For the Love of Letterforms (Part 2)

Last week I showed the first two pieces I made for the Ligature Collective’s “For the Love of Letterforms” competition, the winner of which was to be announced on the 27th. Curiously, no winner has yet been announced, so we’ll just have to wait on that, for whatever reason. Hopefully they haven’t forgotten. Regardless, here are the next two pieces that I made for the competition!

For the Love of Letterforms Illusion

This first one is done in my own style of illusion script, which is an effect that I haven’t seen anywhere else around the web. If there’s anyone else who does this style, I would be very interested to see their work, but as of yet, I can only assume that it’s not common at all, perhaps even being unique to the couple of pieces I’ve used it on. Either way, this style has been very popular on Instagram, and this time I combined it with a very simple monoline sans serif, which sits unobtrusively atop the letters. The particular spacing of the ascenders in the word “letterforms” meant that there was the right distribution of emptiness so that the sans serif could be evenly spaced for consistency.

For the Love of Letterforms Ornate

The second piece I did was in the same style as the very first piece I ever submitted for the Ligature Collective competition series, which was to celebrate their 10K milestone earlier this year. The piece was popular on Instagram, and though it didn’t win the competition, it came in as a runner up and got an honourable mention on their page. The piece combines bold and simple letterforms with a focus on legibility with a highly ornate style of flourishing that informs the piece’s overall composition, and is used to shape the outline of the piece as a whole.

I wonder why the Ligature Collective has remained silent about the competition so far, and when their announcement of the winner will be. So far, they’re a day late, but hopefully they will make an update soon, whether it be to give a reason for the delay, or to announce the winner. Fingers crossed!

We’re all gonna live for ever

We’re all gonna live forever!

We're all gonna live forever

Well, not really. That would be terrible, wouldn’t it? Aside from the personal boredom and increasing cynicism that would start to affect everyone, one of the most important ways in which society changes is with the refreshing of generations. People, as it turns out, don’t really change that much. Old ideas get pushed aside when the people who hold them disappear, not because those people stop holding certain views. What, then, might happen if we suddenly all start to live forever? Well, for one, this lettering piece will become true. For another, a drastic change in the birth:death ratio would mean that world population would quickly increase to the point that we would need to colonise other planets. And lastly, those with power and riches would find ways to keep them indefinitely. But hey, I think I’d trade that for my lettering piece becoming relevant, wouldn’t you?

This piece is a first for me, because it includes lowercase (or minuscule) Romans. But surely I’ve done that before, haven’t I? Well, yes, I have, and usually you would just call them typographic lowercase serif, but in this case, it’s not lettering modelled after a typeface, it’s the original, real-deal calligraphic forms, which the typefaces themselves were modelled after. The words “LIVE” and “forever” were both done with lettering, meaning that they were constructed through a numerous series of strokes (that is to say that they were drawn, not written), whereas the first three words are calligraphy. Calligraphy is an all-or-nothing kind of affair where you only get one shot at getting it right. It’s quick to produce, but when the letterforms are executed in a matter of seconds, any tiny mistake in hand motion affects everything.

The theme of this week is my attempts to combine lettering and calligraphy. Calligraphy is a skill that requires a lot of muscle memory in order to properly reproduce the correct letterforms every time, and so, unlike lettering, consistency is something that comes only after much, much practice. Here’s another piece where I have combine calligraphy and lettering:

Push Your Boundaries Gold

Here, the first three words, “Push Your Boundaries”, are lettering. They were outlined in pencil, inked (or in this case painted), and filled. Everything else, however, is calligraphy. The sans serif Romans were done with the same flexible pointed pen that was used for the Copperplate, which while was planned out in pencil initially, was executed in two or three minutes, using pressure and nib control to achieve the correct line weighting.

Less obviously in this piece is a mixture of different media. The piece is done in gold paint, but some of it includes some ink too. The subtle drop shadow on the words “Push Your”, and the radial lines below them, were made with a mixture of gold paint and black calligraphy ink. The ink was used sparingly, as black is very powerful, and the piece being gold-on-black in the first place meant that if it were too dark, it wouldn’t show up at all. The ink, however, gives it just enough darkening to fit well as background ornamentation that doesn’t steal focus from the letters themselves.

In Good Company

Something that’s important for people to do is to make sure that they challenge their own opinions on a regular basis. Re-evaluating what you think about a topic not only sometimes leads you to change your opinion, but it also allows you to have more empathy for others, even if you don’t agree with them. It’s often said that if you only ever talk to people whose opinions are the same as your own that you are in an “echo chamber”. Anything that you put out just bounces back to you without any differences. With that said, there’s something else that is very important that you can do for your mental well being, and that is making sure that you are surrounded by positive people. People who don’t detract from your life, who are supportive of who you are, who don’t bring unnecessary negativity. In short, good company.

