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Sketchy Sketches

Work on my typeface is coming slowly, despite my rushing ahead. My method for the first couple of weeks was to plow ahead from rough sketches to tight contour drawings to cringeworthy Fontlab outlines, just so I can get a feel for how to handle drawing at each stage of the game. As Gerry rightly pointed out, though, my contour drawings keep eliminating the best features emerging from the rough sketches. That method also made me focus on details and particular features a little sooner than I should have, thereby neglecting more basic proportional issues like x-heights and relative character widths. My handling of details has been a little inconsistent, but that’s more been due to the haphazard way I’ve been trying out different kinds of connections and terminals and such.

Gerry urged me to slow down and look at more specimens and draw more examples, even having me just focus on how the letter "a" has been handled in different typefaces. So for the last few days I’ve been drawing lots of versions of "a" and thinking about proportions and connections and counter shapes, and how certain shapes seem to go with certain details. It's helped a lot, and another round of sketches based on my initial gesture drawings are looking OK.

It dawned on me that part of my trouble — aside from some impatence — is that I’m so used to looking at typefaces as options to choose from. I'll look at features and details and overall tone, but without thinking all that much about issues like sensible widths or consistent handling of stroke weights and curve shapes. A type consumer tends to take for granted that those issues have been sorted out already. A type designer has to worry about them from the start, getting the blunt proportions down before obsessing over the details. It was good to look at a variety of glyphs in a more focused way, rather than picking and choosing at random. I took much less for granted when I resumed my own sketches, thinking a little more about good relationships from letter to letter.

I need to look at "e" a little more closely now...

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