This first hybrid type entry is inspired by David Foster's design "Curve Handler" for the exhibition I'd Letterpress the Shit out of That. When I found Foster's work, I was struck by the combination of his hand lettered phrase with the vector handles from Illustrator included in the final letterpress print. It perfectly demonstrated my vision of a hybrid letterform: one that showed in its form evidence of analog and digital construction.
For this letter 'e,' I began with a hand drawn pencil sketch, took a photo of it, opened it in Illustrator, then traced it with the pen tool. To capture the pen tool handles, I selected all points then took a screenshot of the window.
It's best practice when vectorizing hand-drawn letters to keep all handles at 90 or 45 degrees, which makes the letter easier to manipulate but more difficult to render. It's a lettering artist's way to "show their work." I'm grateful to Bob Ewing and Ian Barnard who taught me this method earlier this year at Creative South during their workshop, "Hand Lettering and the Vector Machine."
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: PUSHPIN, DIE CUTTING MACHINE
Additional Tools & Materials: digital typeface, die cutting software, cardstock, cardboard, scraping tool, camera
This letter study produced a physical letterform with a perforated texture. The primary "hand tool" used is a pushpin, and the digital tool is a die cutting machine. I began by cutting out the letter P in the typeface Gotham Black, using my Silhouette Cameo digital die cutting machine (which I adore). This gave me a perfectly rendered letter 'p,' about two inches tall. I then flipped it over, and sunk a pushpin through the cardstock and into a scrap of cardboard in a gradient; with sparse perforations at the top and dense at the base.
This created a very tactile letter which casts unique shadows and allows light to glow through the tiny pin pricks. It also creates a combination of random, imperfect holes next to the mechanically precise cuts of the die cutting machine.
This letterform's primary analog tool is a pencil, and the digital tool is a constellation map. I wanted to create a letterform that loosely resembled a letter I drew by hand, but borrowed the visual language of a star map. I began with a pencil sketch of a serif letter 'c' on graph paper, then traced over my letter with tracing paper and a micron pen. I then experimented with different "star" points that could "map" the letter while remaining legible as a 'c.' Once I found a combination of points I liked, I scanned my drawings and created this stellar 'c' in Adobe Photoshop.
It has always struck me how arbitrary the outlines of constellations look on paper. To me, it seems like an awfully big stretch to turn a clump of seven or eight stars into a bear, or a crab, or a mermaid. (Is there a mermaid constellation? If not, there should be.) If you ignore the white outlines of this letterform, it's just dots. You could connect the dots in several other ways, and still make a 'c,' or you could make something else entirely. I wanted to keep that vagueness as part of this study.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: NEEDLE & THREAD, DATA VISUALS
First, allow me to say that yes, I realize that this looks a lot like the Google logo. And believe it or not, I didn't realize it until after I had made it. So yeah, my bad.
The matchup for this letter was needle & thread as the hand tools, and data visualization as the digital component. I decided to combine hand embroidery with the ROYGBIV visible light spectrum. My original sketches for this letter included the light spectrum more as stripes than this "pie chart" design (which would have made it look less like Google, sigh). Then, in researching ROYGBIV charts, I found one by Isaac Newton (image #2) which combined the visible light spectrum with the seven notes in a musical major scale - one of the first "color wheels." I decided to overlay this color wheel onto the letter assigned for today, which just happened to be a G. Turns out that's exactly what Google did, only they began the ROYGBIV gradient at the top right of the G, and I simply put the colors where they belonged according to Newton's color wheel.
To transfer the letter to the fabric, I printed a composite of the letter 'G' in the typeface Geo Sans Light onto a sheet of tracing paper. I chose tracing paper because I knew it would be thin enough to embroider over, and would likely fall off after being repeatedly poked with a needle (and it did, like a charm). I then hand embroidered my way around the letter, peeled the tattered tracing paper off the back, and put my embroidery face down on the scanner bed to get as much thread, color, and fabric detail as possible (image #1).
Hand embroidery produces an irregular, bumpy boundary to the letterform, making it difficult to keep this letter mostly round; it ended up flattening out near the baseline. The closely spaced, sometimes overlapping stitches almost look like scribbled, hand drawn lines as they curve to form the letter's shape. To me the most interesting part of the letter is where the stitches change direction. It would be interesting to see more complex letters created with this method, like W, K, or R.
Isaac Newton's color wheel from https://ewikipedia.org/wiki/ROYGBIV
Additional Tools & Materials: scissors, scanner, camera
For today’s exploration, the matchup is paper (origami) + computer applications (in this case, YouTube). I was hoping to find an online origami generator that would make a crazy, incredibly detailed folded letter from a pre-cut square, but no luck. I did, however, find this video that shows how to make a sort of primitive letter K, using a long skinny strip of paper, rather than a square.
I started with my square patterned origami paper, and trimmed it down to about a 1” strip. I then folded it lengthwise, or “hot dog fold," as a coworker at Pier 1 used to call it when we were folding towels, rugs, and so forth. (The other option was, of course, “hamburger fold.”)
I then folded the long skinny strip into itself in thirds, and the center section became the vertical stroke of the K. The two end sections folded down and behind the center section, and then over at 45 (ish) degree angles to create the diagonal strokes.
The result is a very simplified letter that can’t stand up on its own or even lay flat without holding it down with a finger or some glue. To show the form flat, I ended up scanning it, which also helped emphasize some of the shadows and layers that the paper creates.
I could see this exploration expanding to create a very blocky, primitive typeface, featuring slight shadows, fold marks, and edges of paper peeking behind a fold - all to suggest layered dimensionality. I think it would be important to actually make each of these letters from paper first - to know the paper’s limitations and create a typeface in which each letter was allowed the same length or width of paper throughout. Limiting the materials in this way would make the overall set of letters more cohesive and realistic.
This sparkly mashup is the lovechild of inkjet printed fonts on paper and various colors of ink applied to a rubber stamp. I experimented with six different fonts of varying style and weight and seven different colored inks on my stamp.
I began by stamping on scrap paper a few examples of the Ds I had in my stamp collection. I then scanned them into my computer to get an idea of how large I'd need to print the digital counterparts, and played around in Photoshop with some combinations that looked interesting.
Then I chose the six fonts that created the most interesting combinations with my fancy woodcut-style stamped D, and printed them on a grid on three different colors of paper, and in three colors of printer ink.
Once I paired up my stamp with each variation of the letter and seven colors of ink, I ended up with 90 examples of how these two methods can interact to create interesting letterforms. For the "winner" of this set, I chose the combination of the teal D (in the typeface Input Serif Condensed Black, for those keeping score) overlayed with the gold ink on my stamp, on good old white paper. I thought the offset was beautiful, creating an almost greenish third color, and there's just enough sparkle from the gold to make it interesting. There's also an interesting conversation happening here between present and past - both with the materials being used and the letter styles.
I'm glad I built in multiple iterations into this study. In some cases, I could tell after the very first stamp that the ink I'd chosen wasn't going to work well, (looking at you, purple on blue) so I could switch to another. I could also experiment with how much pressure I put on the stamp, more or less ink, the color and paper combinations, and the positions where I chose to overlay the stamp (my clear stamp base made that so easy!) I also learned that white ink is worthless, at least the kind I had on hand.
This entry turned out nothing like I thought it would, but I like it anyway. I had planned to use graph paper and paint inside the squares but not quite fill them - making a rough, messy 8 bit letter with paint and brush. Then I got started and realized my graph paper was too big to accommodate the design. So instead, I decided to eyeball it - no grid to keep me on track, no guide for the size of the letters, just making paint dots instead of squares.
I began with a capital E from James Edmondson's beautiful Wisdom Scripttypeface. I then ran it through an online application called knitPro which turns an image into a knitting or cross stitch pattern. Since cross stitch patterns are made of colored squares, the result resembled a (very large) letter made of 8 bit pixels.
Through some Photoshop magic, I then separated the 8 bit image into three colors, and decided to paint it in purple. I began making small dots, one row at a time, one color at a time, trying my best to stay in my imaginary grid, but knowing that the end result would surely be a bit wonky.
The final letter seems to be sort of a drunken halftone image - it's trying desperately to look cohesive and uniform in its structure but failing miserably. I think it's a fun example of hybrid type because the hand (or at least, my hand) can't perfectly render the grid represented in the 8 bit image, and yet the effort to organize the shape into a grid is visible.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: CUTTING TOOLS, DATA VISUALS
Inspired by elevation topography maps (as my data visualization component), this letter is made of 11 layers of hand cut card stock, stacked and spaced equally apart with little foam adhesive discs that allow the levels to "float" about 1/16" apart.
I started in Adobe Illustrator with a capital D from the quirky, pudgy typeface Pusab. I wanted to use an actual topographic map to create the layers, but I wasn't able to find an image that worked well with this letter. So instead I purchased an abstract stock vector map with topography levels included, and removed all the elements I didn't need.
I then reversed the letter D in Illustrator, and arranged the topographic artwork until I liked how it looked. This was because I planned to print on the back of the paper. After that, I scaled it to the size I wanted my letter to be, and printed about a dozen copies of the letter, reversed, with the topography guides printed on the back. From there I could hand cut each layer and stack the shapes together. When I first stacked each layer, I planned on simply gluing the pieces together, but I realized I wanted some space between layers for added shadow and dimensionality. I used little round adhesive foam discs, about 1/4" in diameter, to space the levels, and sometimes had to cut them in half or even quarters to hide them under the smaller cut layers.
What I think is most interesting about this letter is how it interacts with light and shadows. The change is dramatic from just a slight adjustment to the light source, giving this letter an almost architectural, sculptural quality. I wish I had been able to better integrate the counter (the negative inside space) of the D, using the topographic layers to build up from it to create a trough. Instead, I chose to keep this letter abstract, as though a slice of a 3D elevation map had been cut out in the shape of a D, rather than the D itself having topographic layers.
I have had a starter kit of toner reactive foil for several years, and today I finally got the nerve to try it out. I started by drawing this script uppercase 'y,' tracing over it with a micron pen, then scanning into the computer. There I cleaned it up a bit using Adobe Photoshop, filled in the letter shape solid black, and printed onto card stock using my laser printer.
Here's where it gets tricky. The toner reactive foil suggests that you iron it on after you print. That felt clunky to me. I had read a blog years ago that suggested that instead of ironing on, you could actually tape the foil over your printed design, then print a "blank" page - to use the printer's heat to laminate the foil onto the toner. So that's exactly what I did. The only reason the gold foil looks a little antiqued here is because apparently my printer is low on toner. If it had printed solid black, you would have seen solid gold sticking to it.
All in all, I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. I even thought the wasted sheet of foil I peeled off of the design looked pretty sweet, so I scanned it (the last image in the slideshow, for reference) and it looks like a Y sitting in a pool of liquid gold. Delicious.
I think the theme for this letter study is predictability, in its lack thereof. Either my printer was constantly jamming (miraculously never with the foil inside), or the foil would fold up in the printer, leaving a little ripple in the otherwise uniform foil coverage. This method would require a lot of practice to perfect, but for my first try, I like my distressed gold Y.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: NEEDLE & THREAD, DIE CUTTING MACHINE
Here's a letter that I thought would be fairly simple to make, but ended up taking me most of the afternoon. I started with a capital S in the typeface Neutra Display Titling - a nice, big chunky sans serif. I set up a grid of several letters in my Silhouette Cameo die cutting software, and sent it to the cutter. I then placed my freshly cut letter onto a scrap piece of cardboard and carefully poked 110 holes around the edge by hand with my sewing needle. I wanted it to have a quirky, imperfect feel, once I began stitching.
I had several ideas for ways to stitch this letter ranging in complexity but ultimately decided on the blanket stitch, using this demo I found on YouTube. It took a few stitches to start, undo, and restart to get my rhythm down and try to duplicate each stitch uniformly. I found the corners - which require three stitches in the same hole - the most difficult to master. I also tried to keep all of my stitches perfectly perpendicular to the edge of the letter, creating some nice starburst groupings on the inside curves of bot the top and bottom of the S.
This letter has the qualities of being both precisely duplicated from a master typeface, but also hand embellished, making it imperfect and irregular. The stitching gives the letterform a sort of floating, textural outline, and the holes give it a degree of transparency or shadow, depending on the light source. I enjoyed making it, though it took over two hours to create those 118 stitches. I think if I were to do it again, I might overlay a different style letter onto the thick sans serif - suggesting differences in stroke width, rather than just decoration.
This study is fibers (ribbon, in this case) plus light (my desk lamp). I wanted to see how shadows affected the visual weight of the letter. In order to make the changes in shadow most dramatic, I chose thick, white ribbon arranged on poster board. The thicker ribbon was a little easier to work with than some of the thinner kinds I tried, and the color maximized shadows and reflection of light.
The ribbon didn't behave quite as well as I had hoped. I tried to create more of a little serif tail on the right stroke of the lowercase d, but it just wouldn't stay that way. Since I didn't want to use anything but the ribbon - not glue or tape of any kind - I had to just go with the flow and let the ribbon do its thing. The light did have a dramatic effect on the weight and mood of the letterforms. In the first three, the same ribbon arrangement is first shot with two lights from two angles, then one light from the right, and then rotated under two light sources. The variation is so great that sometimes it was hard to tell when I had actually changed the ribbon's arrangement when I began sorting through the photos. The uppercase D was something I wanted to try, but I found it harder to get a nice round curve that large - it was much easier to achieve on the bowl of the lowercase d.
This study clearly demonstrated the power of a drop shadow on a letterform. Whenever I'm drawing a letter freehand and I want to suggest a shadow, I always have a hard time keeping track of the light source, how far the shadow should extend, and when you should and shouldn't see it. This was a fun exercise I can refer to when making type feel more three dimensional.
This letter was created 100% digitally. I'm calling it a hybrid because the incredibly detailed photoshop brushes I used to create the ink splatter textures were all created by actually dripping ink and scanning the results. So yes, it's a hybrid, I'm just not the one who created the handmade elements this time.
The first step in making this hybrid was playing with various Photoshop brushes in my collection. I began with Alex Dukal's Aquarellist Brushes for watercolor effects. Those are mostly what you see in slides 2 and three - me just playing with all the different textures, using my Wacom Bamboo drawing tablet. I tried drawing a few letter Hs with the pen, but they ended up looking... weird. I'm still getting used to the sensation of drawing on the Wacom. Instead I decided to play with some bigger splatter brushes by Blue Line Design. I liked these much better - they had more detail and they layered beautifully. I first placed the letter h in the typeface Gravitas One on my canvas and began "dripping" the splatter brushes all over, in the shape of an h. Then I turned off the type layer (see slide 4) but I thought it either looked too much like an n, or the splatters were just too precisely placed to capture that randomness I wanted to see. So then I turned the H type layer back on, and placed it in front of the ink (slide 1). Bingo. I liked the look of it - like a stencil after it's been used once.
This would certainly be a fun display typeface but it would become difficult to read at small sizes. When I was first experimenting with these brushes, I wanted the letter to be red, but that started grossing me out the more it began to look like a crime scene.
The computer application I chose to help render this letter study is the fantastic MyPhotoStitch.com. I found this one to be much more agile than the one I used to make my freehand painted 8 bit letter a few days ago. This tool allowed me to convert an image of a letter - lowercase i in the typeface Matrix Inline Script - into a cross stitch pattern. Not only that, but it would let me choose how many colors I wanted to use (the last tool had ranges to choose from, and was very imprecise), and the exact size I wanted the pattern to be. This would be so much fun to use on a more complex image, as many people have done.
Back to the letter study, I knew I wanted to start with a letter that had some movement, and if possible, some degree of decoration or dimensionality. I tried some more complex woodcut style fonts first, but those were either too complex to tackle in the allowed time, or became muddy and unreadable as a letter i. I also didn't want to use an upright, monoline sans serif, because that would just be a block of tiny x stitches and where's the fun in that? Matrix Inline Script was a good fit because (to me) the typeface is still identifiable and the block construction of the letter is apparent through the steps up and down on either side of the letter.
I included a lot of process shots because graphically, I loved each step the letter took from start to finish. Emigre's original letterform is of course beautiful, but the dot and grid cross stitch pattern it generated also had an interesting form. I liked it so much that I even isolated it from the grid (image 3).
This took me about four hours, but I love how it turned out. I even made sure to keep the back nice and tidy (as my grandmother would always chide me for not doing) so that I could share a photo of how crazy the back of the letter looks. See image number 8 - it's a reversed photo of the back of the aida cloth. I think, as I said - this method to create a full typeface would work best with a script, or at least an italic letterset, just so the blocky construction is still visible.
This letter began in the thick slab serif typeface Acknowledgement. In Adobe Illustrator I chose my letter, then drew a series of vector lines that I then masked inside the shape of the letter. I played with amounts of lines and adjusted spacing between the lines until there was at least a little hint of a line in each corner of the letter. I knew without those clear corners the letter would lose its chunky slab characteristics.
Once I was happy with the lines inside the letter, I printed the design onto some thick navy blue card stock. I then took an upholstery pin and poked my needle holes at the end of each of the printed lines. Then all I had to do was connect the dots with my needle and thread.
I took photos of the letter from various distances and angles, and even held it up to my desk light to create the twinkly star effect you see in image 6. The best representation of the letterform, however, came from scanning it.
I think the biggest takeaway from this letter study was the idea that the corners of the letter wouldn't be as clear if there wasn't at least a hint of the line segment there. This is easy to manage with one letter where you can customize the width and spacing of the lines, but for a complete letter set I'd have to compromise and choose a standard size and spacing for the line pattern. This would inevitably lead to some letters that hold their shape well, and some that struggle. I'd love to try this again with an S or an O to see how those line edges stand up to complex curves.
Inspired by Chip Kidd's book cover for Dry by Augusten Burroughs, I wanted this letter to feel wet; as if it were dripping or melting. The mashup for this letter is digital printing (inkjet) plus elements (water). I used various kinds of paper; from simple printer paper to cardstock, and then watercolor paper and even tracing paper, before I was able to create the look I desired and then photograph and scan it into the computer.
I started with two different typefaces; Mission Script and Filosofia, in two different colors because I wasn't sure how the water would affect the different colors or the shape of the letters. As I began my experimentation, the different papers trapped the ink differently. Cardstock and printer paper absorbed the ink very well, and didn't seem to want to release it when I sprayed it with water. The tracing paper, on the other hand, barely accepted the ink, so I had to be extremely careful to not smear it just on the short walk from the printer to my photo station, and then of course it completely disintegrated when I sprayed it down (image 5). The winner seemed to be watercolor paper, but the water I was spraying onto the paper - while certainly creating some interesting pigment separation - wasn't really "dripping" like I wanted it to. I did get some interesting "ombre" gradation in the last letter H (image 7) by spraying more water near the bottom of the letter than the top. Then I somehow remembered (maybe from a middle school science project of some kind) that rubbing alcohol was effective in separating ink colors. So in my final attempt (images 1 and 2) I first dripped some rubbing alcohol over the surface of the paper, which effectively released more ink. Then I continued spraying water on it until I got the runny mess I was hoping for.
Here's another study that would create an interesting display typeface. It was so unpredictable to work with the water, and then the alcohol - but luckily it was easy to just print a new sheet and try something new. Some unexpected results emerged when in addition to the "drippiness" in image 1, there was also a slight pinkish glow around the edges as the ink separated, and even an electric or lightning bolt quality to the ink that spreads out from the top half of the letter. This experiment was a lot of fun, even if it did make a huge inky mess.
Today's mashup: paint plus specialty paper. Tattoo paper. I started in my sketchbook drawing many different styles of uppercase A with a thick Faber Castell brush pen before zeroing in on one I thought would make a nice tat. I scanned my work, picked the winning letter and created a sheet with 24 repeats of the letter in gray. Then I placed a clean sheet on top of my composite sheet and placed them both on my light table. Then I played with different treatments using acrylic paint - everything from layering to decoration to inlining and gradients. My favorite one was this red A with the suggestion of marquee lights as pink dots inline.
Again, I created a sheet of duplicates, but this time, printed them in reverse on temporary tattoo paper. I followed the package directions by printing onto the shiny cardstock, then applying a sticky adhesive sheet to the back and rubbing over each design with a smooth paint spatula. Then I cut one out, removed the adhesive, placed it on my arm under a moist cloth, and boom - temporary tattoo.
This study was fun because it bounced from hand to digital to hand to digital, and then literally to my hand. I enjoyed the variations that came from my studies in paint - I could play with the shape of the letter, the weight, the gesture, all while keeping the same basic letterform intact. Once the design reached my wrist, there's a huge degree of flexibility in the letterform. Twisting my wrist back and forth could easily turn this semi-italic script upright or extremely italic. There's also the inherent temporary tattoo wrinkling that can easily be seen in the first and last photo - it takes the wrinkles already there and multiplies them. I think a whole typeface based on temp tattoos would be fun if somehow it incorporated that side to side flexibility that comes with a design being placed onto the skin.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: PAINT, DIE CUTTING MACHINE
Today pitted gouache paint with my digital die cutting machine. I began by drawing several uppercase Q letterforms with a thick brush pen. I chose my favorite, scanned it, then used Photoshop's Threshold settings to "clean it up" (see image 3). From there, I imported it into my Cameo Silhouette die cutting software and ran a few test cuts.
