Tibetan Calligraphy

Tibetan Calligraphy Workshop held by Tashi Mannox,  February 9th – 10th, 2013, London.

Two full days spent with pens and inked hands, for once away from our monitors and for the pleasure of the eye. On Saturday morning, over a couple of hours, the teacher, Tashi Mannox, introduced us to the basic features of the Uchen style. Among several existing styles, the Uchen is considered as the traditional one and became the reference for long text, reading typefaces.
fig. 1 Cover of our Tibetan writing manual
Tibetan writing manual
As with the Latin script, Tibetan is written accordingly to the thickness of the tool you are using; the proportions are based upon a structure built from the pen in use. The angle is 45 degrees (more or less, without being too dogmatic). The upper part of the letter is 3 units high (a unit is made of two pen strokes), the bottom part is another 3 units. A 2 unit high area above will contain the vowel signs. The glyphs are drawn in a constant width of 3 units.
fig. 2 Character structure based on grid determined by pen size.
Character structure
One important feature to keep in mind is how the strokes are traced. Traditionally, the pen is cut from dry bamboo (stronger than the young and green bamboo). This kind of pen has a degree of flexibility allowing to create the characteristic shapes of Tibetan strokes. The pen is constantly twisted to draw a modulated line. The space within the letters must be managed carefully in order to create balanced shapes.
fig. 3 Sample of a letter, with its stroke order
Character stroke order
The Tibetan script itself, within its boundaries, is very flexible. A lot of conjuncts are showing consonants and vowels embedded into each other, like in most of the scripts of the Indian sub-continent. Eventually, Tibetan words are separated by a dot that stands at the height of the headline of the letter.
fig. 4  Samples of conjuncts

conjuncts1 Conjuncts 2
fig. 5 Om Ma Ni mantra 

last img 2last img 1

For more images from the workshop see below.

Amélie Bonet, Pilar Cano, Eleni Beveratou and Michele Patanè


3 thoughts on “Tibetan Calligraphy

    1. Michele

      Hi John. I’ll try to explain what I understood about the structure, tell me if it is not completely clear.
      The construction space for each letter is made of a central square of 3×3 units and a bottom part of 3×3 units. This is the space where the letter is drawn.
      At the top of the central square is drawn the headline, more or less present in the characters.
      The bottom part is used to draw: descending elements of the letter, stacking characters, diacritics.
      There is also a top part with a width of 3 units and an height of 2 units where diacritics are drawn.

      A unit correspond to two stroke’s width. During the workshop Tashi never spoke about monospaced alphabet as far as I remember, and I haven’t read of this anywhere. I guess that the structure he explained, is a general explanation to understand the proportions, but he remarked more than once that each character is modeled according to the combination of shapes that surround it.

      On the other hand, yes, each letter is drawn inside this rectangular space 3 units wide and 8 units high. But for instance, the space itself (the small dot drawn at the height of the headline), doesn’t have the same width (feature of a proper monospaced alphabet).


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