Like Trees in November

Like Trees in November

I used the typeface Bondini Italic (just visible through the layout paper) as the basis of my font.
I used the typeface Bondini Italic (just visible through the layout paper) as the basis of my font.

As a starting point for this hand-drawn font I’ve taken a character from Watership Down: Cowslip, an effete but vaguely sinister rabbit, given to reciting poetry, including ‘Like Trees in November’, which provides the title for the Cowslip’s Warren chapter in the Richard Adams’ book.

I got to know this character when I spent two or three months drawing the backgrounds for the Cowslip’s Warren scene for Martin Rosen’s 1978 movie. I drew in dip pen in Indian ink, which I felt answered the brief of ‘creating the atmosphere of a claustrophobic Victorian vicarage’. Another background artist added the colour.

Filling in.
Filling in.

Draw Your Own FontsI think of Cowslip and his coterie of indolent lotus-eaters as the rabbit equivalent of the decadently aesthetic characters in an Aubrey Beardsley illustration, so there’s a hint of art nouveau in my typeface.

I was inspired to have a go at a hand-lettered font by Tony Seddon’s book Draw Your Own Fonts. He suggests copying a font by hand as a good way of getting familiar with letterforms but he then goes on to suggest actually tracing a suitable typeface and elaborating it to make it your own. I chose Bondini Italic as my starting point and worked it up into tree-like forms with wispy side-shoots.

Cowslip typefaceWhen it came to the lower case letters I decided that I wanted to add more curlicues to reflect Cowslip’s affected aesthetic sensibilities.

Uni Pin Posca

Uniball pensMy thanks to Uniball for the opportunity to experiment with a selection of their pens. I used a Uni Shalaku mechanical pencil for the initial drawing, a Uni Pin Fineline fibre tip for the outline and a Uni Pin Posca marker for filling in.

Always give your letterforms time to dry before scanning them!
Always give your letterforms time to dry before scanning them!

I was interested in the bark texture of the half-filled letters and decided to do a quick scan but – a word of warning – the Posca markers are paint-filled so they take a short time to dry. I blotched these three letters on the scanner but most of the wet paint transferred to the glass itself, leaving the artwork virtually unscathed.

From Illustrator to TypeTool

Copying letters from Adobe Illustrator (left) to Typetool.
Copying letters from Adobe Illustrator (left) to Typetool.

The final stage, which Tony Seddon explains in easy-to-follow steps in Draw Your Own Fonts, involves scanning your artwork, converting the letters into vector format and enlarging them in Adobe Illustrator, before transferring them to Typetool.

I say easy-to-follow steps but I don’t use Adobe Illustrator and I’m new to Typetool so it’s been good practice drawing and formatting the 52 characters needed for this font.

I’m looking forward to designing my next font from scratch, rather than using an existing typeface as a starting point. I thought that I’d continue with the theme of fonts based on the characters of Watership Down as I’m so familiar with them. It’s easy to imagine a Bigwig Bold typeface contrasted with a gentler, more rounded Pipkin (the timid character voiced by Roy Kinnear in the movie) and perhaps an angular Futurist typeface that would suit Kehaar, the streetwise black-headed gull (Zero Mostel).


Draw Your Own Fonts by Tony Seddon


Create and Craft at Uniball

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  1. Have enjoyed reading your blog and looking at your wonderful photos. Made all the more special when I read that you had been taught briefly at the RCA by my dad Tom Picton.

    1. The three week photography course was the most intense burst of practical experience (plus some illuminating inspiration from the team there) of the entire RCA course. No wonder John Hedgecoe was able to go on to a glittering career revamping the course for the general reader. I remember Tom’s tales of being in the front line as a press photographer in the early days of the Troubles and of being on stage at a big event at the Albert Hall photographing Alan Ginsberg and the beat poets (was that what they were called?).
      Watching my inept efforts to photograph a mother and child model in a studio session he took pity on the pair, borrowed my camera (the standard issue Pentax Spotmatic we were each given for the duration of the course), put them at ease and took some great portrait shots of them which I still regret that I never made the effort to pass on to them as he requested.
      I do hope that you’re continuing the family tradition!

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