I then switched to paper, trimming half a dozen or so 4" squares out of white card stock. I then created various color and texture backgrounds on these squares using gouache paints. Once they dried, I loaded them into the die cutter, and cut a letter Q out of each. I then played with scanning either the cutout letter (see image 4) or the negative "stencil" (image 1 and 3) or sometimes both (image 6). The last image is a stack of 4 or so "stencils" all rotated and then scanned together; which created some interesting depth.
I think the most interesting result of this study is the cheesy, almost fake looking shadows that occur inside the images of the "knocked out" letters. It looks like I attempted to bevel or emboss the letter in Photoshop - but it's just the result of shifting shadows inside the scanner bed!
Day 18 matchup included TWO things I've never used before: a real, honest-to-goodness calligraphy pen (with metallic ink!) and a big scary laser cutter.
I started by making tons of scripty curly letter Os, with metallic ink on black paper. My brand new calligraphy pen is kinda hard to get used to, and the brand new point made some rather unpleasant scratchy sounds while I practiced drawing Os. I made several dozen, scanned them all in, and chose my favorite.
I brought it into Adobe Illustrator - where I first did an auto trace of the letter, which resulted in a dotty, textural, messy letter shape. Then I used the original O as a template and drew it myself in vector. I liked both, and I was curious how they'd each turn out on the laser cutter.
I brought five different types and stains of wood (free flooring samples!) to the Materials Lab at NC State where we have three big intimidating laser cutters. After a quick refresher on how to work the machinery, I tried several different settings on each one, and the final letter I chose as my favorite in this study came from the dotty, live-trace letter. I also set the laser to do three passes on it, so the little dotty areas would be well-defined.
Some of the characteristics of this mashup were expected, and some weren't. While I'd never used a calligraphy pen before, I did know where the thick and thin strokes should be, and tried to make that contrast as great as possible. I had expected the laser cutter to discolor or burn the edges of the design, but it didn't - perhaps due to the wood's stain. I also didn't expect the bumpy, almost linen texture that emerges when large areas of the wood were burned away. I love the inner shadows the letterform creates with so many peaks and valleys. I was also sure I'd love the look of the clean, hand vectorized letter more than the live trace, but I didn't. This would be an incredibly difficult combination of traits to reproduce across a whole letterset, but I think it would be quite beautiful.
Additional Tools & Materials: Scanner, various fonts
This process for this study was incredibly simple. Start with some printed letters on paper, draw on them with chalk. Well, it was supposed to be chalk. Then oil based Sharpie. Then a gel pen. Finally I settled on a white paint pen. Nothing else would stick or show up! Nothing is ever as simple as we imagine.
The idea for this study was to mimic the process of drawing letters by hand using white and black Plaka ink. Plaka is what designers used to create typefaces before computers. A letterer would draw a letter in black and touch up mistakes in white, then repeat - until the letterform was technically and visually perfect. In this case, I'm only doing the "touching up" part - but instead of correcting mistakes, I wanted to change small aspects of the letterform to completely change the feel of the typeface.
As I experimented with different adjustments on the letters, some of my additions were ornamental, but some changed the letter completely - sometimes in very bizarre ways. In image 1, I added a line art skeleton inside the bold sans serif to make the letter appear chiseled, faceted. In image 2, I covered up the slab serif on the right foot of the A to make it a weird sans-but-not-sans serif. In number three I rounded the sharp corners, making the lowercase a appear inflated and comical. Number 4 introduces a shadow that gives the letter depth, yet also makes it appear thinner. 5 was purely decorative, and in 6 I played with the idea of making the letter rounded and reflective. In 7 I've hidden a serif inside a sans serif, and in 8 I simply added an inner stroke. Lastly, number 9 plays with the idea of a strong light source, and suggests that the letter is rounded - otherwise there'd be nothing to stay in the shadow.
I can now appreciate how the method of drawing, correcting, and redrawing letterforms using Plaka was an effective way of making small changes, evaluating, and finalizing what would become the bones of a new typeface. What's interesting about the letterforms I created here is that you can still see the original letterform, which makes the revisions more apparent and more deliberate.
This letter required a lot of preparation, but less so than it would have without the laser cutter. Confession: this was both the first time I had worked with a linoleum block, and also the first time I'd worked with the laser printer. I wasn't sure what to expect.
I started with a hand drawn letter T that was part of a screen printed design I created a few months ago. The t, as I had drawn it, did include the negative dots down the central stroke, but not the dots or the shadows, and since I always take on more than I'm actually prepared to take on, I thought "oh yeah, this definitely needs to be a two color print." So I added the dots and shadows in Adobe Illustrator and then prepared my file for laser cutting - which was incredibly simple, as it turns out. I simply separated the two parts of the letter that I planned to ink in different colors, and rotated them so I could fit them both on the same block.
I did bring two linoleum blocks with me to the Materials Lab at NC State just in case, but I didn't want to ruin one. I was very lucky to find the correct settings already listed on a chart, which ended up working perfectly the first time, though the laser did create a LOT of smelly smoke.
Once the dust settled and I'd rinsed off the the burn marks, I was ready to ink. Here's another confession: I tried to use plain old acrylic paint first. Don't do that. Block printing ink is more concentrated and spreads out more evenly, acrylic is just a gooey mess. Since both layers of the T were on the same block, I had to find some creative ways to ONLY ink the side I was trying to print. I tried covering the opposite side with tape, paper, even my hand, to try and keep the ink off the wrong layer, but it was still messy. My next problem is that since my design required me to cut away about 90% of the linoleum surface, my tall skinny design was hard to ink evenly without accidentally getting ink on the negative areas. This would have been easier with a smaller brayer (2"? 3"?) but I'm not even sure they make those. Then there was the question of whether to press the paper on top of the block (which is recommended) versus stamping from above. Again, the tall, skinny nature of this design made pressing the paper on top of the stamp near impossible without bending - or even puncturing - the paper. So I opted to place the stamp ink side down onto the paper, aligned with the top left corner of the paper so I could align the two colors.
After the first color (black) had dried, I inked the other half of the stamp, and attempted to line up the two colors. When I created the file for laser cutting, I had been very precise with my measurements, so that if I simply rotated the stamp 180 degrees and aligned the top left corner with the top left corner of the paper, the design would overlay perfectly. See image 7. This was not the case. I had to stack one of each of the designs on paper, line them up visually by holding them against the light, then aligning my stamp to the bottom piece of paper - which had the same design I was stamping onto the top piece. This sounds complicated but it was pretty easy to figure out once I got going.
The resulting letter is gritty - the inking is inconsistent and spotty in some places, and sometimes the stray ink that got on the negative bed of the block found its way onto the paper. I learned that this process is by nature imprecise, and requires a lot of patience and planning ahead. Cutting my design onto the block with the laser cutter allowed me to create a much more complex and detailed design than I could have done by hand - especially on my first try. Stay tuned, though - carving by hand is still on my list of type explorations to try.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: INKODYE, DIE CUTTING MACHINE
Additional Tools & Materials: pencil, pen, tracing paper, scanner, Adobe Photoshop, die cutter software, card stock, cotton canvas fabric, small sheet of glass, camera, cold water, washing machine, laundry soap
This letter was created through photo-sensitive chemistry, using Inkodyephoto-sensitive ink and some stencils I created on my Silhouette die cutting machine. I've had this ink for over a year, so I was thrilled to finally have a chance to use it. I started by drawing four different letter Rs - two of my own design (the lowercase script and the chunky ball terminal), and two traced from a book of 1960s advertising samples. After drawing, scanning, and sending these Rs to my die cutting software, I was left with both a set of solid cut out letters and a stencil with all four removed. I decided to try the process with both - both the letter knocked out (in orange) and in solid (blue).
The Inkodye process involves brushing a thin layer of the transparent, almost glue-like ink over the fabric and then placing a design on top of the ink while it's still damp. They also recommend you do all this in semi-darkness, then place a glass pane over the design to hold it down. I set all this up on top of an overturned shoebox, then covered the canvas with the box's lid and carried it outside. Almost immediately the ink began to develop and become a darker shade of orange (see image 4). After 8 minutes, the ink had fully developed. I then rinsed it in cold water, then ran it through a hot wash cycle. Then I repeated the whole process with the blue ink and the "stencil," which produced solid letters rather than knocked out.
This study resulted in surprisingly well-defined letters. I had expected to see blurry edges, and in some places they did become blurry, but overall the letters remained pretty true to the original designs. In the cover image, a slight shadow can be seen on the top edge of the ball terminal. This would be interesting to try and capture purposefully - maybe slightly shift the stencil over a tiny bit halfway through exposure. The other unexpected feature is that the brown card stock I used to create my stencils bled onto the fabric, and unfortunately didn't wash out. I think I could prevent this by either using thicker white card stock or waiting for the ink to dry a bit more before placing the design on it. This study also produced some dramatic gradients near the edges of the canvas where the fabric peeked out from under the glass.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: LEAVES, DIE CUTTING MACHINE
Additional Tools & Materials: die cutting software, tape, camera, scanner, small pane of glass
This was a matchup under the nature + digital cutting column that I thought wasn't going to work. I'd never tried cutting leaves on my die cutter before, but I figured since they were similar in texture to vinyl, it would probably work.
I chose several existing typefaces that I thought would contrast well with the leaves, then narrowed it down to three: Futura, and Freak Show (the circus style font) and Hobo. Not only did the leaves cut very well, they did much better than the test sheet of paper I sent through the cutter first to figure out where to tape down the leaves. Whew!
This study yielded letters that are bumpy, textured, and asymmetrical. The edges sometimes turn brown where they've been cut. When the letters are turned over, the reverse side of the leaves allows you to see the veins of the leaf much more clearly. This could make an interesting typeface for display - for the cover of some book about nature. Or I could see making this a vectorized, "flat" font, with some of the veins worked into their form.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: FELT, DIE CUTTING MACHINE
Additional Tools & Materials: die cutting software, embroidery floss, sewing needle, xacto knife, scissors, polyester stuffing, camera
This mashup was under Fibers + Digital Cutting. I took the letter X from Gotham Black, duplicated it, and then using the shape drawing tool in my die cutting software I created the eight rectangular panels that would join the two X sides to make a stuffed felt letterform. I first joined the eight panels to one X using needle and embroidery thread, which created something that looked like an x-shaped tray or box. Then I stitched the other X panel on, leaving a 1" section open for stuffing. Once it was sufficiently stuffed I sewed up the gap and tied off the thread.
The results are bumpy, irregular, and rough to the touch. The X is slightly lop-sided, causing you to want to twist it into the right form. I stuffed it because I wanted the letter to feel puffy, and as though it had weight to it. I also wanted all the panels to fully expand, which looked much cleaner than the droopy "shell" before stuffing.
This letter has a comical feel. Somewhere between a baseball, a dog toy, and a voodoo doll. I could see an alphabet made this way serving as an excellent teaching toy for toddlers learning their ABCs.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: WATER, LIGHT TABLE
Additional Tools & Materials: camera, blue food coloring, paint brushes, scanner, inkjet printer, glass pane, paper
To combine Natural Elements and Light Technology - I wanted to play with the idea of strategically dripping water onto a printed letter (under a sheet of glass) lighting it from beneath to see some interesting lighting effects, maybe even some refraction.
I started with a printed B in the typeface Rockwell Bold, and placed it on the surface of my 14"x20" light table with an 8"x10" glass pane on top. I planned to drip the water onto the glass, so I could use the letter underneath as a pattern, then slide it out when I was finished. Using various sized paintbrushes, I dotted water onto the letter, but I found it very difficult to see what I was doing. I had to turn off the lights and look at my work through the reflection of a table lamp on the glass in order to see where I had left a drop and where I hadn't. When I finished my first B, I removed the printed letter underneath and started to take pictures. Unfortunately, this first letter was completely invisible. Even with the light table illuminating the droplets from beneath it was impossible to get a straight-on shot of the letterform. So then I repeated the whole process again, but this time I added a few drops of blue food coloring to my water, so there would be just a hint of color. This did the trick and made it much easier to photograph. Once I had finished taking photos I slid it onto my scanner bed with the lid open, and scanned it just to see what would happen (image 6).
This process resulted in a letter with with lower legibility than some of my previous exercises. The most interesting aspect of this study was the way the angle of the light - either from the light table or from my table lamp - could completely change the way the letter looked. I'm disappointed in the results - first, I had hoped for completely transparent drops, and second, I had hoped for perfectly round dots and mine are all rough, imperfect ovals.
Additional Tools & Materials: Adobe Photoshop, Bernina DesignerPlus embroidery software (on a PC!), scissors, fabric, patience
This was one of the more obvious matchups: needle arts and textile machinery. I'm calling it a hybrid because it required a lot of technical sewing know-how, hands-on problem solving, and common sense on the part of the machine operator to get this design off the ground. First a HUGE, HUGE thanks to Kelly Kye - maker of amazing hand-sewn quilts atKye + Hardy, recent NC State Design Master's grad, and most experienced user of the ancient but extraordinary Bernina Deco 650 embroidery machine in the Fibers Lab at NCSU College of Design - for guiding me through the process of preparing artwork for the machine and getting it to do my bidding. Thanks so much for giving me a morning of your time, Kelly - and a big thanks also to Professor Susan Brandeis for letting me play with your toys.
Before I decided what I wanted to do with the embroidery machine, I visited the Fibers Lab and reviewed the handy user guide Professor Brandeis created and left at the station. I took note of the machine's capabilities (number of colors, size, and so forth), familiarized myself with the actual machine and its components, and poked around in the Bernina DesignerPlus software. Knowing what the machine could do helped me choose what I wanted to make. I decided that the best way to emphasize the construction of this letter would be to choose a fairly complex letterform, and render it in at least three colors.
I chose the letter W, using three of the five fonts in AW Conqueror Carved- a type family that can be layered and deconstructed to use only the parts you wish to display. It's possible to layer only the outline and the shadow, or the outline and the lined fill, and so forth, making it versatile and adaptable. I also wanted to use a strong geometric letterform so that any unevenness in the embroidery would be more evident.
Though it took a bit of troubleshooting (mostly in the design software), Kelly and I were excited to see how cleanly the the letter was rendered onto the canvas cloth. After three test runs, I was delighted to encounter no machine or user errors in our final execution. Fun fact: it is much easier to operate the laser cutter right down the hall than it is to operate this twenty year old embroidery machine. Who knew.
The results of this study gave me a letter that very much resembles the original typeface, but with more dimension. The satin thread I used, contrasted with the matte canvas cloth gives the letterform shine, which makes the direction of each stitch more visible. Each part of the letter has been sewn in a different direction. The inner horizontal stripes are made of tiny, close-spaced vertical stitches. The central outline's stitch changes direction as it wraps around the letter, with dramatic pointed angles in each of the three inner crevices of the W. The dark shadow is filled in a horizontal satin stitch. One feature I can't really fix (at least outside of Photoshop) are the steps that connect the different "blocks" of this letter's design. In some spots, notably the inner stripes, you can see one thin thread that connects one section of embroidery to the next. While the machine is working, you can sometimes pause, sneak in, and snip these - especially when they're really long - before they become "trapped" under layers of sewn thread. The smaller ones are harder to snip without tiny scissors and tweezers. I decided not to maul this freshly finished design with sharp objects, and instead left the steps as further evidence of this letter's construction.
Today I attempted to photograph an R-shaped ice cube, and realized it's the first time I've created a letter that actively and rapidly deteriorates in front of my eyes. I'd say from removing the tray from the freezer to the last recognizable image was maybe a span of ten minutes. I had to work fast. I set up my camera and backdrop, let the lights warm up fully, then yanked the silicone ice try out of the freezer and ran back to my photo booth.
In choosing my materials for this exercise, I had to choose between plastic and silicone ice trays, which was a fairly easy choice. I knew the plastic trays would make it difficult to remove the letters in one piece. I also wondered whether I should put a drop or two of food coloring into the trays, to avoid the same transparency issues I faced with my letter B made from water droplets. But in this case, since the letter would be a solid shape (to begin with), I decided to leave the water clear.
This study can only be described as dynamic. When the letter first came out of the ice tray, it was frosty, solid, and opaque. Each time I touched the letter, it became shinier, so I could see the textures inside the ice cube, but this also made it melt faster. The letter would only stand up on its own, as in photo 1, for about a minute before it started to list and then topple onto its face. Once it created its own puddle (placed on a sheet of glass), it would start skating around all on its own, letting me know that my desk is not, in fact, level. When I picked up the sheet of glass to hold it over the light source, the underside of the glass developed a cloud of condensation in the shape of an R (see image 4). If I held the letter in my hand for a moment, I could watch drops of water roll off the bottom. And in the last photo, even when the upper left corner has melted away, I could still read it as a letter R.
This behavior of rapid deterioration would be interesting to capture in the design of a live typeface. Perhaps the length of the word would dictate the degree of melting or eroding in the last letters. Or maybe a page covered in text would begin to "melt," line by line - frozen and crisp at the top, then shiny and smooth near the middle, and finally sharp, bumpy, and nearly illegible at the bottom. This exercise stressed me out because I had to take the photos so fast - I couldn't even slow down to see if I got a good shot. However, I think it's yielded some of the most interesting and diverse results so far. If I were to do it again, I'd do it outside on a chilly day to buy myself a bit more time.
Additional Tools & Materials: card stock, light table, camera
Today's study combined cutting by hand with advanced paper and materials - in this case, patterned washi tape. This study was also important, not because the resulting letterform is particularly interesting, but because I've started to change the way I'm approaching these materials and how I combine them.
My thesis advisors have challenged me to think more critically about what these studies accomplish, and how they work. I should be spending more time thinking about the materials - what their behaviors and capabilities are, and how I can best demonstrate those characteristics through these studies. Let the materials dictate the form, rather than imagining a form and working backwards (which I must admit I have done several times so far). So today I considered my materials. The xacto blade allows me to cut very precisely by hand, but not perfectly. So if I'm building a letterform using an xacto to cut, it should be angular and not too curved, because I can't control the curve with the knife as easily as I could if I were die cutting it. Washi tape is essentially patterned masking tape that's waxy and easy to remove or reposition. I had two rolls on hand in different widths, so I decided to try both.
I printed three letter Zs backwards onto some cardstock, so I could apply washi to the the clean side and cut it out on the back. For the first study, I wanted to press the idea that washi is patterned. Luckily, I found that my pink washi was designed to repeat when strips are laid side to side. Using my light table, I placed my first letter Z (image 2 and 3 in the typeface Barmeno) face up so I could place the tape onto the letter evenly and see where the edges were. Then I flipped it over and cut out the letter in reverse. The resulting letter was therefore very true to the original font's form, but slightly dimensional. It really became more about pattern than anything else. I thought that wasn't quite compelling enough, so I moved on to my second letter Z.
In the second Z (image 4 and 5, in Baskerville Bold), I wanted to emphasize the semi-transparent nature of the striped silver and white tape. I decided to layer it twice, rotating it 90 degrees down the center stroke, but not at the top and bottom. This also happened fairly organically, which is why the pattern overly is less than perfect.
Lastly, I wanted to use the thinner, pink washi tape and attempt to wrap the entire letter (in AW Conqueror Slab Light) with one, uncut length of tape. I gave it my best, but I just couldn't find that magic starting angle to begin wrapping, and ultimately gave up and started trimming it and restarting it when needed. One thing that was interesting was the different patterns that emerged from the tape being overlapped at varying places.
When I set them up to take photos, I stacked them for a moment to prepare my work area. That's when I noticed that the individual forms lined up in interesting ways, which was sort of a fluke - there is infinite variation in the angle of the diagonal stroke in the Z, and I hadn't chosen these fonts with that in mind. So my final, "cover" image for this study - is a letter made from two forms intertwined. It doesn't necessarily illustrate the characteristics of cutting by hand or wrapping with washi tape, but it did create a new, interesting letterform that I hadn't anticipated coming out of this study.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: SUNLIGHT, SOLAR REACTIVE PAPER
Additional Tools & Materials: lace paper doilies, xacto knife, inkjet printer, card stock, cardboard, glass pane, camera
Today I played with another solar reactive material that behaved very differently than the last - solar reactive Inkodye. The two categories I pulled from are Advanced Paper & Materials (solar paper) and Natural Elements (sunlight). The process for exposing the materials was quite similar to my last solar experiment (which was also the letter R - though this is the first day I've messed up and made the wrong letter - today was supposed to be F. Oops).
