Step 4: Design your presentation form
So far, we have focused mainly on the type and position of strokes. My suggestions have turned my really ugly script into a regular and systematic but still kind of boring script. Here is where we will give our scripts some real character.
First of all, you're certainly familiar with the fact that all modern scripts have a number of different typefaces in which they appear. In this thread, there has already been discussion of different fonts and different styles. You may be intimidated by the wide array of styles available for various scripts. I want to narrow this down as much as possible to help beginners settle on something.
I think we can narrow it down to a maximum of three main types: gothic, print, and traditional. Look at the following chart:
(not to be confused with traditional blackletter) is a very basic style, generally with entirely or mostly equal line widths with no serifs. These days, it is the most common style for computer media, as it is easiest to read given the limitations of computer resolutions. Even so, some scripts, such as Oriya, Gurmukhi, and (through retroactive application of the term) several ancient scripts, employ this form as their main style.
style is the style most common in physically printed media, namely books and the like. It generally has more stylization and detailing than is found in the modern Gothic sans serif style.
style refers to a style that was the traditional presentation style that failed to transfer to moveable type for whatever reason. The only one I can think of at the moment is for Chinese. For most, the print style and the traditional style are identical.
For someone starting out and wanting to design a script with character, the print/traditional style, i.e. the most commonly occurring form, is what you're going for. This is not to say that the plain sans serif style is to be avoided; I have made my own scripts in that style which I am happy with. If that's what you like, then please, do use it!
Certainly there are many scripts in the world that have many, many other styles (e.g. Japanese has a style of calligraphy originally designed specifically for writing sumo wrestling rankings, not to be confused with the style developed specifically for kabuki signs), but for the beginner, as I said, the main traditional style is the most important one to go for. Other styles can be derived from this later.
Some things you need to decide are maybe the writing tool, line thickness, nib orientation, what types of serif you want, and so on. We'll go through some of the main things one at a time.
I think Salmoneus covered this fairly well, so take a look at his post here
There are really three options you have here: Completely (or nearly completely) uniform line thickness, variable thickness at a fixed angle, and completely (or nearly completely) variable thickness.
Completely uniform thickness
is the Gothic style we have already covered, so there is no need for much elaboration. I will say, however, that some typefaces still vary thickness a little, even in this style. Here are a couple examples:
Notice how in each example, care has been taken to vary the line width subtly. Nevertheless, this is not a requirement. some fonts really do have entirely even line width. What you do here is up to you.
Variable thickness at a fixed angle
usually comes from a pen with a fixed nib. This is always oriented the same way (sometimes with a few small exceptions), producing a uniformity in script appearance. The nib is usually oriented horizontally or on an angle. Vertically oriented nibs are uncommon, though Hebrew and Arabic come close. Look at these examples:
Notice how the thickness of the lines is determined entirely by the nib. The angle you choose will influence the overall appearance of the script. notice also that occasionally the letters will break this thickness, e.g. the swooping end of ‹ر› tapers to a point even though the nib shape would disallow this. The writer can accomplish this by lifting up or angling part of the nib.
Fully variable line thickness
is when the thickness of lines is not dependent on direction, but rather purely on stylistic concerns. This can either be due to a pen or brush that varies width based on pressure, etc., or simple aesthetic concerns in carefully written script. There are many examples of this:
The first example, Armenian, is almost a fixed angle style. However, you can see that angled strokes fail to become wider than horizontal strokes, as you would normally expect in a fixed-angle style. Look at the angled tops and bottoms of ‹ա բ ե›, the inner curves of ‹գ զ›, the inner portions of ‹թ Խ› and the rotated orientation of ‹Հ›. So you can see that, it's basically a fixed-angle script with aesthetic alterations.
The second example, the Roman alphabet, has a design principle that forbids thick horizontals (mostly, but cf. ‹g›), and disallows straight verticals/diagonals from appearing directly beside or intersecting with strokes of the same width. Rounded strokes are always thick on the vertical and taper to thin on the horizontal.
