minuscule letterform characteristics and construction
Last updated: 20 December 2019
Italic (Chancery cursive) minuscules are characterized by letterforms that are narrow & sloping.
Applicable to all Chancery cursive (Italic) letterforms
In general I follow the lead of the Renaissance Italic writing Masters. Their minuscule letters are almost universally formed within an imaginary right sloping oblong -- the body width being about half of the body height with ascenders and descenders about the same length as the letter body height and with the nib maintained at a 45° angle to the base line.
Classic Italic letterform bodies are typically 5 nib widths high and are sloped to the right a few degrees.
Slope should not be too severe -- it can be varied on occasion to suit the whim of the writer. Renaissance Italic writing Masters used varying slopes with a recommendation of 5-10° or so being often specified. Of course the slope must be constant.
Although ascender/descender clashing is normally to be avoided, occasional infringement is unavoidable (especially when swashing is employed) and, if handled with discretion, is generally acceptable. I sometimes use swash descenders for the minuscule k and q.
The following exemplar illustrates how I start my letterform renditions:
Starting strokes for minuscule letterforms
The following exemplar illustrates the letters that start with a push stroke ..........
Starting push stroke depiction
.......... I have always constructed these letterforms this way whether using pencils, quills, canes, reeds, reservoired "dip" pens or fountain pens.
Descenders should be finished off slowly -- that is, you should slow down as you approach the bottom of the stroke -- just as you do when applying the brakes on your car -- and make sure there is a smooth curvature where appropriate. They should not be rushed. Most Renaissance Italic writing Masters made the ends square and flat. The following exemplar depicts how I render finishing descender strokes:
Swash minuscule exemplar
Swashed or flourished descender variants are depicted for k and q. When forming them, never forget Edward Johnston's admonition that all flourishes should "crack like a whip" -- they should never be tentative or noodle-like. You have to have courage and purpose when flourishing.
Of course, Majuscule letters are swashed and flourished to the writer's fancy.