Calligraphy Rules: Spacing

Calligraphy Rules: Spacing

Calligraphy is the art of writing beautifully.

While the term “beautiful” is obviously subjective, in the case of calligraphy it means creating letters with a relationship to one another, and stringing them together to form words and sentences that also enjoy those relationships.

To do that, you have to start training your eye to look for the space that is defined with each stroke you make. Calligraphers don’t just look at the black line, they also look at the white space it creates.

One of the basic calligraphy rules is that the space within the letters should be visually equal to the space between them.

This would be a lot easier if all letters had to fit inside the same-sized square, because then you could just take a ruler and measure all the straight lines. However, we’re dealing with rounded forms, open forms, loops, and forms that have straight edges.

Once you’ve practiced producing even letterforms, you can test the visual relationships by making “necklaces”. A necklace is the same letter written before and after each other letter. For example, an “a” necklace might look like this:

Now take a look at how the straight right side of the a interacts with the straight left side of the b.

blog a-necklace calligraphy rule spacing - 2.jpg

Now take a look at how the round and open right side of the e interacts with the rounded left side of the a.

blog a-necklace calligraphy rule spacing - 3.jpg

It looks like there's a little more space between the e and the a, right? So to compensate, we might want to shorten the exit stroke on the e and bring the a a little closer next time. Again, this isn't about mathematical equidistance, it's visual. 

My calligraphy teachers told us to imagine receptacles inside and between the letters. Would it take about the same amount of water to fill that space? The better you get, the more even those spaces will be.

blog a-necklace calligraphy rule spacing - 1 (1).jpg

Word of warning: if you’re a perfectionist, the more you learn, the more mistakes you’ll be seeing, and the more frustrated you might get with your own work.

Relax - practice will make the process easier. After a whole day of learning calligraphy, and filling page after page with component strokes and letterforms, my teacher would also say, “if you got one perfect letter, that’s it - you’re done for the day, you’ve done your job”. Besides, it’s not the point of handwritten pieces to be perfect; you could use a font for that. The little idiosyncrasies are what makes a handmade piece charming and unique. 


A Brand Called You - Notes from Debbie Millman's Class

A Brand Called You - Notes from Debbie Millman's Class

10 Questions featuring Lauren Ronquillo

10 Questions featuring Lauren Ronquillo