Before you begin to attempt to draw copperplate, it is a good idea to discover just what copperplate is, and what it means to write it. For example, there is a computer font known as Copperplate Gothic. Open it on your computer word processor and take a look at it. You will see that it seems to be all capital letters, and it is somewhat ornamented. But while it is style “copperplate”, and you could draw it, this is not the copperplate we wish to focus on today.
The writing we wish to focus on is calligraphy. Calligraphy actually can be written, or drawn, in a variety of styles. Copperplate is one such style. In some ways copperplate lettering, which was also known as roundhand, might become something of a lost art since it is no longer taught in school. You can find similar script fonts in your word processor, but please, do not use them on your resume unless you truly do not want the job for which you are applying.
If you want to draw copperplate you will need a copy of a copperplate cursive alphabet book, a child’s cursive writing practice book, a smooth-surfaced art paper, a sharp pencil, a ruler, a set of pens or markers, and time for practice. You might also want a book of short sayings or poems. Haiku is perfect for copperplate writing practice.
Why you need a book to learn copperplate drawing/writing.
So, what exactly is copperplate, and why do you need a book in order to practice writing/drawing it? Typerie.com provides a lovely explanation of what copperplate is and why you need a book. (http://typerie.com/home/2016/8/6/the-history-of-copperplate-calligraphy) Just incidentally, this page also has a lovely example of the copperplate alphabet.
A child’s practice tablet for writing in cursive will get you most of the way toward writing in copperplate. A book that focuses on copperplate writing will provide fancier capital letters and some specialized lower case letters, as well as directions for writing copperplate with a steel nibbed pen.
Copperplate was the material used to make early impressions for printing just about anything. It was soft, and that made it easy to carve into with a steel engraving pen or similar engraving instrument to make a printer’s block that could be inked and used to print a page in a book. The style of writing used to make these early printing blocks became known as copperplate.
There is also a style of writing called “Spencerian” which is even more ornamented than Copperplate. You might find it mentioned in Georgette Heyer’s Regency Romances, as in “her hand(writing) was so ornamented as to be illegible.”
Copperplate writing became fashionable in Europe, and some companies recognized a good market when they saw one, and began putting out practice books. You will want one, too, if you plan to draw/write in copperplate very often. The practice books will not only show you the shape of the letters, they will also show you how to connect them together to properly make words.
If you are going to write in copperplate, then you can get by with a sheet of lined notebook paper, although you will probably do better with a child’s printing practice book in the beginning. But if you want to draw copperplate writing for gift cards or framed messages, then you will want to write on art paper, which is usually unlined.
Before you begin drawing letters you will need to make pencil lines on your paper. You will use these lines to keep your letters in a straight row so they do not stagger all over the page.
Measure down one inch from the top of your drawing paper. Then use a ruler to measure and draw neat, three straight lines that are ½ inch apart, then measure down ¼ inch, and draw another line, then draw another set of three lines that are ½ inch apart. Repeat as often as necessary to make room for your message or until you come to the bottom of the page.
Learn more about calligraphy HERE.
The paper for decorative writing needs to be smooth, with almost no tooth. This is so that if you use traditional writing pens the ink will not wick into the fibers of the paper. This is likewise true if you decide to cut corners on both cost and difficulty and use fine tip/brush marking pens. You can also purchase felt tip pens that are made specifically for calligraphy.
If you are drawing copperplate or practicing writing in copperplate cursive, an ordinary, well-sharpened, number two pencil will be your best friend. You will use it to draw your guidelines, then you can also use it to lightly trace the outline of your letters before you draw them in ink.
Copperplate came into style not long after the invention of the steel nibbed dip pen. The steel nib of the pen allowed the user to make wide lines and thin lines. If you can afford a set of calligraphy pens, it is truly the best way to re-create copperplate writing.
Thanks to the nature of steel pen nibs, it is not possible to make a bottom to top stroke. You must draw with the pen using a sideways motion or a down stroke. The sideways motion results in a thin line. The down stroke creates a thick line. Thin and thick lines are part of the characteristics of copperplate writing.