Since I already had an idea of how solar masking works, I wanted to try a more detailed medium to block sunlight this time. I had a stack of white paper doilies which were very complex, and I wanted to see how well they might mask out the sunlight. Since I was working with a complex material, I decided to go to both extremes with my letter choice - one relatively simple lowercase R and an ornamental blackletter uppercase. I printed each letter at the appropriate size, then placed the doily over the printed letter until I liked where the pattern was. Then I carefully used an xacto knife to cut the doily in the shape of the letters. The only thing I didn't plan carefully enough was in attempting to keep the cutout letter from the doily in one piece. Sometimes the letterform required piecing the paper back together when the design of the doily made connecting all the pieces impossible. (see the upper bowl on the uppercase R or the serifs at the foot of the lowercase r).
After cutting out the letters I darkened my office as much as possible, removed two sheets of unexposed paper from the black lightproof packaging and carefully placed my two doily letterforms onto the solid blue paper. I then covered them both with a sheet of clear glass and threw a dark teeshirt on top for the trip outside.
The packaging said to expose the paper between 1 and 5 minutes, depending on how much sunlight was available, and to stop when the paper turned "almost white." The paper immediately began to lighten, and I left it out for about 3 and a half minutes, not wanting to overexpose. The next step was to bring the sheets inside, run water over them, then lay them flat to dry. This is where the material surprised me - with the Inkodye, the masked areas remained white while the exposed areas took on color, and you could see this happening throughout the process. With this solar paper, however - the paper began as blue then faded to white, so when I removed my mask, the unexposed letter underneath was still blue. So it surprised me that when I rinsed the paper in water, the colors reversed. The letter lightened and the exposed background went back to a dark blue. WEIRD. Also, for the record - I think this letter could have gone the full five minutes for a bit more contrast.
Reflecting on the results, the characteristic that strikes me most are the variations in the line quality that comes from such a detailed light mask. There are blurry edges and sharp edges, and a good deal of shadowing within the letterform. The pattern also comes much into play - the mind wants to connect it and recognize the pattern, guess what might come next. To translate this into a full typeface, it might be interesting to play with the idea of connecting the patterns across negative space - maybe there's a "correct" order of letters a user could find while using the font, where the pattern is complete. Or maybe the font could behave as a live typeface, changing out the pattern as you type so that the pattern would never repeat or bump up against a similar composition.
Today's composition took me somewhere unexpected. My original plan for pairing cutting tools and photo/video was to take two different landscapes, weave them together from paper, then cut the letter out of the intertwined photos. So I chose my photos (this one from a trip to Colorado, another from Antigua) and began to weave them. However, as I began to piece the landscapes together, I worried that the letterform would be secondary in this design, so I stepped back and asked myself how I could still weave, using a landscape photo, and make the letter more prominent. I rifled through my paper drawer and found some transparency film, and decided to print the letter, knocked out, onto the transparency film, then slice and weave that into the landscape - so that the clearest view of the landscape was through the letter.
Another mistake was to "weave" with a photo printed onto card stock. I should have used plain printer paper or photo paper, which would have probably been more flexible and easier to manipulate. The card stock was too thick to tightly weave one row against the next, which is why you see some white gaps in the letter's shape. That was not my intention, but a consequence of materials. I also think the dull matte card stock made the colors in the landscape less vibrant than they could have been on something glossy.
Piecing this letter together was not easy; I accidentally left some scratches and tears in a few places, which was disappointing. It was hard to keep spacing between the rows even and level, and as a result it slowly slopes to the right as you move top to bottom. The letter did give me the sense of a window into something else, almost like looking out of a window with the blinds closed. It also has the ability to play with light - either to highlight the checkerboard pattern (as in image 6) or to illuminate the letterform when backlit (image 7).
If I were to make this again, I might think about leaving the edges unfinished, so that you could stretch and shape the letter by tugging on the corners. It would be interesting to push the idea of window blinds, and make it more mechanical so the letter could somehow be transformed by sliding a tab or twisting the whole composition.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: PAPER, DIE CUTTING MACHINE
Additional Tools & Materials: ruler, xacto knife, camera
For this combination of digital cutting and paper, I wanted to build something with some depth to it. Inspired by the goofy cardboard taxidermy that's been so popular in the last few years, I thought a slotted paper letter would be a fun thing to try. Originally, I had hoped (and expected!) to find a website out there somewhere that would allow you to create a downloadable template for any shape you liked. But I was mistaken. Luckily, this didn't require any complicated math or 3D modeling; I basically eyeballed it.
Using my Silhouette Cameo die cutting machine, I cut out six versions of this lowercase U, and several additional strips of card stock measuring the same width as this U's vertical strokes. I wasn't sure how far apart I wanted to space my vertical layers, but I knew I wanted the horizontal layers to be the same width. Then I measured where I wanted cuts to be and began to assemble my letter. At first, the letter didn't want to stay straight because the joints were too tight, as you can see in image 2. I had carefully cut slits, half the width of the paper, where each joint would be, but I soon realized that in order to loosen the joints, I'd need to increase the depth of my cuts. So I took the whole thing apart and cut my slits a little wider (see image 3). That seemed to do the trick, and I was able to assemble the rest of the letter with no trouble. The only part that looks a bit out of place is the horizontal layer that cuts through the curved bottom of the U. I wasn't quite sure how to be consistent with the rest of the letter without slicing off the bottom of the U. This was a bit of a compromise. I wish I had made that layer longer, or spaced the horizontal layers differently so I wouldn't need one there.
Creating this letter made me think about its structure and how best to support it. I deliberately chose a lowercase U instead of uppercase because I knew I wanted it to be able to stand on its own, and I thought an uppercase U would tip over too easily. I also had to think about what made sense for the placement of the horizontal layers that slice through the letter. The resulting letter looks very architectural to me, especially when it's placed flat on its back. It makes the contrast between the curves and straight lines stand out, while adding a layer of dimensionality and light contrast. To build out a whole font, I think the biggest challenge would be to come up with a grid for the horizontal layers that would look well spaced and proportional on each letter; and especially how to make it feel realistic as a support structure for any letters that curve where they sit on the baseline.
This letter is an isolated piece of a composition I made over the summer, but since I documented each step I decided to "recycle" it for today's combination of analog printing (screen printing, in this case) and computer hardware (scanner).
This letter began as a pencil sketch, was then traced in ink onto vellum paper (image 2), and scanned into the computer in order to clean it up. When designing for screen printing, it's important to consider the final output in your design, especially when working with more than two colors. I knew I wanted this design to be two-color, so when I created the files for my negatives, I had to consider that the first color (copper) would print first, then the second (black) on top. This is why there are two negatives (image 3 and 5) to create two screens (image 6 is the black screen). To be sure my first color (copper) would completely fill the negative space under the black ink, I had to expand the size of the copper areas so that they'd sit just under and outside the black layer that would overlay. This is called "trapping," and it makes aligning the two designs easier, giving you a tiny bit of wiggle room if things don't line up perfectly. If you look carefully at my cover image. you'll see I didn't have quite enough trapping for the copper; there's a thin vertical strip to the right of both upright strokes where you can see some paper peeking through. Annoying as that can be, it's also what makes screen printing so desirable, and after accidentally offsetting a few of my prints, I did it deliberately a few more times, because I liked the way it looked.
Screen printing is one of my favorite hobbies because it forces you to make very detailed decisions about your work, and requires a great deal of precision and attention to detail. It's also very satisfying to print with your hands. Screen printed letters will often include a bit of offset (as in my first image), and sometimes the texture of the screen itself translates onto the final print (see final image - the linen-like grid texture in the copper). Multi colored prints often have a layered look where at an angle, you can see the edges of the colors that are underneath the top colors. The choice in color for ink and paper plays a huge role - as overlapping colors can often create a "third" color, and ink can often absorb some of the color of the paper (especially white ink, which rarely stays pure white once laid onto a dark or brightly colored paper).
To create a font based on screen printing, I would want to include an element of offsetting that the user could control while typing; a choice between extremely tight registration or loose, sloppy registration with a lot of trapped white space between the letter's layers. It would also be interesting to adjust the amount of ink used to make each letter - light pressure can create spotty, not quite filled letters, firm pressure a smooth, fully filled letter, and too much pressure for thick, sticky-looking letters with rough edges, to mimic the look of too much ink being pressed through the screen.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: IRON ON TRANSFER PAPER, FABRIC
For today's matchup the categories were "specialty paper" and "fibers." So I decided to experiment with inkjet printable iron on transfer paper and some of my favorite quilting fabric. Because I wanted to analyze the materials, I wanted the letterform to be pretty simple - nothing overly textured or decorative - so I could see the textures added by the iron-on paper and the fabric. I also chose a thin cotton fabric that looks like plain white on first glance, but when held against the light or placed on a dark surface, you can see whimsical, white floral print come to life. I thought this now-you-see-it-now-you-don't quality might have an interesting effect on the letterform.
I drew this letter with pencil, traced it in ink, and scanned it into Adobe Photoshop. From there I added the solid green color overlay and a slight shadow, just for a bit of depth. I followed the instructions for file setup and printing onto the transfer paper, then cut out my reversed design with an xacto blade. Here I deviated a bit from the package instructions. Avery suggests that when trimming out the design, you cut right to the edge of the design to avoid what they call the "halo" effect: a shiny, transparent outline around the whole design. Well I had a feeling that would virtually disappear on this white fabric, so I tried it both ways; trimming right to the edge of the letter and again with maybe 1/16" white border. What I found was that not only did the "halo" disappear after ironing as I had hoped, the closer-trimmed letter showed imperfections in my own cutting job, which ruined the hand-drawn rough edge of my original drawing, and caused me to touch the printed area more, flaking off a few spots of color. So I'm officially team halo - leave a border, especially if you're ironing onto a light colored fabric.
I ironed each letter onto the quilting fabric and I was pleased that both letters adhered evenly and cleanly to the fabric, and that the backing was easy to remove. I hadn't used iron on transfers in a long time, so I was afraid it would be a pain. I can only guess that iron-on technology has improved much since its inception.
For me, the characteristic of this letter that's most striking is its reaction to different lighting. In image one, the fabric is backlit with diffused natural light, which makes the floral pattern darker both on the white areas and in the letterform. In images 5 and 6 the design virtually disappears when the fabric is placed on a light piece of fabric. In image 7 the pattern is lighter than the rest of the fabric when placed on a dark surface. To flesh this chameleon-like quality out for a whole font would be interesting - with either a floral pattern as I've shown here or any number of textures. The settings could be "backlit," "neutral," or "dark," each affecting the visible texture of the letterforms.
This letter was inspired by a specimen I found in an old embroidery sampler book. I loved the look of the knotted ornaments that made up the thick strokes of each letter. Today's combination was fibers and photography. I decided to use embroidery floss to recreate the "knotted" letter with string stretched around pins, then see how the shadows affected the letterform through photography. The materials are also a nod to the letter's origin in embroidery, though neither the pins or floss are being used in a traditional way.
Since my first drawing of the letterform was freehand, it was a bit more fluid than the medium of pins and thread would allow. I'd need some kind of grid to be sure the letter was square, level, and evenly distributed so the wrapped string would clearly form my letter. I did this by placing a digital grid onto my original drawing in Photoshop, and then plotting all the points where pins would need to define the letter's shape. In a lot of cases I had to correct mistakes I had made in my original drawing, which had really only been a sketch to explore how the intricate letter was made. Once I was happy with the placement of the dots on the grid, I printed out my template and laid it over my metallic silver paper, which I had glued to a stack of foam board squares. I lightly poked each red dot with a pin, without leaving the pins in the paper. Once I'd poked each hole, I could remove my template and place pins further into the foam board, using the holes I'd made. After all the pins were in place I wrapped my embroidery floss around the pins, during which I learned that this can't be done with just one string. The knotted cross that stretches down the thick stroke is completely separate from the outer shape of the V, but since they do overlap at the center of the cross, it gives the illusion of one continuous line.
The final form resembles my original drawing much more than I had expected it to, though of course the loopy nature of the cross' four posts are a little more pointed. The shadows created by shifting the light source really define the variations in the letter's appearance. Harsh, direct light produces a crisp drop shadow, giving the letter more depth. Soft, diffused light makes the letter float right off the page, and harsh, direct light makes all the lines of the letter instantly more bold. The key to this letter study was in translating rounded shapes into geometric for construction's sake, but doing so in such a way that the character and general tone of the letter is still carried through with these materials. Creating a scalable, repeatable grid to build out the rest of the letters would be necessary in creating a full typeface of this style.
Additional Tools & Materials: clear stamp and stamp base, embossing ink pad, embossing powder, card stock, heat gun, camera
Heat embossing is new to me - I just learned to do it a few months ago, though I have always admired the look of embossed stationery and paper goods. For today's combination, analog printing + photo/video, I wanted to try and heat emboss a large letter while capturing the process, the texture, and the materials through photography and video.
This letter R is one of a set of clear stamps I purchased at the craft store, and the letter is about an inch and a half tall. To heat emboss, I first inked my stamp with clear embossing ink, a specialty ink that binds to the pigment powder and melts. Then I sprinkled a generous helping of blue embossing powder onto the wet ink, making sure to cover all parts of the stamped letter. After shaking off the excess powder, the still wet, powdered letter had a soft, velvety look. Then I blasted the letter with my heat gun on low heat for ten to fifteen seconds, until the powder began to visibly melt, spreading out in a radial direction (you can see the powder melting in images 6 and 7 - the heat gun is peeking from the left side of the photo). The melting step is my favorite, because even when you know what the final image will look like, it's still exciting to see the design morph from powder to a smooth, enamel-like, raised embossing.
Characteristics of letters made in this way include a rough letter boundary, as the powder sometimes creates a ragged edge, and a glaze which makes the letter reflect and stand out from the matte paper. The meat of the letter is speckled, and sometimes littered with small burned bits of dust, dirt, or larger half-melted chunks of embossing powder that didn't quite melt flat. The result is irregular and bumpy. I'd like to try this without a stamp sometimes - perhaps just painting by hand using embossing ink, then melt my handmade letters.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: SEALING WAX, 3D PRINTING
Additional Tools & Materials: 3D printing software, hot glue gun, glass plate, craft spatula, camera, scanner
Today was a weird combination of materials, and I've been looking forward to it for a long, long, time. The two categories I chose from were fabrication (3D printer) and shaping/carving (wax). This letter was 100% inspired by the work of Keetra Dean Dixon, whose henomenal wax geode typography is absolutely stunning. I loved the idea of encasing type in wax, but I wasn't sure how to scale it down for a one-day experiment. At first, I looked for bulk wax, like you'd use to make candles. However, that was expensive, came in giant quantities, and for the most part had to be dyed to take on any color. Boring. So then I turned to trusty Amazon and found sealing wax - like the kind you'd seal a letter with in Game of Thrones - only it was made into sticks for your glue gun! Genius! I ordered a pack of ten assorted colors, then wondered what my inner letterform would be made of. I had never used a 3D printer before, but I've been curious about them since they started becoming affordable. Turns out NC State has a bunch of them - so I met with Lauren Di Monte at the DH Hill Library MakerSpace, and she showed me the ropes. With her help, I "printed" the central letterform in this study, a capital S in the typeface Villa Didot Outline.
After the letter had printed, I took it home and warmed up my glue gun. Ideally, I would have loved to cut into my "geode" the same way Dixon did, to reveal the inner letterform only after days and days of layering wax, but I had neither the time nor tools to make that happen. Instead, I placed my letter face-down on an 8x10 pane of glass, then dripped wax over it with my glue gun, one color at a time.
Does this look the way I had imagined it? Not at all. For one, I had hoped to completely encase the letter in wax under a mound-like pile of molten color, but gravity had other plans. Second, as I was dripping hot wax onto hot wax, I saw some beautiful mixing of color on the back side of the letter form. I was disappointed when I flipped the glass over to see that instead of the smooth mixing you see on the back, instead the separate colors had cooled individually, creating little bubbly shapes with borders. There are some interesting color gradients inside these individual bubbles, but not throughout. Were I to try this again, I would try different methods of layering the wax, by either "outlining" the whole shape with each individual color (which might give me more of the "geode" look), or drip the wax outward from the center to create a sunburst effect. I also probably should let individual colors cool before adding the next for better defined layers. To me, this didn't end up looking like a geode at all - more like pebbles, or stained glass.
Despite my efforts with the hot wax this evening, to me - the most interesting part of the construction of this letterform was in the 3D printing. In printing this letter, I learned that the topmost part of your design - the last part that prints - will often be textured, or wiggly, compared to the bottom of the design that sits flat on the plate - and therefore stays relatively smooth and uniform. If I print a letterform like this again, I'd print it in reverse so my clean, smooth side would be face down during printing. I also noticed the texture that comes from stacking layers and layers of printed plastic looks a lot like the ridges on an old wax record. The most interesting visual element to come out of the wax texture is actually the final image (number 9, which has been mirrored); the result of placing the wax letter upside down on my scanner bed. Only the raised letterform was in focus, with the rest of the wax about half an inch away from the scanner surface - putting it into soft, blurry focus in the background. To me, this is the only image that fully merged 3D printing with melted wax, reminding me that the way in which the 3D printer works - melting plastic that's fed through a nozzle and used to create an object - is the same as the melted wax I used in my glue gun, only of course the glue gun's results were much more unpredictable and messy.
For today's combination of digital printing and paint, I decided to print letter guidelines (see image 2) for several different fonts in reverse on paper, then paint over the outlines with watercolors, using my light table so the outlines would be visible. I also wanted to try out many ways to manipulate watercolor, using things like salt, rubbing alcohol, white paint pens, plastic wrap, and tissue paper. Using the light table with printed guidelines allowed me to maintain the general shape of the original letterform, helping me test what each of these fonts would look like rendered in watercolor pigments.
The cover image (number 1) was made by placing crumpled plastic wrap onto wet paint, taping it down to maintain pressure, and removing it once the paint dried. The effect is very geometric and crystalized, almost like the inside of a geode.
In image three, I layered the watercolor, one layer then another (just near the top) on top of the bottom layer while it was still wet. This creates a sense of depth and shadow, and this study was the one that most closely resembled its original typeface.
The fourth image was created by sprinkling table salt on top of damp paint - which creates a radial crystallization of paint as it's repelled by the salt. I tried this several times with little to no effect, until I realized what I was using was sea salt, then switched to iodized table salt. The result was much more dramatic with the table salt, so apparently that's the right salt to use for this method.
Image five involved two steps; first outlining the letter using white paint pen, then drawing the inner chiseled effect, and allowing it to fully dry. This essentially created little shape areas which would contain the paint, no matter how much I added. This made it possible for me to create a three-color letter where each shape is filled with different intensities of the watercolor paint.
For number six I again played with the idea of shadowing, only this time I allowed the paint to dry a bit longer than I did in image 3. I applied several layers of paint to damp layers underneath, which allowed me to slowly build my shadowing near the bottom of the letter and under the terminal.
The seventh image was the most surprising. For this study I filled the letter as solidly as I could with uniform darkness. Then I let it dry for a minute or so, and then dabbed a dot pattern along the spine of the letter using a q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol. The rubbing alcohol acts as a repellant, pushing the paint away and essentially bleaching the area underneath. What surprised me was not only how effective this method was, but how the paint would start to retreat from the rubbing alcohol before I even touched it to the paper. That's right, I could hold the q-tip a quarter inch above the paper, and see the paint start to disperse. Weird! This one also dried with the most dramatic texture, reminding me of a turtle shell, or glazed ceramics.
The final image was another that ended up closely resembling its original letter guideline. I simply filled the outline with one shade of blue watercolor, then layered it a few more times only on the serifs to stress their relative weight.
I haven't used watercolor much before today. Experiments with it in the past have been less than encouraging. Today, however, I was able to systematically try out all the different "tricks" you can play on watercolor to manipulate new textures, and I must say I was pleased with the results. I think using more masking fluid or tape could help render cleaner letters, avoiding the odd "escape" of a little squirt of paint from the edge of a dried shape. I also learned that working with watercolors requires two traits with which I struggle: patience, and a willingness to relinquish control.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: SCREEN PRINTING, GLOW IN THE DARK PAPER
Today's combination added analog printing with specialty paper. Through some pie-in-the-sky "surely this exists" Amazon searching, I discovered glow in the dark origami paper. I decided to screen print on it, then attempt to photograph it.
When the small, 6" square package of Japanese glow-in-the-dark origami paper arrived, I realized I had to figure out on my own how to use it - was it heat activated? Light? Turns out it was a combination of both. When exposing it to sunlight then ducking into a dark room to see it glow, I noticed that the places where my fingers touched the paper were glowing brighter. They also came in two colors, not just the pale green I had expected, but also a pale pink. The texture was surprising, almost like extremely high-grit sandpaper, and slightly iridescent. I decided to print on these small squares with white ink, expecting that any color would block the glow of the paper, and the lights on versus lights off image of the paper would provide maximum contrast.
