Beautiful handwriting? Beauty in anything is all in the judgment of individual eyes. However, legible handwriting that looks like the writer’s pen flowed freely usually will have my vote for good looks.
The right look is achieved when the pen moves freely and automatically across a page. The result must be legible of course, and that depends on consistent letter forms, sizes and slant. That does not mean that all letters will look like the model in a copy book. Automaticity will always have the individual writer’s variance. Slant should be moderate, just enough to let the hand move easily. If the slant is too great, the counter spaces are compressed. Counters must be open. They are the areas that writing lines define, and we actually read counters more than lines.
For consistency all letters should have the same body height (the area between the baseline and midline) and width. Exceptions are i, j, l, m and w. A few common stumbling blocks occur with the shapes and counters of both e and o, letters we use so often. The counter of a one-stroke e will often close up, but some italic writers use two strokes and then writing lines often miss each other. See below. The letter o will often close up too much. I see so many o’s written wrong way around, or up from the baseline. They don’t fit well with their neighboring letters.
Cursiveness indicates joins and some letter combinations flow together for almost every writer. Other ligatures depend on how an individual hand naturally moves. Exceptions rule! Usually a join from the baseline to an ascender, or from a descender to a following letter does not work well, but with a light touch the writer might leave a faint trace of a join. Spacing is critical to joining. I have seen some fine examples where the spacing was too tight for a truly free movement; it is deemed cursive, but the writer probably worried about aesthetics. Letters must be spaced so that joins move easily; for example, the exit stroke at the end of a letter can flow up diagonally to a following letter.
Beauty may rest with the beholder, but all of us delight in a handwritten note or letter, especially if clear and graceful.