The hand of John.
I write in the English Roundhand / English Roundtext script. If you study Engrosser’s script, my exemplar may look similar to what you have seen before. However, you should not compare your script to mine, as they are disparate both in form and in execution. If you notice that I do not adhere to some rules set forth by teachers of Engrosser’s script, do not be confused—I do not practise engrossers script.
I strive to achieve a standard seen in the book ‘The Universal Penman’. Acknowledging the fact that those specimens first written with a broad-edge pen, and then etched onto copper plates, the pieces seen within the book are to me the ideal examples of English Roundhand. As a result, I have spent hours breaking down letterforms seen in the book, measuring proportions and angles. I would then try to execute each letter with a broad-edge pen to identify how a penman might have written the letter. Finally, I would attempt to reproduce the letter with a pointed pen.
Nib: My preferred nib is the Leonardt Extra-Fine Principal as it produces extremely fine hairlines, and is flexible enough to shade without requiring a lot of pressure.
Ink: To achieve the hairlines I desire, I use either Higgins Eternal, or a self-mixed walnut ink.
Paper: Good quality paper is of paramount importance. I tend to use Daler Rowney drawing / sketching pads for regular practice, and a cold-pressed watercolour paper for commissioned work.
When I am lazy, I would practise on Rhodia lined paper, which has a line spacing of 7 mm. I would use 7 mm as the x-height, and about 10 mm for ascender and descender space.
I am comfortable writing up to 10 mm x-height, and would most often write at 8 mm x-height. I tend to write at a proportion of 7:5:7. This works for me as I use larger x-height.
I am unable to write anything below 5 mm x-height due to my age and deteriorating vision.
I would describe my hand as uniform and consistent. When I write, these are the aspects I pay special attention to:
Shades should be mainly within the x-height space
Shades should be straight. I do not change the angle mid-shade
Shades should try to span the whole x-height—the opening and closing tines occur right at the top and bottom, and takes very little space
The spacing between consecutive shades in the same word should be as even as possible
As a result, these are some distinct characteristics of my script:
Ascenders and descenders tend to start shading only near the middle of the ascender / descender space, and the shades become full-width at the x-height space. This ensures that throughout the piece, most of the shading is concentrated within the x-height space.
When I make upper-turns and lower-turns, I tend to achieve the full width of the shade quickly, so most of the x-height is a straight, full-width shade. Essentially, I am writing: Straight-line, turn, straight-line, turn, etc.
Whenever I make a shade, I try to keep it at the slant-angle. This includes the weird letters like x and s. I believe that the beauty of English Roundhand lies in the even-ness of the shades—angles, spacing, thickness. By achieving uniformity in these three aspects, our eyes will stop reading words and will start admiring the beauty of the entire piece.
I strive to achieve a formal look and feel when executing ERH, so I shy away from aspects which resemble a running-hand, such as unbroken ligatures. I prefer a large contrast between shades and hairlines, so my shades are thick and my hairlines are extremely fine. I follow examples set forth in ‘The Universal Penman’, and this is why I also use the traditional ‘r’ and ‘w’ in my writing.
About the Artist
John Francisco is a calligrapher based in Singapore. He practices traditional English Roundhand script. In 2018, he was awarded a distinction for his Copperplate entry for the Certificate of Calligraphy by CLAS (UK).
John is a co-founder of Scribblers Collective.