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The Unger Method: Day 1

After a slow-ish couple of weeks of introductory sessions and reading, we finally began drawing some type today. It was a slow, clumsy start to be sure, but surprisingly encouraging b the end of the day.

Gerard Unger gave us each a specimen sheet of Morris Fuller Benton's New Century Schoolbook and had us blow it up so that we had letters about 1 7/8 in. (48 mm) high. The goal was to make modified tracings of some sample letters, transforming them from a book weight into a heavy bold weight with modified details. The end result tends to have the same vertical proportions as the Century, but (with any luck) a whole new personality and vocabulary of forms. It's also a good way to overcome the panic of having to draw type for the first time, since you have a basic guide to lean on until you begin going off in your own direction.

In the Unger Method you begin by tracing only the left-side contours of a letter: left side of the stems and serifs, left segments of curves, maybe a dash or two to indicate some tight junctions. Then, you slide your tracing to the left and create a wider stem weight by tracing the right-side contours and deciding how to best join the two halves of the character. You're also encouraged to begin modifying details and stroke widths as you go along, trying to explore new design ideas for the characters rather than just solve the weight problem for the original letter.

I tried to at least double the stem width for my letters, and I played with some forms to try out four different style ideas for the new glyphs: one with fairly short wedge serifs, one with very bracketed serifs with a trace of spring to the contours, one with softer serifs and details, and a very heavy egyptian. Witness my ham-handed first round of letters, traced from the Century specimen and then altered:


After looking at the set, I decided to develop the second style: the bracketed slab serif with some subtle angles to the horizontals and a fair amount of contrast to the stroke widths. Unlike the egyptian direction, it was easier to figure out the counter shapes when there was a little contrast in the mix. There was also some more leeway to move off the horizontal plane for some details, which gave the characters some spring and some variety along the baseline. The ball terminals definitely had to go, but I had some trouble figuring out the best way to replace them. This shows my final result: tracings of tracings, shown against the original specimen:


The "s" is the end result of a couple of attempts to get the curves and the terminals in better shape: a tracing of a tracing of a tracing. The "n" is also a 3rd-generation form, picking up and correcting details from the "d" and the "h" as needed.

Still clumsy overall, but at least some shape vocabulary is starting to emerge.

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