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Expressive Typography Assignments

Custom hand-drawn type is a tough skill to master, but one you only get better at with time and practice. Hand-drawn lettering is unique from a “typeface” in that it has custom forms that couldn’t result from just typing out letters on your keyboard. Some OpenType fonts have so many ligature options that they can look pretty close to hand lettering, but nothing is quite like true hand-lettering.

Your assignment for this week is to draw a single word or short phrase by hand, in a way that makes it clear that it is customized. The content you choose will ideally lend itself to interesting letterforms, and ideally a clear style (fun/fancy/bold/delicate). A word with an ascender and a descender gives you some good opportunities (like a y at the end of a word that can underline the word). The examples to the left are from a video in which every line of Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues was given the hand-lettering treatment. I suggest you watch it here for inspiration:

Your lettering doesn’t have to be invented out of thin air. In fact, I encourage you to strongly base your lettering on existing type, and customize/exaggerate it as you see fit. The closer you look to reference material, the stronger your base is going to be. Pick lettering reference for a lettering style you like and have an interest in working with and choose a word or phrase that lends itself well to borrowing some of the elements from that style. You are perfectly free to totally go rogue and just take a piece of paper and start drawing with no reference, but from my experience, that usually results in some weird weight distribution and awkward letters.

The ultimate objectives are to get some experience with hand-drawing type—off of the computer—to fit your specific needs so that you aren’t always relying on finding the perfect typeface for your projects, but repurposing more basic type to your needs… and to hopefully come out of it with a self-contained portfolio piece unique from the standard portfolio pieces people are used to seeing.

For next week we’ll start easy. I just want you to start by doing a couple loose sketches of the lettering you’d like to do. Either sketch some ideas from scratch, or typeset the lettering you’d like to work with to give yourself a starting point to draw from. Every time I do any kind of extensive hand drawn type, I either start with a very loose sketch, or I set the phrase in a few typefaces that are similar to the tone I want to achieve and I look for qualities and details in those typefaces that I might want to borrow. I don’t expect the progress you bring in to look the least bit finished. We are just going to look at your first try to identify some opportunities and talk about where to go next.

Also, bring in a few examples of existing type (either a font or an image you found) that has a style similar to what you are going for with your type. It will be very helpful to have something to look at while drawing letters, and it will give us an opportunity to compare where you are at with where you’d like to go.

We were given the task to experiment with a range of adjectives that expressed our personalities; we used these adjectives to write our name in a style which showed our personality. First of all I choose 3 words that described my personality; these were crazy, arty and psychedelic. Out of these 3 words I decided that psychedelic was the best and I thought I could make the best design using this word. Then I experimented with this word and made a range of designs in my book, finally I came to the design I was happy with it and then I have tried out a variety of mediums to see which produced the best effect for it.

For this I tried out colour pencils, acrylic paint, black pen and felt tips. I come to the conclusion that felt tips worked the best for my usual version as it produced a range of very bright colours and tones which allowed the letters of the design to stand out and look psychedelically. After I had completed my usual final piece I moved onto my unusual where I tried out several mediums such as nail vanish, Food powders mixed with water and lipstick.

The food powder didn’t produce the colours I was looking for, whereas I had access to a variety of different toned lipsticks and nail vanish which are produced the bright colours and boldness I was looking for. Experimenting with several ideas for my usual helped my final design to come out well; this is because I had tried out a range of colours so I knew which ones to use on my final. My final design was to be made as a collage, I had considered making it using 3D, but I thought cut it out from magazines, print-pictures would be a lot more effective. Using this technique was quite because it was difficult to cut out the shapes I wanted.

I used very bright colours imagery and made those cut outs in different shapes to show psychedelic mood. I feel I was successful with the way my collage design came out as it produced the effect had aimed for. If I was given the chance to do this project again I would have to experiment with more mediums for my unusual and 3D designs as I feel that I didn’t test out enough this time round. Although I am pleased with the overall out come of my project, this is down to it coming out the way I expected it to if not better and the fact that there are few changes I would make if given extra time.