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Roman Capitals with Alisara Tareekes


Many calligraphers, whether seasoned or just starting out, will agree that Roman Capitals is one of the most beautiful yet difficult hands to master. Its beauty is in its simplicity of form and structure, yet understanding the form and structure and applying them skillfully can take years of mindful practice.

One of the mini classes offered at Letters California Style 2014, “Hacking Roman Capitals: Defeat the divine proportion and rule the flat brush” taught by Alisara Tareekes, explores a new way of learning Roman Capitals by using a special template that she has developed.



Alisara started the class with a brief introduction of the history of Roman Capitals and also showed us a large sheet of rubbing from the Trajan’s Column (113 AD) where some of the finest examples of Roman Capitals were chiseled into its base. Alisara’s template consists of the same proportions, using die-cut straight and curved lines that make up all 26 alphabets. Each alphabet will be 6” tall. Using Alisara’s handout as a reference, we followed the template to lay down light pencil lines on a large sheet of rice paper. We then took a ¾” flat brush and followed the pencil lines to construct each letter in watercolor. Alisara recommended David Harris’ The Art of Calligraphy: A Practical Guide to the Skills and Techniques for its thorough yet concise brush-lettering instructions for each letter, and walked around giving each of us individual attention.



The class concluded on a high note, with very nice Roman Capital samples we created to take home on a rice paper scroll! With Alisara’s wonderful template, Roman Capitals now seem a little less daunting and perhaps one day, I too will become a Roman (Capitals) conqueror.

[This class recap was published in the 2014 issue of Calligraph journal, published by the Society for Calligraphy.]

Emily Dickinson in Roman Capitals

Monoline with pencil

Monoline with pencil

This was my first session’s homework from the Roman Capitals class. We started with monoline, using just pencil to get the basic shapes and structure of the capital letters, then moved to basic strokes with a chiseled/broad-edged nib. After the softness and wispiness of Copperplate, I found Roman Capitals quite challenging, especially when it required getting used to writing with a chiseled nib. The pen angle is also crucial to writing each letter, as the angle of the pen determines the thickness of the strokes and affect the look of the letters. It is quite different from the pointed pen because it has a reservoir that needs to be removed and cleaned to prolong the life of the nib.

Practicing the basic strokes

Practicing the basic strokes

Roman Capitals A to Z

Roman Capitals A to Z

Writing A to Z in Roman Capitals. This was much harder than it looks! The rules of spacing was also tough to grasp. All the letter shapes affect each other as you write, especially in Roman Capitals.

For our final project, we were to choose a poem or a phrase we like, write it on nice paper, and put the finished piece in a frame. I chose a poem by Emily Dickinson:

At first I was going to write in a square format and use a square frame, but it just didn’t look right. I ended up getting a panorama photo-size frame from Aaron Brothers and it worked out nicely! My teacher gave us all great ideas, and I was able to use some lovely pressed flowers she had saved from her garden. The whole piece really came together when framed.

By Chivalries as tiny by Emily Dickinson, 1856. Written in Roman Capitals with gouache on Arches Hot Press paper.

The Roman Capitals class was really challenging, but it was tremendously helpful to study the form and structure of the letters. I think it has already helped my own handwriting and I’m sure it will help as I learn more calligraphy styles.