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!

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.

Prepare Today for Success Tomorrow

A little while ago a client contacted me requesting a lettering piece. Surprisingly enough, I make more logos and digital pieces than physical lettering projects that get sent off in the mail. This client, however, wanted a custom lettering piece to give as a gift to someone special. The phrase was “Prepare Today for Success Tomorrow”. After many iterations, many design elements, hierarchy re-shuffles and composition tweaks, the piece was designed and inked as you can see below:

Prepare Today for Success Tomorrow

After that comes the part where you have to wrap it up tight and leave it in the hands of the postal service and international shipping companies, and hope that nothing terrible happens to your creation as it hurtles across the ocean. Thankfully enough (and predictably enough) the piece made it there just as it had left and everything was well.

Here’s a little close-up on the detail:

Prepare Today Detail

Though editing and digital manipulation were not part of the commission, I enjoyed working on the piece enough that once it was gone I couldn’t help but do a little more, so I took the piece into the realm of ones and zeros. Several weeks ago, I did some experimentation with using a photograph I had taken of some gold leaf to replace the colour and texture of the letters in a piece, and set it over a black background. The effect turned out well, so I used the same technique on this piece. I used the same gold colour, as it suited the piece’s luxurious style of flourishing.

Prepare Today For Gold Leaf on Black Background

I also experimented a little with adding a wooden texture. It gives a different feel to the piece than the gold does, and I can’t say that one suits it better than the other, just that they would serve different purposes.

Prepare Today For Wooden Texture

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.

Make More Mistakes

Make more mistakes! Do something wrong. The worst that could happen is that you would die and ruin everything for everyone forever. But that’s extremely unlikely compared with what will probably happen, which is that you will get better at whatever you were trying.

Make More Mistakes

If you start something new, you’re bound to make mistakes. But let’s imagine that you don’t. Let’s imagine that you ace it every time, right from the get-go. Aside from feeling great about yourself, you would probably find out soon enough that you weren’t really progressing in terms of skill. After a little while, you’d stop feeling so great and try to find out what people who could do it better than you were doing. Then you would realise that you weren’t really acing it every time from the start; rather, you were doing decently, but couldn’t see the flaws in what you were doing. So you decide to study the works of the best. The problem with that approach is that more often than not, you only ever see the best of the best. The best people get into the limelight, and once they’re there, all they do is show off the best things that they have created, and what you don’t see is all the discarded paper, deleted documents and failed attempts that they made in learning, and still make all the time. As a result, it’s easy to get disheartened and feel like your work will never be as good as others who are successful.

The point is that to improve you must learn, and to learn you must make mistakes. The more you put yourself in a situation where you can make some mistakes, where you don’t quite know how to do something, where you have to disengage autopilot mode, the more you’ll find that you discover ways to do things and techniques that you didn’t know about.

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.