How to Write Old English Letters
Whether you want to create a document or address some wedding invitations, Old English lettering will add a flourish to your writing. With the right tools and a little practice, your writing can look like a work of art.
Part 1Collecting the Materials
1This is the first step to building your dip pen. The nib holder is the main stem of the pen. They are molded in a sweeping shape and are thinner at the top then the swollen area where you will hold it. It comes in different materials like cork, wood and plastic, as well as straight or oblique. You will want to start with a straight nib holder and maybe move on to the oblique holder when you start experimenting with different angles and scripts. Most nib holder are plastic or wood. This comes down to a matter of preference. Pick them up and play with them. Some will be heavier or wider. Choose whichever is most comfortable for you.
2Nibs are the metal writing apparatus at the end of the pen. They come in different shapes, sizes and levels of flexibility. The mount on the nib, where it attaches to the nib holder, also varies. Be sure that the nib you choose is compatible with your holder. The easiest shape to begin with is the italic nib. This has a single, blunt edge and limited flexibility. This will help you create a more consistent line. Choose a nib with a mid-range tip size. Avoid one which is too thin or too thick. The italic nib should not have much flexibility. Flexibility is more suited to point nibs which have two tines that separate with added pressure.
3As you may guess, ink comes in different colors, but they also come in waterproof and not waterproof, and pigment or dye-based, transparent and opaque and various levels of "lightfastness." Before you get too overwhelmed, know that dip pens will work with all of these and the choice is largely a matter of preference. Start with a black ink. For your first ink, try something with a decent flow. Pelican 4001 is water-soluble and easy to use. Higgens Calligraphy Ink is waterproof and free-flowing.
4It is best to start with a calligraphy practice pad. This paper will be thick enough that the ink won’t bleed. It should be lined to assist you in creating consistent letters.
5This will be used to clean your nib periodically. It will become ink stained, so make sure that you use a cup which will be dedicated as your drawing water cup from now on.
Part 2Practicing Writing
1There are several Old English fonts available online. Clearly you would prefer to draw your own, but these are helpful tools for practicing. Choose a relatively simple version of the font to begin with. Avoid fonts which looks complicated or have a lot of decorative flourish. It may also be helpful to search for blackletter typeface is another term which refers to the font which is found in the Gutenberg Bible. Blackletter typeface is recognizable by its extreme thin versus thick strokes. Gothic and Fraktur are other terms sometimes used to describe the same font.
2You will want to hold the pen by the holder as opposed to the nib. You can hold it just like you would a fountain pen, between your thumb and forefinger. You generally want to hold the tip at a 45 degree angle on the paper so your nib would produce a diamond shape when you move it in the same direction it is angled.
3Start this with no ink at all before you move on to using ink. Get a feel for how to hold the pen and move it over the paper. Test out turning the tip at different angles. Repeat this process after inking your pen.
4Only dip it as far as the vent hole. This is the hole in the center of the nib. Dipping further than the vent hole will likely provide too much ink, which will then pool on the paper. If the ink seems stuck and isn’t flowing, dip the very tip of your nib in the cup of water to draw it out. Dip the entire nib in water every couple of minutes to rinse it. This is especially important with permanent inks as it will be difficult to remove the ink from the nib once it dries.
5” Lower case letters are generally less elaborate in the Old English alphabet and therefore easier to begin with. These two letters also involve only one simple line. This will be the basis for the rest of your practice. Ink your pen and place it on your blank piece of paper with the tip at a 45 degree angle. Draw the pen in the same direction as the nib is angled until you have made a diamond with approximately equal sides. This is the top of your “i” and is known as a lozenge. Starting in the center, bottom portion of the lozenge, still holding the pen at a 45 degree angle, draw the pen straight down to create the stem, or minim, of the “i.” Repeat the process of creating a lozenge to cap off the bottom of the letter. This time, keeping your pen at the same angle when you reach the bottom, draw the pen up and to the right at the opposite 45 degree angle to make a thin upward tick like a tail. You can also repeat this tick move to dot the “i.” Create an “l” using the same process as creating the “i.” The difference here is that the minim will be longer by several nib lengths. The trick is to maintain a steady hand to keep the line straight and constant. Repeat these two letters several times before moving on to letters involving more curves and pen strokes.
6All letters are made of a combination of pen strokes. At this point you will want to add curvature to a letter. This is done by either elongating the stroke you used to create the tick at the end of the “i,” or by changing the direction you pull the pen after a couple of nib lengths. To create the bottom of a “u,” simply make the same tick you used at the end of the bottom lozenge of the “i,” but elongate it to 1-1.5 nib lengths. Use the exact same process as creating an “i” to finish off the “u.” Reverse the tick move to create the top portion of the letter “c.” Begin by moving your pen upward to create a thin tick, then pulling it back down at the 45 degree angle to make the top of the “c.” Return your pen to the beginning of the tick mark and pull it straight down for a couple of nib lengths, then 45 degrees to the right for another couple of nib lengths to create the curve. Then draw the pen up to create an elongated tick of about 1.5-2 nib lengths to complete the “c.”
7These few strokes are all you need to be able to complete the alphabet. Practice them in different combinations to complete all of the lower case letters several times, then move on to making capital letters
8There are some which are more decorative than others. As your skills increase, consider adding more detail to your letters. Increase the size and detail in the first letter of a paragraph or page. Draw a box around the first letter and fill it with vines, flowers, or your own design.
Part 3Learning the Alphabet
1Old English, also know as Anglo-Saxon, was the Germanic language used in England between the 5th and 11th centuries. It entered into writing in about the 8th century. The style of writing was largely influenced by that of Irish monks.
2There are several letters which were used in Old English, which no longer exist in our modern lexicon. Learning these letters will enhance your Old English writing with authenticity. ”Thorn” looks like a “b” with an elongated stem and represents a hard “th” sound and is often used at the beginning of words. To create the softer “th” sound like in the word “clothes,” the letter ”edh” is used in the middle or end of words This letter is drawn as an “o” with a tick on top, or as a capitol “D” with a line through the straight side when it is used at the beginning of a word. The letter “ash” looks like a combination of an “a” and an “e.” It creates an “a” sound like in the word ran. ”Wynn” looks a little like “P,” but with the curve drawn all the way to the bottom of the stem and creates a “w” sound. ”Yogh” looks similar to the number 5 and is meant to represent a gurgling “g” sound, which can’t be compared to any sound in modern language.
3Old English often interchanges letters like “j” and “i” or “u” and “v.” Comparing Old English to Modern English, there are quite a few differences. A simple way to change your spelling into Old English is using an online translator.