Improvement

Let’s talk a little about how pieces get made! I know I’ve shown off plenty of process and progress shots of pieces before, but for this latest piece I made sure to take some nice documentation pictures for any of the curious among you who wonder what goes on in making a piece behind the scenes at Jack Standbridge Lettering nowadays. Whew, that was a long sentence. To business:

Strive For Continuous Improvement Angle

First of all, a picture of the finished piece to placate those impatient readers who though that the first paragraph was already too long and there weren’t enough pictures yet. This piece is about improvement, which refers, of course, to getting better at doing whatever. For me, that means drawing fancy letters, but for the purposes of this blog post, it means the improvement of this piece as I made it. The piece about improvement is about the improvement of the piece about improvement. That’s the process! Get it? Me neither…

Strive for Continuous Improvement Instead of Perfection

Next a nice front on shot so that you can actually see what’s going on. None of that silly from-an-angle business just to look trendy because everyone else is doing it. (Truth is that you can get the words closer. The magic of diagonals, eh? Don’t ask me to figure it out.)

And finally:

Strive For Continuous Improvement Process

This is the picture I’m actually going to talk about. The first two are just to show off.

So, as I’ve mentioned about 4 times in just about every blog post for the past 17 years, I’ve been studying Romans lately, and this study has had a great impact on the lettering pieces that I’ve been producing. Through becoming more familiar with the letter forms, I’ve found that sketching out Roman caps like the word “Improvement” in this piece becomes less of a mess of feathery pencil lines, smudged eraser marks and frustration, and more of a precise and calm process of slowly putting to paper what I know the correct forms should look like.

This piece started with such a process. I ruled two lines and let the letters fill the space as they should. I surrounded the word with the rest of the quote in Copperplate, because the styles create a nice contrast, and really emphasise the Romans in comparison with the delicate Copperplate.

Look at the first of the four pictures in the image above; the composition is a little off. The last line doesn’t come up to meet the right margin as the first line meets the left margin. The spacing on the Copperplate and the Romans is a little different from the later versions.

Next up is a version that has everything pushed around into the right places, but is still done with pencil. This version was done by simply putting the first sketch under a blank sheet and shifting the paper around so that the spacing was adjusted as I traced it. (Tracing meaning cheating, of course. Please don’t tell everyone I’m a sham.)

The third picture is what I like to call an ink test. Again, placed a blank sheet over the sketch and traced (i.e. cheating) the piece. This time, instead of tracing it with pencil, however, I quickly filled in the letters with ink. This piece is in Copperplate and Romans, both of which are traditionally done with calligraphy tools, so that’s exactly what I used to do it. A flexible pointed pen nib is used to write the Copperplate, and a stout little broad nib is used for the Romans. In this case, the size of the Romans was just in between the sizes of two of my nibs, so I had to just rough them in with multiple strokes, which leads to the rough and ready look they have. I like to call it “modern”.

The reason for the ink test is to take a look at what the weighting of the piece is like. When you see a letter constructed out of pencil lines like in the first two pictures, it’s tough to know what the balance of the ink will look like on the page. Is there too much ink on one side of the paper? Does the thickness of all the Copperplate strokes match up? It’s hard to see these things when all the pencil lines are the same thickness, when what you really need to look at is the space between the pencil lines, rather than the lines themselves. So, ink test.

After that, it’s the same old same old that you’ve read me write about a hundred (Thousand? Million? How long have I been writing this blog?) times before. Sketch it out in pencil on the final sheet. Try not to get finger smudges anywhere. Seriously, don’t touch the paper! Carefully try to coerce your Rotring Rapidographs into doing what you want and hope that they don’t hate you, and will willingly and smoothly exude their sweet black nectar onto the page. OK, maybe that was a bit weird, but really, the only thing that makes the Rapidographs worth it is how good they are. Other than that, they’re awful.

Well, that’s all folks! I hope you learnt how to make a lettering piece this week, and you can all go and make one yourself now that I’ve spilled the beans and given away all the trade secrets.

Just Wing It

Sometimes you need to stop preparing and jump in at the deep end. This weekend I went for a swim in a lake, and it turned out that the summer hadn’t warmed it up enough to really be hot enough, but the plunge is by far the worst part of it. After you get going with something, it often ends up not being so bad. Some times, you need to just wing it.

Just Wing It

So here’s a little piece that puts into practice the things I’ve been studying about formal Romans, with a little dash of Copperplate thrown in for good measure. All of that is becoming familiar ground for me, however, so where is the proof of the jumping in at the deep end? Well, I decided to finally start a little more serious experimentation with coloured work that isn’t in the digital realm. I bought some gouache and turned this piece into something colourful:

Just Wing It Colour

I’m pretty sure that that just about wraps it up for learning blue, so if I just learn the other 6 colours, I should have it all sorted out. In all seriousness, though, this was novel for me in both execution and design. Working with subtly different tones was interesting, but the experience was added to with regards to the tools used. When making something that’s simply black and white I use Rapidograph technical pens, but this piece is one of the first lettering pieces (as opposed to calligraphy pieces) that I’ve created using my traditional calligraphy tools, in the form of a broad tipped dip nib.

