How To Draw Calligraphy Guidelines With A Pencil And Ruler

I’ve mentioned lettering a scroll using a lightpad and a text mock-up to assist with line spacing for my calligraphy. This keeps me from omitting letters or words, wasting time restarting or using more of my limited pergamenata resources. Sometimes I use a preprinted grid in the same way. Both preprinted methods save time. But what do you do if you can’t use a light-box or a preprint? How do you draw even parallel guidelines?

Before I answer those questions, it helps to know basic terms for letter parts and line spacing. Letter heights are the measurement from the bottom edge of a small letter “o” to its top. This letter area is called the “body” or “minum”. A letter part hanging below the minum, such as a “p” or “q” tail, is called a “descender”. Any part rising above the letter’s “body”, such as the upper part of a “b” or “d”, is called an “ascender”.

Enlarged calligraphy labeled with letter and spacing terms.

Calligraphers measure a letter’s body height in a nib stroke ladder-like series called the “x-height”. The x-height is measured by a scale of nib strokes placed horizontally, one over the other. Knowing the size letter-body or x-height a pen nib makes helps you select the nib to suit the space a letter’s body will fill.

Conversely, if you want to use a specific nib, you determine the distance between the top and bottom of a letter’s body by making five stacked nib strokes. Then measure that distance for the guidelines it will need.

Different sized nibs lead to different x-heights. Generally, differently spaced guidelines for a letter’s body may require a different size nib.

When lining a page you will want to have another lined space above and below the area for the letters’ bodies. This area is for letters with ascenders, descenders, or any capital/majuscule letters. It is called the “interlinear space”. 

It is generally about twice an x-height, but that depends on the script you use. 

Before drawing a scroll’s guidelines I have to know how far apart the lines need to be. That’s where the x-height and interlinear space determinations come in. You need those distances to plan your spacing. Generally, you will rule up your page with lines alternating with 1 x-height separated by a 2 x-height space.
Patricia Lovett in her book Calligraphy and Illumination recommends: 

You may prefer drawing out sets of lines showing not only the x-height, but also the extent to which the ascenders and descenders go for each hand [style]. This will mean drawing sets of four lines for each line of practice…  (pg. 38) 

I could fill a whole page with these lines for my favorite scripts to use with my lightpad. The same way I used my preprinted grids and text mock-ups. 

Not my best
nib ladder test.

Most original SCA scrolls are wordy causing scribes to make very small letters. Take time making x-height test nib strokes for those. Maybe do them a few times.

When making nib ladders, be sure that the marks only touch and don’t overlap each other. Overlapping any strokes, like I did in the top of the ladder scanned here, causes inaccurate x-height measures. Those measures are more important the narrower the nib’s edge.

There are two ways I could draw or “rule up” a scroll’s guidelines. I could

  • evenly measure and mark tiny dots down each side of the page and draw lines between the dots horizontally across the page. 

Or I could

  • measure dots down one side of a page, then use a t-square and a perfectly square board to draw lines from each dot out to the opposite side. 
Scrap paper measures
then marked on paper.

Measuring and marking tiny dots down a page evenly is tedious and time-consuming. –The biggest reason I love my lightpad.– To appear neat I also want the guideline spacing to be consistent. 

To make repeating tick-marks I find it easier and faster to first use a ruler and pencil to measure the distance and tick-mark four line sets down a scrap paper’s edge. 

(To be seen in my picture I used a darker pencil than I prefer. I also taped the scrap paper in place because my hands were busy holding the camera.) 

Next, I place the scrap paper where I want to start my lines and mark ticks on my support. For more lines, I just line up the top scrap paper mark with the bottom tick I just made and continue down my page. I repeat as necessary.

To do the opposite side of my support, I carefully measure the first tick-mark’s distance from the top edge of my perfectly squared pergamenata. Then accurately measure the same distance down the opposite edge and make a pencil mark. I then line the top sc
rap paper mark with my carefully measured mark. I proceed down the opposite edge as I did before.

After the page is accurately measured, the easy part is drawing the guidelines between the tick-marks on the page’s edges. So my guidelines are accurate, I use a sharp H or 2H pencil. But I have a heavy hand. If you press lightly you may like a softer pencil. A harder pencil produces a finer line for a longer time before it needs sharpening. Either way, you want to work with a sharp point. To have a constant point some scribes prefer a mechanical pencil.

There are many scribes that rule up their page with a pencil and a ruler. I’m cautious when I use this method, as I may get lines that aren’t square or parallel to each other. Sometimes I’ll miss a tick and have my lines all a kilter. They’re also difficult and time-consuming to consistently make. Even so, it’s important to know this method to use like another “tool” in your scribal skills tool box.

Using a t-square is a later post planned for this series.

Lovett, Patricia. Calligraphy and Illumination: A History and Practical Guide. British Library publisher, 2000
Lynskey, Marie. Creative Calligraphy: A Complete Course. Thorsons Publishers Ltd, England, 1988
Scribblers Calligraphy: How to Rule Up. Last accessed 11/5/2017
Brown, Jamin, Pensive Pen: Lining With A Ruler. Last accessed 11/5/2017

Prior Related Post:
The Making Of An SCA Scroll, Part 1.
How To Layout A Scroll

Categories: How-to

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