Introduction to Spencerian Handwriting | Doris Fullgrabe | Skillshare

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Introduction to Spencerian Handwriting

teacher avatar Doris Fullgrabe, Lettering & Calligraphy, Freelance

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

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Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

16 Lessons (52m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Guidelines and Set Up

    • 3. Spencerian size, components, and connections

    • 4. Spencerian spacing

    • 5. Spencerian lowercase i j t u w

    • 6. Spencerian lowercase a d g o q

    • 7. Spencerian lowercase m n p v w y z

    • 8. Spencerian lowercase b f h k l

    • 9. Spencerian lowercase c e r s and pangrams

    • 10. Spencerian Uppercase O E D C

    • 11. Spencerian uppercase I J Q U V W X Y Z

    • 12. Spencerian uppercase A F H L N P R S

    • 13. Spencerian Numbers and Project

    • 14. Thank you

    • 15. Bonus: Spencerian Drills, a Necklace, and Copperplate Comparison Demos

    • 16. Bonus: Palmer Method, Differences between Spencerian Calligraphy and Spencerian Lettering

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About This Class

Learn how to write in cursive!

In this class, we’re going to cover the component strokes, connections, and spacing of writing letters in Spencerian cursive. 

Based on the system developed by Platt Rogers Spencer in 1840, the Spencerian script consists of seven component strokes, and has been taught in American businesses and schools until the 1920s. 

Strict rules allow this form of penmanship to attain levels of mathematical precision, while leaving room for adding personal character to your handwriting with flourishes in the capital letters. 

Since this is a class for handwriting practice, we won’t insist on being 100% precise. I want you to feel comfortable using this cursive style in everyday situations. So we’ll start by going over the component strokes and the rules, and then it’s up to you how many you want to break as we go on practicing individual letters, and writing words and phrases. 

Since you will be learning a new way of writing, it doesn’t matter what your handwriting looks like now. So feel free to get back into a beginners mindset, which means this might be frustrating at first, but if you keep at it, you’ll see progress in no time. 

I've added Bonus lessons where I'll demo warm-up drills and exercises, and we'll also take a quick look at the Palmer method for handwriting, and the differences between Spencerian handwriting, Spencerian Calligraphy, and Spencerian Letting. 

Ready? Let’s get started!

Meet Your Teacher

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Doris Fullgrabe

Lettering & Calligraphy, Freelance


I'm Doris, I'm an MBTI® Master Practitioner, and I also love lettering and calligraphy.

Born and raised in Germany, I have lived and worked in Scotland, England, Spain, the Canary Islands, Mexico, Texas, and New York City, before moving to Brooklyn. 

Writing and doodling with our hands has been shown to improve memory retention, calm monkey-brain, and lower blood pressure. It makes everyday life more beautiful, and it's a craft you can learn.