Wing

Calligraphy is a great example of an art that is all about the hours of practice vs the minutes, or even seconds of execution that it takes to make a piece. A skilled calligrapher has dedicated thousands of hours to learning the correct letter forms so that they can produce them swiftly at a moment’s notice. This is paying off in my own work, as sketching out Romans like these is becoming something that only takes a few minutes, and is backed up by the time dedicated to acquiring the knowledge that supports the letter forms. The process of this piece, then, is relatively simple, as the first step is shown above. With a couple of guidelines pencilled in with a ruler, the letters are quick to outline. From there, the next stage is designing the Copperplate and flourishes to surround the Romans, and filling the outlines. Lastly, I laid another sheet over the pencil version so that I could trace the letters in paint, and not to have to worry about erasing the guidelines after the paint was applied, all of which means that I end up with two versions of the piece, one graphite and one gouache, as pictured above.

One Hundred Days

Do something for one hundred days!

Recently, I’ve been making an effort to focus on consistency in putting my work out there. If you come to this blog frequently, you may notice that I post one piece a week without fail, and have been doing so for over a year now. I decided to take this attitude a bit further, and post one piece a day, every day, on my Instagram account. So far it is going well, as you may have read in my last week’s blog post. Just under a week ago marked the one hundredth day of posting a picture a day, and I’m nearly through posting the backlog of pieces that I built up in making this blog. Complex pieces are the kinds of things that take days to execute, and often spend weeks in the concept and design stages, so it’s not possible to post one brand new large piece every day, so there may have to be a little more emphasis on glamour shots and progress pics from here on out, but I’m planning to keep up the consistency.

One Hundred Days

My initial goal was to keep at it for 100 days, partly as a challenge to myself, but also because habit forming is a powerful tool for everyone to use, perhaps most especially for creative types. People may often ask how they can keep up with the creation of a large amount of creative work, often feeling burnt out or failing on the motivation side of things. It is often said that motivation is a welcome visitor, a friend who stops by, but discipline should be your faithful companion who never leaves your side. The reason for that is because if you have discipline, you don’t need willpower to keep going. That is to say that if you have formed good habits, it’s easy to stick to them, and what better way to form a habit than to do something for a hundred days? (Interestingly, willpower is considered as a finite resource in the brain; using it up is something called Ego Depletion.)

For me, self promotion is not something that comes naturally, so my decision was to make it something to focus on. Posting my work on Instagram seemed scary, and I felt like I would rather stick to my nice, familiar blog format, but now that I’ve done it for 3 months, I have no intentions of stopping.

A little on the piece: it’s a mix of calligraphy and lettering all in one. The calligraphy was done in walnut ink, which gives the rich colour and variation in tone. Then I used my lettering tools to outline the calligraphic forms and add some ornamentation. Stylistically, Italic and Romans complement each other very well, so much so that in practically all typefaces, you will find italics used in conjunction WITH THEIR ROMAN COUNTERPARTS. Each is considered an essential element of typography and letter forms. The only difference here being that these are the root forms, the source from which the typography was inspired, though most might not know it, and even hearing the word “italic” would first think of the typographical meaning of slanting letters rather than realising that it was first the name of a script.

So, a little challenge for you: consider a habit that would benefit you, or that you would like to be able to have. Once you have decided, do it for one hundred days. You may find that it’s easier than you think, but one last thing: don’t tell anyone until you’ve finished!

Thank You

There’s a lot to be thankful for, and sometimes it’s easy to forget and get too caught up in worrying about things. Whether you’re thankful for something big or something little, sometimes it’s nice to put it out there and say the words. This week, I’ve been thankful for all the support I’ve received lately on Instagram. I’ve discovered so many amazing artists creating lettering work in so many styles that I never knew existed. It’s easy to think that you already know your own discipline well, and that there aren’t any more forks in the road or changes to come. You know what your favourites are and they’re not going to change. (This feeling is also known as the end of history illusion.) Well, I certainly thought that I had discovered what I thought was my “style”, found the kind of work that suited me, that I wanted to continue to refine and improve upon. Since seeing so many fantastic works by other artists, however, I see that there is still so much to learn, so much to explore and to discover. I’m also thankful for all the people who appreciate my pieces and who have decided to follow my account. I made this piece to thank my followers, who recently got up to 1000 in number. It may seem like few to some social butterflies out there, but for an introverted type like me, it’s really something to be thankful for.

Thank You 1000

This piece is a combination of several things I’ve been working on lately. First of all, for those who keep up with the more technical side of my work, you will recall that lately lots of my study has been dedicated to Romans. This piece is a little departure from the formal calligraphic forms, but every letter is shaped by the knowledge I have gained through study, much more so than my older Romans, which were done before my forays into the past. Little things to note, for example: the spacing between the stems of the T and H – they are almost equidistant; the curves and counter of the O – I definitely favour a fully circular O and a ~30° angle on the counter since studying the formal forms; subtle entasis and understated serifs – inspired by stone carvings of Romans rather than the larger serifs of brush Romans.

