Two Methods To Create Your Letterforms

Fluid vs. Fragmented. Continuous vs. Broken. Two different strokes achieving similar results. Is this terminology contrived to help you better understand these methods? Absolutely. I'll even admit to making these words work in conjunction with Crayligraphy because I want something original for you to reference—much like Crayligraphy itself.


In this lesson, you will learn:

  1. More info about breaking your strokes.

  2. How to transition from thick to thins in a single stroke.

  3. All about “the other” basic strokes.

The fragmented method (cont.)

In the previous lesson, I mention how the fragmented method is a great way to begin forming your letters. Breaking down a letter—into it's simplest form—is the best way to learn the makeup of the letter. This allows you to understand what goes into making letters look good.

Remember, after each basic stroke is applied, lift your marker and move to the next stroke. Thin strokes will connect at the corners of thick downstrokes so that the letter looks uniform.

But try not to think about how each letter should look. Instead, try to focus on the individual strokes as shapes.

Build these shapes and the form of your letter will follow naturally.

When you're comfortable fragmenting strokes, you'll move faster and the structure of your letter will begin to take shape.

The fluid method

Things start to get a little tricky with the fluid method because you'll combine thick downstrokes with thin upstrokes—in either order—in one motion.

The fluid method involves keeping your marker in contact with the paper for the majority of your writing session.

Keep in mind, adjusting the pressure of your marker—through your fingers—is key when the direction of the stroke changes. This doesn't mean you won't ever lift your marker—you will. The fluid method simply means you're creating pieces of a letter in one, continuous stroke.

How to apply the underturn stroke

To make an underturn stroke, begin at the waistline. Pause briefly as the broad edge of your marker makes contact with your paper so your stroke width remains consistent. Apply full pressure to your marker and move down at an angle. When you're about two-thirds of the way down, release  pressure from your fingertips.

Lift as you start to turn under.

After making this thick downstroke—in an arcing motion—curve your wrist around. Turn your marker towards the tip, and slowly transition into a thin upstroke (hairline). This will create a U-like shape.

The underturn stroke is often used within the letters a, d, i, t, u and w.

How to apply the overturn stroke

The overturn stroke is the opposite of the underturn stroke. Instead of starting with a thick downstroke, you'll begin at the baseline with a slanted, thin upstroke. Move upusing the tip of your marker and little pressure. When you reach the waistline, feel the tension increase between your fingers and marker and slowly arc from left-to-right.

Apply Pressure as you start to turn over.

Feel the pressure increase in your fingers and pull down—keeping your slope consistent and parallel with your upstroke. Finish your stroke at the baseline and pause as you release so your terminal doesn't taper.

Now compare your underturn stroke with your overturn stroke. If you rotate either stroke 180 degrees, it should look similar to the other.

How to make the compound curve

The compound curve is a combination of the underturn and overturn stroke, but worked into a single, fluid stroke.

Use the compound curve after you make your initial thick stem line to create the shoulders to arcing stems and exiting strokes of the letters h, m and n. The entrance stroke, arcing stem and connector of the letters u and y will utilize the compound curve just before you would apply their final underturn stroke. And finally, the entrance to arcing stem to exiting strokes will be used for the letters v and x.

Essentially, the compound curve consists of three strokes: two hairlines—beginning and ending—and a thick middle stroke.

All lines should be parallel with one another.

Start by making an overturn stroke—beginning at the baseline with a thin, arcing upstroke, followed by a smooth transition into a thick downstroke at the waistline. Instead of completing the full pressure downstroke at the baseline, continue along using the underturn method. Gradually release pressure as you near the baseline, moving upwards and finishing at the waistline.

How to make an oval

I briefly went over this method in my previous lesson, but I'll mention it in a little more detail. To create an oval, start by applying a thin right-to-left upstroke just beneath the waistline. Continue moving counterclockwise, pushing left while applying a downward arcing stroke with full pressure.

As you near the baseline, use your wrist and fingers to transition into an upward arcwhile releasing pressure from your fingers. Continue upwards with a hairline stroke using the tip of  your marker. Complete the oval at either the starting point or just beneath it.

Obviously, the o will be the only letter that utilizes only the full oval, but letters a, d, gand q will inherit the majority of the stroke (if not entirely), creating their respective bowls.

How to make an ascending & descending loop

An ascending and descending loop can be used within letters that have ascending/descending stems or stems that extend above the waistline (ascender) or below the baseline (descender).

While not always necessary, loops are a great way to add traditional script characteristics to your letterforms.

Loops are also a nice element to include when interacting with surrounding letters through the use of ligatures, flourishes and swashes (we'll get there).

To create an ascending loop, start around the waistline and make an upward arc. Using the tip of your marker in a counterclockwise direction, extend your fingertips until you reach the ascender line. Pull down as your marker tip turns into the broad edge.

Slowly begin your downward transition and apply pressure. Your fingers should have a firm grasp with the marker. Let your wrist do the majority of the work as you pull down and make a thick stroke. Continue with this thick downstroke until you reach the baseline.

To create a descending loop, begin with a full pressure downstroke at the waistline and extending past the baseline. When you reach halfway between the base and descender line, transition into a thin arcing upstroke by releasing pressure, extending your fingers away from your palm. Use your wrist to help the continual upward arc. Continue this hairline by crossing through your descending stem—just below the baseline—and finish the hairline upstroke halfway into the x-height space.

You probably noticed in my examples above, I didn't follow my own rules. I started my ascending loop at the waistline and crossed my descending loop below the baseline.

Sue me.

But more to the point—your goal for now should be focused on practicing the continual transitional motion of your strokes, rather than the exact placement of every step. It's more important to practice repetition in the beginning stages. Crayligraphy is about creating crazy letterforms with a crazy instrument. The rules have already been broken!


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CrayligraphyColin Tierney