Tracing is not cheating. Well, it is if you are passing something off as your own work. But meticulously copying a medieval manuscript you admire is excellent practice. It works well for copying illumination motifs and is a period practice.
Tracing is even better for calligraphy. It helps you learn the best tools and strokes to use to achieve a manuscript’s same result. It’s also a good exercise warming up your hand-eye-brain connection before a lettering session.
To better understand your favorite manuscript’s letter formation select a page with mostly script. Download and print all or part of it in a size that suits your premium printer paper and nib sizes. (Any printer paper less than premium bleeds ink for sure.) Adjust the page size and density through your photo editor. Select your nib size to approximate the printout. Then go over the letters your print out.
If you go to the British Library’s Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts advanced search on the right there is a box where you can enter a script’s name. Their terms are rather specific so you might have to try more than once with different script names. Or select a manuscript by location and era.
You might also practice letters from this 1510 pattern book from Swabia, Germany made by Gregorius Bock that I’ve pictured.
While giving calligraphy a tiny practice time-chunk frequently is more beneficial than having a marathon practice monthly learning or practicing a script from a medieval manuscript tracing takes longer. But through tracing, you discover on your own new ways to maneuver the pen that may set apart your own calligraphy for the future. Either way, make time for it, and you’ll be rewarded.
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