In Good Company

So what’s the difference between being “in good company,” i.e. surrounding yourself with people who are going to support you and encourage you, and being in an echo chamber? Being challenged. A true friend is one who isn’t afraid to help you grow and improve as a person, even if it’s difficult. Maybe you can think of someone in your life who doesn’t just agree with you all the time, yet with whom you have a positive relationship. Maybe others are lucky enough to call you that person. Either way, I’d say that means you’re in good company.

In Good Company Collage

In Good Company Collage

I made this piece to celebrate having found the Instagram community of calligraphers and letterers, a great network of creatives who display a remarkable level of skill, community and support. Lately, I got some new materials (which I used for the first time in last week’s post) and I was excited to show off their effects on Instagram. I had also recently reached 2000 followers, so it was the perfect time to make a thank you piece, and make it a little special.

In Good Company Progress

This bit for you letter-nerds:

I made a visit to the land of sans-serif (gasp!) for this piece, which is a change of pace from usual. Seriously, my middle name is Sebastian, but I’ve often considered changing it to Serif instead. Man, do I love serifs. But that’s not to say that sans-serif typography doesn’t have its place in my lettering pieces! Not at all so, and so here it is for the first time in a while: I paired it with a whimsical Copperplate style to add some contrast. The blocky power of the sans-serif seemed like it might have been able to overpower the Copperplate, even at its reduced size, and so I lightened it up by giving a fun sign-painting style of inner letter shading. This pop-art-esque style of 3D effect breaks up the appearance of the letters and gives them a more open yet clean texture, which helps it sit comfortably with the calligraphic style below.

Here’s a glamour shot:

In Good Company With Stuff In Pic

Pictured: tools used to make the piece (left), tree painting (upper left), part of a popup card from my brother (thanks Jamie!) from Vietnam (upper right), pot of gold paint (right).

You

Oh look, it’s you. There you are, reading my blog post. This post is about you. Or at least, it’s about a piece that’s about you. Here it is!

You Main

I made this piece for you because I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately, and I wanted you to know just how much I appreciate you. Now, don’t get me wrong, this piece isn’t about just any old “you”. It could be mistaken for being about whoever reads it, but I just wanted to make sure that you know that it’s about you specifically, not all those other possible “you”s out there.

Well, I hope you appreciate all the time I took to make you this special and one of a kind bespoke gift! This is the first piece I’ve done on black paper. “But no!” I hear you cry. “I’ve seen other piece that are white on black on your portfolio page!” It’s true that there are such pieces, but they were, in fact, black on white that was then inverted digitally. This one, however, is true black paper! Hooray! And that gold you see? Well, that’s real gold! And when I say real gold, I do of course mean gold coloured paint.

I got this new paint a little while ago, and I’ve been excited to use it in a piece. Making this super special and unique gift for you was obviously the perfect choice! The body of the letters is done in straight up plain gold paint, whereas the drop shadow that runs around the letters and flourishes is a mixture of gold paint and Higgins Eternal black calligraphy ink. The whole piece was done with pointed pen calligraphy tools, namely an oblique pen holder and a dip nib. Here are a couple of different versions that I came up with before settling on the final design that you see above:

You Doodle

Here’s a black on white pen and ink version done with my usual Rotring Rapidographs. I was going to block the letters in simply with black ink, but just before doing so, I thought I would doodle in some little swirls to give them a bit of character, and I preferred the effect.

You Hatching

This is a previous incarnation of the final piece. I experimented with filling the letters with a delicate hatching, utilising the finest line that any of my tools are capable of: the upstroke from the pointed pen, the same stroke that forms the hairlines in Copperplate script. This was also before I added the darker drop shadow across the piece.

I also made a little collage of the various in-progress versions and different executions of this piece:

You Progress

As you can see, it includes the versions already shown above, and also some progress shots. The image on the top right is the first incarnation – the original sketch before which there was only blank paper. Not much changed then, you may notice, between the first sketch and the final version in terms of composition and letter forms. Sometimes when approaching a piece, you only have an idea of what the words to say and the feeling you want the piece to have; other times you get a strong mental image of the specifics of a piece before you set pencil to paper, and this was one of those times where most of the planning of the piece was done mentally before anything ever got sketched. The only thing that I didn’t have planned out before starting work was the set of flourishes across the top. I had originally wanted to try to put something asymmetrical yet balanced along the top, but after a page full of sketches, it seemed that the best solution really was something symmetrical, or the contrast with the symmetry along the bottom of the piece was distracting.

That’s it, folks, signing off for another week. Come back next time! It’s only decent of you to do so, especially after I made you such a nice present. And you didn’t even get me anything! The nerve, eh?

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.