Another characteristic is that the capital letters are not always connected to the lower-case letters, but in the lower case all letters within a word are connected with thin, sideways lines that sometimes travel from the base line to the middle of the writing space. Therefore to form a round letter, such as “a”, you would take your pen to the top of the letter forming the left hand part of the letter, then travel back along the first line to the base line, then using a thin stroke make a straight line that would go up the back of the letter, meet at the top, then be pulled back to the baseline to make the curled tail that would attach to the next letter.
This sounds very complicated written out this way, but it is actually almost intuitive when you are using a steel-nibbed pen to write in any cursive writing style. However, this is also the reason why it is a good idea to work in a child’s practice book for cursive writing first, then use a book specifically about copperplate as your instruction manual for writing copperplate. After a first try or two, you can quickly see why penmanship can be considered an art form.
A good set of drawing/writing steel nibbed calligraphy pens begins at around $22.00, USD. The good news is that they will not dry out, are unlikely to break, and if properly cared for, can last a lifetime. You will need to clean your pens after each use, and purchase ink from time to time.
For a one-off project, you can get by using fine liner brush pens. First pencil in your words, being as careful as you can to follow the forms and drawing the thick line parts. (This is a good idea when using pens, too.) Then go over the words with the fine-line end of the marker. Next, go back and use the brush end to fill in the thickest parts of the letters. Finally, revert to the thin line end of the marker, and carefully blend the thick and thin parts so that they look as if they were drawn with a pen.
Copperplate writing is not as ornate as some other lettering styles, but it can look lovely when incorporated with a message, or it can even be used as a signature.
Despite the current style of signing forms or checks with a massively illegible scrawl, copperplate can be distinctive and amazingly difficult to copy.
Most of all, cursive writing of all sorts has fallen out of fashion. Like hand sewing, knitting, embroidery, and similar arts, it needs to be practiced by someone, just so we do not lose the skill. After all, have you written anything in cuneiform lately?
What is one way you could use copperplate writing?
Copperplate writing is frequently used to make wall hangings. These hangings can be three words or less, or they can be fairly long. One young artist took on lettering the “One Ring” poem from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Why is haiku a good choice for a copperplate art piece?
Haiku is relatively short – three lines to be precise. More than that, it is usually a very short story or philosophical lesson. It has a specific format, five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the last. This makes it extremely manageable as framed word art.
What are some advantages to cursive writing over print?
Well-written cursive, even if it is not copperplate, is beautiful. If a student has trouble writing words when they lift their pencil or pen from the page, cursive allows a flow of writing that keeps the hand on the page. Amazingly, writing in cursive sometimes ends problems with writing legibly with all the letters included in a word. Cursive writing can also be a good choice as a finger exercise to keep joints supple.
What are disadvantages to cursive writing?
Good penmanship in any alphabet or type of writing requires practice. Granted, typing on a computer at speed also takes practice, but that is a different sort of practice. Cursive writing, even when well done, can be difficult for some people to read. When poorly done, it can be nearly illegible.
Which is better, Copperplate or Spencerian penmanship?
As you might guess, it depends upon the ultimate effect you are seeking. Copperplate has ornate capitals and some decoration, but Spencerian is all about the decorative effect – to the point, as mentioned, it can become difficult to read. Spencerian is also more narrowly written and is geared toward being smaller. As you might guess, this makes it somewhat more difficult to read.
I’m not interested in wall hangings. What are some other uses of Copperplate writing?
Copperplate writing can be used to write something as simple as your grocery list – although you might not want to incorporate the fancy capitals. More to the point, it can be used to write love letters, commendations, invitations, and similar formal pieces. It can also be used to make labels, or even incorporated into embroidery patterns. It is writing, so there are few limits to its use.
Ready to learn more? Download my free adult coloring eBook and by signing up for my email newsletter HERE!
Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal or medical advice. Please consult a legal expert or medical doctor to address your specific needs.