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1. Introduction: Hello and welcome to Introduction to Spencerian handwriting, learning how to write in cursive. My name is Doris full grabber. And in this class we're going to cover the components, strokes, connections, and spacing of writing letters in Spencerian cursive based on the system developed by Platt Rogers, Spencer, and 840, the Spencerian script consists of seven components, strokes, and has been taught in American businesses and schools until the 1920s. Strict rules allow this form of penmanship to attain levels of mathematical precision while leaving room for adding personal character to your handwriting with flourishes in the capital letters. Since this is a class for handwriting practice, we want, insist on being 100% precise. I want you to feel comfortable using this curve SF style in everyday situations. So we'll start by going over the components, strokes, and the rules, and then it's up to you how many of them you want to break as we go on practicing individual letters and writing words and phrases. Materials you'll need any sort of pen and paper you have at home and would like to use. I'll be using printer paper and a gel pen. You can download the handout for a copy of the guidelines and a writing sample. Your project will be to write and share a paragraph you've written in your Spencerian style. Since you will be learning a new way of writing, it doesn't matter what your handwriting looks like now. So feel free to get back into a beginners mindset, which means that it might be a little frustrating at first, but if you keep at it, you will see progress in no time. Ready. Let's get started. 2. Guidelines and Set Up: You won't need any special writing equipment for this practice. Just grab a pen or pencil of your choosing. You can write directly on your printed guideline page or laid underneath a blank page to reuse it. A quick word about the guidelines that you'll see in the handout. I got them from a ship Brooke dotnet slash guidelines. So if you want to get your own in case the size isn't working for you. The, this is the page that I recommend using. As you can see, you can change a couple of variables here. You can print them out either on portrait or landscape orientation. You can change the margins that you want. The x-height that I chose is the one that most resembles my national, my natural handwriting. So if that is too large or too small for you, you can play with a couple of sizes here. As you can see, I chose the 10 inch one in the end, but maybe your writing is a little larger and so a different size would be better for you. Ascenders and descenders are, according to Spencerian rules, two to one. So this is 2 times the x height. You can have one-to-one or a three-to-one ratios as well. You can say how much space you want between the lines and which angle you want to. So even if you'd like to print out guidelines for your copper plate practice, you might use this one because then you can change that here, but we're using Spencerian and, you know, go through these settings. And then once you generate the guidelines, once you click that generate the guidelines button, you'll be taken to a page that you can then print out as a PDF. I think you have one of these in your handouts just in case it's not working for you. You can come to ship rook dotnet slash guidelines and make your own. The guidelines contain the baseline and waistline, and this space is also called the x-height. It is the height of any lowercase letter. The ascender space is for upright loops and capitals, or uppercase letters, and the descender space is four down loops. Spencerian handwriting is written at a 52 degree angle. So if you're right-handed, you may find it helpful to rotate your paper counterclockwise. If you're left-handed, keep the paper straight or rotate it slightly the other way. If you find you're slouching or your wrist gets tired, sit up straight, shake out your hands because you want to make sure you don't hurt your back or shoulders. 3. Spencerian size, components, and connections: When we break Spencerian handwriting forms down into individual shapes, we find seven components. They are also called Principles. The seven components, strokes or principles are, number one, the straight line across the x-height at a 52 degrees slant. Number to the right curve across the x-height, bending the straight line to the right. Number three, the left curve across the x-height, bending the straight line to the left. Number for the extended loop, combining two curves with a narrow turn and then crossing at the waistline. Number 5, the direct oval formed counterclockwise at 52 degrees land. Number 6, the reversed oval formed clockwise at 52 degrees slant. Number 7, the capital stem across the ascender space to the baseline, 52 degrees slant. Principles one through four make up the lowercase letters. And principles five to seven makeup the capital letters. In terms of size, letter proportions are two to one to two. That means the ascender and descender space is twice the amount of the x-height. The letters i, u, W, N, m, V, x, o, a, E, and C are the size of the x-height. The letters R and S extend a tiny bit above the waistline. The letters t, d, and p and q are semi extended, so they occupy two spaces, are half the ascender height. The letters b, h, k, l, and f, g, j, y and z are extended loops. So they occupy three spaces. Or in the case of the f, all five capital letters occupy three spaces with the J, y, and z also descending below the baseline to take up all five. All letters are written at a 52 degree angle, so their main stem or downward stroke follows the main slant. And all letters are connected at a 30 degree angle. So the connective slant is a little flatter towards the baseline. In terms of connections, letters are connected in four ways. Number one, angular connections or joins stopped short before continuing with the next stroke. Number 2, short-term connections or narrow curves without stopping. Number 3, oval turn connections have continuous motion. Number FOR loop connections combine a short turn and crossing curved lines. 