Handwritten Typography

How I do my hand drawn typography? I’ve been asked a few times. Here’s a tiny guide:

First, find an example of a typeface with thick and thin strokes. Try Google Images, searching for “Handwritten Typography”. Spend a while looking at it. Which lines are thin? (Horizontal and forward leaning) Which lines are thick? (Vertical and backward leaning). Notice the difference between “V” & “A”. Notice differences between typefaces. Some have an “N” with a sharp point at the top left, while in the one below, both the upper and lower edges of the diagonal come right to the top.

In my own style (using an inkliner) a thin line is a single stroke and a thick line is two strokes with s visible gap between them.

If you were using a pencil, you could make the thick lines with a broad stroke (hold the pencil lower) and the thin lines with a fine stroke (hold the pencil higher).

If you were using a wide nib or flat edges felt tip, the thick and thin lines come out just by keeping the edge at 45 degrees to the horizon. In fact, this is the effect that is imitated; the thick and thin lines are drawn or printed to imitate the result of a wide calligraphic ink nib.

To practice all 26 letters, you can write the sentence, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”. I repeated this many times, filling pages, until I could do it freely without referring back.

You can sometimes draw “tramlines” first, in pencil, to guide the top and bottom of every letter, all lined up neatly. The “O” might extend a tiny bit higher and lower to stop it looking too small. You might even add a third tram line for the “cross” lines. (These appear in the “A”, “H”, and “E” for example; but also this is the height where the loops meet in the “R” and “B”.

When the ink is definitely dry, erase the pencil. Or leave it there. If you wish!

I like to place the middle tramlines very low, and I like the “O” fitted in the larger top half, with a smaller “o” underneath. I also like the way a “W” can “overlap” and the way you can make the single lines disappear behind a double line.

Note that you’ll have to work out a few rules and methods. For example, to draw the “N” do the two downstrokes with a single line; then do the double lines on the diagonal, from the top left to just above the bottom right, and from just below the top left to the bottom right. It’s fun to build your schematic for constructing each letter reliably.

Serifs are the blobs on the end of a line. San-Serif is French for, “Without Blobs” (!) and gives a contemporary feel. Architects love these and have developed three “San-serif” styles of handwritten typography for annotating their plans and elevations. Here’s an example.

Serif typefaces give a more traditional vibe and can be emphasised for ornate variations such as “Wild West” where you sometimes get a serif on the middle tramline as well as the top and bottom.

Typography is a great art form that has endless possibilities even though it encompasses some “Mature art forms”, which means there are some rules which by consensus we now should keep, and not try to make improvements!

Finally, (for now) there’s one skill, “spacing”, that involves a new problem every time you do some handwritten typography. Perhaps there’s a line of text that must align with both the leftmost and rightmost extent of an image or block of text on the same page. Perhaps a single word like “CITY” creates a huge space between the T and Y but has the C crowding against the I at top and bottom. One could pull the C and I apart and push the T and Y to touch or even overlap. It’s up to you to decide what looks best, and help the “I” to stand its ground against the burgeoning “M”s of the typographical world.

Have fun. Find your own style. Use it creatively to add character or a graphical element to your sketches. I use it to write with a fat felt tip directly onto the wrapping of a present; it makes the gift more dramatic, and more personal, shows you care, and saves you finding and attaching a label!


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