I was recently in the situation where I had to explain the answer to ‘How do I draw letters?’ and what a font was and that it was not as simple as just writing the alphabet. To help the explanation I scribbled down the letter ‘A’ with serifs and all the fancy guide lines to help the symmetry of the letter, and since then that person has not looked at type the same. Although after learning this information their life remained pretty much the same, it is nice to know that the creator of Times New Roman (Their font of choice) is getting some credit from someone who isn’t rocking a portfolio.
My point is that not everyone is a typographer, and to think that typography is ‘easy’ is not an unusual presumption. So the purpose of this article is to educate and guide you (the people that think “drawing type is easy”) from where I once was, to understanding the basic complexities of drawing your own type and lettering. So the questions begs, How do I draw letters?
There are many designers jumping head first into typography, at one stage that included myself, without understanding the vital elements that make letters, letters. Studying the anatomy of individual letters is a good place to start, and best shown with the illustration below. Taking in the information below and remembering all of it is unlikely but you can see that there are many ingredients that can be manipulated when constructing your letters.
I spend hours experimenting with and drawing generic letters like the ones above as I find that it helps when creating my own, and I’m pretty sure if you ask other type designers, they do, or have done the same.
Now onto the actual drawing of your letters. The techniques that I use aren’t necessarily the right way of doing things, nor are they as polished as lets say the techniques of a typographer with decades of experience. But I do think they are a good place to start without the use of a jargon buster.
I find that the easiest way to start the construction of any letter is with a basic skeleton and to build on that, this is where references come in handy. Especially if you are starting out drawing your own letters, because lets face it, you are not necessarily going to know what parts to make thicker, thinner, etc. Of course you could keep the letter the same thickness throughout, either way it’s all about experimentation and knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. It may sound a bit cliché but grab a new sketchbook and start filling each double page with different variations of each letter until you fill the book… then buy another one, practice definitely makes perfect.
In the image above I had got rid of the skeleton and fixed the rough bits, ironed out the symmetry and added a top ‘Serif’. I’m a big fan of the hand drawn look hence why this is as tidy as it gets for me, but of course from here I could take it into a vector program and transform it into a clean and crisp letter. Notice how the serifs (the feet) on the bottom of the ‘A’ have a long curve on the outside of the letter, and a sharper cut on the inside of the ‘A’, from experimentation I have found that I much prefer this style of serif, there are of course many other alternations. Pay attention to these when using references and sourcing inspiration, they can make or break most letters.
Here is another very basic skeleton of some very basic letters that we can work on, feel free to copy and paste this skeleton into a program of your choice and use your graphic tablets to fill it out, or of course draw your own.
Usually this would be where I would stop, but the letters looked a little boring, so I added some extra style to them in the shot below. As I said before there are no rules when it comes to drawing letters, only the basic form of the letter so it is still eligible.
If you’re wondering about the round edges between where the lines meet in the image below, this is all hand drawn and its to mimic the effect that printers sometimes create when printing letters, more so with screen printing. It’s a little technique that is emerging to enhance the authenticity of a design.
We’ve very briefly looked at a technique that I use for drawing letters, and that’s all well and good, but what about when you want to draw letters to create words? then on to sentences. Usually that is what we need the letters for. Check out the illustrations below for a better look.
I still start off with the skeleton, but in this stage I also work out the spacing and the heights of each letter (refer to anatomy of type image). The top line is the Ascending line and this is a line where the taller letters (t, l, b, d, h etc) can sometimes reach to, but usually they touch onto the line briefly below, the Caps Height line, below that again is the lowercase height then the baseline and the descending line where, as you can see, the letters with a drop reach to (y, g, p, q, g, and sometimes j). All of these lines can be set to any height you wish, they are just guidelines to help the consistency of your lettering.
Again, I start to fill out from the skeleton. I decided not to use the Ascending line for the ‘I’ and the ‘t’, and also changed the tail of the ‘y’, nobody said you had to stick to the guidelines, so a change here and there shouldn’t hurt, below is the final image.
So there you have it, the brief answer to the question how do I draw letters? But remember, these are the basics of constructing your type by hand and very generic type at that. Of course not everybody wants to create neat-ish type like the examples that I had shown above, I rarely do myself unless it is a font for the marketplace. This is just the starting line that most typographers race from, the experimentation and relentless sketching will bring you to your own styles.
Keep us in the loop if this helped you at-all, and if you need any help or advice let us know in the comment area or get in touch via email. (Contact us link in the navigation bar)