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!

For the Love of Letterforms (Part 1)

It’s competition time again! You may recall that a long time ago in a blog post far, far away I wrote about entering a competition to perhaps get into an elite team of superheroes. Well, okay, it was about 23 weeks ago, and instead of superheroes they are letterers, typographers and calligraphers. The Ligature Collective held a contest for Instagram users to submit their best work of art based around the phrase “Ten Thousand Followers” to celebrate, well, you guessed it, getting up to the 10K mark on Instagram. Long story short, I entered, wasn’t one of the 3 winners, but got an honourable mention, along with 8 other lucky artists.

The End.

Or so we thought until now…

For the Love of Letterforms Simple

Suddenly, the Ligature Collective Strikes Back with their next competition, this time in celebration of getting 50 thousand followers! I know, that’s 40,000 followers in 24 weeks, which in case you’re wondering, is just about ten an hour, or about one every six minutes. Whew.

This time, the brief was a piece of lettering of the words “For the Love of Letterforms”. The rules allowed unlimited submissions per person, so I thought I may as well go ahead and do as many as I liked. My goal in doing so was to showcase the variety of styles that I’ve become capable of using over the years and come out with several pieces that differ from each other in feel and appearance as much as possible.

With the first, which you can see above, my intention was to design something that was visually very simple. There is almost no flourishing at all on this piece, and the shape of the composition is made simply through the arrangement of the words themselves.

Here’s the second piece I did:

For the Love of Letterforms Gold

This piece uses a combination of styles, and is reminiscent of the techniques used on old certificates and official documents which employ a combination of heavy blackletter text surrounded by much lighter flourishes and Copperplate accompaniment. The other quite obvious contrast between the pieces is that this one is in gold and white paint on a black background, whereas the other is classic black on white.

Both these pieces, I feel, were a success, and I achieved with them what I had set out to do. The next two, which I will talk about next week, are at great contrast with each other in terms of complexity, but both of which were very popular on Instagram and gathered much attention. Tune in next week to find out what happens! Not only will the next pieces be revealed, but I also will have found out if I got into one of the coveted two available spots on the Ligature Collective team. Fingers crossed!

A little calligraphy update

The letters in the piece this week are something I can’t take credit for. I didn’t invent them, I didn’t design them, I didn’t create them. All I did was pen them, after a long time studying what they should look like. (All right, I took a few liberties, but that’s the gist of it.) These letters are traditional calligraphic Roman capitals, Capitalis Monumentalis, or Roman Square caps, as they are sometimes known.

Roman Alphabet Angle

One thing I can take credit for, however, is the composition and colour work. These timeless letters have existed for thousands of years, and have remained almost entirely unchanged. Since two thousand years ago, there have come into existence all sorts of weird and wonderful scripts that look strange and illegible to our modern eyes, so it’s nice to think that the script that those oddities stem from is in fact one of the most recognisable and frequently used scripts that there is. The Roman capitals that all modern Latin letters are based on can still be seen in their original forms in Rome, on things like the Trajan Column, a monument which is a source of inspiration to calligraphers the world over when studying these ancient letters. They were carved into stone just under two thousand years ago, and since, there they have remained for all to see. The stone has stood the test of time, and in the same way, so too have the letter forms themselves.

Roman Alphabet

The study of Romans is something that can’t be done in an afternoon. It’s something that takes place slowly over the course of years. My journey in this area of study started relatively recently. I discovered a few resources on the topic when I first began lettering, read them over, gained a passing familiarity with the subject, and then thought there was nothing more to learn. Later, I found that these forms weren’t simply something that were used in lettering: they were actually produced through calligraphy. The letters I had been carefully drawing out could, in fact, be executed in single, swift and masterful strokes of the pen or brush. After a quick stroll through the woods of Italic study and the copse of learning Foundational, I quickly found my way to the massive and ancient forest that is understanding Roman letter forms. While I have not explored every valley and mountain that this forest covers, I have made several journeys through it from side to side, taking in as much as I can on each pass, and have become familiar enough with it to want to share with you this little piece.

There is so much I could say about this piece, and about Roman letters in general, but I will leave it at this to keep from getting bogged down in the details, and let the letter forms speak for themselves. Hopefully my little splash of colour will help add a little of my own personal style into these ancient characters.

Push Your Boundaries

A bit of a fun piece this week. Many lettering pieces have vague yet encouraging sayings as the content, which is understandably popular. It’s the kind of thing that people like to see in a lettering piece. “Be Bold”. “Keep Moving Forward”. “Adventure Is Out There”. It makes them feel good and is quickly digestible as far as media goes. This piece is a little tongue-in-cheek look at that trend, with the phrase “Push your boundaries. Or don’t. Whatever. I can’t tell you what to do.”