The flourishes on this piece aren’t really anything to do with Romans, but they’re inspired by some of the wonderful works I’ve seen lately by other talented artists. If you compare them to the flourishes in other works of mine such as Prepare Today for Success Tomorrow, you can see how they are a departure from the style that I had come to think of as the one I wanted to make my own and develop further, and with this new style comes a new set of principles to learn to make the balance correct and the forms flowing.

Hopefully you have something you’re thankful for, and you can say thank you to someone. Even if it’s something that wouldn’t otherwise have come to mind without you thinking about it, maybe it would be nice to thank someone, even if you don’t know them well, or even if it’s something seemingly inconsequential. For me, today, it’s you, who has taken the time to read my blog; whether you read all my entries, or this is the first, or somewhere in between, I appreciate it. So thank you!

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

One of the first lettering pieces I ever did was the phrase “correlation does not imply causation”, a piece which has since been lost in moving house, and is probably tucked away in the pages of a notebook hastily thrown into a box with the word “misc.” on the side. This week I decided to revisit the idea that inspired the first piece. The phrase deals with a logical fallacy that leads people to think that because two things happen together that one causes the other. Similarly, it’s easy to think that because one thing happens after another, the first causes the second. This fallacy is called “post hoc ergo propter hoc”, or after this therefore because of this.

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

Enough of that though, let’s get down to business. The interesting element of this piece, for me, is the Romans. The Copperplate may look flashy and the flourishes fancy, but when it comes to execution of a perfect letter, nothing provides the challenge, the depth and the satisfaction that Roman capitals do. Recently, though my study of Romans, I’ve been examining something called entasis.

Entasis is best know for its applications in architecture, some of it (surprise, surprise) by the Romans. The meaning of the word is a slight curve applied to something that looks mainly straight. When it comes to architecture, it was used to combat a strange optical illusion: perfectly straight columns have a tendency to trick the eye into seeing a curve where there is none. A slight bulge added to the columns is said to do away with the phenomenon and give the impression of straightness. In terms of calligraphy, however, the entasis is applied to the negative space between the letters. That is to say that the upright parts of the Roman capital have a thinning in the centre and widen towards each end. The execution of this with a broad nib or brush when doing calligraphy is a delicate manoeuvre and the effect is meant to be subtle. As this piece is also part of my study of entasis, I also kept the letters as close to traditional as I could, with understated serifs, a long crossbar on the E than you would see in a lot of modern work, and an open P.

Over the past few days I’ve been toying with the idea of starting to include more Gothic/Blackletter styles in my lettering after some study of their forms in calligraphy. As with all forms, I’m sure there is much to learn to inform future lettering pieces, so be on the look out in the future!

Say Yes.

Here’s a little piece I’ve been working on lately. The phrase is “Say Yes”, which is something quite nice and simple. The words also lend themselves to a neat symmetry, being almost the same as each other when reversed. This leads to a mirroring of the S’s at the end and an uncommon formation of double Y’s in the centre.

Say Yes

The Roman Y is an interesting letter. If it were to have no stroke weight, it would be a symmetrical letter. However, due to the calligraphic roots of all letters, there is a difference between the thickness of the branches. The result is that the branches come off the stem at slightly different places, though here it’s slightly obscured by some of the ornamentation. Because of the asymmetry, the negative space between them is also a little asymmetrical.

The execution of a piece like this can be tricky. Most of the ink is simple to put down, especially blocking in the centres of the letters. The finesse comes when creating the 3D effect. The seeming shininess of the sides of the letters is created by many tiny pen strokes. I use Rotring Rapidographs to do my lettering pieces, and one advantage of these pens is that they always produce a line of constant width. This is a great asset when you want consistency across your piece: no matter how hard or lightly you press, or what angle you hold the pen at, you always have the same result. The trouble comes, then, when you want to make a line of inconstant width – a tapering line. To create the effect in this piece, the lines were created with a quick sweeping motion in lifting the pen from the paper so that the ink flowing from it thins as the tip of the pen pulls away from the surface. The problem with this is that to create a tapering form, the lines must be drawn with quite some speed, and the faster the movement of the pen, the harder it is to make each line conform with the curves of the letters, some sharp, some smooth.

Say Yes Detail

Above is a close-and-personal shot of the first letters.

The style of the letter forms in this piece was partly inspired by Tuscan typography, which people might associate with circuses, saloon bars and rodeos. Some of the easiest features to notice are the serifs almost reminiscent of a cowboy boot and the spur and eye ornaments midway up each letter. Along with the Tuscan influence, the piece is informed by my studies of traditional Roman Calligraphy, pointed pen flourishes and a little of my own personal lettering flair.