This month, we are teaming up with French letterer Francis Chouquet, who joins to share practical insights on his creative process and who will later tell us more about his first-ever color font made with Fontself.
As part of this collaboration, Francis has 5 tips to guide you when drawing letterforms for your fonts.
1. Think surface, not distance
Many people tend to forget spacing is as important as marking when it comes to letterform. Good spacing is essential for legibility and to keep a homogeneous mass of text.
Letter-spacing or tracking letters means “allocating the correct amount of space to each side of them, so that they are associated into words they have a balanced relationship, without unsightly gaps or congestion” according to Walter Tracy, in Letters of Credit. Despite what it sounds like, spacing has less to do with distance than it does with surface.
Let me explain.
Regarding letter-spacing, we can identify 3 types of letterforms: rounds, triangles, and squares. If we use the exact same distance between all letters, we will quickly realize they don’t look equidistant from each other. So spacing is not about geometrical parameters, but rather about optical decisions.
Now, if instead of distance, we consider negative space - or surface - we can find the right spacing balance by applying the same amount of negative space between each letter. That is why we always think of surface and not distance. Ultimately, your eye is the judge here.
But letter-spacing is not the only criteria that matters. Some glyphs like the “a”, “o”, “h”, “p”, “s”, “e”, have different types of inner white spaces, called eyes, counters or apertures. To obtain more homogeneity and perfect contrast, we need to find the right balance between those internal spaces and external spaces, by applying the same amount of white surface everywhere.
2. Keep thick and thin strokes consistent
Since the Latin alphabet was born, letters were written by hand, with nibs or brushes. The primary technique consisted of increasing the pressure against the paper when tracing downstrokes and decreasing it on the upstrokes. As a result, this general rule developed:
downstrokes = thick
upstrokes = thin
Thick and thin strokes are the core of letterforms. They define their contrast and aesthetic. To guarantee the homogeneity and legibility of our letters, we need to draw every thick and thin stroke with the same weight, respectively. By doing so, we will also bring rhythm to our letterforms which will directly increase their visual appeal.
3. Keep the rhythm
After considering spaces and contrasts, finding a rhythm will help us design an even more consistent lettering piece.
We will use a simple grid to define the direction of our letters and to be sure we keep a good vertical and horizontal balance.
The grid will allow us to define the rhythm of our composition and guide us to make sure we are following the right path.
When letters are well balanced and aligned with the grid, the whole work seems a lot more consistent, legible and visually appealing.
4. Think of masses instead of outlines
When it comes to sketching, a lot of designers tend to draw letters with outlines, even though it is not the best way to evaluate contrast and negative spaces. To find the best equilibrium between black and white surfaces within our letters we first need to draw masses.
This technique has been used by a majority of type designers for decades. Here, I will introduce you to a technique to help you improve your lettering design: the skeleton
- Trace your lettering skeleton with a single line, considering our first tip about spaces.
- Use a light table or transparent paper to hatch the thick and thin strokes on a new sheet guided by the skeleton. You will get a better sense of the contrast and spaces you need.
- On a third piece of paper, draw your outlines. Then and only then, have a look at your letters and note modifications.
Having each layer on different sheets is very useful. This allows us to come back to the skeleton or to a different intermediate layer to make target changes and improve our design.
5. Turn your work upside down
This next tip is as simple as it is useful!
Have you ever looked at a piece of your work and felt something off about it without being able to put your finger on what it was?
In this case, turning our sketch upside down gives us a new perspective, by hiding the letters to highlight the shapes behind them.
Upside down everything looks different. Thick and thin strokes, curves, rhythm, balance, contrast, and of course spaces. This might help us find the mistakes we were looking for and new ones.
To conclude, remember to think about spacing, contrast, rhythm, masses, and never forget to check your work upside down! I hope you found these 5 tips helpful. I consider them to be some of the best advice I can give to anyone who wants to improve their letter drawings.
That’s all folks! You can check more lettering goodness from Francis Chouquet on his Instagram @fran6, learn more practical tips in his lettering book and engage with fellow lettering lovers on the French-speaking Facebook group he cofounded, Les Apprentis Lettreurs.
We will be back next month with a new talent and new #TypeTips. Meanwhile, let us know if these tips help you improve your process by sharing your sketches and projects on social media with the hashtag #MadeWithFontself