) 0714834521

    At 290 x 250mm (approx. 10 inches wide and 11.5 high) this counts as a coffee-table book, but it's also large enough that you can really see the examples. There are over 260 pages, and beautiful colour illustrations on every page.

    Here's the table of contents (my notes in italic):

    I. Books for Missionaries

    7th–9th centuries: the written word as an essential tool for the early missionaries of Britain and Irelnd, who produced books of extraordinary sophistication.

    Examples include pages from the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Cathach f St Columbia (one of the earliest of all extant Irish manuscripts), the Book of Durrow, the Codex Aureus, and many more.

    II. Books for Emperors
    8th–11th centuries: books as treasure and as luxurious objects of display and diplomatic gifts in the courts of Charlemagne and his successor.

    The examples in this chapter are mostly miniatures and illuminations, although there are five or six showing writing.

    III. Books for Monks

    12th century: the golden age of the monastic book, when monks in their scriptoria produced manuscripts for their libraries.

    Many spectacular plates here

    IV. Books for Students

    13th century: the rise of universities and the emergence of a professional book trade to meet the new need for textbooks.

    V. Books for Aristocrats

    14th century: the Age of Chivalry – a wealthy and newly literate aristocracy generating a new type of book, the secular romance

    VI. Books for Everybody

    15th century: the emergence of the Book of Hours as a devotional book for ordinary households as wel las the aristocracy.

    VII. Books for Priests
    13th–16th centuries: the Bibles, Missals, Breviaries, Psalters and other service books and handbooks that sustained the life of the Church.

    VIII. Books for Collectors

    16th–16th centuries: the revival of classical learning and the creation of de luxe manuscripts for wealth humanist patrons.

    You can see some scanned pages from this book on the Amazon page (link below) but the colours have not been reproduced very well there: the printed book looks much finer!

    See A History of Illuminated Manuscripts at Amazon

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    Symbols, Signs, Letters by Martin Andersch, 1988; this is a translation by Ingrid Li from the German Spuren, Zeichen Buchstaben.

    This picture-book is a result of more than 20 years teaching European handwriting in the field of applied art, as taught at a German university. The pictures are of course of calligraphy, as well as exercises in shape and form, and some stunningly beautiful work, some of it remeniscent of Chinese and Japanese calligraphy, yet with Western scripts.

    See Symbols, Signs, Letters at Amazon

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    Wind Songs by by Timothy R. Botts, 1989.

    Sixty calligraphic interpretations of hymns and spiritual songs with notes by the artist. Regardless of the subject matter, the colour calligraphic samples are well-done and inspiring by themselves.

    See Wind Songs at Amazon

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    Zen Word, Zen Calligraphy, text by Eidē; Tai Shimano, calligraphy by Kõgetsu Tani

    As the dust jacket (I have the out-of-print hardback edition) says, The heart of Zen is expressed here in seventy-three beautiful Japanese calligraphies—some of them just a word, others a famous Zen phrase or poem. In the accompanying commentary, Eid&ebar; Tai Shimano, a well-known Zen master, uses Zen stories, anecdotes, and teachings to draw out the innter meaning of each calligraphy.

    See Zen Word, Zen Calligraphy at Amazon

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    An Abecedarium: Illuminated Alphabets from the Court of Emperor Rudolf II by Lee Hendrix & Thea Vignau-Wilberg

    This little book has an upper and lower case alphabet, showing the construction of each with rectangles and circles.

    See An Abecedarium at Amazon

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    Illuminated Manuscripts: The Book Before Gutenberg by Giulia Bologna, 1988.

    A lot of well-chosen examples printed clearly in colour. The book is large enough (pages a little over 10×12 inches, or 26 by 31cm) to be able to give clear samples, and makes use of its size with 120 pages of colour plates.

    See Illuminated Manuscripts: The Book Before Gutenberg at Amazon

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    More Than Fine Writing: The Life and Calligraphy of Irene Wellington by Heather Child, Heather Collins, Ann Hechle and Donald Jackson, 1986.

    Stunning examples complement this fascinating account of the life of a calligrapher who knew and was taught by Edward Johnston.

    See More Than Fine Writing: The Life and Calligraphy of Irene Wellington at Amazon

Calligraphy Reference Books

I find these books useful: although they do contain examples, and in some cases tutorials, I use them mostly as reference books: I look up things such as the traditional shapes of letters at a particular time in history. Don't be put off: they are still a lot of fun!

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    See Writing Medieval scripts at Amazon

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    The Historical Source Book for Scribes by Michelle P. Brown & Patricia Lovett, 1999.

    This book shows how to write a variety of scripts, with diagrams that number each stroke and show the pen direction. There are modern colour examples as well as historical reproductions. There's also a section with very clear diagrams showing how to make a feather quill pen. The book is published by the British Library.

    Scripts include capital scripts, uncial, half-uncial, insular minuscule, caroline minuscule, English caroline minuscule, gothic book script, bâtarde, Italian rotunda, and a variety of humanistic scripts, including the humanistic cursive book script, cancellaresca (italic).

    See Writing Medieval scripts at Amazon

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    A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquitiy to 1600 by Michelle P. Brown, Toronto, 1990.

    Although not in colour, this book is tremendously useful for anyone studying old manuscripts or trying to write in a traditional style. Well over fifty different scripts are covered, each with at least one plate showing the script in use. There are no tutorials.

    This book is out of print, but Amazon or may have a used copy.

    See Guide to Western Historical Scripts at Amazon

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    Medieval Calligraphy: Its History and Technique by Marc Drogin, 1980; there is also a Dover reprint.

    This book covers 13 different historical scripts, some with variations, and also has a chapter on writing medieval numbers. The scripts are roman rustic, uncial, artificial uncial, Roman half-uncial, insular majuscule, insular minuscule, luxeuil minuscule, Carolingian minuscule, early gothic, gothic textura quadrata, gothic textura prescisus vel sine pedibus [without feet] and gothic littera bastarda.

    In addition to notes on technique and reproductions of examples, there are also samples of each script clearly written out on graph paper, so you can see the proportions.

    See Medieval Calligraphy at Amazon


Finally, you might also be interested in my Typography Booklist.