Author Topic: Hairlines: Contrast of Thick and Thin  (Read 12358 times)

Offline Ken Fraser

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Hairlines: Contrast of Thick and Thin
« on: October 31, 2015, 11:13:18 AM »
[This topic was split from Walnut Ink vs. Higgins Eternal Ink]

......but finest hairlines are not usually my goal, as I feel that super fine hairlines negatively impact readability.

+1
« Last Edit: November 03, 2015, 02:05:42 PM by Erica McPhee »

Offline Ken Fraser

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Re: Contrast of thick and thin hairlines
« Reply #1 on: October 31, 2015, 11:18:59 AM »
It wasnt until I saw firsthand an early 1900s piece of writing by a master penman that I truly understood what they were meaning when they wrote about hairlines. Having seen the amazing fineness and delicacy of those lines, Ive never since been satisfied with the lines from Higgins or any other commercial India ink Ive tried.

If you take the finest nib, dip it in iron gall ink (possibly diluted) and on a piece of smooth, uncoated paper draw an upward line using only the weight of the nib, you will produce the finest, barely visible, hairline.

Contrary to popular misconception, this requires absolutely no skill, being entirely dependent on the choice of nib, ink and paper and allowing the weight of the nib to produce the line. The skill emerges with the transition of hairline into shaded stroke and the reverse.

The finest of hairlines aren't the holy Grail. Not only are they difficult to see "in the flesh", they are almost impossible to successfully reproduce. In the otherwise excellent volume "Spencerian Script and Ornamental Penmanship" by Michael Sull, there are many examples which must have been a nightmare to reproduce. In an effort to show the hairlines, these examples have been produced at low contrast with degraded results.


Offline andy277

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Re: Contrast of thick and thin hairlines
« Reply #2 on: November 02, 2015, 06:38:58 AM »
Contrary to popular misconception, this requires absolutely no skill ... The skill emerges with the transition of hairline into shaded stroke and the reverse.

I disagree. Even if we're just talking about straight lines, there is still a lot of skill involved in holding the nib just close enough to the paper to draw out the ink without exerting any force on the paper. If this were not the case, why then do we only see such hairlines being created by people who are skilled penmen and women? If there's no skill involved, everyone should be able to produce these exceedingly thin hairlines, but I see no evidence to back that up.

In any case, I'm not just talking about short upward lines, I'm talking about curves and letters being formed with wonderfully thin hairlines.

The finest of hairlines aren't the holy Grail. Not only are they difficult to see "in the flesh", they are almost impossible to successfully reproduce.

I never claimed they were the Holy Grail, but for me they are very important and from the writings and specimens of the old masters they were very important to them too. Indeed, they form a large part of why I find Spencerian so beautiful. I love looking at specimens showing extremely delicate lines contrasted with wide black shades I'll take those any day over a piece with heavier thin lines and modest shades, where the script moves more towards a monoline with a few heavy shades (another reason I don't like G nibs). Unlike you, I don't have any trouble seeing hairlines in the flesh and reproduction is just not an issue for me. I guess if one is a professional who derives a substantial income from selling prints of their work (biblical quotations and the like seem a staple), you may have to consider not having true hairlines, but that's not the point of calligraphy for me and not an aspect I like. For me, it's all about the hand-produced document the original letter or piece of writing that's what I value and what I practise for. Seeing a work reproduced online or in hard copy is always just a pale imitation for me and never the point of the exercise, so I don't tailor my work to how it might best be reproduced.

I also don't think that the quality of the results in Michael Sull's book are simply attributable to an attempt to show the hairlines; the poor quality of the originals after so many years likely played a much bigger part in how they turned out.

