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.

Strong Enough To Be Yourself (A study of flourishes)

Flourishing is something that didn’t make it into my repertoire for quite a while. When we start something, we are often ignorant of the depth of it. The way we appreciate something deepens through understanding, and so it’s not surprising that when we don’t have a good understanding it can be hard to appreciate something on more than a superficial level. In terms of lettering, most start out with the desire to understand and create letter forms. Of course, that must be what lettering is all about, mustn’t it? I mean, it’s in the word. Soon, however, you come to realise that the letter forms only work if they are structured well, and so you start to learn about hierarchy and composition. Similarly, flourishing is something that I have been concentrating on lately as an area of study which can improve the pieces I make.

Strong Enough To Be Yourself

If you look back at older pieces, such as The Greatest Victory, which was a piece that I made when I first started to consider the composition of a lettering more, you might notice that the flourishes seem uncomfortable and don’t really know what to do with themselves, almost like teenagers who have grown too fast and haven’t relearned how to use their limbs. They’re there because they are necessary, to an extent, but don’t quite serve the purpose they were created for. Since then, I’ve learned a lot through my study and have applied some of it in this piece.

The piece started just as a sketch of the word “strong”, as I had wanted to try out an certain 3D effect on some letters. I thought of the full phrase and planned out a little more of the structure. From there, I decided to do a little exploration of the space between the words, so, loosening up my arm, I started designing the flourishes using larger gestures controlled by the shoulder muscles rather than the fingers. This advice of using shoulder muscles, often given to those learning calligraphy, can seem daunting to beginners, but when designing flourishes, it really needn’t be. Any detail work or corrections can easily be made later, as graphite is far more forgiving than ink.

Strong Enough Flourish Sketch Progress

One of the most key elements in flourishing is to pay close attention to the negative space. It’s important that no one area becomes too dense, nor too sparse. A roughly equal distribution is attractive, though some variation is pleasing too. Once I was happy with the design, I took from the sketchbook to the paper for the final piece. When it comes to a symmetrical piece like this, it’s convenient to flip the reference material (in this case, the original sketch shown above) so that there aren’t too many irregularities when comparing the two sides.

Strong Enough Pencil Detail

From then on, it’s the same story of inking that you have heard before: a soothing, quiet time spent with paper and ink. Becoming too tense or hurried never helps, as a calm hand creates fewer mistakes. Here’s a little shot of it transitioning between graphite and ink, temporary and permanent:

Strong Enough Inking Progress

The Ligature Collective

A couple of weeks ago, I made a post about having recently joined Instagram, and a competition that was being held to draft a new member of something called the Ligature Collective. The competition was to make a piece to celebrate their success on Instagram, and the best submission would lead to the creator becoming a member of the team and have their work displayed to a large audience.

Well, I had sketched up a quick piece, which I posted a fortnight ago, but since then, I had much more time to dedicate to a better thought out piece.

Ligature Collective Ten Thousand Followers Blog Upload

My main goal with this piece was to create a visually interesting piece with lots of little details, but to have a very clear hierarchy, such that the piece was structurally simple. Seeing as the piece was going to be posted to Instagram, it had to work at a small size, and be easily identified. The words “Ligature” and “Followers” worked well as the emphasised words, seeing as they were not only easily legible on small Instagram thumbnails and conveyed the essence of the piece, but also tied the piece up at each end. The piece is symmetrical down through the middle (apart from the words themselves, of course,) and it also has a vague structural symmetry horizontally, too. The words “Ligature” and “Followers” are in the same style, and curve around the piece in the same way, while the smaller central words reflect each other’s style and layout too.

The piece ended up being quite small. I took several photographs of it just on the page on its own, but it always ended up seeming as though it was bigger than it really was. I decided to put some other items in the picture that I uploaded to give a sense of scale. The photograph seemed a little unbalanced with only the lettering piece and a single pen, however, so I scattered a few other objects around it to frame it. Some things, like the camera strap and the rotary lead pointer might not give a very good sense of the size of the piece, but the pens and lead holder should do. Incidentally, these were all things used to make the piece, aside from the keys, of course. But with the keys there, at least I get to show off my funky Rubik’s cube key ring.

After all is said and done (or just done, really; being a letterer is a pretty silent job) the results will be out tomorrow, on April the 7th. There were some truly excellent submissions among the hundreds submitted by other artists on Instagram, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they should win. Good luck to everyone else – I’m sure they’re waiting with bated breath for the announcement of the winner. If you’re curious to see the other submissions, click here, or search for “#Ligature10k” on Instagram!

