I am fortunate in having been taught some techniques for lettering and drawing type as part of my university degree. But I chose not to follow the optional parts of the course where type drawing was covered in greater detail, and where creating a typeface was part of the practical outcome.
I decided that, having already embarked on type drawing with a mouse and a copy of Fontographer (which helped prove how different type drawing and lettering are), I would follow my own wayward instincts away from formal workshop work. I already had some ideas of my own, and they have become part of the way I tend to draw type now.
There is a great deal of professional polish in the letterforms which you find in a modern typeface ‘cut’. Regardless of whether the typeface is in outline a modern sanserif or a revival of old face, the regularity of outline is striking. Serifs all align beautifully, and if they don’t it’s because to the naked eye they look more regular when drawn so that under magnification they can be seen to be wrong. Make no mistake, this is a labour of love and one which is dauntingly slow and involved. Straight lines turn out, when enlarged, to be bowed in just so. Parallel lines converge. Points that seem to sit on the baseline rest fractionally below it. All elements of typographic orthodoxy: type has always been drawn that way. But the machine age, and the advent of printing systems capable of remarkably faithful reproductions of the letterforms have taken this to a new level, leaving a certain sterility which, when type freaks are shaking their heads and muttering about how lovely Bembo used to look when set in hot metal, is often cited as evidence of a fall.
So the high-resolution, high-precision output of beautifully clean drawings is too sterile? Several typefaces have been drawn which simulate the broadening and coarsening of the type’s outline caused by ink spreading out beyond the outline of the letter. The creators draw in the extra ink, and as like as not they incorporate the same excruciating attention to detail in predicting where the ink will spread more and where it will spread less. I didn’t want to try this approach.
But after looking at the results I was achieving after a few months of work with Fontographer, and looking forward into what improvements in technique, quality and consistency would be needed even to satisfy myself, I realised that there was another way to relieve the sterility of type. Namely, it was to let my own weaknesses set the ceiling on the level of consistency in outline, evenness of overall colour (i.e. the shade of grey you see if you screw up your eyes and look at a block of text set in any particular face), and attractiveness of form.
It sounds like a cop-out, because it is. But it did represent a more reasonable target, which helped me to carry on working rather than give up. I thought about the letter shapes I liked, rather than worrying that the w was too thin or its middle strokes too thick. And as the drawing work progressed, by degrees the inconsistencies in outline seemed to be less of a problem.
Since completing work on Puritan (which I named to commemorate the fact that it wasn’t very purist) I’ve stuck with this approach. Hence, until typefaces are ‘finished’ (in other words, laid on one side for good) they tend to appear rather uneven. They're not commercial; they can afford to be works-in-progress. If they work well in print as they are, so much the better. And I have come to think that the more obviously hand-created letters (albeit that they are all drawn entirely using a mouse) bring back some of the vitality of older type. I’ve acknowledged my own limitations, much as those who cut letters at one-to-one scale on the end of metal punches were obliged to do for the 400 years in which no other method of creating type was available. I bow to their much greater achievements but I also like to think that some of the life that their letterforms show is available to mine too.