Offline AnasaziWrites

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Re: Contrast of thick and thin hairlines
« Reply #3 on: November 02, 2015, 09:54:24 AM »
I never claimed they were the Holy Grail, but for me they are very important and from the writings and specimens of the old masters they were very important to them too. Indeed, they form a large part of why I find Spencerian so beautiful. I love looking at specimens showing extremely delicate lines contrasted with wide black shades I'll take those any day over a piece with heavier thin lines and modest shades, where the script moves more towards a monoline with a few heavy shades (another reason I don't like G nibs).
Ah, the attraction of big shades and hairline thins. Although my personal style tends to be more delicate than a Madarasz like style, my eyes are drawn like a moth to a flame when I seen bold shades and superfine thins.
For your enjoyment:

At a recent auction, which could be accessed online as well as in person, I bought this lot having only this low resolution picture (first picture) as a guide as to what the whole lot might contain. What attracted me were the bold shades on the envelope on the left, instantly recognizable as ornamental Spencerian. As the auction was in Maine, I thought, maybe A. R. Dunton (who retired in Maine)? Had to know what was inside. And what might that book underneath the letter? Might it be a scrapbook of ornamental penmanship?
The next pictures show what was inside (and a clearer picture of the envelope). The envelope was in very poor condition, but written beautifully by the principal of the (at the time, 1896) biggest business school in Maine, and it contained a beautiful copy of the school's catalog. A wonderful find, and all it took to attract me was those big fat shades. Great fun.

Offline Ken Fraser

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Re: Contrast of thick and thin hairlines
« Reply #4 on: November 02, 2015, 10:44:05 AM »
I disagree. Even if we're just talking about straight lines, there is still a lot of skill involved in holding the nib just close enough to the paper to draw out the ink without exerting any force on the paper. If this were not the case, why then do we only see such hairlines being created by people who are skilled penmen and women? If there's no skill involved, everyone should be able to produce these exceedingly thin hairlines, but I see no evidence to back that up.

Perhaps, like me, they see no point in producing lines which are so fine as to be barely visible.

« Last Edit: November 02, 2015, 10:52:00 AM by Ken Fraser »

Offline Ken Fraser

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Re: Contrast of thick and thin hairlines
« Reply #5 on: November 02, 2015, 04:42:38 PM »
I disagree. Even if we're just talking about straight lines, there is still a lot of skill involved in holding the nib just close enough to the paper to draw out the ink without exerting any force on the paper.

Not in my experience.

Offline Ken Fraser

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Re: Contrast of thick and thin hairlines
« Reply #6 on: November 02, 2015, 04:51:46 PM »
I love looking at specimens showing extremely delicate lines contrasted with wide black shades I'll take those any day over a piece with heavier thin lines and modest shades, where the script moves more towards a monoline with a few heavy shades....

The occasional use of fine hairlines with heavy shades is one of the aspects I dislike about some Spencerian.

This example of English Roundhand by Willington Clark is, in my opinion, the perfect balance between hairlines and shades. Note that the hairlines are fine whilst still being strong enough for reproduction as black on white. The shades are tastefully moderate. The balance is sublime.

I appreciate that there is no conclusion to this disagreement as it's purely subjective.  :)


« Last Edit: November 02, 2015, 05:01:42 PM by Ken Fraser »

Offline Brush My Fennec

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Re: Contrast of thick and thin hairlines
« Reply #7 on: November 02, 2015, 05:30:17 PM »
This example of English Roundhand by Willington Clark is, in my opinion, the perfect balance between hairlines and shades. Note that the hairlines are fine whilst still being strong enough for reproduction as black on white. The shades are tastefully moderate. The balance is sublime.


I'm not sure about using that particular example, because that looks to me like a scan from the Dover reprint of the Universal penman and I have seen an original engraved copy of the Universal Penman and the hairlines on the original engravings are much finer, and more beautiful in my opinion, than in the Dover version.

The Dover reproduction of the Universal Penman is not a truly accurate reproduction: it introduces distortions by thickening hairlines (and consequently where shades begin and end and their thickness), presumably necessitated by the fact that it reduces in size the plates and reproduces them only in B&W.