I used a letter 'D' I had drawn as part of a larger composition, isolated and sized to about 4.5" tall. The image roll to the left shows several snapshots of the screen printing process; first - the photo I took of the final print (in a darkened bathroom, of course), then the very exciting packaging from the glowing paper, the Photoshop file of my scanned letter, the yellow mesh screen with pink emulsion (looks orange in the photo-safe light room), my small glowing paper clamped down on the printing table, and the white inked screen, shown before and after pulling ink. Images 8 and 9 are scanned images of the two colored glow paper after being screen printed. Number 10 is a zoomed out version of the image I took of the glow-in-the-dark paper on a clip board in my dark bathroom.
This study fits squarely in the "novelty" zone. I found a weird kind of paper I never knew existed and I wanted to try using it for something other than its intended purpose (origami). The glowing image did photograph better than I thought it would, with only minimal contrast manipulation in Photoshop. One thing that did surprise me was that the pink and green papers looked exactly the same in the dark. I had thought maybe the pink one would have cast a pink glow. As for screen printing on glow-in-the-dark paper, the best usage case I can imagine is printing onto these sheets with the same colored ink as the paper, to create some kind of hidden message. I'm imagining something like Rodger Rabbit's disappearing reappearing ink.
To pair up "analog printing" and "pc/mobile apps," I decided to print by hand a design made in the computer. This screen printed letter is inspired by the typeface Tangier 4847n by Photo-Lettering Inc., found in a specimen book from the library. I scanned it, added a few more shapes and textures to the original, and then separated it into two print layers, to screen print two colors. My goal was to demonstrate how additional colors and tones can be created by overlapping two colors in a screen printed design. The two colors I printed with here are the light blue, which went down first, then the red, which layered on top of the blue. This created a third color in some areas that represents a dark maroon or purple. Secondly, I wanted to show how the paper on which designs are screen printed can also have a large effect on the final colors of a design, which is why I tried layering this two color letter on about ten different colored papers. Last, I wanted to deliberately offset the registration of the two colors in some of my prints, to not only emphasize the "third" color that's created, but to essentially create an entirely new letterform.
In image one, I've deliberately offset the red layer by about an eighth of an inch. Images 2, 3, and 4 show respectively the layers of ink in the order they were applied, then the resulting "three color" letter, with proper registration. Image 5 shows a print that has already received the blue layer about to be coated with red ink. Images 7 through 9 are some alternate color studies on gold, gray, and yellow paper.
Multi color screen printing is one of those activities that is always exciting, no matter how many times I've done it. It's always so satisfying and exciting to see what each color ink looks like when it's added to the last. It truly is magic. That being said, one of the most striking characteristics of screen printing is how imperfect and irregular it often looks. My poor registration was intentional, but sometimes registration can slide off by accident or due to poor file set up or improper burning of a negative onto the screen. This effect can at best add to the beauty or the quirkiness of a print, and at worst, render it illegible. Perfect registration requires an eye for detail, a steady hand, and constantly checking your print setup. In the case of image one - my improper registration served to clearly define the overlap of my two colors, while at the same time creating an entirely new letterform which can be seen as one entirely new letter shape.
A typeface based upon a two color screen print could demonstrate the look of a letter pulled with too much, or too little ink. It could show blurred edges where not enough pressure was applied to the screen during inking. Layers could closely align or greatly misalign at the user's discretion. And placing it on different colored backgrounds should affect the way the colors display - as though they really were semi-transparent shapes of ink sitting on paper. This font could be quite versatile, but one thing it should never be is "perfect," which would defeat the purpose in mimicking the behavior of screen printing.
Huge thanks go to my dear friend Lenny Terenzi at Hey Monkey Designfor allowing me to take over his screen printing shop for the day, make a mess, and learn a few new things about this process. As always, thank you for being so generous with your time, your expertise, and your toys.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: PAPER, DATA VISUALIZATION
Additional Tools & Materials: die cutting machine, ruler, utility knife, double-sided tape, camera
To cross paper and data visualization, I first wanted to consider the capabilities and characteristics of paper. Paper is versatile; available in different weights, sheens, colors, and textures. It can be cut, glued, torn, folded, layered, and scored. For this study, I was most interested in paper's flexibility. To demonstrate the flexibility of paper through a letter study, I looked for examples of data visuals that were fluid, organic, and curved. I found a category called chord diagrams, in which data points are connected between two poles (or on points of a circle) with long, string-like lines. Since today's assigned letter was 'I', I thought I could use two slabs on a capital I to connect the data points, represented as cut strips of paper.
To do this, I chose a thick slab serif called Acknowledgement, and cut out three capital Is with my digital die cutting machine. Two were identical, the third was stretched, to serve as the piece I would shred for my "data points." Using a utility knife and a ruler, I carefully divided the center stroke of the I into a dozen or so random, vertical, parallel strips of varying width. Then I sliced off the bottom slab so the strips were still attached to the top, but loose at the bottom. I taped one of the two identical letter Is to the back, serving as a template for constructing this letter. I placed a long strip of double-sided tape along the bottom slab, then carefully repositioned each vertical strip so that it lined up again along the bottom in a different order than it started at the top. Then I trimmed the slabs off the second identical paper I and taped them over the rough ends of the taped vertical strips, and the uneven origins of the strips at the top. This left me with a sort of "backing," where the layered and twisted strips of paper were outlined with a solid yellow background.
Though the "backing" gave this letter structure and allowed it to keep its shape, I wanted to remove it and see what the free-floating vertical strips would look like as they defined the shape of the letter by themselves. As I suspected, the structure of the letter collapsed, but I found that with another two strips of double-sided tape, I could tape the letter down and not only line up the top and bottom slabs, but pinch the top and bottom closer together or skew them, creating a kind of italic version.
I think the idea of incorporating this flexibility into a typeface could have great promise. Perhaps only curved parts of letters would be made by webs of flexible, interwoven strands. Or perhaps the letter's most stressed stroke is given this treatment. Maybe the difference between Roman and Italic letterforms would just be the position of the points that connect these strands. Devising a system for when and where this flexible component is used could be a challenge, but I think the resulting typeface could be very interesting.
Today I was tasked with matching writing tools with fabrication. I found a tool that would do both - a 3D pen. My sister in law graciously let me spend a few hours learning to work her 3Doodler Pen, which melts plastic in much the same way as the 3D printer I used earlier this week. The difference is that this pen allows you to "write" in plastic freehand, rather than uploading a complete design. I wasn't sure what kind of letter I would get out of this study, because I had never used a 3D pen before, and I didn't know its capabilities. So I spent a good amount of time just testing various colors and techniques.
Once I was comfortable writing with the pen, I began "tracing" the outline of today's assigned letter - K - onto a sheet of tracing paper. My first instinct was to draw the skeleton of the letter, leaving the 3D planes empty to suggest the shape of the letter (see image 3). The only problem, for me at least, was the irregularity of the line quality. It was near impossible for me to get a long, straight, smooth line from the pen. After spending a bit more time testing techniques, I realized that the way the plastic came out of the pen felt very similar to using a confectionary bag to ice a cake. So I thought I'd use that technique - mimicking the icing pattern I've been able to ice onto cakes and cupcakes in the past. The resulting texture resembled lace or filigree. I used this method to make a front and a back, then used the pen to draw (midair!) connectors between the two pieces. This was the most difficult part, keeping the distance between the two pieces equal, and in such a way that the letter would stand up on its own two legs. This letter is very delicate and brittle - I'm afraid to hang it up on my studio wall or transport it in a box.
The final form is three dimensional, but in a way that can still appear very flat (see image 1). The "back" of the letter can disappear at the right angle, and the sides are nearly invisible. As you rotate the letter the double-sided nature becomes more apparent, and when it's on its back (image 5), it seems to almost "float" above a duplicate letter. The complex pattern on the front and back also gives this letter a unique shadow; speckled and porous.
Strong characteristics of this study are the material's dual strength and delicacy. Despite the letter being made of hard plastic, the joints are very prone to breakage, and yet the letter overall still has a great deal of flexibility. Continuing this study would require the creation of a typeface that demonstrates strength, flexibility, and delicacy all at once, through structure, line contrast, or weight.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: DIGITAL PRINTING, CUTTING TOOLS
This letter study is a result of combining digital printing (laser) with cutting tools (xacto knife). The process was quite similar to the process for Day 19, in which I drew over black laser printed letters with a white paint pen. The difference here is that rather than adding to the letter with the semi-opaque paint marker, here I was removing toner from the paper using a sharp craft knife, which exposed pure white beneath.
As before, I tried to strike a balance between simply adding decoration or texture to the typefaces and actually making marks that would change the letterform completely. I used different techniques to create shading and cross-hatching, and used varying pressure combined with the angle of the blade to create a range of line weight and quality. These techniques allowed me to convey movement, angles, curves, texture, and artificial lighting. The image I chose to represent this series, number 1, is an example of using marks created by the blade to exaggerate and enhance the existing shape and movement of the original letterform. To rip off a line from Casablanca, it feels like the same typeface, only more so. In later examples I used the blade to suggest a different materiality, such as the wood in image 2 or the shattered glass in image 7. I used the blade to shave away parts of the letter to create a new form, as in image 5. Image 8 and 9 are the best representation of the degree of variation I was able to create with the knife. There are thin lines and thick, smooth and dotted, and all of them (to some degree) gouge the paper and create small fuzzy burrs that spring from the stroke. It reminded me a bit of a runny ink pen.
To expand this study into a full type set, the main theme I would want to capture is the idea of revealing a new letter within an existing letterform. Maybe, for example, in image 1 - this is the result of providing lighting in front of the letter, rather than the back. It would make sense to start with a thick, solid letter in order to have ample material to carve away.
Today's matchup seemed like a pretty obvious, boring one: paper + inkjet printer. I used a brush pen to write this uppercase script G. To keep it fresh I decided to try printing it on a variety of textured papers I had never attempted to feed through my inkjet printer. I started with flat, more traditional card stock with only subtle textures, and slowly increased the complexity of the paper to see what my printer would handle. The most unique papers still printed pretty clearly, which surprised me; I was expecting at least one goose egg in this study - a paper that my printer just couldn't handle. After testing several sheets of textured scrapbook paper, I decided to tape a paper doily onto a sheet of white card stock and see if I could create a stencil effect. It printed very well, and gave me three different letterforms: the "solid" letter printed on the doily and the cardstock underneath, the doily alone with the doily's cuts knocked out, and the "stenciled" card stock with the doily removed.
Most of these printed studies only altered the letterform by adding texture or iridescence. The "stencil" image (number 9) was the only one to create an entirely different letterform. To flesh number 9 out as a complete letter set would require careful planning of where the shapes of the doily (or any stencil) meet the letterform, and I think some interesting choices could be made by using the shapes of the stencil to more clearly define parts of the letter anatomy.
Additional Tools & Materials: tripod, camera remote, Adobe Photoshop
For this study I wanted to "write" with light - using sparklers. I used to do this for fun on the Fourth of July, but until this evening I'd never tried to spell something out. It took a lot of patience and a little Photoshop, but I did get a few good letter Ms.
This first image is a mirrored and layered composition of one of the images captured with long exposure (about six seconds) of me waving a sparkler above my head to write an M. You can see my right hand mirrored under both bottom feet of the letter. I tried several times to create Ms of different shapes and styles, but ultimately decided to use a little Photoshop magic to make a bulkier, symmetrical letter M. I even inverted it to see what it might look like as a dark letter on a white background. Answer: weird!
Sparklers are tough to work with. It's hard to mentally trace a shape in the air and keep things level and even. I had some help (thanks, Rebekah!) with taking the pictures because my remote control was wigging out, so it took some good timing and communication to open the shutter at the right time.
In making letters from sparklers, places where you pause for a second or change direction are marked by brighter, bigger sparks. Because of this, It's difficult (if not impossible) to get a consistent stroke throughout the letter. The random dispersal of the sparks gives it a soft, fuzzy look.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: INK, DATA VISUALIZATION
This study was inspired by the wonderful type experiments I've seen by Barry Spencer (@Speculatype). I've been amazed by not only the complex patterns he's generated but also the innovative type he's created within them. I wanted to do something similar, so my advisor suggested I start with the book Grid Index by Carsten Nicolai, which contains hundreds of geometric and mathematical patterns for design reference. Since so many of these patterns are derived from mathematical principles, I decided to count this as "data visualization."
After browsing the book, I chose four patterns with varying complexity, downloaded the files provided from the CD with the book (thank you!) then printed them out on white paper. To keep them simple, I timed myself - penciling in as many different shapes as I could for five minutes per patterned sheet. I got dozens of designs, but chose 8 with the most variation to share here.
First I must admit that I now understand the current craze of the adult coloring books. I had a blast shaping and shading these letters. I also noticed that the more complex patterns (the green and pink) allowed for the most variation in letterforms, because they offered a larger number of angles and directions for the type to use. I was able to get very loopy scripts and very blocky capitals from the first two patterns (again, green and pink). The blue set gave me something like angled blackletter script (number 5) and a dimensional block letter that very much resembles existing typefaces I've seen, designed at an angle with a shaded side. The last two letters (in purple) gave me the most trouble; I struggled with creating a letter that didn't showcase the pattern of the grid above all else. These two feel kitschy to me. However, I think any of these grids would make excellent guidelines for building out full letter sets, and if this exercise is any indication, it would be a very enjoyable process (at least to me).
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to paint with your feet? Then the Watercolor Bot I used for this morning's study is for you! When I heard that NC State's DH Hill Library had a watercolor painting robot, I knew I had to find a way to work it into this series. After a few false starts, I did finally get the thing working and creating semi-legible letter Ks.
The watercolor bot is essentially a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) programmed frame that controls an arm into which you can clamp a paintbrush (or pen, or pencil, or anything for that matter). When connected to the RoboPaint software, you can load a ready made .SVG file or create your own, then send it to the watercolor bot for printing. It really is that simple. A sheet of 9x12" watercolor paper is held onto the printing surface by one small binder clip. The paintbrush alternates between dipping its tip into clean water then smearing around the colors in a basic Crayola 8 color watercolor palette, then painting onto the surface. I was impressed that the set comes with three identical containers for holding clean water, and that the brush will rinse itself in all three before switching to a new color. Very clever! That being said, my results were not great. I had trouble loading my original .SVG image at first (see image 10), so instead I tried to draw "freehand" into the RoboPaint software, which is an only slightly glorified Microsoft Paint (see the purple Ks, images 3-5). These looked okay, but only if the letter was created with one uninterrupted line, and if the brush didn't run out of paint before completing the letter.
What I learned about this machine is that it is both very adjustable and very hit-or-miss. For instance, there are at least ten different settings you can adjust in the software for stroke width, quality of fill, and so forth, but there is no automated control for the height or pressure of the brush on the paper - that is entirely down to where you clamp it to the machine. Once I finally got my SVG script K design to load correctly, I was able to play with these settings to get a variety of line quality and threshold of paint. The first one was a disaster (image 8, in case you hadn't guessed) - I had blown out all the settings for neatness and line containment, just to see the extreme. The next one, image 9, was the opposite - a very conservative, deliberate, and slowly rendered letter with tight, neat strokes. The cover image - number 1 - was a nice compromise between the two, and most closely resembled the original design in image 10.
Qualities of letters created in this way are: messiness, unpredictability, splotchiness, uncontrollable air bubbles, and inconsistent color. These letters were each about 5" tall - I'd be curious how this machine faired with single-stroke letters in the 1/2" to 2" range.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: NEEDLE ARTS, 3D PEN
Additional Tools & Materials: Adobe Photoshop, 3D pen and filament, inkjet printer, white paper, tracing paper, scissors, camera
In this pairing of "needle arts" and "fabrication," I decided to go a little more into the conceptual zone. One glance at this 3D-fabricated letterform should tell you that no needle or thread were used in the making of this object. Instead, I decided to mimic the appearance and quality of embroidery with a 3Doodler 3D pen. I began with an existing O in the typeface Coquette, which I liked because it was simple, but suggested a script captial - making this study more interesting than drawing a bunch of circles with plastic. I had already learned from Day 40's study that making clean, straight lines with the 3D pen was darn near impossible - so this time I decided to embrace that and try different movements to create different line qualities.
The first image was an homage to the classic satin stitch in embroidery - where each stitch sits closely side-by-side, creating a solid shape. (For an example of this in real embroidery, check out my study from Day 25.) I did this by placing a printed O under a sheet of tracing paper, then using it as a pattern to "stitch" the letter together with the 3D pen. I had to do this several times to get a good consistent thickness from the pen, and looking back at it now, it looks a little like ketchup. I also tried another technique from embroidery (image 4, 5, and 6) that involves placing a woven cord on the top of the fabric, then stitching tightly around it to both contain the cord against the fabric and give the stitch dimension. I did this by first tracing my O with purple filament, to represent the cord I'd later wrap with the top stitch. Then I took silver filament and loosely zig zagged back and forth much in the same way I created the red O. This time, however, the contrasting color and layered filament gave it more depth and texture. In the end, I preferred the first study, but I thought the second was an interesting experiment, especially from the back (image 6). Since I already knew working with the 3D pen was tricky, this study was an exercise in making clean, legible letters out of messy lines.
Today the matchup is paper and photography. I wanted to try making a stop motion animation, which I had haver done before, and which I now LOVE. This was so much fun. My letter was S, which already has a lot of movement in it, so I wanted to keep it simple. To show it being "built," I decided to use small rectangular strips of paper and animate them as they snaked around to form the letter's shape.
Confession: I created this backwards. Way easier than having to guess what shape you're making while trying to photograph it. So I placed all my paper onto some felt (to hold it in place), until I was happy with the letter's form. Then I set up my lighting, camera and tripod to aim directly down at the "stage." I set my camera focus and settings to manual so that nothing would change throughout the photo series, then I began the process of taking one photo, removing one strip of paper, taking the next photo, and so forth. Then it was as simple as loading the sequence of images into Photoshop, cropping it, and exporting an animated .gif. Honestly the most difficult part was converting files to be able to also show this in motion on Instagram.
This process requires a lot of planning ahead, especially if you're working with something a bit more complex than this simple letterform. I could see this kind of dynamic type being a great application in a digital atmosphere, but translating it for print might be a challenge. It would be interesting to gauge how many "strips" of this letter you actually need to recognize it as an S - or any letter, for that matter. Perhaps in a live typeface the user could slide the "legibility" scale up and down to use more or less "paper" strips in construction.
This has been one of the most tangible studies I've done to date; all the construction of the letters was the direct result of my own hands. To pair "fabrication" and "fibers," I wanted to work with oven-bake clay, and see the effect of different textures from various fabrics pressed into the still-wet clay. I used netting, upholstery fabric, tweed, and chiffon - and each created their own distinct imprint onto the clay.
At the end of the day, this was more about me working the primary material into various forms, and the texture was very secondary. Still, I was impressed at the level of detail that actually translated from fabric to the letterforms. By rolling a long, skinny string of the clay over the netting, the resulting pattern is almost like snakeskin. The herringbone upholstery fabric left a distinct herringbone pattern on the clay, and you can even see the perpendicular stitching that makes up each piece of the pattern. The tweed left a bumpy, organic texture, especially apparent in number 8 which looks to me like a couple of stacked peanuts. The chiffon left the faintest imprint of all the fabrics, but it's still visible as wispy, wavy parallel lines.
To take this a step further, it would be interesting to use these letterforms as stamps, and see if the textures left on the clay would translate to an ink print. Maybe I'll try that out for a later study.
UPDATE: A few days after posting this letter I still felt unhappy with the study, and I wanted to try a different way of combining fabrication and fibers. I found a tutorial on how to felt objects using wool roving, and I wanted to give it a try. I took two of the letters I made from modeling clay and wrapped them in thin shreds of the wool roving in several colors. Holding it under warm soapy water for a few minutes, then reshaping the wool and repeating a few times produced fantastic results. The first time I held the letter under the warm water I could immediately feel the wool tighten around it. I think I could have started with my wool wrapped more tightly - I was expecting it to shrink a bit more, and so my resulting letter is still a little puffy-looking. But overall I think it turned out well, and it's definitely an entirely different way of applying fibers to clay.
Today's assigned combination is paint and sewing machine. I wanted to see how I could enhance or change the shape of a painted letter by adding texture and depth with my sewing machine. At first, I played with free hand brush lettering on fabric canvas, but I couldn't get the scale large enough (about 4") for the size I wanted to work with. It also occurred to me that I was going to have a bit of trouble controlling the curve of my stitching on some parts of these letters, and that could look a bit messy. So in order for at least one part of this study to be controlled and clean, I printed some 4" tall letters from various typefaces, taped them onto my light table, then used it as a stencil to recreate the letter in paint (see image 2).
