ductus

jodb's picture

I am looking for definition(s) of, and reliable sources for the word 'ductus' (if possible with annotated images).

Nick Sherman's picture

[I posted the following response on the ATypI e-mail list, but figured I'd repeat it here for the sake of future reference.]

I'm glad you asked this question, as I've seen the term used to describe different things in the context of typography, writing, letterform design, etc.

1) Some people use ductus to refer to the flaring or "reverse entasis" in the stokes of a letter.

2) I've also seen people use ductus to refer to the kind of meta-design of a letter – its basic underlying structure. For example, in this sense of the word, a single-storey g and a double-storey g represent the same character, but have a different ductus. Other people describe this kind of basic construction of a letter as its "topology", a term which I would be more inclined to use.

3) Finally, I've also seen ductus used as a parallel to how the term is used in the context of spoken language – to refer to the unique characteristics of flow, speed, direction, and tone of written text. In this sense of the word, it could be said that variations in ductus are what allow you to identify people by their handwriting.

With all that in mind, it seems that ductus is a commonly confused/confusing term, so one would be advised to use it cautiously. Especially because the varying interpretations are so closely related, it is easy to imagine a misunderstanding of any statements which use the term.

cerulean's picture

The Wikipedia article on Palaeography contains this passage: "Their efforts were mainly directed at reconstructing 'the ductus' — the movement of the pen in forming the letter" and cites the New Encyclopaedia New York.

Here at Typophile "ductus" usually seems to mean the pen angle implied by the stress of a face's chirographic elements, though there is the occasional focus on the imagined pen path when it is in question.

typerror's picture

As I have understood it over the last thirty years as a lettering artist "ductus" referred to direction and sequence in the formation of the letter. Simple as that.

William Berkson's picture

Michael, does it include the angle of the pen? The writing instrument?

SciTechEngMath's picture

"Medieval Calligraphy: Its History and Technique" by Marc Drogin defines ductus as "the direction and sequence of each stroke." He does not elaborate as to whether or not that specifically includes the pen angle or type.

typerror's picture

Reasonable question William... it always, for me, was the above. Actually different tools each use different direction and sequence, and sometimes the ductus will change to achieve different results and accommodate the strengths/weaknesses of the tool and handler. The first one shows the possible effects ductus change can have. More confused than before :-)

First two, brush. Second, traditional chisel edged pen. Third, ruling pen.

dezcom's picture

Latin calligraphy typically maintains a constant pen angle except for an occasional correction. Pushed vs pulled strokes also have an affect. Greek is much more free than Latin.

@Michael, I know Ruling Pen, Ruling Pen is a friend of mine-- that third one is no Ruling Pen ;-)

typerror's picture

Yep, it bee!

Held to the side of point and then the thicks were added in a restrained and gradual manner. Here's the little miscreant now :-)

typerror's picture

Nothing I love more than wielding a

But the more I use it I know

:-)

typerror's picture

@ Chris

You know those Greeks... fast and loose :-)

OPA!!!!!!!!

John Hudson's picture

Chris: Latin calligraphy typically maintains a constant pen angle except for an occasional correction.

Excepting, of course, those styles that are characterised by rotation as a feature, notably the Flemish mannerist hands.
_____

Bill: ...does [ductus] include the angle of the pen? The writing instrument?

Typically not in the usage of the term by calligraphers, palaeographers and other writing experts. Ductus refers to the movements and their sequence. But the same ductus written with a different tool or the same tool held at a different angle results in a different style of writing.

typerror's picture

Actually John, manipulation/angle shifting/modulation/pressure-release etc. go back to Ugar "scribing" and permeates the development of the Latin alphabet.

John Hudson's picture

Michael, I understood Chris' comment to be specifically about 'calligraphy', and wanted to point out the specific role of rotation in at least one historical style. As you say, it and other manipulations are found throughout the development of Latin writing, but in the case of Flemish mannerist calligraphy rotation is the key or definitive manipulation that gives the style its particular flavour.