Here is a comparison between the Dover reproduction of the Universal Penman and an original engraved copy of it:



The Dover reproduction even alters the page numbering by moving them to other sides: the Dover reproduction has the plates  on the front and back of a sheet of paper, whereas with the engraved version only one side of a piece of paper has an engraving on it, so whereas in the original the numbers are always on the right side of the page, in the Dover version they often have to be moved to the right as can be seen in the comparison.
« Last Edit: November 02, 2015, 06:28:35 PM by Brush My Fennec »

Offline Ken Fraser

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Re: Contrast of thick and thin hairlines
« Reply #8 on: November 02, 2015, 06:50:05 PM »
Be that as it may, my appraisal and opinion was, and is based on my copy of the Dover reprint. The version I posted, is as close to a perfect balance of hairlines and shaded strokes as I've ever seen. It may not be as Willington Clark wrote it, but  I believe that it is none the worse from having being copied and reproduced as the hairlines are much clearer and more easily read.

In fact, it is this exemplar that I use, with a couple of minor modifications,  for my own English Roundhand writing.

« Last Edit: November 02, 2015, 07:14:46 PM by Ken Fraser »

Offline Brush My Fennec

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Re: Contrast of thick and thin hairlines
« Reply #9 on: November 02, 2015, 08:43:36 PM »
Be that as it may, my appraisal and opinion was, and is based on my copy of the Dover reprint. The version I posted, is as close to a perfect balance of hairlines and shaded strokes as I've ever seen. It may not be as Willington Clark wrote it, but  I believe that it is none the worse from having being copied and reproduced as the hairlines are much clearer and more easily read.

Well, having looked at an original copy of the 'Penman, I really think there really is nothing like the original: the alteration of the shades and hairlines is objectively a distortion of Bickham and the original calligraphers work and intent. They wanted fine hairlines and got it and I respect their calligraphic and engraving skill and judgement over that of Dover publishing.

The smaller writing especially suffers at the hands of the Dover reproduction. One can see here how fine the hairlines really are and how beautifully and exactly shaped the writing was in the original 'Penman (plate 160):



Anyhow, one of the things which makes calligraphy special to me is reproduction. To explain: In these times images and words can be reproduced so cheaply that junk mail and spam e-mail fill our letterboxes and inboxes. Most people in Britain now carry around with them a phone which allows them to take photographs, record sounds and record video with sound and to listen to music and watch videos on. Professional grade scanners can scan more than 1 A4 page a second.

In such a world something which cannot be easily reproduced is made even more special because reproduction is so cheap and common.

Furthermore there are many typefaces out there which imitate calligraphy very well (too well?) such as P22 Zaner, but very fine transparent hairlines are a thing that typefaces cannot have (As far as I know!). So again, calligraphy can retain and even enhance its special qualities despite (and because of) advancements in reproduction and printing technology and ubiquity of reproduction.

Calligraphy means 'beautiful writing' and for me, it's the written word which should be at the centre of calligraphy and I think it reaches its greatest development, beauty and achievement when it isn't compromised by the demands of reproduction.
« Last Edit: November 02, 2015, 08:59:27 PM by Brush My Fennec »

Offline Jamie

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Re: Contrast of thick and thin hairlines
« Reply #10 on: November 02, 2015, 09:03:46 PM »
It's certainly possible for typefaces to have a thin semi-transparent line, and I'm sure if you went searching you could find one. Though you do have to keep in mind that most fonts have the 'pixel' limitation in that the line is never going to be thinner than a single pixel on your monitor or else it would disappear. So ultimately what determines how thin the line can get is not the type-face itself but the hardware it's displayed on. However it's my opinion that striving for a super thin line is ultimately useless in a typographical setting, because thin lines decrease readability. Certainly I would not want to be attempting to read the original version of the Universal Penman based on the images you have provided.