Painting on thick cotton canvas felt surprisingly comfortable. It's the same material they use for stretched canvases, just without the coating - so it made sense that it would feel very natural, just a little more course and more absorbent of paint. The tight weave of the fabric made for a great grid to be sure my letters were straight on the canvas, and then later, provided guidelines as I sewed onto it. The yellow paint covered the canvas more evenly than the purple, which dried a bit more splotchy, calling attention to any overlapping strokes. I'd love to say I made an extra letter to practice on first, but really - the first letter I painted was accidentally placed on top of the watercolor bot prints from the other day, and somehow reactivated the blue paint, which bled through to the front. So I had to redo that one, and the blue spotted letter became my test square, to try out different patterns on my sewing machine. Oops.
I was glad of the opportunity to try out a few pre-programmed patterns that my sewing machine offers. I bought my little Singer sewing machine a few years ago just for craft projects and clothing alterations, so I'd never really gone through the catalog to see what all the decorative stitches look like on fabric. Turns out there are 73 to choose from (see image 3), and each can be modified to adjust the width or length of the stitches that make it. I first used my test swatch to try out as many different stitches as I could, in both of the colored threads I planned to use. After that, I used various strokes to outline, fill, decorate, overlay, or shadow the six painted letters.
I was right in my prediction that some stitches would be difficult to control - especially when rounding the curve of the letter U. So I tried my best to work within that constraint. In image 1 (in the typeface Museo) I used a crosshatching pattern right next to the painted letterform to suggest dimensionality and a shadow. In image 6 (Georgia Bold Italic) I used various styles of overlapping stitches to try and create a dipped gradient. In number 7 (Gravitas One), I first tried to outline the boundary of the letter with a fine single stitch, but found that it was extremely difficult to trace the seam around the bottom curve. So instead I used this chunky almond shaped embroidery stitch, which allowed me to stop after completing one "almond," rotate the canvas so the next one would be more or less centered over the line, then sew again. This modular pattern made it easier to slowly wrap around the letterform to create a truer curve. Number 8 (Ultra Regular) was an example of how I came to the solution I used for the previous letter. This thick zigzag looked great on the straights but was very difficult to control around the curve, and ended up looking a bit messy. In number 9 (Gill Sans Ultrabold) I combined two patterns and both colors to ornament only one stroke of the letter - the result looks a bit like Scandinavian folk art. For number 10 (Interstate Thin), I used a fine but wide decorative stitch to sew directly over the thin shape of the letter, which created a delicate vine-like look, especially with the green thread, almost as though ivy were growing over this letterform.
To me the most successful letter was the first example with the drop shadow. To me, it's the only study that altered the read of the letter, rather than just adding decoration. It would be interesting to create a modular system in which overlapping patterns could create the shadow - and layering them would create a more complex pattern while also making a thicker shadow.
Today I went big. 3 feet wide. Photo with dog included for scale. Using a projector, I was able to trace this beautiful lowercase w from the typeface Mastadoni in pencil, then paint it large scale on some leftover bead board I had in my garage.
Blowing up a letter this large magnifies each detail. What initially drew me to this typeface were the thick ball terminals and the extreme contrast between the thick and thin strokes. What I didn't notice until I'd traced it from the projector was the subtle change in direction in the middle of the center stroke; highlighting the direction of the thin stroke moving upwards then turning to come back down with heavy pressure, overlapping itself on the way back down.
Another aspect of this study - though it wasn't one of the main materials - was the bead board's effect on the letterform. Bead board is made of textured, compressed wood, formed to mimic the look of 2" boards laid side by side. Where each "board" meets, there's a rut and a small 1/8" raised bump. What this means is that it's difficult to paint a straight line - let alone a curved one - that cuts across these peaks and valleys. In order to do this, I had to first paint the outline with a small round brush, skipping the valleys, then go back in with a fine detail brush and fill in the gaps. Only then could I take the larger brushes and fill in the solid letterform. This striped texture adds another level of dimensionality to this letter - and I now have a new appreciation for sign painters who might have to paint over uneven surfaces like wood boards and bricks. This, combined with the dark color on the white surface, meant that I had to paint three coats to sufficiently fill this letter. The first choppy, semi-transparent coat made the letter look like a masked swimming pool - reflecting the sunlight through the ripples in the water.
Using a projector, it's possible to create a hand-painted look using even the most digitally precise typefaces. The projector I had was a little temperamental (note the lovely yellow gradient in image 2), but it still gave me the ability to translate this letterform into something more tangible.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: WATER, ADOBE PHOTOSHOP
Additional Tools & Materials: food coloring, various glass containers, paintbrush, q-tips, camera
Today's combination of "elements" and "computer applications" was quite a challenge - I wanted to write with water. Well, in water. You may remember I did that a few weeks ago but this time I wanted to do it differently; rather than placing water on top of a surface, I wanted to use water as the surface and write in it, using liquid food coloring. I've always loved the way ink or dye billows as it falls through water - it looks smoky and mysterious. I thought it would make some dreamy letters.
I started with a small, square vase full of water - and carefully added one drop of food coloring at a time to the surface of the water and took tons of photos as the ink drifted downwards. This produced some beautiful shapes, but nothing that resembled a letter. Then I thought that maybe if I made a "bar" of ink and let it settle, then a "column" of ink to the left, it might drift down in the shape of an L. Nope. Again - beautiful patterns but nothing I could use to make an L.
Then I switched to a tall cylindrical vase. I thought if the ink had more distance to travel I might be able to isolate some shapes and turn them into Ls. I had - after all - given myself full permission to heavily manipulate these images in Photoshop. Still nothing I could use!
So finally I switched to a small glass salad plate filled with about a quarter inch of water. This way, the food coloring didn't have far to sink, and I thought I'd be able to shape it more slowly, and maybe even layer the dye on top dye that had already sunk to the bottom. Bingo. Using a small paint brush I carefully dotted ink onto the water, then used the fine point of the brush to create spirals, fractals, and gradients. Try though I might, I wasn't able to do an ornate script-style L. The closest I got is in image 5 - but I couldn't build on it in a way that made the letter any more legible. Crossing the "strokes" in the ink caused them to disrupt and disperse each other - which generally led to a mess.
This was the least amount of control I've had over any of the materials I've experimented with so far. Luckily, cleanup and reset was fairly easy, so it didn't matter that I had to rinse and refill my vessels a dozen times as I tried to make one legible L. Once I'd switched to the shallow glass plate, I found that the most variable results came from how much water was in the dish. A quarter of an inch was easy to work with. Much less than that and the ink didn't want to stay in one place - instead it quickly spread out in large circles, and couldn't be manipulated any more. I can only guess that the lower amount of water meant that the ink immediately sunk to the bottom and then couldn't be shaped by simply disturbing the surface. So if you want to try this yourself - try a quarter inch of water and a tiny paintbrush - the results are pretty fun.
This study can be best described as unpredictable. The letters I created all have a swirly, asymmetrical, mysterious quality. They are impossible to recreate. I would imagine a full typeface in this style would be difficult to create in a uniform weight. Perhaps that could be part of its design - tons and tons and tons of alternate shapes, so you might not see a repeat in a sentence written in this font. Or even better - the letters could be made of modular, mix-and-match, random components so that each letter would be completely unique.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: KNITTING, LIGHT TABLE
Additional Tools & Materials: construction paper, die cutting machine, tape, pane of glass, desk lamp, camera
This matchup pairs needle arts and light. I used a practice square I made of a checkerboard knit/purl pattern to filter light through construction paper masks. I thought the patterns combined with alternating negative and positive letters would make for some interesting forms.
I started with three cut letters - a thick slab, a rounded sans serif, and a black sans serif. I was curious how each unique letterform's features would or wouldn't filter through the yarn. Surprisingly, you can actually tell them apart when you compare the images, though sometimes you have to squint your eyes. I think the most interesting result was how the checkerboard grid could be used to center, align, or contain the light that made the letterforms. The best example is image one - looking at the bottom slab serif, the mask has lit up exactly four units of the pattern - then the stem above lights up two - then back to four - then three on, one off, two on, and finally the upper slabs light four, skip one, light three. I was hoping this would happen, but I didn't do any special planning or measuring to achieve this alignment. The grid also served to "contain" light - and sometimes blocked it even when it was beneath. The skinniest of the letterforms (the rounded serif in number 4 and 6) could appear either one or two units wide, depending on where I placed the knitting over the mask. Finally - I couldn't resist making a bat signal (image 8).
I think the modularity provided by the knitted grid is the most striking characteristic of this study. Shifting it over by half a unit or rotating the knitting 90 degrees had a huge effect on the visibility of the letter underneath. Looking at it, your mind can fill in the blanks where the letter isn't completely visible due to the fuzzy, uneven edges of the letter as it streams through the weave as tiny dots of light.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: BLEACH, LAUNDRY COLOR CATCHER SHEET
Additional Tools & Materials: washing machine, red hoodie, q-tips, glass pane, scanner, camera
This letter was pretty spontaneous. We washed a red hoodie for the first time and the laundry color catcher sheet that came out of the wash had the most color I had ever "caught." This thick, waxy paper has a rough fabric feel to it, and I wondered if something like rubbing alcohol would repel ink the way it had with watercolor paint. After looking at the remaining spots in my morphological chart, by some miracle there was actually a spot for this one - under the loose categories of "advanced paper and materials" and "ink."
While the sheet was still damp from the wash, I carefully tested a corner using a q-tip soaked with rubbing alcohol. I waited a few seconds, but nothing happened. My previous experience with paint and rubbing alcohol told me that if anything was going to happen, it would have happened immediately. Then I tried a laundry soap pen I happened to have on my desk (side note - you wouldn't believe the state of my desk right now), not expecting much. That didn't work either. So I poured myself a small cup of the only liquid I knew would work: bleach. Again, using my q-tip, I was able to quickly draw several letter Bs in different styles onto the roughly 9"x4" sheet. Immediately the color began to lift, gradually moving from bright red to magenta, to pale pink and finally to white. The result - in the largest, most saturated letter, at least (number 1) is an almost tie-died look, especially at the edges. In number 2, you can tell where I first touched the q-tip to the paper. You can also see brighter spots where I changed directions - at the top of the loop of the b's stem and again above the bowl. This is probably because I applied more pressure, paused, or slowed down momentarily while deciding where I wanted to draw the remainder of the shape. Images 7-9 show a few photos snapped of the same letter as the bleach slowly lightened the fabric. Bleaching completely to white took about five minutes, and often a little touchup with extra spots of bleach.
These letters can look fuzzy or even electrified at their edges. In number one the edges remind me of crystals or ice formations. They appear very organic and accidental. The letters are also very different in their weight and line quality; different amounts of bleach or pressure on the paper yielded different results. Less bleach on a damp q-tip produced neater strokes with sharper edges, like in images 2 (as the bleach wears off) and 5. More bleach on a completely saturated q-tip produced the ultra fuzzy edges you see in images 1, 3 and 4. I think the most interesting characteristic to include in any future type studies would be the contrast between the sharper strokes and the fuzzy ones - each letter ought to have at least some degree of contrast between the two.
Big thanks to my husband the engineer for (jokingly, I think) suggesting I use this sheet as a letter study tonight. I called his bluff, and it turned out to be pretty interesting! Thanks, you!
I had the idea for this letter when I was learning about what you can do with a wood burning tool. Turns out there's an attachment that looks like a small metal disc you can use to transfer toner ink from a laser printer onto wood - presumably to give you guides for wood burning or carving. At first I was relieved that this could be done, otherwise I wasn't sure how to transfer an image to wood - which I'll be doing several times during this project. Then I thought - wait - that means there will be toner on the wood. What if I found a way to transfer toner reactive foil onto the surface of the wood? I was so sure this would work. Positive. Well, it kinda worked.
Today's matchup is carving/shaping (wood carving tools) plus advanced paper and materials (toner reactive foil.) I began by first printing some letter Gs in reverse with black toner on a laser printer. I decided to print these Gs with a faint striped pattern, so I could see where to cut, but so the pattern wouldn't be as noticeable after it was carved. I also hoped the toner reactive foil would stick to the pattern and give me a striped texture. I cut one letter out, taped it face down onto my wood surface, then heated up the wood burning tool. Slowly I pressed the flat disc against the wood, tracing the shape of the letter G until I had warmed all the toner. When I removed the tool - the transfer worked great! The pattern was faint but visible, and it would give me enough guidance to carve my letter.
I used a standard xacto blade first to outline the basic shape of the letter. Then I used a semi-circle shaped cutting blade to begin scooping away wood in a radial pattern outwards from the letter. This worked great with the grain of the wood, but was difficult working perpendicular to the grain. The scraped wood was rough, bumpy and uneven. Once I'd scraped away a layer of wood from the whole block except for the G, I went over the horizontal strokes again vertically, trying to even out this choppiness. Once that was done I took a ton of pictures because I was fairly certain the next step would ruin it.
I took a small square of blue toner reactive foil color side up, placed a small sheet of printer paper over it, then began again pressing the hot disc tip of the wood burning tool over the raised area. Toner reactive foil sticks to toner when it's heated - so the hope was that when I removed the foil, some would stick to the wood, and maybe even in the diagonal stripe pattern of the toner. When I removed the sheet, some did stick, but not everywhere, and not even lined up with the foil. I was pretty disappointed. I tried a few more times, by attempting to re-transfer the G with solid printed toner, then reapplying the foil, but the result was just a mess. Some of the paper melted, burned, and became stuck to the toner and wouldn't come off. The result is not pretty.
I'm glad I tried this though; it was sort of an attempt to apply the transitive property of equality to wood burning. Bear with me here. If heat + toner = design transferred on wood, and heat + toner + toner reactive foil = melted toner foil, then heat + toner design on wood should = melted toner foil design on wood! Right? Well, sort of. It did kinda work, but I think my heat settings were either too low (when only some toner melted) or too high (when it burned and stuck to the paper). Maybe I'll try this again but for now I think this myth is busted. Just for fun, I did Photoshop what a successful toner transfer might have looked liked (image 11). Maybe next time I'll try a heat gun or an iron. Also, next time I would want to successfully transfer the foil onto the wood before carving - that seems way more practical in hindsight.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: NEEDLE & THREAD, SPECIALTY PAPER
Today's combination is embroidery and specialty paper. I've already doneone study using iron-on transfer paper as the star, but today I wanted to use it as a subtle guide that would easily disappear when I needed it to. I also wanted to try a new embroidery stitch to enhance this letterform. The typeface I used to make my iron-on guide is AW Conqueror Carved Four - one isolated layer of the typeface I used on Day 25. This time, instead of layering several parts of the letter, I focused on just the shadow, which makes the letterform legible in the negative space. To stress the direction and curve of the shapes in the letter's shadow, I chose an embroidery stitch that would highlight changes in direction.
After ironing on my print, I added the first part of the embroidery stitch; the parallel stitches that the the loopy stitches weave through. Then I added the second color, snaking it through the first stitch, and taking care to change the angle of the stitch when it turned corners around the edge of the letter.
This letter has a lot of dimensionality, texture and shadows. The quality of the stitching is such that the form seems to sit on top of the fabric, rather than sewn into it. It feels flexible, as though it could be stretched and repositioned to form a different letter.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: LETTERPRESS, 3D PRINTING
Additional Tools & Materials: ruler, Tinkercad 3D printing software, ink, paper, scanner, camera
This combination is one that I looked forward to investigating, and also one that took several days to complete. I wanted to combine what are likely the two most unlike processes on my list: letterpress and 3D printing. After my first few experiences with 3D printing, I wanted to try 3D printing letterpress blocks, then print with them on the Vandercook press at the College of Design. All it would require was to get precise measurements from an existing letterpress block and create a 3D printing file of an extruded letterform in reverse on a solid block, with the same dimensions. I chose three existing typefaces to try this with: Mission Script, a brush-style font; Griffin, a blackletter font; and Sabor Digital, an upright script made of a dot grid pattern.
Aside from the 3D printing process being a little hit-or-miss, creating the blocks was fairly easy. Try though I did, I was unable to get the blocks to print "type height," .918 inches - the standard height for all lead letterpress blocks. They started that way in the files, but 3D printing, while very precise, is not perfect. However, it is possible to raise and lower the bed of the letterpress, or pad your paper with additional sheets when fed through the press - so I knew this wasn't a deal breaker.
When the letters finished printing (a task that took a total of 6 hours of 3D printing time!) I also noticed that the face of the letters - the surface that would imprint onto paper - wasn't smooth. This is another inherent feature of 3D printing; without some kind of chemical bath or sanding, you're never left with a perfectly smooth surface. Instead, it's possible to see the paths of the extruder as it criss crosses to fill a shape. At first, I was worried about this, and wondered if I ought to attempt to sand it. Then I realized this texture would only add to the "hybrid-ness" of this study, and I rather hoped for a nice visible texture in the prints.
Once in the letterpress lab, my friend and classmate Scott Reinhard - who is far more experienced on the Vandercook press than I - helped me set up the bed for printing and adjust the type height until we got a nice even print. As expected, each letter did imprint with a visible texture due to the 3D printing as well as a slight indentation of the paper due to the letterpress.
Bringing these two processes together felt anachronistic, but appropriate. Introducing a new technological component into a centuries-old process provided visible results in the form of the letters. Particularly with Sabor Digital - which already has a hybrid feel due to its digital script, it struck me that 3D printing then letterpressing with this font allowed it to jump back and forth in time not once, but twice. Letterpressing using 3D printed letters could also make that process more accessible. I certainly don't have access to lead casting materials if I wanted to create a letterset (and I wouldn't even know where to start), but 3D printing is cheap, easy, and accessible. With a small hand press and a 3D printer similar to the one I used, one could easily create custom letterpress prints at home.
At first glance, this study sounded like it would be pretty straightforward. Trace existing letters using a light table and metallic ink. And it started that way - I chose five letter Xs from Norman Weinberger's (1971!) Encyclopedia of Comparative Letterforms. I began by tracing the letters exactly as they were - to familiarize myself with the letters' characteristics and details. Then I wondered how I could use this method to create new letterforms made from combinations of the existing letterforms. Right away, I found that many of these letters had characteristics that were either strikingly similar or extremely different - and the contrast could lead to dramatic results. So I started tracing entire letters, then tracing another letter on top of it. Sometimes I would perfectly center the two letters, sometimes I would purposely offset one of the letters to try and create a shadow effect. I'd then fill the entire new letterform with metallic ink to create one new merged letterform. Then I wondered how I could combine the letterforms but still identify the components of the two original letters. I started tracing the two letterforms in different colors so they could be visually picked apart or seen as one shape. Finally, I tried combining the two letterforms, using one to define negative space and subtract from the other. This letter (number 10) is the least legible but it showed a lot of promise for further study in using one letter to subtract from another.
After this study I took a long time to consider all the different methods for letter reproduction that tracing allows. Tracing allows you to duplicate a letter precisely or take artistic liberties. You can build upon shapes or subtract from shapes to create negative space. You can reposition your source materials to see options before you commit them to paper. You can rotate the paper or the source material to make simple changes to the original letterform that yield entirely different forms. You can choose which parts of the source letter to trace, and where you want to use them. You can double parts of the letter to create symmetry, even if the original letter was asymmetrical. In combining the letters you can cause them to seamlessly merge or trace them in a way that preserves the characteristics of the original letterforms in the new merged letter. The possibilities for new letterforms are endless, and exciting.
Original letterforms found in Encyclopedia of Comparative Letterforms, clockwise from the top left (see image 2): Koster, by Mackellar, Smith & Jordan Louis XIV, by Xenotype - Photo-Lettering, Inc. Clown King, by Xenotype - Photo-Lettering, Inc. Clock, by Xenotype - Photo-Lettering, Inc. Hogarth - Photo-Lettering, Inc.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: BLOCK PRINTING, DATA VISUALIZATION
Today's matchup was between analog printing and data visualization. I chose to print using a hand-carved rubber block, and use antique maps (from the New York Public Library's fantastic digital collections) as my data visualization. Now I will be the first to admit that this is not a very strong hybrid. The maps are beautiful, and they make a nice texture behind and through the negative space of the letter, but they fade into the background more than I had intended, and don't really do much to affect the actual form of the letter in any substantial way. Maybe if this carved letter had more negative space, or I had chosen a semi-transparent ink, the maps would have been more prominent. As it is, they're really only serving as visual background.
That being said - I had so much fun carving this rubber block. I had never done this before. You may recall that I've used a carved block print before, back on Day 20. However, that time I created my design by hand, scanned it in, digitized it, then cut it out using a laser cutter. So I really had no idea how this material would react to the tools, or how difficult it would be to work with by hand. I found it a joy to work with - and so easy to manipulate that I even went "off-script" a few times, deviating from the sketch I transferred to the block for reference.