4. Spencerian spacing: Since we're using the style for handwriting, I'm not going to focus on exact spacing because depending on when we write faster or slower, that might change. If you're using the stylus calligraphy. However, you should practice being precise from the beginning because what makes calligraphy beautiful is when the space inside the letters is visually equal to the space between letters. So here are the general spacing rules. The space of one letter is measured as the distance between the two downstrokes of the EU. In general, the connecting right curve extends one and a quarter space to the right between two lowercase letters. Exceptions are when connecting to the letters E, a, D, G, and Q because of their leisure form, the connecting left curve needs to extend two spaces to the right. Space between words should be a half. Space between sentences should be one. Paying close attention to writing the correct letter forms will help you achieve correct spacing. Now that you know all the rules, let's get to writing the letters. There are several ways to practice a new alphabet. One is going from a to Z and one is going by size. And another is grouping letters that have the main component strokes and common to get them into your muscle memory faster. If that sounds good. It's because that's what we're going to do. I'll start by narrating the builds because some students are auditory and liked to hear the principles and components Dogs repeated, I won't be doing that for all the letters because too much of a good thing can get confusing. And since all letters use the same components, strokes and connection principles, you will become more familiar with them as we move along. If you find a narration distracting, you can also of course, just watch and copy what I'm doing with the sound off. 5. Spencerian lowercase i j t u w: Starting on the baseline, make a right curve and angular turn a straight line and a tight turn into another right curve. Let's write a few of these. Curve, straight curve, curve, straight curve. Go at your own speed and don't forget to add the dot in the middle of the ascender space. For the DJ. Make a right curve and angular turn a straight line down the x-height. Short-term loop, cross at the baseline and exit and a right curve. Speeding up a few more of these curve, straight loop, curve, curve, straight loop curve for the tea maker right curve and continue into the next space up and angular turn from there, straight line down, tight turn and right curve exit. Add a crossbar at a third about assert into the ascender space. And your downstroke should cover or retrace your upstroke. So it looks like they're connecting or branching off at the waistline. Do another few of these at your own speed. Curve, straight curve, cross curve, straight curve, cross. The EU is basically two I's combined. So curve, angle turn, straight type turn, curve angle turns, straight, tide turn and curve. Right? A few of these now. The W is a u and a half. Start with the right curve, an angle turn, straight, tight, turn, curve, angle, turn, straight. And the second type turn is about half the space of the first one. Finish with a little flag at a third of the space. Now write a few of these again, since we're handwriting, I'm not mad that the second term is probably not exactly half the size of the first. Just see if you can get into a rhythm. 6. Spencerian lowercase a d g o q: For the a start on the baseline left curve, remember to go about two spaces to the right because you will retrace some of the curve, tight turn, right curve up to the waistline, angular turn and straight line down and tight turn to exit the zoo. A few of these wide left curve, double-back, curve up, sharp down and exit. D, very similar to the a, only extend into the ascender space before the sharp turn and stem down and tight curve and to the exit. And again, why had left curve double-back, wide right curve, extend angle to turn down and exit. The G has a wide left turn, double-back, right curve, angular turn down along the slant into a loop across the descender space, which is reverse right curve, and then a tight turn up into a long left curve and cross at the baseline. Depending on which letter comes next in the words you'll write, you can either continue Azure left curve or switched directions during the exit stroke. And this is going to be true for a few more letters as well. So this would be a GA connection and this would be an G i connection. The old begins like the a wide left curve from the baseline double-back, short-term right curve to meet the top. And then you add a little flag. This will be the connecting stroke to following letters, and you'll also use it for the v and the w and the b. It doesn't need to come down very much, maybe a quarter of the x-height, and it should be about half a space wide. Let's do a couple more. The queue begins like the a and then adds a straight line down about 1.5 spaces into the descender space. Short-term, go up parallel to the stem. And once you cross the baseline again curve either left or right, depending on the following letter. Practice words that we can do would be gold, dog. And combined with the first group, we get, maybe quad or quit. Don't quit though. We got more letters to learn coming up. 7. Spencerian lowercase m n p v w y z: The M is the widest of the lowercase letters, all in all, it's about four spaces. Again, this is handwriting and we don't have to be super precise, but if you find it helpful, Here's how it breaks down. You start on the baseline with a left curve, tight turn, straight line down, Angular up with a left curve at 30 degrees. So connecting curve, short-term straight line down and repeat curve, turn line, connecting curve, straight and exit. Remember, the EU is one space wide. So for your m, you should have four spaces. This is the letter where I think you can also really notice the angle of the style. It definitely leans to the right. So just a couple more of these. Before we move on. The n is like the m. You want to make sure that the curves are quite equal and that the straight lines are parallel and follow the slant. The P starts with a right curve that extends two spaces up angular turn straight line, 1.5 space is down into the descender space. So the stem is 3.5 space as long in total. And then you retrace and branch off at the baseline before finishing like you would with the n. So with the right connecting curve, short-term straight line and exit. Let's do a couple of those. The v starts like the N and the other letters in this group, left curve, short turn, stretch, and then parallel up and you add a flag like the o. Do a couple of these. The x combines the two arches. Build the end without the turn in the middle. So start at the baseline with a left