I can understand how thin lines may seem beautiful, but in my opinion, in modern day use, they are not the be-all end-all.
« Last Edit: November 02, 2015, 09:06:10 PM by moif »

Offline Brush My Fennec

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Re: Contrast of thick and thin hairlines
« Reply #11 on: November 02, 2015, 09:13:36 PM »
It's certainly possible for typefaces to have a thin semi-transparent line, and I'm sure if you went searching you could find one. Though you do have to keep in mind that most fonts have the 'pixel' limitation in that the line is never going to be thinner than a single pixel on your monitor or else it would disappear. So ultimately what determines how thin the line can get is not the type-face itself but the hardware it's displayed on. However it's my opinion that striving for a super thin line is ultimately useless in a typographical setting, because thin lines decrease readability. Certainly I would not want to be attempting to read the original version of the Universal Penman based on the images you have provided.

I can understand how thin lines may seem beautiful, but in my opinion, in modern day use, they are not the be-all end-all.

I agree that with lettering for reproduction purposes fine hairlines are not good, but as I said reproduction is one of the things that I think can mark calligraphy out: a singular beautiful production from a skilled eye, mind and hand. A certificate that is a singular beautiful production can be much more meaningful than one which was printed out on a laser printer in a batch of dozens.

Another thing I've thought about with respect to calligraphy is the culture of instant gratification which can flourish in these days of Amazon prime, high speed internet and the downloading of films, music &c. : I don't believe ever before in human history has there been such potential as now for instant gratification and surely that will only continue to grow with things like 3-D printers.

Now, It might not be instantly gratifying to read something written with fine delicate hairlines and flourishes because you have to slow down a little and take it all in, but could that not also be something of its beauty? I've spent hours looking over plates from the Universal Penman with and without a magnifying glass, and I wouldn't do that if they were in Times New Roman, though they'd be easier to reproduce and easier to read for sure.
« Last Edit: November 02, 2015, 09:40:30 PM by Brush My Fennec »

Offline andy277

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Re: Contrast of thick and thin hairlines
« Reply #12 on: November 02, 2015, 09:50:10 PM »
Not in my experience.

Given that this to you is not a matter of skill (and thus presumably easy), could you please post a video of you writing your Spencerian with the finest lines you can? It would be most instructive and I know I'm not the only one who wants to see a video of you writing this style. It would also give us an opportunity to see just what it is about Higgins Eternal that you find so appealing.

It is true that there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to what one likes, but  is also the case that the master penmen of the late 1800s and early 1900s placed a lot of emphasis on obtaining as fine hairlines as they could. This is witnessed in their writings about the best ink to use, the advertisements in the penmanship magazines for the finest nibs and ink, and in their own specimens. As Brush My Fennec has pointed out, the printing processes and differing edition can give an inaccurate impression of how fine the actual written lines were, and in the case of the US penmen, Indian ink was often recommended for work that was to be reproduced, so that what you see by a penman on the pages of the Zanerian Exponent (for example) is not necessarily a good indication of what you would have seen had you received an actual letter from that same penman. I love that spirit of competition that they used to have where they would seek to better each other in producing the most beautiful combinations, hairlines, and shades, and that is why I go back to originals wherever possible to gain my inspiration from.

I'm not sure how the specimen below will show up in this post but the hairlines in it I find more attractive and pleasing to the eye than the heavier lines in your preferred exemplar.

Offline Ken Fraser

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Re: Contrast of thick and thin hairlines
« Reply #13 on: November 03, 2015, 07:54:27 AM »
I'm not sure how the specimen below will show up in this post but the hairlines in it I find more attractive and pleasing to the eye than the heavier lines in your preferred exemplar.

Your example demonstrates exactly what I mean. The hairlines are ludicrously fine - to the point of virtually disappearing whilst the shades are disproportionately thick. The combined result is quite ugly IMO.

Incidentally, the accompanying Gothic Blackletter is dreadful.

Ken

Offline Brush My Fennec

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Re: Contrast of thick and thin hairlines
« Reply #14 on: November 03, 2015, 07:58:40 AM »
Your example demonstrates exactly what I mean. The hairlines are ludicrously fine - to the point of virtually disappearing whilst the shades are disproportionately thick. The combined result is quite ugly IMO.

Incidentally, the accompanying Gothic Blackletter is dreadful.

Ken

How is the blackletter dreadful? That just sounds like sour grapes!  ;)