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The Stroke of the Pencil

I’ve been very frustrated with my type sketches so far. The act of making these precise, controlled contour drawings has felt very alien to me. I’ve never done much calligraphy, so using shaped markers or pens (or simulating their strokes) doesn't quite feel natural to me. Drawing the outlines is difficult because I tend to distort the overall shapes when I focus on the details as I work my way around the character. I’ve had better luck by jotting down some key positions before connecting parts of the contours, so today I tried an experiment that got me over the hump. Instead of trying to adapt my drawing technique to what I thought type drawings should be, I just drew type the way I know how to draw: building up from gestural lines and basic proportions to to overall shapes to greater detail, refining the good lines and slowly eliminating the bad ones. It's how I learned to draw in a way that explores forms as much as it portrays them.

Gesture drawing

Now, that’s not a great set of letters by any means, but they've got some qualities that I like — not a bad result from a quick sketch. Whereas my drawings from last week were a collage of little details I had in mind, these forms developed as I kept adapting to an overall sense of mass and relationships between parts. Drawing like this uses motion that comes from the shoulder, not just the wrist or the fingers, so the straight lines have a little more tension and the curves have a little more swing.

Certainly these shapes have been informed by the sketches of existing types I’ve been doing all for the last two weeks. I’ve been looking at types that have some specific qualities I’ve been thinking about: open counters, contrast in stroke weight, some angularity to the serifs, curves meeting straight lines. Letting these qualities slowly emerge as I worked my way around the whole shape of the word helped me note some patterns and rhythms that I couldn't quite get before.

My first attempt to trace this drawing and refine the shapes wasn't very successful. I tried to make the second set of letters to clean too quickly, and I paid more attention to the conservative details than the vigorous ones. A second tracing went a little better, especially once I blocked it in in a similar way. I think a few more sets of gesture-based drawings will be a helpful way to explore some directions the type can take that’s a little bit more of me and a little bit less of an assemblage of details of other types.

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