Basic Strokes: Part 2

How to arc your strokes and make horizontal lines


By now you can probably tell we will be moving at a fairly slow pace. I can assure you we'll move faster as the series progresses, but patience is required for these initial tutorials. My goal is to provide you with short content that is jam packed with value so you can apply these practices throughout the week without being overwhelmed.


Continuing with basic strokes

In this lesson, you will learn three additional strokes so that you are equipped for when you begin to construct letterforms. If you're left-handed try your best to take the information I'm providing and either reverse the methods, or choose to explore your own techniques that will give you the same results.

In order to begin shaping letterforms, there are three additional strokes you need to learn:

  1. Arcing Upstrokes

  2. Arcing downstrokes

  3. Horizontal strokes

Now that you have an understanding of thin upstrokes and thick downstrokes, you should find the following lesson easier to understand by applying the same practice that I covered in the first lesson.

How to arc your upstrokes

The primary strokes you have been practicing are necessary to help you achieve a better feel for your marker. While you'll certainly be utilizing diagonal slopes when constructing your letters (e.g. stems, ascenders & descenders), implementing arcs in place of diagonals, allow your letters to be recognized so that the word and/or sentence that is made up of these letters is legible. Apart from being able to distinguish a connecting ‘m–n’ from an ‘m–u’, arcs give your letters organic characteristics making them easier on the eyes.

Just like your diagonal upstroke, move your marker up using the tip, but this time—in an arcing motion. When moving upwards in a northwest direction—like this )—start with your thumb bent and gradually release so when you complete the upstroke, your thumb is fully extended. 

For a northeasterly arc—like this (—you'll want to use more of your wrist and hand to round your arcs. This motion is a bit more unnatural than the northwest movement, so allowing your wrist to come into play, will help compensate for the need to overextend your fingers. Use your index finger to help guide the marker in this direction with your wrist taking on the majority of the workload. When you complete the stroke, watch how your hand and forearm will lock into alignment with each other.

How to arc your downstrokes

When making a thick arcing downstroke, you'll use the broad side of your marker and pull down—the same idea from the previous basic downstroke. However, instead of a straight diagonal, use increased pointer finger pressure and move your fingers in a semi-circular motion.

Let's start off by reviewing how to make a right-to-left arcing downstroke. To begin, rest the edge of your marker on your paper the same way you would make your initial diagonal downstroke. Instead of moving straight down, pull ever so slightly to the left while rounding your stroke and applying pressure using your fingers and wrist to make the shape. As soon as you begin to transition back to the right (about halfway between the midline and baseline), release pressure and swing upwardscreating a thin exiting stroke.

After you complete the stroke and your marker is lifted, continue moving upwards so that your follow through creates a smooth, even finish.

Of course, this will be happening in real time so you'll have to feel this more than thinking about it. You know how golfers are told to feel their swing from start to finish by applying technical practices they've learned in a continuous, fluid motion? No? Am I the only golfer here? I am, aren't I? Doesn't matter.

The same goes for your calligraphy strokes. Understand what goes into making a good line, but use this knowledge to support your rhythm rather than breaking down every applied technique mid stroke or else you'll end up being the Charles Barkley of calligraphy.

The arcing left-to-right stroke will be the most difficult of all the basics covered thus far because it's the first time utilizing both the upward and downward techniques in one continuous stroke.

When starting off, use the northeast upward arcing stroke—but only partially since you'll be starting three quarters up from the baseline. As you peak just above the median line, begin to turn your fingers inward and apply pressure. This pressure should be the most you apply out of any downstroke you've previously practiced because the broad edge is going to be less generous as you move in back towards the left.  As you transition downwards, taper the bottom by releasing pressure and pushing towards the left.

How to make horizontal strokes

You won't be needing to use horizontal lines nearly as much as your arcing and diagonal strokes, but they're necessary when completing certain letters like the arms of an ‘E’ or the crossbar of a ‘t.’ You can use two different variations when making a horizontal stroke. One approach is a thin line—and the other? You guessed it: a thick line.

For a thin horizontal stroke, hold the marker the same way when applying an upstroke. Make sure your finger pressure is light and keep the marker upright. Lock your wrist and fingers in place so that their only job is to keep the marker steady in the same position. Move your arm either left-to-right or right-to-left making swift strokes.

By locking your fingers and wrist, you take the shakiness out of play and you’ll be able to move quicker. Remember to go at a speed you're most comfortable with.

Now for thick horizontals, grip the marker like you would for a downstroke, but cockyour wrist to the left so that you're able see every knuckle on your hand. Your pointer finger, wrist and forearm should all be aligned with one another and your marker should be wresting parallel to this line. In this position, you should be able to see the entire marker—including the point. Again, lock your fingers and wrist and move your arm in either direction and apply pressure. Remember to pause, then pull in either direction and pause to complete the stroke.

Now, take a breath.

You know the feeling when your driving on the interstate and it's raining cats and dogs and suddenly you go underneath a bridge? There's about a half second of clear visibility that's extremely refreshing. You should be experiencing this clarity now, but instead of .5 seconds, you have a full week!

Enjoy this time and keep practicing because we're headed back into the storm, only it'll be a sprinkle and far fewer of your furry friends.

In the next lesson, you will learn how to apply all the basic strokes and begin to build letterforms. We will break apart these letters so that you have a better understanding of how to create them.

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