I'm not familiar with the term 'Ugar'. Can you explain what this means?

typerror's picture

Sorry John... when I went back to put the quotes in around scribing I must have deleted IT in Ugarit. Just saw that. Whether the forms were wedged or manipulated with the stylus it set a precedent :-)

dezcom's picture

Michael
How do you get that fuzzy texture with a ruling pen? I spent hours trying to make a clean, even, sharp line ;-)

dezcom's picture

"...I understood Chris' comment to be specifically about 'calligraphy',"

Yes, John, that is what I meant. I was not familiar with the "Flemish mannerist hands" you spoke of. Do you have good examples to post?

Alex Kaczun's picture

>typerror

The three examples above—Brush, chisel & ruling pen are very cool. Great hand.

Is there any way to get that effect (ruling pen example) using software, or applying some type of filter in Illustrator?

I would love to simulate and apply that look to a script I'm designing.

Thanks in advance.

PS—does anyone else know of of any combination of tools that can get that effect?

typerror's picture

@ Chris, as I said the modulation was added, the ductus is in tact. I use rapidographs and smooth paper for clean lines (or the computer). And as to John... he committed no error, just that I wanted it noted that the slight of hand goes back thousands of years.

@ Alex... not that I know of. I am still working in ink. I do the digital work one BCP at a time. See Letraset Katytude.

dezcom's picture

Alex, if you use one of the canned Adobe filters, it will look like one of the canned Adobe filters.

Alex Kaczun's picture

>dezcom—I know and I agree with you. But someone may be aware of several techniques, combined together, that can simulate something like that effect. It would be a good starting point.

Anyone? Thanks.

John Hudson's picture

Chris, the quality of this image isn't great, but here is an example of writing by the great Flemish writing master Jan Van den Velde. The most obvious examples of rotation are found in the heaviest strokes and their transitions from thinner strokes, but rotation is found throughout the style; note what happens in the lowercase d for example.

cf. Noordzij's The Stroke pp.23–26, and Letterletter pp.8 & 153–154 (page 8 has a very helpful diagram of the rotation in the mannerist d.)

hrant's picture

> permeates the development of the Latin alphabet.

Not anymore.

hhp

dezcom's picture

Thanks, John!
It looks as though they endeavored to never cross over in a stroke. This kind of radial pivot is similar in some ways to some Greek I have seen but kind of backwards in stress to it. The written Greek I have seen is not nearly so crisp, though. Perhaps the Greeks were not as fond of the regular glyph or sub-glyph height. ;-)
This sample shows a very chiseled sharp edge that makes a clean line. That took some mighty skill to master! Now you have me hooked! I have to dig into this and find more, now :-)

I used to watch my grandmother write with great wonderment because of her arm and wrist movement. She seemed to pivot about her elbow as if it were a moving compass for certain curved strokes but her elbow would jut out at a right angle for the bolder horizontal straights. She would smile and say to me in a whisper, "Don't write with your fingers like your mother [her daughter] learned in American school." Actually, watching για για cooking and rolling grape leaves had the same flourished, sure motions of the arm as in writing. She may have talked with her hands, but wrote with her arms.

Thanks, John. I just looked at Noordij again. I see what you mean!

Chris

John Hudson's picture

If you get a chance, Chris, try to find a copy of Van den Velde's Deliciae. It was originally published in 1605 (engraved plates based on his written exemplars). I have an engraved facsimile produced by Noordzij. It is incredibly good.

Here's another example.