This letter is hand drawn by me, inspired by the ornate woodcut style of the 1800s. I wanted it to have depth and decoration, but most of all a rough, imperfect handmade quality. Looking at it now, the unevenness of the lines, the drifting angles in the shadow, and the inconsistent ink coverage all add to this letter's perfectly imperfect handmade appearance.
The aspects of this letter most unique to this way of printing are first, the variation in line weight that different cutting tools can transfer to the print, and secondly, the effect of high to low ink coverage on the stamp. In image 3 and 4 you can see the differing strokes and directions created by three different cutting tools used to carve away rubber. In images 5, 6, and 7 - you see the ink coverage transition to over-inked (number 5), adequate ink (number 6 - along with pressure applied to the margins to leave a faint imprint of the negative space around the letter), and low ink in number 7. Too much ink creates peaks, splotchy edges, and a bumpy texture on the dry ink surface. Uniform ink creates a smooth, matte texture, and clearly defined line edges. Too little ink can look blurry, as though the print were out of focus, leaving bare spots in parts of the print. None of these is right or wrong - it just depends on what effect most suits the context in which this letter is being used.
I'm curious about what different tools applied to this material could do to define different types of line weight. What could I use to get a dotted line? Perhaps a perforating rotary blade? What about a way to transform shapes or textures in their entirety - cookie cutters? Could something like a cheese grater cover large areas with a uniform texture evenly? Could a pizza cutter give me a fine, uniform line? (Is anyone else getting hungry right now?) I think the possibilities are vast, and if I do another hand cut letter in this series, I'd like to try some of those techniques.
Additional Tools & Materials: Fontstruct.com, carving tools, camera
This combination paired a modular type building software calledFontstruct with modeling clay. I learned about Fontstruct a few weeks ago and immediately began experimenting with new letterforms. Fontstruct is a (free!) online application that allows users to build letterforms - or even a whole typeface - using modular geometric shapes that snap to a grid. Using a library of shapes - triangles, squares, circles, half circles, and so forth - you can create unique letterforms and download them as a .ttf font file. I could lose myself in this program, I had so much fun experimenting. I created several letter Ms, chose my favorite, and decided that to combine it with carving or shaping, I'd make it out of modeling clay and bake it.
First, I tried using curved and straight carving tools to carve the outline of the letter into clay, then cut out a block M around it - thereby turning my Fontstruct creation into the decoration inside a chunky sans serif. This looked okay, but since I was shaping it by hand, the block M looked pretty wonky and uneven. I wanted something that resembled the Fontstruct geometric letter more, but had a distinct handmade feel. So instead I built with clay the same way I built in Fontstruct - one geometric shape at a time. I carefully made semi circles, diamonds, and "eye" shapes, then pressed them together before baking. The result is a delicate, modular letter that was designed digitally and executed by hand. You can even see my fingerprints in some places. The shapes are not as crisp as they were in the software, since modeling clay is so soft. If I tried this again with earthen clay, or even porcelain - I might be able to carve more distinct shapes that would look more like the Fontstruct letter brought to life. For now, though - the translation of the modular digital into a modular handmade process is the most significant aspect of this study.
Additional Tools & Materials: inkjet printer, scissors, xacto blade, camera
For this study, fibers + adobe photoshop, I decided to amplify the materials by purposefully fraying the edges of this fabric letter. I started in Photoshop with an existing font called Arvo. I printed the N, cut it out with an xacto blade, then used the negative letter shape as a stencil to trace the N onto the back of my fabric. Then I stopped to take a few photos of the clean cut letter before I went to work unravelling it.
Unravelling this kind of cotton turned out to be harder than I expected. I figured I could just rub it between my fingers and see it start to fray, but I actually had to attack it with the xacto blade to get the effect I wanted. As I worked to unravel the fabric, I noticed that the two edges are diagonal in this letter tended to fray more evenly than the horizontal or vertical edges. That's because the individual strands won't float away as you see them doing everywhere else on the letter. On the diagonal, the edges can separate, but they don't tear off completely. This letter might have turned out completely different had I rotated the fabric 30 degrees or so - enough to keep all the edges from aligning with the grain of the fabric.
This letter feels soft, delicate, and fuzzy. I get the sense that I could tear this letter apart quite easily (though I know, because I made it - that it's not as easy as you might think). It's feminine, due to the pattern of the fabric, but tough, because it's been torn apart. In some places, where strands of fiber are floating away from the letter's shape, you can still see the floral pattern, disconnected and semi-transparent, floating away from the woven letter. That aspect - the visible pattern detached from the woven letter - is what I think is most significant about this letter study. Using Photoshop, I was able to adjust levels in this image to make details such as this more apparent. I tried to keep tearing this letter apart further, but it didn't keep its shape very well. I had hoped to rip the letter apart to just bare threads, but keep that pattern visible, but it wasn't working. Still, this is the characteristic I would try to push through a further type study, were I to try this again.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: NATURAL ELEMENTS, DATA VISUALIZATION
Additional Tools & Materials: paper, tweezers, camera
I have always been fascinated by seashells. Despite how commonplace they are, I'm still amazed when I find one intact on the beach. Amazed to be holding what is essentially the little house of a tiny creature long gone. So it shocked me to be able to purchase a giant bag of tiny, intact, beautiful seashells for about $4 at Michaels. I thought they were small enough and similar enough that I could use them as modular pieces to a type study of natural elements. The matchup for today was between natural elements and data visualization. I've seen examples of charts that already look like letter Js - bar charts of data that originate in the same place, begin descending vertically, then curve off to the side. In my opinion, they're not terribly legible or informative - in fact, they can be misleading - which string is the best? Is the shortest best? Is the worst string the one that curves back the furthest? Not incredibly clear. But nonetheless, a data visualization I knew I could work with.
The bag of shells I bought included hundreds of small shells, most of them in multiples of ten or more. I decided to pull out the similar shells and use them as the variables to "chart" through the data visualization. I even arranged them in descending order according to size. For scale, the largest shell in the top left is about 3/4", the small black cone shell on the far left is about 1/4".
What occurred to me as I assembled this chart is that this could easily be a representation of real data, related to these actual objects. I'm already showing a relation between the number of objects in each category, as well as the size of the objects within that category. I am actually visualizing the qualitative data of this group of objects. But there could be an additional layer of information here. What if this showed the percentage of marine life belonging to these four shells, and what if these were the four most common shells found in a particular geographical region? Or a graph relating endangered species and how their numbers may compare? I've seen a lot of charts and graphs that do use imagery or iconography to relate informational data, and that's what I'm doing here. What's weird is that I didn't realize that's what I had done until I had already done it - I was just using these objects to define a shape that resembled a chart.
Another stop motion today, but a little more complex than the last one onDay 47. Today I matched up sewing and photography. Since my last stop-motion was fairly simple, I wanted to make this one a bit more ambitious. At first, I even tried to create this cursive Q in a more complex stitch, but it was too complicated to manage while maneuvering around my tripod and only lifting the bottom of the fabric to sew. I even picked the ornate floral fabric here to amplify the slight movement of the material as it's sewn.
I used a similar process this time as on Day 47, but instead of making the whole letterform then removing one piece as I took photos, this time I had to create the letter as I photographed it. I knew I'd need some kind of template, so I printed a cursive Q and traced it in ball point pen onto the back of my fabric. Then I used painter's tape to attach the top edge of my fabric swatch to a sheet of card stock, then firmly clamp the paper and the fabric into a clipboard. For good measure, I used painter's tape to secure the clipboard to my desk. Then I set up my camera on a tripod, aimed at the fabric. After all the setup, I just had to sew the letter one stitch at a time, leaving the fabric attached to the clipboard and only lifting the bottom edge to see the template on the back. So I wouldn't have to stand up and risk nudging the camera every time I needed to take a photo, I used my camera's remote control to snap a shot after each stitch. Once I'd finished the first stroke, I decided to widen the down strokes for a bit more dimensional letter.
This letter can best be described as quirky, and the colors give it a royal, almost holiday feel. As my freehand stitching progressed, the gaps between stitches decreased while the length of the stitches increased. No one can argue that this unruly letter wasn't made by hand. The characteristic that stands out most is the direction of the stitching, and how it demonstrates the motion a pen would take in writing this letter. The double stitches then mark where the wider strokes would be. The letter works best as an instructional instrument for hand lettering - it would be revealing to demonstrate all upper and lowercase script characters in this way, to indicate the proper way these letters should be drawn.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: PAPER, SEWING MACHINE
Additional Tools & Materials: thread, die cutting machine, die cutting software, ruler, xacto blade, camera
Today paired textile machinery and paper. This was the first time I've attempted to sew paper on a sewing machine, and I wasn't sure how it would do. I used three different weights of paper, just in case card stock was too thick.
The idea for this letter was to play with the idea of symmetry. I have seen beautiful examples of entire alphabets made by cutting half the letter out of paper then folding it in such a way that the fold plus the negative space creates the letter. I'm fascinated by these kinds of alphabets, and I wanted to try it on a small scale today.
I started with four existing fonts whose Ys were (roughly) symmetrical. I loaded them into my Silhouette die cutting software and deleted one side of the Y, so that the machine would only cut out one half of the letter. Then I used a ruler and the back of my xacto blade to score the Ys down the middle for a crisp fold. When folding it over - presto! - the letter is complete, and yet missing half of its shape in the negative space. For some letters, I used my sewing machine to better define the "floating" side which I left floating in the first and second examples (images 1-5). In the first one, I used a simple straight stitch to mark the central inline shape of the letter, then followed the fold down the center. In the right light, the holes left by the sewing machine cause this inline to glow. In the second example, (images 3-5), I used the thread to outline the shadow of the folded part of the letter. Depending on the direction of light, this letter can appear in full light (image 3,) half in shadow with the "floating edge" straight up and down, dividing the two sides (image 4), or completely in shadow, backlit from behind the "floating" edge (image 5).
In the other studies I folded the floating edge flat, then used the sewing machine both to hold it down, and either outline the whole letter or strengthen the folded edge through the effect of a shadow or inline stroke. In image 8, I had hoped my sewing machine would do a wide enough zig zag stroke to create a floating stitch over the negative space on the top right of the Y. Unfortunately it didn't. I will definitely try that the next time I do a study like this.
To me, most noteworthy in this study is the variation that can be accomplished through lighting when one side of the letter is left "floating." Lighting can change the entire structure of this delicate letterform - which would make a whole alphabet in this style a very versatile typeface. I can imagine three faces in the family - one fully "open" with the floating edge folded flat, one "neutral," half in shadow with the floating edge straight up, and one "closed," with the whole letterform enveloped in shadow.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: FIBER, DATA VISUALIZATION
Additional Tools & Materials: white paper, camera
This letter is the result of combining fibers and data visualization. I found these adorable little polyester pom poms at the craft store, and thought their varying size and color would do well to represent a bubble chart. The first letter I made used very few pom poms (see image 4). That was the truest letter to the form of a bubble chart - each shape has equal space around it and none are touching. The letter is less visible but the components that make it are clearly defined. Then I started adding more pom poms to fill all the white space (image 1). After that, I started dropping them onto the pile randomly and keeping all the ones that didn't tumble off (image 5). Lastly, I decided to create the letter L in white space surrounded by a dense pile of pom poms (image 7).
This is a playful letter. It looks soft but unstable, like its components could roll away if jostled. The one in negative space looks like some kind of rainbow explosion. I could see something like this being appropriate in a children's book or a product geared toward kids. It's notable that the more pom poms I used, the more clearly defined the letter became - even though the edges are bumpy and fuzzy, the solid letter becomes more legible as the shapes are piled on top of one another. Since the bright, multicolored pom poms have a large impact on how this letter reads, I also tried one version in which I applied a color filter so the pom poms would all be one color (image 8). As I suspected, you lose a little of the silliness of the letter when is monochromatic, but the fuzzy characteristics of course remain. It would be interesting to do this study again using only one color of the pom poms to make the letter even more uniform.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: CARVING, DATA VISUALIZATION
This letter is the combination of carving and data visualization. Can you guess what kind of data I was emulating here? Yes, a pie chart. I realized if I shifted the upright stroke to the center of a circle, I could create the other two strokes of the k in a way that they resembled the slices of a pie chart.
I started with 2" wooden discs from the craft store. I had planned to scoop out the strokes of the K by hand with a utility knife, but that proved incredibly difficult due to the density of this wood. So then I had to get creative and dump out my husband's tool box. First I used a wood burning tool to shape the trenches. They weren't quite deep or well-defined enough for me. Then I used a Dremmel to sand down the edges to make it more rustic. At this point (see image 3) the letter looked like something you'd make at summer camp. It brought up imagery of canoes and camp fires, and if I'm honest, the Nickelodeon show Salute Your Shorts! The letter was literally campy. Then I decided to make it resemble a pie chart more by shading the different slices in different coats of wood stain. This would not only help define the different slices of the pie, but draw attention to the lighter slices that make up the negative space of this letter. I started by coating the whole disc in one coat of wood stain, making sure it dried nice and thick in the gutters (see image 4). Then I went back and gave the two largest slices two more coats each to mark a clear boundary between the four shapes. Last, I sprayed it with one coat of clear glaze to seal in the colors and give it a shine. It was then that I realized that the glaze made this look like real pie. That shiny brown looks exactly like a perfectly crystalized crème brûlée crust, or the caramel-drizzled top of a cheesecake. My last step should have been adding a handful of pecans.
I realize that this method wouldn't work well for every letter. Round letters like C, G, and O would be hard to represent as both letter and pie chart. It was a lucky coincidence that the assigned letter today was K. At any rate, the idea of carving primitive letters with straight but crude lines is appealing. As I said, it hearkens back to craft day at summer camp.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: PAPER, GOLD LEAF
Additional Tools & Materials: die cutting machine, die cutting software, xacto blade, craft spatula, scrap paper, adhesive pen, camera
This letter is the result of pairing paper with advanced paper & materials. I decided that today that would be gold leaf. I found a starter kit at the craft store that included an adhesive pen and six sheets of gold foil, as well as some very inadequate instructions for use. I wasn't sure what to expect from the gold leaf, so I decided to use it in several different ways.
I chose several existing typefaces to experiment with, but only applied gold leaf to three. The first, image one, is Wild West Wind. The second, shown first in image 2, is called Manuskript Gotisch. the third, seen in image 3, 7, and 10, is called Sign Painter. I chose these because they had quite different characteristics, and I wondered how the foil would adhere to different type shapes.
After cutting out 3" letters from card stock with my die cutting machine, I read the (again, incomplete) instructions on my gold leaf kit which told me to draw on the paper with the supplied adhesive pen, which wrote a lot like a watery paint pen. The packaging said I was supposed to let this dry for five to ten minutes before applying the foil, and that the ink would turn light blue when it dried. The ink did not change color after ten minutes, so I went with it. I tried several different methods of applying the foil, since I didn't know what kind of coverage I would get. First, I tried coating the entire letter in foil (see images 4, 5, 6, and 9). This went pretty well once I figured out how to actually apply the foil. Then I wanted to see if it would stick to a pattern - so I drew stripes onto the second letter (image 7, 10). This didn't work at all. It only adhered to the top half of the letter, and didn't recognize the stripes at all. I had thought it might behave similarly to toner reactive foil, and only stick to the glued areas. Not the case. In the last letter (image 1, 8, 11) I used the adhesive pen to follow the outline of the letter then pressed foil to the outline, one small piece at a time. This ended up being my favorite because it communicates most clearly how the foil was applied, and the flimsy, flyaway nature of the foil itself.
Working with gold foil is messy (albeit a beautiful, sparkly mess) and unpredictable. The foil wouldn't always stick where it was supposed to, and despite being very delicate, it didn't always cut cleanly with the xacto blade, tending instead to catch and tear as the blade passed over. The foil would also stick to places I didn't want it to stick, which required poking and scratching with the xacto blade to remove small bits of gold. The outcome, however, is visually striking. The gold reflects differently at any angle, and holding the letters, you can't help but rotate them to see the range of light the letter generates. The texture, when fully covering the letter as in image 9, looks as though it was painted on rather than pressed as a solid sheet. A letter covered in gold feels precious, valuable, and rare. This treatment would be appropriate in small doses, again - for the same reasons - how can you expect to stumble upon an entire sentence or paragraph covered in gold? One gilt letter or word should serve as enough to stress the rarity and value of the message it carries.
This ribbon letter came from combining fibers (ribbon, fabric) and textile machinery (sewing machine). It would have been tempting to simply sew a design onto fabric for this pairing, but I wanted to take it further. I decided to sculpt letters with various ribbons, yarns, and twine, then sew those letters onto fabric using my sewing machine.
Constructing the letters and pinning them to the fabric was the easy part. Figuring out how to sew over those letters was tricky. At first, (see yellow B, images 2-5) I used yarn to shape my letter, then I pinned it down under a sheet of tissue paper. I figured the tissue paper would easily tear off after the letter was sewn. Removing the tissue paper turned out to be tedious, requiring an xacto blade and even tweezers. The resulting letter looks like the original yarn placement for the most part, with the exception of the wavy design inside the B's stem - I had a hard time following the curve back and forth, keeping the yarn centered below. For both of these yarn letters I used the same zigzag stitch, thinking it would be the best stitch to encase the yarn and hold it in place.
Next, I tried creating a letter from yarn then taping it down for sewing (see images 6 and 7). This resulted in a letter that looked much less refined than it started, as the yarn would become caught between the teeth of the sewing machine's presser foot, keeping it from making smooth curves. (This could probably have been solved with a different presser foot - but I didn't have a "closed" one on hand.) The tape proved even more difficult to remove after sewing than the tissue paper.
Then I tried two letters with very similar structure - each made from folded ribbon, held down by straight pins and sewn along the vertical stroke. In the first, (images 9 and 10), I sewed a decorative sunburst stitch along the stem, then a simple straight stitch at each of the three joints. This was to keep the structure of the two bowls intact, as I planned to leave the curved edge without any stitching. The next letter, my cover image for this study - is simplest in its construction - just three strips of ribbon attached only by an outline encasing the stem. The curve of the ribbon creating the bowls gives this letter the ability to change shape as you rotate it in either direction - the bowls can become pointed or almost completely round, depending on the direction you approach.
The last letter is the only lowercase in this study, a scripted B made of twine encased in a zigzag stitch. I used straight pins to secure the twine to the fabric while sewing, and this seemed to be more effective at maintaining the original shape than tape or tissue paper did in the yarn studies. This could also be due to the fact that twine is a little more sturdy than yarn and less flexible, making it better at holding its shape.
I think the strongest image of this study is the first, made of blue grosgrain ribbon. It has a the qualities of being both highly legible and easily translated into its component parts. I can also imaging how each letter of the alphabet could be constructed in this way. It's not too different from the origami letter I made back on Day 5. Both studies involve breaking a letter down into its essential parts and manipulating a flexible material to express those parts.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: CARVING, DIGITAL PRINTING
For this letter, I was inspired by woodcut letters of the 1800s. Specifically, a beautifully ornate type specimen I found in Rob Roy Kelly's book,American Wood Type. The name of the type was Rose Ornamental, an 1839 design by Edwin Allen (see image 2 for examples). I thought the floral carving was beautiful and after Day 58's block carving study, I was ready to take on a more complicated carved design. Also, since carving was one of today's main components I wanted to carve a more elaborate design.
I started by pulling the decorative elements out of the original Rose Ornamental face, then rearranging them to fit inside a thick serif letter i, rather than the original slab serif. I printed this new letterform, drew over the design, then placed the paper face down and rubbed it onto the block with pencil. From there, I used my cutting tools to cut the design into the rubber block. I used three different blades to get a variation in line weight and to tackle the big and small details. As I cut, I became more comfortable with creating small details, and even managed to add some extra details that weren't in the original design. After cutting, I inked the block in red with a rubber brayer then pressed it onto various colored and textured papers.
The carving that went into this letter was largely decorative, but also allowed me to connect with the tradition of wood carved text from its golden age in the 1800s. Since I'm not an accomplished woodcarver, trying to carve something this elaborate in wood was not possible for me. But the method of carving away from a material to create a letter is the same, and I did really enjoy making it.
To create this letter, I combined yarn and computer hardware - in this case, a Wacom Bamboo drawing tablet. I started by constructing several different letter Fs from lengths of yarn on white paper. The texture of the yarn sometimes didn't want to stay put on the paper - so in a few images you can see that I taped the yarn down to hold it in place. Once I had a variety of letters to work with, I took photos then experimented with recreating the texture of the yarn with Photoshop brushes by hand using my drawing tablet. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any realistic looking "yarn" brushes for Photoshop, so instead I tried several soft watercolor and dry brush settings. I also played with things like strokes and shadows (see image 3) but ultimately I thought the layers of watercolor brushes in image 1 was the most successful.
