I’m trying to get more of a rhythm going by drawing the outline of my lettering first, then going back to fill the gaps. I noticed when I took a close look at a Georgian print recently that hand-lettered headings don’t have to be drawn with pixel-perfect precision.
As A.F. Stuart and Quentin Crisp wrote in Lettering for Brush & Pen (Frederick Warne, 1939):
“The outlining should be done boldly, and not in a painstaking manner, a certain amount of irregularity being permissible owing to the individual effect of the style.”
They were talking about medieval Versal Letters, but the same thing applies to the sketchbook headings that I’m drawing for my July Dalesman article. Hopefully the more lettering that I do, the bolder I’ll get.
It’s that time of the month again, when I put together my Wild Yorkshire sketchbook spread for the Dalesman magazine. I’m pleased with the way that the illustrations have come together but, for the lettering, I’m going for a slightly different technique.
Last month, I found that the Noodler’s ink that I use, which is waterproof when dry, was taking a surprisingly long time to dry on layout paper.
Even when I came back to my work after a break, there was still a danger that I’d smear a carefully hand-lettered heading or paragraph
I’ve switched to ordinary, non-waterproof Lamy fountain pen ink, which usually dries in minutes and instead of layout paper I’ve gone for a classic letter-writing paper, Basildon Bond, which is a pleasure to use: after all that is what it was designed for. It’s more substantial than layout paper, which gives me a feeling of confidence, something that I need when I attempt my neatest lettering with my waywardly shaky hand.
Once I get into the rhythm of lettering, I enjoy it. It just when I’m getting started that I’m a bit stuttery.
The pad comes with a pre-ruled backing sheet with lines that are at just the right spacing when I write with a Lamy Safari with a medium nib.
I’ve got a great excuse for practising hand lettering: I’ve been asked to prepare some wildlife sketchbook pages for publication. Although we’re going for a sketchbook format, the spreads need to tell a story, rather than being presented as artwork.
I want to try and evoke the spontaneity of a sketchbook page but without the false starts and my occasionally indecipherable field notes but it’s difficult to strike the right balance and not to end up with the page looking too concocted.
Before I start on the time-consuming task of hand-lettering my captions, I set up a page in Adobe InDesign with illustrations and text boxes in place, to check that I can fit all that I want to fit onto the page.
I like the hand-lettered typeface Maryland (above) which is a change from Comic Sans, the go-to typeface for this kind of thing. Maryland is available to subscribers to InDesign CC as what they call a Typekit font, which users are licensed to download for use in the program.
It’s a livelier typeface than my own hand-lettering and I guess that I could use it for the page but nothing is going to look more at home with my drawings than my own hand-lettering, drawn with the same pen and ink: a Lamy Vista fountain pen with an Extra Fine nib, filled with a mix of Noodler’s brown and black inks.
I’m careful to refer to the typeset version of the text for each line, e.g. line one: ‘Nibbling a pine cone’, and not to be tempted to squeeze in the odd extra word. I rule lines seven millimetres apart for my text and, unlike the titles, I don’t find I need to draw a line for the x-height. My letter spacing closely matches the set type in the Maryland font.
My text might be wobbly because of my shaky hands but that applies to my drawings too, so the two complement each other.
I feel that the process of lettering is similar to drawing and I find myself thinking about shapes and rhythm; it’s so similar to when I’m drawing a fence, the branches of a tree or the fronds of a fern: I’m looking not just for the individual shapes but also the spaces between them.
So far I’m doing better on my text than my main titles (top) but I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to improve with practise.
Inspired by Tony Seddon’s book, Draw Your Own Fonts, I’ve just succeeded in drawing, scanning and digitising – using Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator and a program called TypeTool – five sample characters which I’ve added to my computer as a TrueType font.
It will be useful to have my own hand-lettered font when I draw a comic strip or a picture map for a walks booklet but I’m going to try something a bit more ambitious too. Seddon encourages you to have fun in the process and to see a font as a series of illustrations with a theme running through them.
The illustrators and designers who provided the fonts for the book took as their starting points subjects like knitting, earthworms, buildings, spaghetti and origami. Their spontaneous approach soon got me thinking up ideas of my own, for instance, the capitals above are based on a character from a story, a disturbed visionary character . . . but – for the character that I have in mind – I need to make the typeface look more willowy and windblown.
Here’s my first effort at a complete hand-drawn font, put together from some hastily drawn letters, but at least creating those 26 capitals and 26 lower case letters has enabled me to get thoroughly familiar with the basic process.
Strangely enough it was the full stop that I had most difficulty digitising!
I’ve added the lettering to my opening title frame, which brings things together. I can decide later whether I want to stick with these colours and whether I want to introduce hand-lettering for the captions. As the script has yet to take on its final form, it would be wise for now to stick with a computer generated font for the speech bubbles.