The Medium is still the Message

The title of the post isn’t quite what it says in the piece, but that’s because what it says in the piece is the same as it was in a different piece two weeks ago. The Medium is the Message. For me, the medium is very much the message. As such, what we usually consider to be the message (the words) could be said not to be the message at all. As a fun way of exploring the idea, I remade the piece from two weeks ago with a completely different composition.

The Medium is the Message 2

This one is still vertical, and it still has flourishes, and it’s still in black and white, but other than that, it’s visually quite different. In this piece, I’ve given the word “Medium” a strong emphasis. In the original piece I did (which you can see blurrily off to the left, the words “Medium” and “Message” had equal importance. In fact, they were almost mirror images of each other, from the style to the layout to the flourishes around them. This was to show that they are the same thing, as the phrase suggests.

The phrase is a little confusing, however. The confusion comes from the double meaning of the word “Message”. In this case, you can approach the phrase from two angles. The first being that it implies that medium and message are one and the same, that the format is the words, the words are the meaning and the meaning is the layout, which is the format. The second being that what we often call the “Message”, i.e. the words, is unimportant, and that the true message is the medium itself. Phew! Confusing stuff. Either way, what that means is that while the first piece I did showed similarity and reflection, this one’s hierarchy is such that it shows the importance of the medium over that of the words, and implies that the words are not where the message lies.

You know, maybe I’m over-thinking the message in the words and missing the point entirely… The medium is the message, after all.

The Medium is the Message

I learnt about an idea recently that the way in which a message is conveyed often tells us more than the actual content of the message. Certainly, there was a story a little while ago about a man who decided to hand write all his tweets and take photographs of them instead of typing them out. He didn’t change the things he was tweeting about, but he changed the way he was presenting the content. Needless to say, it attracted a lot of attention, and I heard about it through some of the lettering and writing channels I pay attention to.

The Medium is the Message

For me, much of what I do is about the medium rather than the message. I spend my hours and days crafting the letter forms and composition in ways that complement the message I have chosen, but the actual subject matter of the words comes under much less scrutiny throughout the process. The phrase “The Medium is the Message” could imply that the the two things are one and the same, and are inseparable from each other, but in this context I would say that it means that the medium is not just a delivery system for the content, but that is more significant than the content itself. Of course, if I only had the words to communicate, I could simply write them down and take a picture like the twitter user, so it would be true to say that it applies to what I do.

Stop Hesitating

If you’ve been following my blog since I started, or if you’ve lurked through everything I’ve uploaded (I know you’re there, lurkers!) then this piece might ring a bell. When I did my first Thing A Day, the second thing on the second day was a piece called Stop Hesitating. This time, I decided to redesign the piece completely and approach the phrase with a few new styles and techniques I’ve picked up since that time.

Stop Hesitating

It was interesting to revisit an idea, even if it was to completely redesign it. I considered simply re-executing the same design, and trying to tweak it in a few places, but I thought it would be more exciting to see what new ideas I could come up with. I went through a few different iterations before settling on this, and though the layout is similar to the original, the style and overall presentation are very different.

One of the reasons I decided to revisit this piece was because I liked the message. It stands as a little reminder that sometimes it’s all too easy to hesitate and be apprehensive before doing something, and more often than not, once you actually start doing whatever it is that you’re thinking about, it’s not nearly as bad as you had originally thought. That being said, I had a good time redesigning an old piece, so I may consider giving some of my other early pieces a bit of a rehash to see what good can come of them.

Make No More Excuses in 2015

So it’s a new year, but I decided to wait to do this piece until we were a little bit of the way into it so that it didn’t come of as a New Year’s Resolution. It’s pretty easy to make excuses for why we don’t do things. Sometimes it’s things we might even want to do, but it’s hard to motivate ourselves to do, and instead we end up mindlessly consuming media instead of doing anything productive. It’s what our brains seems to desire, but not what they need. The virtual equivalent of junk food, so to speak.

Make No More Excuses in 2015

So, this year, I’m only going to make one more excuse, and then after that, no more. So what’s my excuse? “Sorry, I have to stick to my plans.”  My excuse is to keep to my commitments. After all, what’s more fulfilling than achieving things?

Incidentally, this piece was also a little experiment for me to see how I have progressed since I started lettering. When I first gave it a go, I did a piece a day for a week. To measure up to what I came up with in that week, I decided to do this piece in a day, too. Starting from scratch with the phrase “No Excuses” I sketched out several designs before I found that I preferred having something a bit longer, and lengthened the phrase. From then, I moved onto sketching the piece out at full size and inked it all today!