The biggest challenge with this letter was drawing on the tablet. I haven't had it long, and I'm not yet comfortable with the sensation, or the disconnect between drawing on one surface but seeing the results appear on a different screen. It was a good exercise for me because I had to change the direction of my strokes and evenly space the cords that form the yarn.
This letter is successful, I believe, because it does suggest yarn, even though the photo of the yarn is not visible. Using the photo as a template to recreate the yarn's texture was an effective way for me to draw what I saw, not what I thought I should see. That's always been a challenge for me in drawing - draw the lines, not the thing.
Additional Tools & Materials: printer paper, ruler, pencil, tape, camera
This letter is the combination of hand cutting and a light table. Using a ruler, I created a symmetrical block letter V, then cut it away from a sheet of white printer paper. Then I placed another sheet of paper under the first, and cut away an organic, free-hand letter V. I repeated this three more times, then taped all the layers together. I chose to use text weight printer paper for its semi-opaque quality; while the letter looks interesting in full light (see image 4) it really comes alive when it's placed on the light table. Each layer of paper adds another degree of opacity, and the bluish LED light from the light table filters through the white paper to create a purple glow. This, combined with the letter's organic shape makes it look almost like water, or an island. It also achieves a sort of optical illusion; it's hard to tell whether the brightest layer is the highest or lowest level of the shape. If you don't know this is lit from beneath, it could easily be a stack of different colored purple shapes, with that lightest layer on top.
Using light in unexpected ways is a great way to experiment in typography. We're all used to reading the written word on a page. But taking special measures to craft this letter in a way that activates it by light makes it more sculptural and meaningful.
This is a letter I've been imagining for a while, and I'm calling it "Hand Painted Helvetica." I wanted to take the most iconic, well known and most widely used mechanical typeface, and paint it by hand. The catch is that I wanted to paint it by hand in parts - as you must with a letter like this - but paint these parts separately, then combine them to create the letter in Photoshop. My ultimate goal was to build the letter in such a way that you can identify how many strokes created the letter, in which order they were painted, or to what degree they overlap. I guess you could call it a dissected Helvetica.
I started by painting a grid of Gs in Helvetica on white printer paper. Using my light table, I placed another white sheet on top so I could trace the letters with paint. I used three paint brushes of various length and shapes to paint the individual parts of the letters. The first thing I did was paint my "control" G - with all strokes at once, in paint - so you can compare the "normal" G with the dissected or deconstructed Gs to come. In image 3 you can see what one of these sheets of letter parts looked like. The idea was to practice each part many times so I'd have a variety of strokes to choose from once I brought it into Photoshop. Once in the computer, I did just that - which gave me a lot of flexibility to not only choose the cleanest or most distinctive strokes, but correct crooked strokes.
Image one is the first of these digitally collaged letters. Here, I placed each stroke on top of the next in the order they would have been painted. This created the effect of tucking one end of the stroke under the next stroke. To stress those overlaps even more, I added a dark gradient to the end that's tucked under, which makes those joints even more noticeable.
Image four, again, is my "control" - I painted that one on paper, all at once. Notice how the joints are still visible, but the letter as a whole is one color. In the next image - number 5 - I arranged the parts of the letters then applied the multiply effect to each part, which makes the overlapping strokes more vivid, displaying as darker shapes. In the last letter - number 6 - I combined the strokes then used the darken effect to highlight the joints. In this one the joints are less defined as in the previous letter, but still more defined than the "control."
After conducting this study, I have a clear picture in my head of how a straight-laced, mechanical sans serif like Helvetica could be designed in this "deconstructed" way. I could use the gradient shadow effect, or a stippling method to slightly darken the letter beneath those joints, or any other number of graphic effects. The idea that a mechanically designed letter can reference the construction of its handmade ancestors is fascinating to me, and I hope to apply it to several type styles in future studies.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: MAGNETS, PHOTOGRAPHY
Additional Tools & Materials: black paper, graph paper
This is one of those glorious accidental designs we all love to pretend we were planning all along. For this letter, I had to match carving/shaping with photography. I was a little burned out on wood so I started wandering my home looking for something else I could shape or carve. I found a set of Buckyballs - a little desktop toy comprised of around 200 small metallic spheres which are highly magnetized. The idea is to build little sculptures on your desk rather than get any work done. I grabbed them immediately, knowing I could create some really different letterforms using their shape and magnetism to my advantage.
The first letter I made is the one you see in images 1-4. It's sort of blackletter-inspired, with a suggestion of a shadow along the right edge of each upright stroke. Working with these magnets gives you a grid you almost can't break - the magnets will only stick together in certain ways and sometimes you have to rotate individual magnets or change for a different one to get the correct polarization. It was pretty hit or miss. One thing I learned immediately was that I couldn't make a "small" letter from these magnetic balls. That's because if the two upright strokes were too close together, they'd be drawn together and the letter would collapse in on itself. These letters are all around 5" wide, for that reason. In photographing this first letter I had the happy accident of losing focus for a minute with my camera. It only happened for a second, but I thought it looked very interesting through my viewfinder. So I switched to manual control and blew out the focus on purpose. The result is this etherial yet geometric letter, made of soft yet well-defined shapes. I'm reminded of snowflakes or microscopic photography. See image 2 for closer detail. This is my cover image because I could not have created this effect through any other means than photography - one of my main components for this study.
In images 3 and 4 you can see this letter's construction in clear focus, and in number 5 and 6 some alternate letterforms. In number 5, I couldn't get the left stroke of the U to stay where I needed it to, then remembered - these are magnets. Make it work. So I put one magnet on the underside of the paper and used it to fix the stroke in place. In number 6 I made a tube by wrapping a long strand of the balls around a shorter strand, then attempted to curve it upwards to make a U. The tube collapsed on itself a bit, but you can still see the helix-like tube made by the two vertical strokes of the U. The last two images are some shots of me exploring the flexibility and shaping qualities of the Buckyballs, revealing how they can be forced to create very organic or quite geometric, rigid shapes.
As I said before, this medium forces you to work within a grid created by interconnected spheres, but also within the natural constraint of magnetism. This forces the magnets into certain arrangements and at times causes some frustrating situations which require some compromise. For instance, I wanted to put a more substantial serif on the lower right leg of the first U, but the magnets wouldn't have it. I also wanted to create more contrast between the vertical and diagonal strokes by using just one row of balls on the up stroke, but the magnets wouldn't allow this either. It was both irritating and challenging to work within these constraints, but very satisfying when a solution presented itself. The final step of purposefully taking a photo out of focus is essential for building out a full letterset in this style. The complex patterns created by this out of focus reflection of light from the spheres is something you can't easily "fake" in Photoshop. It would take forever, but I believe the results would be incredibly rewarding.
Additional Tools & Materials: scissors, xacto knife, scrapbooking scissors, single hole punch, corner punch, double sided tape, tweezers, die cutting machine, die cutting software, Adobe Photoshop
There have been many letters in this series so far involving cut paper, so today I wanted to try some new techniques. This letter is made from the combination of hand cutting tools and computer applications. I used one existing typeface - ChunkFive - and used my die cutting software and cutter to first cut out a half dozen or so identical letter Fs from yellow card stock. Then I wanted to use the different cutting tools to modify the letter in new ways. This first letter, image 1 and 2 - is meant to mimic the scales of a fish. I used my xacto blade to cut freehand this half moon pattern across the letter, then used tweezers to carefully bend and fold each flap up so it would remain open. I knew this would react well with changing light situations and give this letter a very tactile sense.
The next intervention - image 3 - is very subtle in comparison. I simply took a corner punch and curved the edge of the two top serifs. This immediately made it look like another of my favorite fonts - Museo. It's amazing how such a small, simple change can affect the read of this letter. It instantly feels more casual and playful to me.
In the third letter (image 4) I took a single hole punch and starting at the bottom gradually dispersed the holes in the letter until they fade off at the top. I wanted the punches to feel random, but at the same time I didn't want to accidentally detach a whole part of the letter if my punches were too close. It was hard to keep them as close as they are near the bottom - the paper often bent around the hole if there wasn't enough paper to steady it. This letter reminds me of swiss cheese or a party - I can imagine this letter was sacrificed to make some last minute confetti.
Images 5 and 6 use a similar tactic of trimming with scapbook scissors that leave behind a repeating pattern. In number 5 I simply trimmed all the horizontal lines (at least the ones I could reach), and in number 6 I used the scissors to create channels of negative space on the top and bottom bars. Each feel festive - but I think number 6 feels most festive; the combination of the color and the playful pattern along the edge gives it a more exciting feel than number 5, which feels almost formal in comparison.
Number 7 uses the most cuts, made from a simple straight pair of scissors. This creates a kind of fringe, giving this letter the look of a parade float or a hula skirt.
In each of these studies, cutting away part of the letter made it feel more informal, more casual, or even silly. The very act of taking a blade to an already existing font gives the resulting letter a sense of personalization; as the product of an open source concept.
I never thought I'd say this, but today's study requires a big shout out to Reddit. My husband showed me a video on Reddit from General Electric's Vine channel (random!) and as soon as I saw it, I said - I have to make a letter like that. The caption on their video was, "what happens when you combine milk, food coloring, and dish soap?" So I tried it. I did just what they did in the video - put a few drops of food coloring into a shallow dish of milk, then dipped a q-tip with soap on it into the dish. Worked like a charm. So - how to get soap in the shape of a letter? I tried just "writing" with soap - which created yucky looking puddles. Then I remembered the silicone ice trays I bought for the ice study I did on Day 26. Maybe I could pour the soap into the trays and freeze it - so it would hold its shape and - bonus - melt while I took a video of it interacting with the food coloring. This took several takes and one perfect one in which the camera battery died halfway through (whyyyyyyy?!) but I finally captured it this morning. I carefully removed the frozen letter P (the soap-p, get it!?) from the ice tray and placed it into a dish of milk and food coloring. Immediately it exploded with color, and I let the camera run for about 12 minutes to compress the video down into 14 seconds.
This letter falls into the category of "activated" letters - letters made to interact with something else, that only come alive as intended, when those two things are brought together. This method is extremely unpredictable. Sometimes the food coloring explodes in an interesting way and sometimes it just wanders off towards the edge of the dish. The frozen soap letter does eventually melt, and start scooting around the bottom of the dish if it isn't on a perfectly level surface. The one feeling I get from this letter as I watch it is: that is LOUD.
This letter is one of the more literal ones I've made. The combination was supposed to be paper and computer hardware. So I scanned and printed a letter, cut it out, taped it directly onto the surface of my Wacom Bamboo tablet, and traced it from there, barely looking up at the screen.
I started with another amazing example of antique woodcut type from Rob Roy Kelly's book American Wood Type. The sample I scanned (seen in image 9) is an uncredited sample from George Nesbitt's 1838 type collection, thought to originate in France (Kelly p297). I chose it because it's angular and simple, but with enough detail that I could change its appearance easily depending on what Photoshop brushes I used to trace it.
As I said, I scanned this page from the book, isolated the O, printed it out and taped it directly to my Wacom tablet. The tablet I have, the Bamboo, does not have a live drawing screen - it's essentially a large trackpad, so you have to watch what you're drawing on the screen rather than watching your hand, which feels a little unnatural. Since I had a pattern to copy, I decided to trace it by hand while looking only at my hand, ensuring that I was copying the letter faithfully. Sometimes when looking at the screen instead of my hand, I have a hard time following straight lines, because often the angle of the screen is different from the angle I'm holding the tablet. Keeping my eyes on the tablet is one way to counteract that result.
I traced the letter several times, using a variety of chalk, pencil, and watercolor brushes in Photoshop. Sometimes I traced only the outline, sometimes I filled it with a color and texture, and sometimes I traced over the original so it can still be seen underneath (see numbers 1 and 5). I always waited to look at the screen until after I had completed my line work, and this is why some of my facet lines are missing. I thought it would be more authentic to keep these mistakes, since the only reason I missed them was because I was purposefully not looking at the screen, having to keep track of which lines I had and hadn't traced yet.
This simple study did a lot to help me diagnose my own hangups with drawing on an external tablet. There is such a disconnect between your eyes and hands that sometimes it's hard to connect them on the screen. However, I think this direct tracing method is an effective (though not perfect) way to make that feel a little more natural, and most of the letters I created do closely resemble the original.
Kelly, Rob Roy. American Wood Type. Saratoga, CA: Liber Apertus, 2010. Print.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: INK, SCANNER
Additional Tools & Materials: nib holder, pane of glass, white printer paper, ceramic tile, Adobe Photoshop
To make this letter, I combined ink and computer hardware; in this case, my scanner. I had originally planned to ink some letters directly onto the glass scanner bed, but I couldn't justify the mess that would make. So instead I drew some letters in blue calligraphy ink onto an 8x10" pane of glass, placed that onto the scanner bed, then positioned two ceramic tiles on the glass to keep the bed from closing fully onto the still-wet ink. This created a shadow behind the letters, visible in images 5-8. After capturing those images, I placed a sheet of white printer paper directly onto the inked glass, then allowed the scanner lid to close completely. As expected, this squished any ink that was still wet out beyond the letter's edges, making a total mess of some letters, rendering them illegible. Images 9 and 10 were the only ones still legible after pressing the ink under the paper.
I was most drawn to the first set of letters scanned with the lid slightly open. The shadow behind the letter was particularly interesting, giving them a dimensionality that conflicted with the flat, opaque shapes created by the blue ink. To take this study a step further, I adjusted levels and exposure in Photoshop to make the shadows more distinct. The results are twofold - as you can see in image 1, the shadow is deeply contrasted in black and red against the blue edge of the letter, but more important is the banding that becomes visible within the body of the letter due to the way the scanner captures the image. I chose image 1 as the cover for this study because of these characteristics, and for its abstract, dynamic form. These same characteristics are visible in image 3, which was created in the same way.
In image 2, I used the "posterize" filter on the image, which allows you to reduce the image to a certain amount of colors. I chose 5, which cleanly separated the shadow behind this lowercase script L. This character appears to stand with its back against a wall and a light in its face.
This letter came from combining embroidery and a drawing tablet. Using my tablet and stylus, I wrote dozens of letter Ms with a variety of Photoshop brushes. I chose my two favorites to print onto muslin fabric with my inkjet printer. Since I already knew my printer could handle a paper doily taped to card stock (see Day 42), I wasn't at all concerned about taping fabric to a sheet and sending it through. The two Ms I chose printed clearly, but the first was a little too brushy and faint to show up strongly on the fabric, so I chose the second one.
Once I got the letter on the embroidery hoop, I rummaged through my sewing box and my beads to find materials that would not just decorate this letterform, but give it depth and dimension. I decided to darken one side of each stroke with forest green embroidery floss, to suggest a shadow. I chose to highlight the top right edges using tiny silver seed beads.
This study forced me to think very carefully about where my hypothetical light source would be to cast these shadows and highlights. I estimate that the imaginary light creating these features on the letter would be on the right side, near the baseline. I struggled with whether to put a shadow or highlight on the tail of the last stroke that angles upward - but I decided it would look more awkward to skip it than to include it.
This study includes three things I've never tried before, let alone attempted to combine. I have never tried printing on fabric, but now that I know it's so easy, I won't be concerned about doing it again in the future. I also learned a new embroidery stitch called chain stitching, which was a good way to get a substantial, textural shadow without a lot of stitches. Lastly, I have never sewn beads onto fabric, or anything for that matter. I have literally millions of beads, and I can't believe it just occurred to me to use some in these studies.
Additional Tools & Materials: Adobe Illustrator, laser cutter software, hand carving tools, camera
This is another combination where I'm blending the digital and analog version of the same process. To make this W, I first engraved, then cut the letter out of several kinds of wood using a laser cutter. The engravings were mistakes; I had intended to completely cut each letter out - but these test cuts are an unavoidable step in the process of using a laster cutter.
Looking at the cut letters - both the positive and negative shapes, I was surprised how consistent the cuts were. I knew laser cutting was precise but it didn't expect for these cuts to be as identical as they turned out to be. This allowed me to think of them in terms of building and merging shapes, working with positive and negative space or the combination of both. In one case, I rotated the small square of wood 90 degrees before I cut into it, so that the grain was perpendicular to the other two cuts. This gave me the ability to mix and match the negative and positive shapes, because the identical cuts fit together like a glove. In image 7 and 8 you can see the slight but effective contrast created by combining the negative and positive shapes from two pieces of wood with different grain directions.
The cover image I chose for this study is seen in number one - and I chose it because it was the most literal and visible combination of carving or shaping by hand and cutting by machine. In image two - you can see the bottom layer of wood in image one, which was one of the test cuts from the laser cutter that only ended up engraving the wood. I used this shallow cut as a guide to carve out a rough texture by hand. Then I placed the machine cut negative letter over the hand cut positive letter to create depth and a more defined contrast between the letter's rough, hand cut texture and the smooth texture of the wood around it. While some of the other images were more compelling, they stretched what I defined as carving or shaping - they were more within the category of building.
Additional Tools & Materials: Adobe Illustrator, scissors, glass pane, camera
This matchup began with a pre-existing font called Fontleroy Brown - and became a sort of type collage experiment. The matchup was printing + light. After adding some extra (and a little silly-looking) ball terminals to Fontleroy Brown's lowercase z, I broke the letter into individual shapes and printed them individually on a grid. Then I cut them apart and placed them on my light table to arrange them in different layers and configurations to create new letterforms. In some cases (as in image 1 and 5) - the layers blend together, and in others the individual parts are still discernible. When I began stacking the layers, at first I lined up the layers where they had been in the original letter, to see what effect the shadowing between layers would provide. Then I started arranging the components more freely, looking for unexpected combinations. In image 6, I placed the ball terminal in a position that makes no sense from a traditional type design standpoint, which felt odd but strangely liberating. Ball terminals usually appear where the pen would touch the paper first, last, or both - while writing a letter with a calligraphy pen. Placing the ball terminal where the strokes change direction, therefore, makes no sense, but it did create a unique, experimental letterform.
This process allowed me to compose infinite letterform combinations in rapid-fire succession. It was easy to make mistakes, learn from them, and readjust to create something that worked better. There were opportunities to create or disregard balance. There were opportunities to purposefully make letters that didn't make sense at all. For the parameters of this study, I was using individual shapes from an existing letterform, but I could see this study proving far more diverse if I used a larger bank of shapes, perhaps from multiple letter styles, or even geometric and organic shapes drawn or selected randomly - not necessarily pieces of existing letterforms.
This is a letter study I thought I had finished weeks ago. Let's just say me and the 3D printers haven't been getting along. This study is inspired by paper and executed with 3D printing. In order to imitate the behavior of folded paper origami, I first practiced making a few letters out of paper, to see where and how the folds would form the shape of the letter. In both of my paper studies, the parallel strokes of the letter folded so that they were on the same plane - two on top, two on bottom. In my 3D design, I wanted each stroke to tuck under the next; a sort of möbius strip. I couldn't get this to work with real paper without an awkward loose strips of paper peeking around the edges, but I knew I could manipulate it to work in the 3D software.
When I moved to the computer, I started by sketching this design out with geometric shapes in Adobe Illustrator. Then I could import those individual pieces into the 3D software as .svg files and rotate them to "tuck in" to each other and form one solid shape.
Just as in all of my previous 3D printed letters, this study left evidence of its creation in its final form. The 3D extruder created the angled planes in steps - filling in each one with perpendicular diagonal lines. It was a complete accident that those diagonal lines alternated direction on each step - which created the uniform herringbone pattern on the letter's surface.
Translating this study into a digital letterform would require exaggerated shadowing to clearly define where each corner tucks in or above the adjacent stroke, similar to the way I defined the stroke order in my "hand painted Helvetica" from Day 71.
This fragrant letter study is inspired by the intricate, meticulous work ofMarian Bantjes. I have long admired Bantjes for the patience and vision her work requires, because I can also be a little obsessive about craft, and Bantjes takes it to the extreme. The material combination for this study was natural elements and computer hardware. I tried to keep it as pure to those two components as possible by simply using snipped baby's breath buds arranged face-down on my scanner bed. I even composed the letter backwards so I wouldn't have to cheat by flipping the image afterwards.
I started with a $4 spray of grocery store baby's breath, because it was cheap, and I knew the number of buds in a bunch would give me a lot of materials to work with. I also feel that baby's breath doesn't get the respect it deserves. It's a delicate, beautiful little flower, but it's often just used as filler for its snobby floral cousins. I think it's a lovely, humble little flower and I wanted to honor it through this type study. I snipped off a hundred or so blooms, some fully open and some still tightly closed. This inspired me to create a bold, high-contrast serif letter, which would allow me to use the different sized buds to express the thick and thin strokes of the letterform.
