Tyger! Tyger!

Ambigrams are funny things. If you don’t know, they’re words that read the same both ways up (or sometimes different things!) It’s never easy to know if a word will make a good ambigram or not. You might have an idea of how you could bend the letters to match each other, but when you try it out, it ends up ugly, or it just doesn’t work. Sometimes, however, you might try to use a word and get an unexpectedly good result.

There’s something magical-seeming about the words that do work. A few days ago, an idea came to my head in a mysterious way. It was almost like a dream, in that there seemed to be a point in time where I had already had the idea, but I couldn’t remember actually having it in the first place. Strange as it is, I ended up making an ambigram of the word “Symmetry” — a fitting word for an ambigram.

Tyger Tyger Square Clutter 1st Verse

Shortly thereafter, I remembered a piece of a poem by William Blake I had used once to practice some calligraphy, and I realised that the poem had the word symmetry at the end of the first stanza. It wasn’t long before I had decided to make a piece with the poem and the ambigram. I looked up the text again, and found that the last stanza also had the word symmetry its end. In fact the first and last stanzas were almost identical.

Symmetry Detail

And so the idea was born to create a whole piece that was an ambigram of sorts. The piece is a combination of the two stanzas, the first on top leading down to the ambigram, which finishes the line, and the last underneath, leading up to the central word. Strangely enough, the piece can’t be symmetrical if it is to have both stanzas, because final line differs between the two. The first reads “Could frame thy fearful symmetry,” and the last “Dare frame thy fearful symmetry.”

Tyger Tyger Square Clutter

How odd the calligraphy looks upside-down. And how odd it is to have a piece so concerned with symmetry, with its subject matter, its composition, and even the very central word all being so symmetrical, and yet not to have it actually be perfectly symmetrical. Let me explain why:

There is some discussion about the rhyming structure in the poem. Reading the lines you might have noticed that the final couplet seems as though it should rhyme, but doesn’t. Surely, you might think, that’s because Blake would have pronounced “symmetry” to rhyme with “hand or eye”, or vice versa. After all, the rhyming structure of the rest of the poem would fit with this explanation. The English language underwent something called the great vowel shift, during which the pronunciation of lots of vowels changed, which resulted in lots of the strange spellings that we have now. However, Blake’s work was written after a time at which “symmetry” and “hand or eye” would have shared a rhyming sound. So, then, either he was drawing from the past in order to cheat the rhyme, or this line is intentionally the only one that doesn’t rhyme. You may notice that it’s also the only line with 8 syllables versus the 7 of all the other lines, which goes further to imply the difference of this line.

That said, there are other convincing arguments to suggest that he did, in fact, intend for the line to rhyme. Either way, it’s a slightly more thought provoking piece to have a difference between the top and bottom, and as it includes both start and end of the poem, it pleased me more to write it that way.

There could be much more to discuss, but I will leave it at that for this week. I will look forward to sharing more calligraphy and calligraphy/lettering-combination pieces with you soon.

Tuesday

So last week, I uploaded Monday as the first part of my Days of the Week project, which, as you can guess, will be a seven part project. The goal with this project is to explore diversity in lettering and make each piece of the project as different from the last as possible. This week, not to be too predictable, I’ve decided to go chronologically from my starting point. So, here’s Tuesday!

Tuesday

The style is inspired by Blackletter/Gothic calligraphy, but the main defining feature of the piece is that it is an ambigram. Like several of my other pieces, such as Out of my Mind and the word Longer in this piece, this means that it reads the same both ways up! The biggest challenge of the piece was definitely the T/Y combination. The curl of the top of the T certainly lends itself to the loop of the lowercase Y but the rest of it needed quite a bit of work to come up with something that would read well. Fortunately, Blackletter capital T’s often incorporate a half moon shape that curls around the left and underside of the letter. Here, the shape is very understated so as to make the shape of the y neat and stay within the x height of the piece, but it was nice to find a solution that created stronger stylistic consistency.

The lowercase U and A practically solved themselves once I started with the Blackletter style, and the S, of course, falling as it does in the middle of the word was the perfect centre point for an ambigram, it being a rotationally symmetrical letter in the first place. The last puzzle was the E/D combination. With this, again, I felt like I had stumbled across something that seemed almost too convenient due to the Blackletter style. A quick google of Gothic script will show plenty of examples of the lowercase D with a very low, curled form, which simply requires the bottom of the E to cut through the baseline a little way to achieve the right effect.

When creating an ambigram, it is such a restrictive form that it’s almost more like solving a puzzle than creating something. It’s as though you’re looking for something that you’re not sure is there. Trying to see if a rock contains a fossil, and until you spend the time and care chiselling away the outer layers, you can’t say for sure. Sometimes you find nothing, sometimes just some fragments, and sometimes you find a whole dinosaur. A similar comparison is with very restrictive poetic forms. To craft words to a restrictive form and still say what you want to say is a very challenging thing, and as I’m sure proponents of the “Poetry doesn’t translate” movement would hasten to tell you, it’s not only down to the skill of the poet, but also the intricacies of the language that allow the poem to work. In the same way, just as not everything can be expressed through sestinas or haiku, not everything can become an ambigram, as much as you might want it to.

I did go on to make a vector of this piece, mainly because I wanted to make a rotating .gif of the image. Take a look!Tuesday

 

Out of my MIND

Here’s a little piece I did for a competition over at the lettering subreddit. I found out about the competition 3 days before it was to be closed, so I had to work quickly! Fortunately, Thing A Day set me in good stead to do so.  I don’t really know where the idea came from. I was trying to think of things to submit for the competition, but couldn’t come up with anything, so I had taken a break and was messing around with ambigrams of the word “moon”, seeing as I could see it out of the window. Somehow, in the sketches, I saw how the M could form the curve of the D, and the phrase sprang to mind (or out of it).

Out of my MIND

This time, however, it needed to be vectored. Not too great a task, but it didn’t help with the time constraint. This one is also an ambigram, if you hadn’t noticed, meaning it’s the same both ways up. I had a little fun with vectoring it, playing around with the colours, etc. but I think that it’s best viewed in plain old black and white. I’m sure there’s something to be said here about the relationship between colour and form, but I’ll leave it to the better informed. In other news, I’ve recently been learning some HTML and CSS, so with any luck, I’ll be able to get my head around making a new website, which will be exciting!

Another blog post will be up in a day or two about a very big project that I’ve just finished, which ate up a large amount of my time. Hopefully after that, I will have more of a consistent output in terms of numbers of pieces and blog posts. (Dare I say Thing A Day?)