Tamil follows a somewhat similar design principle. The left stroke is thin and the right stroke is thick. These alternate, like the Roman script, but again, like the Roman script, curves are exemp and follow fixed patterns.
Chinese line thickness is entirely dependent on the speed and movement of the brush.
So here you're free to do whatever you want. Just make it consistent an it'll be fine.
Serifs, as I'm sure you know, are small elements that extend from the end points of strokes. They most generally take the form of a triangle or rectangle. Sometimes serifs can become conflated with line shape, producing distinctive shapes (I will show an example of this of course). They originate as artifacts of the physical writing process, but end up as an essential part of the standard aesthetic of several scripts. You may elect to include or exclude serifs, but I will discuss them a bit to help you decide.
Notice the various repeating serifs, and the various types of serif within a single script.
Now look at these two. In the first sample, Bhaiksuki, the top line (equivalent to the top line of Devanagari etc.) has become a triangle; the entire stroke is dominated by its serif, obscuring the distinction between serif and line shape. Bhaiksuki doesn't really distinguish between various top types; there is only the one triangle. However, you can see in the closely-related Tocharian (the second example), that there are four distinct top serifs, as well as two bottom serifs (all long descenders have that loop thing, and short ones have that small serif).
Their existence is quite regular, and much like rules for allophony in spoken language, serifs will appear whenever the appropriate circumstances arise. To explain what I mean, I will give two examples: Roman capitals and Chinese characters (I'm using the term "serif" in a very flexible manner, here).
Rules for serifs in Roman capitals:
Rules for "serifs" in Chinese characters:
- all vertical and diagonal endpoints have horizontal serifs on both sides of the endpoint (AFGHIJKLMNPRTUVWXY);
- all horizontal endpoints:
- if on the top or bottom, have one vertical serif pointing inward, which often but not always angle slightly outward (EFLTZ), or;
- if in the middle, have two vertical serifs pointing up and down (EF);
- All corners and angles attached to vertical lines on the top left, top right, and bottom left (but not bottom right or middle, and not angles lacking a vertical) have a single serif pointing outward (BDEFLMNPR, but cf. GMNVWZ);
- verticals that end in a curve take a ball-shaped serif inside the curve (J);
- all curved endpoints on the top right and bottom left have one vertical serif (usually) pointing outward (CGS, but cf. C)
- all vertical top endpoints have wide, angled serifs;
- all horizontal left endpoints have a (usually) narrow, angled flare;
- all horizontal right endpoints have a thick ovoid, which is noticeably raised above the main body of the line (and usually expands below somewhat as well);
- if an additional stroke extends down from this, the serif extends somewhat along the downward stroke
- downward, right-to-left strokes and upward left-to-right strokes, including dots (very short strokes), have a single, blunt, hook-like serif on the left/top side, and taper off at the other end;
- downward, left-to-right strokes (but not dots) end in a distinct, triangle-shaped flare;
- downward, left-to-right dots become thick and rounded on the bottom right end:
- in box-like shapes, the outer verticals extend slightly below the bottom horizontal, but any in the middle do not (however, for some fonts/handwriting, in the character ‹口›, the bottom horizontal may sometimes extend to the right instead of the right vertical extending down);
- strokes with bottom hooks (as in 永 and 滅) usually become slightly thicker around the hook.
So, I'll be honest here, when I design my scripts, I do steps 2 through 4 more or less simultaneously, and I think that's probably best. I only lay them out separately here to make clear the various considerations that exist.
I have made a few final forms based on the two sample scripts I randomly designed. Some of them are better than others, and some I think need a little (or a lot) more tweaking, but I want to get this post out quickly, so here they are.
Sample Script A:
Final Sample Script A1:
Final Sample Script A2:
Final Sample Script A3:
Sample Script B:
Final Sample Script B1:
Final Sample Script B2:
I want to make it clear here that I never had any master plan for how this script would turn out. At each step in this guide I just made some pretty much random changes, and then I just added detailing and elaboration to come up with the finished product. There's no one way to do this of course. Just mess around until you come up with something you like.
Next up, I will be giving suggestions for how to create a script family, meaning hints and suggestions for evolving your script into daughter scripts.