I placed each bud face down on the scanner bed individually, which took a lot of patience and a delicate touch. Sometimes placing a bud next to another bud caused the surrounding buds to move around, so I had to constantly step back and view the whole letter to be sure the stroke widths were even and the curves were smooth. Using the smaller buds on their sides for the thin strokes helps viewers interpret how this letter is made. To me, the forward-facing flowers could be mistaken for crumpled paper or cotton if not for the addition of the tiny buds in profile, with their stems and leaves visible. They also add just the right amount of green.
This letter gave me the chance to demonstrate a few tricks I've learned by working with this (10+ years old) scanner. First, I knew that only the parts of the flowers touching the scanner glass would be in focus, so I chose materials with a lot of texture and depth to achieve some purposeful blur around the edges of the flowers. For comparison, daisies - which could be flattened against the scanner glass, wouldn't have created such a dramatic blur. Second, I learned how to successfully scan three-dimensional objects with the scanner lid open without a lot of background noise. The trick is you have to do it in the dark. Pitch dark. Meaning I scanned this letter at 10 PM, with the lights off, the door closed and the shades drawn. I also turned the screen brightness on my laptop down to its lowest setting then placed it under my desk so the faint glow wouldn't affect the scanned image on the table above me. It felt pretty silly crouching under my desk waiting for the image to scan, but this is the best quality image of this kind I've achieved in this project up to this point.
This funky letter is a tribute to Wes Wilson, master of the psychedelic concert poster. Emerging in the 1960s, Wilson's most celebrated craft was his ability to nestle letterforms together and sculpt his lettering compositions into complex shapes and images. This is hard to model with just one letter, but for this study, I did look to Wilson for the general shape and color of this letter M.
I began by studying Wilson's vast body of work, noting common styles and colors he tended to use in his lettering. I found many examples in which the letters are tapered in the center, giving them a squished appearance. Many of his letterforms reminded me of the quirky Art Nouveau typeface Hobo. Though most of his lettering is made of solid shapes in a single color, I did find some examples where he uses thick outlines with the suggestion of exaggerated shadows at the base of each stroke, and a second color (or the paper color) to fill the letter, which is the style I chose to mimic here. After getting a sense of Wilson's style, I sketched the rough outline of this letter M on notebook paper, then used brush and paint to recreate the letter on card stock. I decided to paint only the outline, leaving the center open for the 3D pen to fill.
Once the paint was dry, I placed a sheet of tracing paper over the painted M, and using my light table for guidance, filled in the center of the letter using the 3D pen. Once the filament hardened, I pried it up and examined it, then decided I preferred the underside of the 3D shape rather than the top, because it was smoother and the zig-zag pattern I had attempted to create was more visible from underneath. Luckily, this letter is pretty symmetrical so I was able to flip the 3D fill over and align the layers fairly closely.
Though one letter is not enough to truly capture Wilson's ability to nestle letters into dense shapes, I enjoyed analyzing his work and extracting methods I could replicate myself. My only regret is that because I had only a few available colors of 3D filament, the color combination I chose resembles mustard and ketchup.
This hand-printed, machine-sewn letter is inspired by the work of Australian typographer Dominique Falla. Dominique creates letters from every physical material imaginable, classifying her work as "Tactile Typography." This letter certainly qualifies - everything about it is tactile. My components for this study were analog printing and sewing machine.
I began by roughly sketching this Egyptian woodcut-style letter letter with pencil and paper, then transferred it face-down to a 4" linoleum block by rubbing the back of the paper with my pencil lead. This gave me a pattern (now backwards) to carve out my letter with Speedball linoleum cutting tools. Once the letter was carved, I finished by shaving down the excess negative space, creating the starburst pattern that radiates from the letter. This process took exactly one hour, as part of a live lettering competition at a design conference I attended recently.
When I returned home from this conference, I realized I had half a hybrid letter, and I needed to add a digital component for it to meet my qualifications. First, I stamped the letter again, but this time on fabric, rather than paper - to make it even more tactile. I then decided to highlight parts of the letter using my sewing machine to fulfill the technical design requirements. I found that my sewing machine's pre-loaded decorative stitches had two that I could combine to make a primitive flower motif, which I attempted to layer onto the existing printed floral shapes. The harder part was tracing the inside shape of the stroke and ball terminal with a straight stitch. The stroke outline came out alright, but the terminal is a disaster. I just don't have a steady enough hand on the sewing machine to steer it in such a tight circle.
Everything about this letter is tactile - from they way the letterform was carved, to the texture of the fabric and the fray at its edges, to the raised machine stitching. It's nowhere near as polished as most of Dominique Falla's work, but it's a start.
This letter is a 3D interpretation of designer Wolfgang Weingart's experimentation with textures during his transition from Swiss design to New Wave beginning in the 1970s. Weingart's work often included dense, layered textures derived from halftone screen printing, photography, and geometry. I decided to emulate this process by spraying semi-diluted ink onto white clay letters, adding another spray of ink after each turn baking in the oven.
To fabricate these letters, I used 2" alphabet cookie cutters, which to my great relief cut the modeling clay cleanly and easily released the letters from the mold. My previous letters that involved clay were riddled with fingerprints, and I really wanted to avoid that for this study so that the ink texture would be most visible. I made three letter Ns, placed them on a cookie sheet, then gave each one a spritz of diluted blue ink, in varying density. The clay called for twenty total minutes of low-heat baking, so after the first five minutes, I sprayed another mist onto two of the three letters. After the next five minutes, I sprayed only the third letter, then let them complete their baking so that when they were done, I had a range of textures from letter to letter.
One of the results of baking the ink onto these letters is that in some spots, the ink spreads out to form a dark, dotted halo that encircles a drip. This happened in at least one place on all three of the letters. I'm not sure why it happened, but it created a lovely variation in the quality of ink splatters through the three letters. To give these letters another layer of dimensionality I photographed them in strong direct light so they'd cast a harsh shadow.
This letter study is inspired by the work of Herb Lubalin, a pioneer in phototypesetting techniques. This study is the combination of writing tools and light technology. The two I chose to work with were pen and a digital projector. I thought projecting a letter drawn by hand was an appropriate way to honor the advances in typography that phototypesetting - placing type negatives onto photo-sensitive paper - brought to the profession of graphic design. This letter represents the customized, creative typefaces that emerged once designers were no longer restricted by what kinds of typefaces could practically be created for metal typesetting.
I began this letter with pencil and paper, then duplicated my final design onto tracing paper with a Micron pen. I then scanned it into Photoshop, where I could correct some small imperfections and adjust contrast. To project this letter, I isolated it so I could experiment with the letter in its original black-on-white form, and reversed to white-on-black. I projected it onto a wall and photographed the projection, which gives the image a fuzzy appearance.
The distorted images are all images of the same letter U projected on the wall, but with various transparent objects placed between the projector and the wall, such as wine glasses, glass coasters, and even a bottle of bourbon. Each object distorted the letter in a different way, which led to complex patterns and disorienting refraction. The process of searching for objects that would distort the letter but not render it illegible was challenging, and often led to surprising results.
This humble letter is a tribute to the Dutch designer Willem Sandberg. Sandberg was known for his use of common, everyday materials in printing, often using surfaces for printing and creating letters that others may consider trash. I chose to combine printing and fibers by printing this letter J - in the typeface Avenir Next - directly onto burlap.
Printing on burlap required me to tape the fabric onto a thick sheet of card stock, to ensure the page would smoothly feed into the printer. From my previous studies, I learned that this would also give me a bonus print made from the ink that bled through the burlap onto the card stock. Sure enough, a few of the printed Js left a faint, dotted mark on the paper after I peeled away the burlap.
The other method I used for creating this letter was to print its outline backwards on the burlap, so I could cut it out as an isolated letter. To honor Sandberg's economical use of materials, I decided the dot of the J was unnecessary in this treatment. I also placed the J onto a background of more printed words - a nod to Sandberg's use of torn blocks of text in many of his designs. This outlined print onto the burlap also bled through to the cardstock, giving me a subtle, dotted letter shape.
This torn paper letter was inspired by the typography of Dutch designer Willem Sandberg. Sandberg used everyday materials to painstakingly tear letterforms from newspaper, scraps, and construction paper. I decided to try two letterforms; one lowercase and one uppercase A.
The first thing I learned about this study is that it's difficult to tear curved shapes from paper. Straight lines were easy; all I had to do was fold the paper first, then brace it with a ruler and tear against the straight edge. I did lose half a serif this way, but I kept going anyway, and I ended up liking the asymmetrical style the half-serif gave the letter. The other challenge was in tearing out the negative space. I cheated a little and got these areas going with an xacto knife, alternating tearing against the ruler by hand and using the point of the knife to drag the paper against the straight edge.
I experimented with various kinds of light in this study - a light table, direct light, and an LED strand of twinkle lights. I even pulled out my six-point starlight lens filter, just to see what kind of effect that might have on the lights' interaction with the letterform.
The torn edges of these letters instantly make them feel old. Lighting them from behind made the rough, fuzzy edges glow. For me, the most frustrating aspect was in trying to photograph letterforms that had no crisp edges. I could never tell if the image was in focus, because the letter itself felt out of focus. Placing a sheet of white paper between the letters and the light table gave the letters a soft glow. Swapping the order by placing the letterforms under the white paper softened the letter, and made it feel even older - like an print that had been through decades of wear, or a woodcut letter rough from years of use.
These letters take a lot of time, but the results are captivating. It's no wonder Sandberg continued to use this torn paper method throughout his career. Tearing these letters by hand gave me an appreciation for the immense care for detail Willem Sandberg put into his work, and a new admiration for his style.
This "photography" letter is inspired by Herb Lubalin, who was a major contributor to the success of phototypesetting. I decided in this study to honor not only the phototypesetting method Lubalin helped advance, but the meticulous hand lettering work that it replaced: painting individual letters with black and white paint.
I began with four digital fonts; Phosphate Inline, Bodoni 72 Bold, Rosewood, and Freakshow. I printed them out at equal size, then experimented with layering them on my light table. I was hoping that by exposing solar paper to painted letters on tracing paper, I could achieve a range of exposure on the paper - more than just two colors. I carefully painted each letter onto tracing paper with black paint. This was the third time solar paper was used in my research, but this time I attempted to expose it with my LED light table rather than outside in the sun. I found that it's possible, but it takes a long time. The first time I tried it, I exposed the paper for ten minutes - twice the time it would take in bright sunlight. The letter barely registered. Then I exposed it for thirty minutes and the letter started to emerge. The last LED exposure was for a full hour, and those results were similar to what I could get in sunlight.
The second goal - to layer two letterforms to achieve multiple exposures - I wanted to do in the sunlight. However, the weather didn't cooperate, and after half an hour in overcast light, I finally left the prints under the halogen lights over my kitchen stove. The results do show overlap - you can only see the inline of Phosphate where Bodoni is not covering it up, but I had hoped to see a bit of Bodoni's shape, too. I think the answer may be using lighter colors than black, and letterforms completely cut out from the paper, rather than an intact sheet.
I enjoyed experimenting with this version of phototypesetting. The layered letters were reminiscent of Lubalin's pioneering work in demonstrating the new capabilities of phototype in comparison to metal type.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: ANALOG PRINT, INKJET PRINT
This clash of digital and analog printing is inspired by German designer Wolfgang Weingart. Weingart's work was known for abstract compositions with overlapping letters and shapes, and even letterforms created by combining other characters. This is something I wanted to try in the creation of this letter F.
I began by thinking of all the letters that might easily overlap to form an abstract letter F. I decided to try L, I, U, and N - all lowercase. I then used my inkjet printer to print duplicates - in red - of lowercase letters in Clarendon, Univers, and Futura - with the idea that I would overlay them with other letters printed by hand. I printed samples from the same three typefaces on cardstock, then carefully cut them out to create stencils. Then it was just a matter of placing the stencils over the printed letters to decide how to construct my letter Fs, and experimenting with how to imprint using an unpredictable ink pad.
To create the most harmonious forms possible, I paired the same typefaces in each study, but with different weights for a bit of added contrast. This led to bizarre results, like reversed thick and thin strokes, extra serifs in places that don't make sense, and in some cases, letters that are borderline illegible. I got the hang of this method just as I learned to create gradients with the ink pad, and shift the stencil over a bit so that the arms of the F wouldn't be the same length.
This is one of my more abstract studies, fittingly inspired by the work of Marian Bantjes, who often works with botanicals in her lettering and illustration. This is one of my favorite house plants - I love it for its bright purple leaves with pale green stripes. What I didn't know is how juicy this plant is. As soon as I snipped off a few stems for this study, a milky ooze began to seep out, but I figured I could wipe it off and sew through these leaves with no problem.
The only sewn component is the stem which doubles as the main diagonal stroke of the letter Z. Unfortunately, while the stitch I chose was wide enough to enclose the stem, the pressure of the presser foot caused the stem to collapse, then snap in two. That, combined with my only failed attempt at sewing onto the purple leaves, led me to leave this center stroke as the only machined component of this letter. I resisted the urge to remove evidence of the stem's mortal wound, because it seemed more authentic to leave it.
This letter serves to demonstrate how difficult it can be to work with natural materials. Just because a similar material has behaved in one way doesn't mean its close cousin can be expected to follow suit.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: SCISSORS, 3D PEN
Additional Tools & Materials: inkjet printer, paper
This study is inspired by Keetra Dean Dixon, who creates incredible design and typography using emergent technology in unexpected ways. For this letter, I had planned to construct a geometric, faceted, three dimensional letter from individual triangles drawn with the 3D pen. The 3D pen, however - refused to cooperate, so instead I used the incredibly imperfect plastic shapes to interact with the simple block L.
I first created a paper template to use when drawing my shapes. Previous experience with the 3D pen had taught me that it's difficult to get straight, smooth lines, but it's a bit easier when you have a pattern to follow. I also used this opportunity to practice drawing shapes - a lot of shapes. I had hoped that repeated practice would start to yield beautiful, crisp triangles, but no such luck.
Keetra Dean Dixon likes to experiment using what she calls "tool breaking." To me, this 3D pen is already a little broken; it doesn't really do what I feel it should be able to do. Regardless, it's a fun tool to play with, and believe it or not, these are some of the cleanest lines I've been able to make with it so far.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: PLAY-DOH, LIGHT TABLE
Additional Tools & Materials: pencil, paper, camera
This groovy letter is a tribute to psychedelic poster artist Wes Wilson. Wilson's hand lettered posters are known for their violently bright color schemes, Art Nouveau-style illustrations, and thick, heavily stylized, often difficult to read letters.
I created this letter using inspiration from Wilson's use of color, and demonstrated the quirks of his particular style of type using backlit, bright yellow paper. Constructing the letter was only a matter of making "snakes" with Play-Doh - one large, and one small, then rolling them together to make a tie dye-like texture on the letter. Then I rounded the edges and curled the two open ends into the center, creating a coiled shape. Using the light table, I was able to highlight the faint swirl within the two coils - a technique Wilson often used to differentiate his otherwise identical, blocky letterforms.
Wilson's style and craft is difficult to replicate in just one letter, since so much of what he's known for is how he seamlessly combined letters into shapes and illustrations. But I can certainly appreciate his style; I had a difficult time attempting to replicate his squarish letters with Play-Doh.
This furry letter is made from clippings of my own hair. My hairstylist suggested I keep the trimmings from my last haircut when I told her about my type study, and after weeks of wondering how I could incorporate it, I realized it would be the perfect medium to demonstrate the craft of Stefan Sagmeister. Sagmeister can - and does - make type out of anything; leaves, pennies, duct tape, bananas, even cuts into his own skin. I didn't want to go quite that far, but a fistful of my hair seemed like an innocent enough foray into his methodology.
To combine the "carving/shaping" category with "textile machinery," I decided to enclose strands of my hair between two sheets of vellum, shape them into the letter A, sew the outline by machine, and then tear the package open to reveal the mess inside. I made this up as I went - and at each step I was sure the sewing machine would get clogged with hair, or the tracing paper would snag on the needle, but it went pretty smoothly. Even cutting the vellum open with an xacto blade worked just the way I'd hoped it would. This is not typical for how these studies have gone in the past, and considering how unconventional this letter is, I was very surprised that it went off without a hitch.
This expressive letter feels like a statement - though I'm not sure what statement it's trying to make. It's defiant, messy, and a little gross. It's not typical of my own style, but it was an excellent experiment in stepping far, far outside my comfort zone.
This letter is a cheeky take on Dominique Falla's style of "tactile typography." Made from the combination of cutting tools and my sewing machine, it certainly started life as a letter you'd want to touch. In the end, however - not so much. I wanted to create a letter under the umbrella of tactile typography - letters meant to be touched and felt. In this case, my tactile letter is made of a material (and a "cutting tool,") that most people probably wouldn't want to touch - broken glass.
The idea for this letter came a few days ago when a beloved pint glass from a trip out west to see friends met its end on my tiled kitchen floor. I couldn't bear to throw it away, because it represented such incredible memories, but I wasn't sure what to do with it, either. It occurred to me that I might be able to crush it into smaller bits and then construct a sort of stained glass window from the broken shards. So I triple-bagged the larger pieces, took them to my garage, and repeatedly dropped a gallon-sized tin of paint onto it, which crushed it into even smaller pieces.
Then I created a machine-sewn "window" in the shape of the letter T by sewing over a printed outline on card stock, then trimming out the letter T inside the stitches with an xacto blade. Then I had the idea to make this stained glass letter backlit by taping a strand of LED lights to the back of the letter with washi tape. I then placed my backlit letter T over a white sheet of paper, with a stack of books on either side to suspend the letter about an inch off the white paper. Then it was just a matter of picking up the shards of glass with tweezers and carefully placing them into the "window."
This letter challenged me to reconsider what "tactile" means in the context of creating letterforms, and allowed me a way to preserve the memories held in this broken glass through photography and collage.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: PENCIL, SEWING MACHINE
Additional Tools & Materials: card stock, scanner, light table, camera
I made this letter after I discovered one Peter Bilak's first digital typeface called FF Craft. Made in 1992, this typeface was made by drawing and cutting each letterform out of linoleum - over 300 characters. What's lovely about the font is that it each letter also includes some stray cut shapes which darken the white space around and between letterforms. It's a font that clearly defines how it was made, and I admire the time and effort Bilak put into its creation.
I created this letter S as a tribute to Bilak's FF Craft by carefully sewing the outline of a hand-drawn letter, sewing some fluid, organic stripes within the letterform, and then leaving all the loose threads intact. It's a humble, unpolished letterform that clearly reflects how it was made, and the craftsmanship of its maker. It should also be said that this letter - the last one made on the sewing machine for this project - has the cleanest curved stitching I've been able to create in this entire project. The secret is to go incredibly slowly. Sew one stitch, stop, rotate paper (or fabric, or whatever), sew another stitch, repeat. It takes a long time, but thicker materials - like this card stock - can handle being dragged around without even lifting the machine's presser foot. It may not be the most beautiful letter I've made, but it demonstrates months of practice in forcing my sewing machine to give me smooth, fluid shapes, which I feel I finally achieved in this study.
PRIMARY TOOLS & MATERIALS: FINE TIP SHARPIE, SCANNER
This letter was inspired by Peter Bilak's monumental type project, History. History is a type system that allows users to combine interchangeable components of typefaces - strokes, outlines, serifs, and so forth - to make historical mashups that, according to Bilak, can range from "amusing and fresh" to "freakish" in nature (Bilak, qtd. in Gonzales Crisp, Typography244-245).
As we all know, the alphabet includes 26 letters, which is frustrating for a Type-A soul like myself who can't stand the fact that this 100-letter project manages to almost create each letter four times. Luckily, this letter study is the fourth and final letter 'i', which gave me a chance to experiment with Bilak's method of combining letter anatomy as interchangeable parts.
I started with the three letters created in studies 13, 39, and 68. These letters were, respectively, cross-stitched, cut from paper, and linoleum cut. I was both excited and terrified to combine aspects of these three letters, which share very few characteristics. First, I needed to give them all equal line quality, so I traced a printed photo of each letter - scaled so the baselines and ascender lines more or less lined up, though I had to improvise a little since I was working with two uppercase and one lowercase letter.
After tracing and scanning the letters, I brought them into Photoshop, where I added guides for alignment and separated the parts of the letters into their individual components. The only letter I had to adjust significantly to work with this study was the cross-stitched i. I increased its width so the inline would be large enough to contain the flourishes from the stamped letter, and I removed the finial at the base so it could better integrate with the other letters' serifs. I was able to come up with two configurations that used parts from all three letterforms, and the rest are combinations of only two.
This study forced me to analyze my previous work and look for common characteristics in three vastly different letters. It also reminded me of Karl Gerstner's "morphological method" of combining type styles. After this short, crude study of only one letter and three components, I cannot imagine the scale of work required for Bilak's History typeface - I am in awe of his dedication and attention to detail.