curve, short-term straight down, stop at the base and then do a reverse mirror of it, retracing, going up, down again and exit. Thankfully, the x doesn't show up in too many words, at least not in the English language. So again, for handwriting speed's sake, I'd say Play with your options here. You might want to write a wave and then cross it. If that's easier. The y is a combination of the N and the J curve, straight, curve, straight and loop, and do a couple of these. And the z, or the z. And if you're American is half an n and a loop. So curved and straight, stop short and descend both spaces down before coming back up and crossing at the baseline. Let's do a few of these. And the words we can now write our AMP zipped and quiz. 8. Spencerian lowercase b f h k l: Now let's look at the long ascender loops. They're all going to be three spaces high, except the f will span across all five. Start at the baseline with an extended loop. So along right curve to the top of the ascender line, short-term back, and straight line down along the slant. Crossing at the waistline. For the b. Add a short-term and a right curve up and add a flag. Do a couple of these. For the F, extend the downward stem to the descender line, short turn and loop backup with a left curve crossing at the baseline. You might also think of this as combining the B and the Jade loops. Let's do a few of these. For the H, add a left curve, straight and exit. So like the n that you already know, do a couple of these. And for the k, right, the loop then come up in a left curve, add a little bowl about a quarter space tol along the waistline and then come down in a straight line, again parallel to the stem and exit. So it'll be tempting here to have the little leg come out sprawling like this, like little wider. But that will mess up the overall look of your handwriting. So try and keep your lines as parallel as you can. Undo a couple of these. And the L is the basic loop with an exit, no surprises there. You can now write words like bowl, loud and foul. 9. Spencerian lowercase c e r s and pangrams: Last but not least, these letters are a little different from the others. And I'm going to say right now that I don't like the Spencerian see, but I'll show it to you anyway and let you decide if you want to use it. It starts with the right curve, almost up to the waistline, hard stop, and then loop over tight into a down curve before the exit. And when I say curve, I mean the very top and the very bottom of the small c are curved, but the middle stem is straight along the slant line. So that's a lot of stuff happening inside one tiny space. And let's try a couple of these. So if you get the hang of it, personally, I find it easier to make a more conventional see by doing a wide curve is if I'd be starting in a and then just leaving the bowl open and connecting to the next letter. So I'm going to say your handwriting, your choice. The e is a small loop, again with tight curves top and bottom and straight line down this land for a stem across one small x-height space. Pretty straightforward. The r starts with a right curve and extends a little into the ascender space. And you want to add a little arm to the right before coming down straight and parallel to the upstroke. The S also extends a little into the ascender space. So Dewar right curve like the r and then come down to form a reverse right curve. Adding a little dot before going into the exit stroke. Do a few of these. And if you don't exactly retrace at the bottom and add a little loop. I think the S is still going to be legible. And those are all the lowercase letters. You can now write. My big quiz. 10. Spencerian Uppercase O E D C: Uppercase or capital letters are mainly constructed with components strokes 5, 6, and 7. So for a quick review, that's the direct overall, the reversed oval and the capital stem. The direct oval is also the capital O, where you start at the ascender line, come down with a left curve to the baseline, come up in a right curve before going into another left curve down and stopping inside the x-height. So the two curves will be kind of mirrored and hugging this slant. The reverse oval starts on the baseline, goes up into full left curve to the ascender line and then wide turn into the right and down in a full right curve touching the baseline. You're not closing this oval, but leaving a little space. The capitals stem starts at the ascender line, comes down obliquely, touches the baseline and a left curve and then changes into a right curve to form a horizontal oval that's about 1.5 space is high. I'm now going to demo writing the capitals again in groups of similar components strokes. But I'm not going to narrate every single turn. Okay, so let's start with a capital O, E, D, and C. These all span across the ascender space and use variations of the direct oval. For the E. The top oval is a good bit smaller than the bottom, so it's going to be 1 third to two-thirds. Make sure you hug the slant line here. The capital D, traditional Spencerian hasn't quite wide and finishing to the right of the stem. But if you want to play with that, I say, Go ahead. So here's the traditional version. And then here's a variation. This C starts with a small loop before going into the Oval. And again, you have options to add flourishes and maybe start with a more horizontal oval. 11. Spencerian uppercase I J Q U V W X Y Z: This next group is going to use the reversed ovals. For example, the capital I looks a little like a pretzel. It starts with a reverse oval and then ends in a capital stem. The j starts with a reverse oval and ends in a loop. The queue is a reverse oval with a small horizontal loop along the baseline. So you can also think of it like a to the u, starts with a reverse oval and then adds a small t, If you will, just without the crossbar. The V looks a bit anemic in the original, it's a reverse oval and then an upstroke like the lowercase q. So here's another opportunity where I'd say play with it, maybe make the connection sharp and angular at the bottom and right curve it up, whatever feels good. The W starts with a reverse oval and then goes straight up and down with angles before ending in a left curve. Again, to our modern eyes, this may not be easily legible, so you might consider modernizing it and making it more like a double V, which incidentally is how the French call it. It's not a W, its fate new blue v. The x like the small one, but taller. So we'll start