Push Your Boundaries

This has been a very busy week for me, so there’s no new design this time round, but that means that it’s time to revisit an old piece!

Push Your Boundaries Vector

This is another piece that I would like to see made into a poster or something similar in the future when the situation calls for it. Along with this one, at some point, I hope to produce 2 or 3 pieces in a similarly sarcastic style, which will poke fun at the slightly over-used phrases that seem to crop up time and again in the lettering community (looking at you, “Hustle Hard.”)

This piece was also done to keep my vectorization muscle toned and sharp. When it comes to vectorization, the size of the text makes no difference, really. When making the original hand executed version of this piece, the larger letters took more time than the smaller letters, simply because there was more ink to put on the page. In a digital setting, however, it’s the other way round. The section that took the longest on this piece was the “I can’t tell you what” line of Copperplate, which on the original only took a matter of seconds, in fact, seeing as it was executed in actual calligraphy. That being said, there are a few tricks you can employ, especially when dealing with a script like Copperplate. The way it is constructed is so geometrically precise that many of the shapes can be recycled from one letter to the next, or even from one design to the next. In this case, once the basic oval, lead-in curve and lead-out curve were vectored, it was only a matter of applying them to the right situations and then adding in the rest of the bits and bobs that make the letters different from each other. To give you an indication of what that all means, take this example: the oval that makes up the O is the same as the first stroke of the A. The second stroke of the A is the same as the lower half of the T, and the first stroke of the Y is the same as the second stroke of the H. In this way, you can save some time and also assure consistency across the piece.

Once that’s finished, it’s simply a matter of splashing on some colour and some vector textures to give it more natural look, and it’s finished!

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!

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.

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.

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).

We are all broken. That’s how the light gets in.

“We are all broken. That’s how the light gets in.” You’ll find this quote in various places attributed to Ernest Hemingway, but it’s more likely that it’s just a slightly modified version of a Leonard Cohen lyric from the song Anthem.

We Are All Broken Progress

With the composition of this piece, I wanted to take a little trip into the past and go for something almost completely reliant on the letters themselves, with practically no flourishing. It’s a poplar style for things like posters and T-shirts, and the last time I visited it was really quite some time ago. Since then, having learnt many things regarding letter forms, I wanted to see what the results would yield.

With my recent foray into coloured work, I decided that this piece would be an ideal place to explore further. The fact of the simplicity of the letter forms means that the colours have plenty of space to breathe, and become somewhat the “point” of the piece.

We Are All Broken

It’s almost impossible to look at your own work without a critical eye, so I already know a few things that I will improve upon next time. One of which being that I will change my process slightly. I’m currently using calligraphy tools, namely pointed pens in this case, to get the paint onto the paper, but when using larger quantities that requite multiple strokes, the harsh point of the metal nib catches the fibres in the paper, sometimes leading them to create a rough surface on the piece once it has dried. The advantage of the calligraphy nibs is the supreme accuracy they offer coupled with their versatility in line width. However, the solution to this problems, I suspect, is simply to get a variety of brushes, including some that are very small indeed, which can mimic the tiny strokes possible of a nib. There’s also some benefit in looking into papers that are better suited to the medium. I currently use Bristol paper, which works wonderfully for ink, but when it comes to the far greater liquid quantity of paints, it could be better to invest in some hot pressed watercolour paper, which is designed to take the paint well and has a very smooth surface like the Bristol paper.