Claude Mediavilla's big book on calligraphy is the only one I can think of off hand that devotes much attention to this style.

hrant's picture

Mediavilla's book itself deserves much attention - it brings so much together.

hhp

dezcom's picture

Thanks John & Hrant! I'll put it on my Christmas list :-)

kentlew's picture

Chris —

What might not have been evident from Michael’s response is that when using a ruling pen for this kind of calligraphy, it is manipulated in pretty much the exact opposite way from what it was designed for and how you’re accustomed to using it. ;-)

Instead of ruling in a direction parallel to the blades to get an even, consistent-width line, for lettering like this you generally run the broad edge of the blades against the paper and work more *against* the direction of the blades, dragging across the page. Varying the angle of the ruling pen in relation to the surface, more vertical or more shallow, will bring more or less blade surface in contact and yield variations in width.

I don’t know how you held your ruling pen when drafting. I know many people held it with a more or less normal pen grip. But I believe most letterers use a grip more akin to how you would hold a steak knife. This allows a great range of whole-arm movement for angling and rotating.

(And I think most letterers grind down the tips of the blades, so they aren’t so sharp and won’t catch on the page.)

If the paper is cold pressed or rough, you get textured edge effects like in Michael’s “ruling pen” example. If the paper is smooth, you generally get cleaner edges, as in the “Scio me” example (the subtler edge effect there looks more like a result of absorbancy than surface texture).

Michael will correct me if I’ve made any errors in my description.

dezcom's picture

Thanks, Kent! Now I get it!

My grip was a bit more like dart throwing but facing down. I always held my ruling pen perfectly vertical in the tips of my fingers with my pinky out as a brace on the parallel-edge. Any angle other than vertical would cause line weight to vary and bad looking endings.
I will have to watch Michael in action some day--it might make me cringe though ;-)

typerror's picture

P22 Peanut was done with a ruling pen Chris... do not cringe too badly.

Modulation in 2010, who would have thunk it Hrant? Oh, and and then there is FBPouty, P22Pooper Black, Shibumi, Sweepy, Lucilee, Monumental and Sting! Seems to appeal to several type designers that have appropriated two of my faces.

hrant's picture

FYI, I love Sangue. But I don't pretend it's readable.
And oh, "modulation" is a lousy term here.

hhp

typerror's picture

It may be because you are unfamiliar with it... just like you use chirography instead of calligraphy, which I, and most, consider the proper term! Oh, that's right you took a course one time :-) I bow to your all encompassing knowledge!

hrant's picture

Chirography and calligraphy don't mean the same thing; I can explain it to you
if you convince me doing so would be worth the effort. As for "modulation",
the problem is it already has at least two meanings in the context of type, so it's
counterproductive to add any possible meaning of "ductus" to it.

hhp

dezcom's picture

As I understand the two terms, "Chirography" includes all written by hand forms regardless of medium, professionalism, or intent. So even my chicken-scratch handwriting of a grocery store list qualifies--and it ain't pretty :-)

"Calligraphy" is "the art of beautiful writing" and what Hermann Zapf is a practitioner of. Calligraphy implies at least the attempt to make the writing look aesthetically pleasing and requires the skill and practice of a trained hand.

John Hudson's picture

That's right, Chris. Chirography is just a fancy Greek-derived word for handwriting. Calligraphy is a subcategory of chirography. The term chirography is useful because it obliges one to consider all the cultural aspects of literacy, not just calligraphy, which has different significance at different times and places. I'm interested in professional text production, for instance, which in scribal cultures involves copyists whose work is typically distinguished, in those cultures, from the work of calligraphers.

dezcom's picture

I've got to χέρι it to you on that one, John ;-)

brianskywalker's picture

The differing level of knowledge between professionals is incredible here. :-)

William Berkson's picture

By the way, on the difference between scribal hand and calligraphy, it is interesting that in illuminated texts a different person often did the text and illumination. The text being a more a matter of mastering uniformity and clarity, like type, and the illumination being more a matter of decorative flair and variety.

Nick Shinn's picture

The differing level of knowledge between professionals is incredible here…

More like different flavors of knowledge.

dezcom's picture

"differing level of knowledge "

Kinda like Yoda and R2D2? :-)

dezcom's picture

"...and the illumination being more a matter of decorative flair ..."

