No art training; where to start?

Hello. I've been fonting since Y2k was a concern, but there's just a barrier to progress I can't break. The problem is that my background is in literature and linguistics, not art... I just don't see the things the rest of you see. Can somebody point me towards something remedial? I know I'll never be great, but surely adequacy is a realistic goal?

Comments

  • Turning towards the roots seems a good idea, I found it proven in many conversations with students. As for type design, that directs to formal writing and (to some extent) inscriptions. The essential thing is to not just look at it but to do it manually yourself. Look at good specimen of hand-written books from the middle ages or the 15th century, get a broad nib pen (e.g a reed pen, you can craft this one yourself!) and start writing. Do it for a little while and see what happens …



  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 1,236

    Instead of applying the elements of typical art education to the problem, consider your adapting your literary/linguistic strengths to the task of creating typefaces. Create difficulties for yourself and try to solve them to develop your design muscles uniquely. For example, take a literary work that you’re very close to and adapt it into a typeface where every concern is solved in a way that relates to an aspect of the story, setting, or character. During this process, learn about the works of artists and designers that relates to the task at hand. Having experience in a field outside type design can be quite valuable because, there’s a danger of arriving at the same conclusion as someone else. If you're okay with that, that's a legitimate strategy too, but it sounds like you want to go beyond that. In other words, instead of looking for a new tool, build with the one you have to develop your own unique abilities.

  • Whenever we teach a font making workshop, I always describe the letter drawing process as Sudoku. Basically you start with what you know then backfill until eventually you fill all the letter slots.

    That means if you've only got one letter, you can figure out the vertical and horizontal stems and then you can create the H, I, E, F, T and some mathematical symbols. Find the pieces you can reuse to create what's missing.

    For my money, there's no better guide that Leslie (now Zavier) Cabarga's Font, Logo and Lettering Bible and there's usually a used copy for under $5 bucks at Amazon.
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,881

    The ABC of Custom Lettering by Castro

    Lettering for Advertising by Leach

    The Logo, Font, and Lettering Bible by Cabarga

    Fonts and Logos by Young

    Theory of Type Design by Unger

    Anatomy of a Typeface by Lawson

    The History and Technique of Lettering by Nesbitt

    How to Create Typefaces by Henestrosa, Meseguer, and Scaglione

    Designing Fonts by Campe and Rausch

    Designing Type by Karen Cheng

    Some of these are out of print and expensive so ask your local librarian to help you find them.


  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,924
    edited October 14
    I recommend attempting to make facsimiles of old letterpress documents with InDesign. In a magazine from the 1950s, identify the typeface used in the body copy of editorial or an ad. (McGrew’s American Metal Typefaces will help). A pica rule will be indispensable.

    Next, make a font of your own design that will achieve the same character count, with similar proportions but in a slightly different genre, so that you are not tempted to copy. Now, the trick is to make your design look as good, as big, and as smooth.

    This process is remedial, as requested, in that it is practical, rather than based on principle, or analyzing the proportions of individual letters according to convention and authority, which is how critique is usually done, but only takes one so far. It also has the merit of giving due accord to the “colour” of body text, which to my mind is the heart and soul of typography. Don’t use kerning, that’s cheating!
  • Cory MaylettCory Maylett Posts: 227
    edited October 15
    Heading back to my undergraduate days in my design courses, my sophomore year focused heavily on typography. Each week, the program required each of us to fill an entire sheet of large tracing or layout paper with carefully traced words from various sources, such as magazines and newspapers.

    Despite the tedium, by the end of the year, we had learned to really look at and analyze the many subtleties of various typefaces rather than just reading the words the letters spelled. In the critique sessions, the instructors would point out this or that in our tracing to make a point or two about those subtleties.

    I doubt anyone would have the patience to do this on their own, and without the benefit of the subsequent group critiques, doing so might not achieve much. However, I suppose my relevant point is that carefully analyzing typefaces that work well, then figuring out what makes them work (or not) seems to be an obvious avenue to improving one's own type designs.
  •  I just don't see the things the rest of you see. Can somebody point me towards something remedial? 
    I agree with all the James recommendations. And from his list I will recommend you to start with "Fonts and Logos" by Doyald Young, it will make you see what we see. It's the remedy you need. Go for it!
  • edited October 31
    IMHO, practicing calligraphy is a good start. Then try a type design course – some of them are online. ¶ At the same time, you can read some of the books that @James Puckett recommended (hey, James, thanks for the mention to my book!). If your background is in literature and linguistics – and if you haven’t read it yet – I would add Bringhurst’s book to the list: I am pretty sure you will enjoy it.
  • Rob BarbaRob Barba Posts: 80

    Instead of applying the elements of typical art education to the problem, consider your adapting your literary/linguistic strengths to the task of creating typefaces. Create difficulties for yourself and try to solve them to develop your design muscles uniquely. For example, take a literary work that you’re very close to and adapt it into a typeface where every concern is solved in a way that relates to an aspect of the story, setting, or character. During this process, learn about the works of artists and designers that relates to the task at hand. Having experience in a field outside type design can be quite valuable because, there’s a danger of arriving at the same conclusion as someone else. If you're okay with that, that's a legitimate strategy too, but it sounds like you want to go beyond that. In other words, instead of looking for a new tool, build with the one you have to develop your own unique abilities.

    I'm going to wholeheartedly second this.  I don't have any formal art training; I'm a writer who got into it because I got tired of seeing fonts I didn't like.  Any art training that I do have comes courtesy of my years in the Navy (which I've found many graphic designers don't consider "real" training).

    I would add to what Ray says and don't ever discount what skills you have.  Sure you don't look at things in the normal way.  Sure you might not know the formal term for a thing or two.  Sometimes, as my wife (a trained classical artist and art historian) says, it's the formality that will trip you up and I constantly notice things she does that she doesn't, because she's been trained not to notice it.  

    Learn what you can, but don't feel that it's holding you back.  If you've been designing fonts for years/decades, you're far more ahead of the game than the person who can name every little detail there is about font design and has never in a day done one at all.
  • Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 1,206
    edited November 10
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