with a reverse oval and go back up to the ascender line before coming down into a curve. The y as like the, you just add a j loop at the end of it. And the z is a reverse oval. And then you connect a j loop by forming another small loop like this. 12. Spencerian uppercase A F H L N P R S: This group all has the capitals stem and starting with the a, this is one of the few times where you actually lift your pen in case you hadn't noticed so far are probably 98% of the letters and words can we written all in one goal? So build the stem and then go back to the ascender point and come straight down, retrace up to the waistline and add a loop. If you wanted to write it in one goal, form the capital stem from the oval up, like I'm doing now. And maybe make the loop a little bigger. The B, start with the stem, oval up and around, and cross the stem to form two same size half balls before ending just above the waistline. So when you look at your B, there's going to be more space on the left than the right. And the two right bowls will have about the same size and looked like a PS3. And the exit stroke should cut that negative space in half. F starts with a stem and then curves across to build the crossbar. And you add a separate loop and wave as the roof on top. And here you have your horizontal oval again, and also some freedom to change up the top line. The g starts with a shifted loop kind of and then ends in a half-step. So you want to start with a long right curve across the three spaces. Loop at the waistline, and then start the stem from just above the waistline. Take a look. The H starts with a long right curve into the ascender space, but not all the way up. And then you add the stem, lift your pen, and add like the second half of the a. So it's three space downstroke with a little loop at the waistline. This is the traditional H. Again, you might want to play with it and connect it with loops. Instead. The k starts like the H, long right curve and stem lift the pen and then add a bracket across the whole three spaces. The two parts should connect just above the waistline. The L starts with a loop in the ascender space and then loops horizontally again into a wave that kind of sits on the baseline. The M, again can be formed with or without lifting the pen. And what's going to be most important here is that the lines are parallel. The traditional method connects using short turns. But again, if an angular connection is more your style, go for it. The traditional n and looks like this, but like the V, It's my opinion that our modern eyes will find those hard to read. So I'm going to suggest a version where the upstroke ends at the ascender line, as we would expect today. The p and r are formed very similarly to the B. So you start with a stem and then form an oval that curves over. And the case of the P, you add the one ball. And in the case of the r, You add the leg coming back down to the baseline. The S starts with a wide, tall right curve before looping into a stem. And the T is a stem with a little roof, again, open to variations that you might want to add. 13. Spencerian Numbers and Project: Spencerian handwriting, R1 and a half space is 6, 7, and 9, which are two spaces. For my project, I chose to write a few lines from Amanda Gordon's poem, the hill we climb. If you're in the US, you probably recognize it from the 2021 inauguration of President Biden. 14. Thank you: And that concludes our introduction to Spencerian handwriting class. We covered how to write all the lowercase and uppercase letters. We went over all the rules of connecting and spacing them. And then we added our own flair for ideas how to further develop your handwriting style. Check out my other class, improve your handwriting strategies for better form, legibility, and speed. Most of all, remember that learning these new skills mean you have to unlearn some things first and then take a beginners mindset. Again. Improving your handwriting like anything is going to take time and dedicated practice. I gave you some ideas for drills and exercises in this class, and I look forward to seeing your projects for now. Thank you for learning with me and hope to see you in another class soon. 15. Bonus: Spencerian Drills, a Necklace, and Copperplate Comparison Demos: This is an example to help you warm up for your Spencerian practice and actually practicing the letter forms. We can write these drills from the 1860s reference pic, and we can also do a couple of necklaces as well. A necklace is where the same letter follows all the other letters. And I'm going to demo those for you. If you've taken my introduction to copper plate class, here's where you can really see a big difference between the two styles. With copper plate, we lift the pen many times to create the letters out of their individual components strokes. But with Spencerian handwriting, the goal is to write quickly. So the letters with very few exceptions are formed in a way so that you don't really have to lift the pen at all. 16. Bonus: Palmer Method, Differences between Spencerian Calligraphy and Spencerian Lettering: Developed by Austin Norman Palmer and 888, the Palmer method was introduced as a simplified Spencerian method. The goal was to make handwriting fast enough so it could compete with typewriters. The Palmer method was taught until the 1950s. The Wikipedia entry shows an image of the alphabet where we can see simplified capitals and some lowercase letters as well, like the C and the P. The purpose of this class was to show the principles for Spencerian handwriting. However, there's also Spencerian calligraphy, which applies a different tool and adds a few more details, namely shading. When writing with a nib or a brush that downstrokes can be made to appear thicker by applying pressure, spreading the times, and increasing the ink flow. In Spencerian calligraphy, there are five forms of shaded strokes. The T shade or a top of the stem for a t and d, the P shade or bottom of the stem for the P. The L shade or bottom of the curve for B, F, and L. The y shade, or bottom of the downstroke for H KEY and the capital V, u, and y. And then the oval shade in the middle of the curve for a, G, and Q and all other capital letters. Another style entirely Spencerian lettering, is more like an exaggerated form of English. Round hand letters have very high contrast and type flute flourishes. And this is an example of lettering piece I made in a workshop that I took by Ken barber.