Push Your Boundaries

Typographically, this piece contains quite a high number of styles. Centrally, of course, are Romans. Eye catching, legible, functional, timeless, all the things we know Romans to be. Above the Romans is a flourished Copperplate style script. There is more Copperplate further down, but it’s a much more functional style that features short ascenders and descenders. It’s the kind of Copperplate that is best suited for text of low hierarchical standing: not intrusive, nor showy, but retains that distinct Copperplate flavour, providing a nice contrast with the text around it. Text in the final style, which is a monoline sans serif.

The section from “or don’t” onwards acts as a subtitle to the piece, and as such can be treated thematically more like a section to contrast with the main text. The main text is flourished, and where it’s not flourished, it’s serifed and grand. When pairing typefaces, a quick-and-dirty rule is that a serif and a sans serif of similar styles will do well together. Here, you can see that with the differences between the large Romans and the monoline sans serif (which are Romans too, Romans simply meaning what we often call capital letters nowadays.) In this way, it’s as if the Romans in the title are reflected in the sans serif of the subtitle, and the Copperplate in the title is tied, of course, to the Copperplate in the subtitle.

So why pair Copperplate with Copperplate? Why not throw in some Blackletter or some Italic or something? Risk of the piece becoming cluttered with too many styles aside, when it comes to pairing scripts it’s important to consider how they are made. In this piece we already have Romans, which are a broad edge creation. Copperplate, on the other hand, is made with a pointed pen. So we have a broad edge script and a pointed pen script in the title. Seeing as we already have the sans serif (which ultimately stems from the same source as the Romans – i.e. broad edge) in the subtitle, it would be a mistake to include another broad edge script. There would be nothing in the subtitle that reflected the Copperplate in the title. So to complement the Copperplate, we want another pointed pen script, and when it comes to pointed pen scripts, traditionally, the choice is rather sparse. Popularly, you can choose from Copperplate or Spencerian, and Spencerian is really better suited to longer texts, as it’s more of a business hand than a display hand. So we’re left with Copperplate and Copperplate. See how we got here? Fortunately for us, Copperplate lends itself quite well to having extravagant flourishes or to being toned down to sit meekly in its place between the sans serif, meaning it’s an ideal script to use to pair with itself.

No Pressure, No Diamonds

When do you think you produce your best work? Is it when you have all the time in the world to plan and tweak and refine? It has been said that work expands to fill the time allotted, and if you’re a perfectionist, I’m sure you would agree that there’s an element of truth in the saying. It’s also said that you never grow if you never stray from your comfort zone. If your ideal working scenario is comfortable and calm with endless time, it could be that you would benefit most from denying yourself that environment. After all, no diamond was ever created where there was no pressure.

No Pressure No Diamonds Angled

No Pressure, No Diamonds! What does it mean? It means something enough to one person to have it emblazoned on their skin, in fact. This was a client commission for a tattoo that I wanted to share with you for two reasons. The first is to show off my process for tattoo design, and the second is because the subject matter is oddly fitting in this case. The brief for the piece, that is the words themselves and the layout, didn’t seem to lend themselves well to any of the styles that I have been becoming more familiar with. My love for Romans, my penchant for combining styles, tendency to create tiny details in pieces, all were at odds with what this piece needed to be. The text needed to fit within a 11.5 x 6.5 cm space (4.5 x 2.5″), it needed to be well legible at that size, and it needed to (of course) be typographically sound.

Here are some specifications that I included since the piece was being passed from one artist to another (i.e. from me to the tattoo artist who would execute the design):

No Pressure No Diamonds Measurements

In the early design stages, I had difficulty coming up with anything that would satisfy my standards. One of the main things I had to tackle was the word length. Two very short words and two quite long words. Just by the nature of the phrase, many design possibilities were taken off the table that would normally be there for phrases with more equal letter distribution. Eventually, I managed to create a small selection of designs that I had some interest in taking further. The client had requested something in a fluid kind of script, but I find it best to explore all available options before continuing because there are often solutions hidden in places that don’t seem obvious at first, and closing doors early on is a great way to get stuck. And getting stuck wasn’t something that I needed any more of with this project.

No Pressure No Diamonds Concepts

So what happens at the end of the story? Well, the hero perseveres and comes up with the best design ever, not through luck or coincidence, but through effort and hard work!

Really though, that’s pretty much what happened, minus the hero part. As it turns out, even a project that you feel doesn’t mesh well with your style, or doesn’t seem to fit well with what you would usually like to do can be turned into something you make your own, something you can really put your heart into and work on with as much enthusiasm as any other, and come out at the other end with something you can be proud to write a blog post about.

So one of the reasons I wanted to write about this project in particular was because it was a case where the pressure was on to create a piece that was worthy, and in the end I created a result I was happy with, despite the difficulties, which is kind of the point of the piece I was making. No Pressure, No Diamonds. How meta.

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?