An Asemic Font?

Following my rather sarcastic post featuring my ongoing explorations in asemic writing, I decided to take it a step further and see if there was any natural structures forming in my sketches, and to work it up into some format that could be converted into type. I began by selecting a small section that appeared to be visually quite consistent:

Taking the diagonal as my lead stroke, I drew up a simple grid using a fairly rakish 45° angle. I made a conscious decision at this point to accentuate the diagonal dynamic as I wanted to continue to development as I progressed from paper sketches to screen:

I’m using Adobe Illustrator CS4 for this (still thinking about CS5!) and placed in the original image and tidied it up in Livetrace. Using a standard line/brush combo, I created a symbol from several lines, sometimes joined, and sometimes not.

I spent some time creating continuous line loops. I originally drew circles and modified them to look as if they flowed, but realised that if I was to apply any calligraphic brush effects later this would cause problems with the line quality. So continuous lines it was…

After I had created the first line I got impatient to see how things would develop so quickly added a simple calligraphic stroke, reduced in down in order to create some scale, and reversed it out from a red background to get rid of the monotony of the black and white lines. This also has the effect of ‘bringing it to life’ – I find that I when I am working with lines, I need to change the colour schemes regularly as I stop to appraise the work, in order for me to step out of the production mode of thinking and view things a little more subjectively:

OK, I admit I was a little excited at this point. I was very encouraged by what I had produced so far, and whilst I could see one or two characters that required further work, I pressed on to complete the rest of the piece. When I had all the characters drawn in a basic line my workspace looked like this:

At the top in the yellow box are all of the ‘finished’ characters, below are all the lines, shapes I made whilst in production – a kit box of spare parts, additions and rejects. The artboard (bottom right) is A4.

I then identified the characters that needed some immediate attention:

The following images show some of the revised characters against their originals:

This one took a little while to pin down, but I think that number six is a more natural shape.

Having designed a couple of regular western typefaces over the years (nothing that I would like to share with you here though!) I am very aware of the amount of time it takes to everything right. I am in awe of those who do this for living, and feel lucky that I am working on an entirely fictional set of characters; I am able to make aesthetic judgements without stirring the wrath of the typographically offended!

These first revisions completed gave me another look at the full effect. This one is with a standard monoline:

Adding the calligraphic line really brings the script to life.

I am really surprised at how much difference the calligraphic strokes make and the effect that changing the characteristics of the brush make. I love the extreme line contrast here – I know it is a little too extreme, but I do like the effect:

This style is a little more consistent. The flat horizontal brush gives this a slightly Cyrillic feel and a more rhythmic flow across the lines.

As well as the Cyrillic reference, there are also echoes of other formal scripts too:

Above Cyrillic     Below Urdu


Above Sinhala       Below Kufic

There are approximately 30 characters so far drawn, and I am not sure whether I will keep them as ‘characters’ made up from a number of key stokes, or whether I will attempt split them into their component parts. There are some interesting stages to come as this develops; I need to look at kerning and alignment, as well as the quality of the lines and stresses, as well as all the optical adjustments that will eventually see each line move away from the original grid in order to look right.

Right now, after about six hours over two or three evenings, I a pretty pleased with what I have got so far. I created a new brush in the end that seemed to give an appropriate ‘medium weight’ whilst allowing a clear contrast between the thick and thin strokes. This, of course, may change again as I progress, and I intend to produce a semi-serif version once the sans is complete.

Another characteristic of the new brush is that it is not flat, but very slightly elliptical. This gives a pleasing softness to the shape of the end of each stroke, making it less masculine in appearance. The enlargement above shows this detail well, as well as the uncomfortable counter spaces that need more work…

The image above shows how the next stages will develop and refine the strokes. It shoul be a simple animation – if you can’t see the colour changes, just click on it. So I will post again when I have made lots and lots of adjustments.


5 thoughts on “An Asemic Font?

  1. Thanks JK. With any written form, it is almost impossible to write someting without any context or implied meaning when one is deliberately trying to do so. I use a number of my favourite poems when I am working on the technical side – it is easier to work with existing words than to try and compose something at the same time, but when I have reach the stage where I feel that the script works, I will assemble them in a manner that suggests coherency. I work under the assumption that everyone will try to read something from it. “It looks like writing so it must say something”

    That is how the book came about really. It is a visual form of implied communication.

    I’m glad you like it.


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