The focus was on lettering today. With my background in design I appreciate typography and type design. Although I don’t believe I have any interest in designing type as a future career, it is however, one of those artistic disciplines that I do admire, but only when executed correctly.
Despite the expansive availability of free fonts online they’re not all designed properly. Many are fine to use only as headlines but if you were to construct a whole page of words or ‘copy’, you may find many fonts will be illegible or at least very clunky and difficult to read.
The really good fonts are designed where each letter, or character, in both uppercase and lowercase, have been reviewed next to each other. So despite the many combinations these characters might be placed in the space between each letter should be the same. It’s also considering the balances and aesthetics of the typeface’s ascenders, descenders, tails and so on. Good typography and font design is all about fluidity when read.
As computers are the tools of the trade, it has unfortunately made designers lazy and guilty of an offensive amount of bad type design, it’s especially cringe-worthy when it comes from design and ad agencies that probably get paid well for it.
Now that I’ve got that off my chest. Let’s move on.
One of the first projects I was given as a graphic design student was to design a brochure for a font family. I had to hand-render all the lettering in it. By doing this you zero in on the letters and as a result can see its beauty and elegance. Hence, my first exercise…
I have a lot of fonts, so went through them all chose a few in advance.
This was all about accuracy I had to adjust my sight lines each time. I’ve kept them in to show how off I was. I relied a lot on the negative space inbetween each section to get the proportions right.
If you’ve never used this technique before it’s invaluable in getting spacing right. This doesn’t only apply to lettering, but to figurative drawing, still life, landscape, anything when you are referring to a physical object as a guide.
What you do is look at the negative space around the subject and adjust your drawing based on that. As shown below. I did a quick sketch from a photo of my dad when he was young (please don’t judge the facial inaccuracies!) to show how to use negative space to fix a drawing’s proportions. The one on the left is far too condensed, the right is closer to the photo.
An exercise purely about design which really pushed me! My graphic design layouts are never complicated so it forced me to really think about the balance of so many type sizes, tones, weights as well as the negatve shapes around the letters, particularly where they overlapped or came near to touching.
My mind was completely blank when it came to this exercise, especially after what I wrote earlier about good fonts being painstakingly designed and constructed. However, as this was only about conceptual development I’m excusing myself.
I didn’t know what to do, so I approached it like a drawing and found myself returning to the earlier exercises of cross-hatching. It just flowed from there and took me about fifteen-twenty minutes to finish. Maybe if I was really interested I could continue to refine it and check all the spacing etc. but I’ll leave it as a creative exercise for now.
I continued to do another one which was inspired partly from the eraser execises I did the other week.
Another one that was less about technique but more on exercising my creative juices. It was another task where I didn’t want to waste time brainstorming layouts on the day I was to work on them. I only allow one day to complete these exercises so if I didn’t prep beforehand I could waste a whole morning trying to come up with an idea before I get started.
First I had to find opening lines from some books. Admittedly I’ve not read any of the ones I chose, but they allowed me some visual breadth to come up with ideas. The drop cap designs I did over numerous lunch break. To make sure my illustrations were relevant to the books I also read up the synopsis for each title as well as a couple of reviews.
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. The book is about the life’s journey of the title character and the way his fate and fortune are tied up in the people he meets, the opportunities given him and the circumstances he finds himself. It appropriately starts with his childhood so I thought toys were apt.
I made sure that all the toys I illustrated were of the same period as the book’s setting (as much as I could tell) and that they were relevant to the story – a spinning top, wooden skittles and a jack-in-a-box could all symbolise aspects of life that involve the uncertanties, surprises, momentum and energy of life.
Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini. From what I can gather it’s a swashbuckling adventure where the protagonist wants to avenge the death of a friend, but through his exploits becomes an unexpected hero for the French revolution.
Having his preferred weapon, the rapier, with the tricolour flag behind it (this is the period in which the modern French national flag was first used) slashing through a fluer-de-lis banner (symbol of French royalty) seemed appropriate for the setting of this book.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. A modern book with a still controversial flavour. A middle-aged man is infatuated with a pre-pubescent girl and spends his life lusting over her. It’s considered a modern masterpiece, and although I don’t want to judge without having read it, it does sound horrible. Even if it is lauded for its technical mastery, from a woman’s point of view I think I’d find it a very hard book to get through.
As you can see I attempted different styles for each book, not necessarily reflecting the period it was set in but in some ways I suppose it ended up that way. It also triggered another idea I had ages ago, which was to design book jackets for a lot of old, second-hand books that I own which did not come with anyway.
Well, it was a fun day which didn’t have the intensity of some of my other creative days, so it was a nice contrast.
Being a graphic designer I have been taught that above all, your designs are to communicate a message, and with as much clarity as possible. There is a resurgence in hand lettering which is wonderful, however, some I feel are more interested in the flourishes or garnishes which can completely obscure the words. For me that’s a big issue though it’s due to the way I was trained. Is that something that bothers you? Or do you have any grumblings about the way type is used and abused?