Ahhh, you mean Artistes, Bill? ;-)

William Berkson's picture

>Artistes

Well, I don't know, you raise an interesting question. There is a certain discipline and restraint involved in good scribal hands, but some can be quite beautiful, and others not so much. Perhaps I should have said that the constraints on the scribe are more narrow, and the latitude for decoration more for the illuminator. Whatever the difference in the two skills or arts, there was enough of a difference that there were specialists in each area.

typerror's picture

First off Hrant... no one was trying to add or subtract meaning from ductus with the term modulation. Pure and simple ductus: direction and sequence. Modulation is just an additional factor... Arthur Baker, in his "illuminations," deals with the modulations/manipulations in the scribal traditions. Marc Drogin and countless others have also dealt with it. Secondly, no one was talking type, we were talking calligraphy! Derivations of calligraphy that end up in typographic form is a whole different bag of worms.

@ John. "copyists" seems almost pejorative to me... as "those copyists" had very high levels of facility. Maybe scribe would be more appropriate. Otherwise you end up with a human Xerox.

@ William... the division of labor in the manuscripts was not as simple as you make it. There were MANY involved in the production, all experts in different "talents.

See if there are any representations of Mira Calligraphiae Monumenta, Georg Bocskay/Joris Hoefnagel, on line and tell me Georg was a copyist. 1561 I think.

William Berkson's picture

Michael, I wasn't simplifying anything, I was just saying there was a division of labor between different specialists, and I had read of those two. What are the "many" specialties involved?

Nick Shinn's picture

Bill, Michael, how do we know that different people did the illumination and the calligraphy?

I would imagine that just as in subsequent centuries, the work may have been divided any which way, contingent on circumstance.

I suspect that if an illuminator had created a title page with a small amount of text, he might have been inclined to do the whole page, including the text.

Similarly, if a page only had one or two decorated initials, then the scribe churning out the body text may have also been allowed to take a crack at the initials.

This presupposes a model of apprenticeship in which one starts mixing ink as a young lad, progressing to doing plain old transcription, then to full-fledged gold-leaf pictorial representation. With a “masterpiece” required at each step along the way. So all illuminators would have been more than capable scribes.

And you have to wonder whether economic conditions would have been able to support a specialist illuminator at all times in all scriptoria, without having him also pitch in with more mundane scribeling.

typerror's picture

No, no no William. Not a problem. It was not a castigation. Simple information. There were many people involved. Binders, colorists, paper/vellum makers, gilders, etc. It was one big happy monastery. :-) I love the Xerox commercial because it simplifies it for those of generations far removed.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2OP_idrI1U&feature=results_main&playnext...

Michael

hrant's picture

> no one was talking type

I'm sorry, but on Typophile most of us are, and all of us are supposed to be.
BTW, worms is right.

> Otherwise you end up with a human Xerox.

Yup. In fact many scribes were convicts who took shelter in the Church.
And a pretty lousy Xerox since mistakes were rife (and that's one reason
printing is so much better).

hhp

typerror's picture

Hmmm

I seem to remember posts by you dealing with calligraphy, Hrant.

Must be situational ethics for you!

William Berkson's picture

Bill, Michael, how do we know that different people did the illumination and the calligraphy?

Read that some of the illuminators have been identified, and there are partially done MSS that reveal the production process, with the script first, with blank spaces planned for initials, illuminations. Initial sketches for illumination, etc. Hey I read it on the internet—has to be true, right :)

dezcom's picture

Illuminators even worked well into post Gutenberg times illuminating the printed books by hand.

hrant's picture

Micheal, everybody makes mistakes; some of us are more gracious about admitting it.

I hope you now understand the difference between chirography and calligraphy.
And to elaborate by own viewpoint: the latter is awesome, in this age especially
when it represents art, ignoring legibility; the former is generally cloying in type,
and as a rule leads to lower readability.

hhp

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