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A great flourish need not be difficult once you know how !

Updated: May 23, 2020

Everyone can flourish and flourish well. As a typographer, my personal view on flourishing is typographic, so I don’t believe that you need to be a master penman to learn how to flourish nor does flourishing need to involve birds and other kitschness. Flourishing is just another language, like music which can also be learned. Know the grammar then play, plan, practice, perfect and perform your flourish. The techniques used for flourishing will help you to be a better calligrapher and lettering artist because good flourishing is about understanding space and shape which is core typographic knowledge. Studying all three benefits all three so you should definitely consider learning how. I have successfully taught many people who were not accomplished calligraphers to start with, how to flourish. Learning to flourish helped their calligraphy! Keep in mind that while the flourishing pictured in this article is drawn, the principals apply accross brush script calligraphy, copperplate, signpainting, and all forms of writing.

What is a Flourish?

A flourish is a bold or extravagant gesture used to attract attention! It is also a means of embellishing text using extra “flourished” strokes, that tie in with the composition and design elements of the word itself. It is fun to flourish and enables us to add expression to our lettering. However, as any calligrapher or letterer will explain:

do not flourish until you know how. A poor flourish will detract from a good piece of lettering, drawing the eye to the poor flourish instead of your letters.

While we all want to Flourish, without help our flourishing is usually a dismal failure. One of the main reasons is that we believe a flourish to be a spontaneous act. Nothing could be further from the truth. It involves planning

How to Spot a Good Flourish

Good flourishes emphasize and embellish a word without overpowering and distracting the eye.

They are often simple rather than complex

Work the space effectively, within the flourish, around the flourish, and around the word. Check how close it is to the word. Generally, it should either just kiss the word. cross the word, or leave a nice breathing space around the word. If the white space within and around your flourish is even it will be dull. Tension and scale help as does the rule of thirds. Within the flourish itself, uniform distribution of white space unifies the structure and appearance of the flourish.

Hot spots need to be avoided, when too many lines are crossing in one area, or a flourish is denser in one area, thicks crossing thicks or more than two lines are crossing in one point.

Stroke thickness needs to harmonize with the text, being the same or slightly less thickness. Extra thin strokes for that contrast thicker script strokes can be work nicely, just so long as the flourish does not dominate over the word, or look like a tangled mess.

No Ambiguity. In other words, the path structure should not be confusing. This can happen when low angle crossings occur and it isn’t clear whether strokes are crossing or just touching one another.

Whole Arm Gesture

It is recommended to spend some time doing the whole arm exercises in gestural drawing that we teach at OSNS. They are relatively easy to do, and understanding the methods and practicing them will enable you to become fluent in flourishing quite quickly. Before you learn the grammar of the flourish you need to learn whole arm gesture required to draw sweeping curves that are key to graceful flourishes. A good flourish depends on a smooth curve, without which it will look constricted jerky and tight.

Where about on the word do I start my flourish?

Finding the best place to flourish from in a particular word, in many ways has much in common with page design and layout in that you are dealing with spatial dynamics. I like to think of the word as one element or shape and the flourish as another element that needs to bear a relationship to the word itself. If we take the definition of the word Flourish, a flourish is a bold or extravagant gesture used to highlight a word, so the flourish should not over power the word itself, nor distract. It should actually help to emphasize the word itself.

The letterforms themselves provide the clue as to from where to flourish. It is usually the easiest to find a central letter from which to flourish, though this is not always possible. You can also flourish into an entry stroke, such as flourishing into an e or an o. You can flourish your exit strokes of n m r and s. And of course the descenders of p, y and g. The lettering will feel like part of the lettering piece if it follows similar design principles to the letterforms themselves. Keep the curves as widely open and curved as possible, and avoid flourishes that wander aimlessly. Make sure that the end of the flourish integrates back into the flourish, and think about the relationship between the size of the flourish and the size of the word, proportionally, this relationship of scale needs to be visually pleasing. Here are a few suggestions of both entry and exit points from which to flourish that you may not have thought of previously.

A few final tips for a good Flourish

When making a flourish, always look ahead, and try to cross the lines you already have made at right angles.

Strive for smoothness. Avoid jerkiness, ungraceful, abrupt direction changes and akwardness. It’s all about continuity like the graceful arc of a ball lobbing through the air.

Create visual interest. Do this by varying elements and combinations in complex flourishes. Avoid the visual boredom of repeated elements. For example, don’t use more than three rotations within a spiral shape, and avoid repeating the same elements that are all the same size.

Avoid aimless, ungraceful, wandering lines without purpose, which don’t form a coherent design.

Use your tracing paper to check your elements are uniform and spaced evenly before completing work.

Research and study good models. After learning the principles and construction, it is a good idea to practice them and to study good examples to improve your fluency. Just like learning a musical instrument, play, plan, practice, perfect, then perform !

Here are just two of over a dozen models that we share to help our students get started.


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