Monthly Archives: August 2013

From the Point of View of a Trainee – Matt Burvill

Trainee Matt Burvill gives us his perspective on what it’s like to be a type designer in training at Dalton Maag.


Matt works on his font

“I’ve been working with fonts for some years now, although not professionally, learning what I can from books and online resources like Typophile. I first got into drawing letters at university, where a logo project prompted me to draw an uppercase alphabet and eventually work this into a font for headline use.

“These early explorations led to more sophisticated self initiated type projects. I released many of these, although they were mostly used for filling up my portfolio to ultimately find employment in the font industry.

“The training has been tough. I have no experience with calligraphy or letter painting, and I already had the worst handwriting in the studio (I suspect). But the experience was rewarding and has really helped me to hone my eye for detail. Although I’ll need much more training to rival the eyes of Ron!


A sample of Matt’s calligraphy


Part of Matt’s training was to draw letterforms in ink

“I decided to try to combine what I had learnt from calligraphy with a technical Sans. The original concept was very smooth on the outside in a humanist style with an inside ‘counter’ stroke that could have been drawn with a broard nib pen. The idea sounded really cool, and some of the sketches would have been good for display purposes, but I have since toned down the concept for better legibility. You can still see some of the original influences, but it’s a better, more useful design for the changes we made.

“In the two months I have been working on it, I have taken it from initial concept to a family of upright weights. Along the way, we have learnt about engineering basics and lots of tips on how to draw and design in the most efficient way.

“The most important thing has been how to see. How to look at printouts of text (at small sizes) and make judgements based on this that inform your design. Be it the drawing and sculpting of letterforms or the spacing and kerning of the text.”

Matt’s Font Development:

Early Brochure – Practice Journal 2

Here we have some more material from our Archive. This is the second of two practice journals, produced in 2006 and designed by Mode. The first of which can be seen here.


Tim Janes

From the Point of View of a Trainee – Mary Faber

This is the third of a series of articles giving an insight into the training process for new type designers at Dalton Maag. This time we’re talking to one of our new recruits, Mary Faber, about her experience.


Mary working with FontLab

“While I have countless pen and pencil sketches of letterforms, before my training I had never practised any calligraphy or gouache letterforms, so both these processes were very new to me. The first learning exercise was calligraphy, and that helped me to learn about the stress and formation of letterforms, and about the logic behind serifs and their application.


A sample of Mary’s calligraphy

“The next stage, the painting of letterforms using gouache, was challenging – particularly being, admittedly, something of a perfectionist. The main learning for me here was seeing how letterforms that need to work at smaller sizes are designed large – essentially the painting was this process in reverse.


Letterforms drawn in ink and then annotated

“My design concept began as sketches in numerous styles, heading toward a rounded grotesque form. The defining feature of my design would be the inclusion of ball-terminals in the typeface – ball terminals are nothing new, but adding them to a sans serif is unique. Generally the ball terminal is accompanied by serifs, and often slab serifs. This being the case, it has proved quite a challenge to amalgamate two opposing ideas in one design, as usually the weight a ball terminal creates is balanced by the weight of serifs elsewhere.


Mary works on her font design.

“I value every part of the training process immensely. While I enjoyed the calligraphy and painting, and those did refine my eye, the most beneficial for me has been learning FontLab thoroughly.

“But certainly it was an invaluable experience being under the marvellous guidance of Ron Carpenter. Ron’s vast experience and knowledge might seem intimidating, but his patient, diplomatic, supremely constructive criticism has helped me to begin to see what he sees, increasingly attuning my eye to the most subtle of subtleties.”

Mary practising her calligraphy:

Mary’s ink letter forms, drawn by hand:

Mary’s typeface in development:


The Square


No matter what the form of writing, calligraphy or type, from the micro to the macro view, the square is the spirit behind Hanzi.

History of the Square

Writing within the square, by Qing calligrapher Yao Meng Qi

Writing within the square, by Qing calligrapher Yao Meng Qi

As I wrote in a previous post, the pictographic origin of Hanzi meant that it evolved into an ideographic script. But at that point it still held a very human, lively and vibrant aesthetic. There were always people attempting to regulate Hanzi, however it was not until Hanzi matured, during the rise of Kaishu in the Tang Dynasty (‘Kai’(楷)means “regulation” and “system”) that the square came into existence. It is rumoured that the Tang Dynasty’s calligraphy grandmaster, Oh-Yang Sheun (Ou Yangxun), invented the square grid to form a loose regulation of Hanzi’s structure, consistency and readability. His legendary calligraphic works have been used constantly as models for practice, for at least a thousand years, and continue to be used in the present day.

Philosophy Behind the Square

Calligraphy writing based on the ‘米’ square

Calligraphy writing based on the ‘米’ square

I recently read a book about the aesthetic of Chinese calligraphy, and although I’m not sure of the authenticity behind this, it is still interesting to share the theory with you.

Traditional Chinese culture doesn’t believe we have to change nature, or indeed that we could, because we are part of nature. We realised that there are always limitations, as humans living on the earth, and that there are always regulations among human beings as well. It doesn’t mean the Chinese create boundaries for themselves, but rather, while limitations are actually there, it is always good to realise them and then aim at breaking them. The theory is then that the square was introduced for philosophical reasons, to place a limitation on the shape of character, rather than purely aesthetic ones.

The Square in Hot Metal Type

Metal type in Ri Xing Type Foundry, Taiwan

Metal type in Ri Xing Type Foundry, Taiwan

There was wooden type in China before the invention of hot metal type, however it was made using a loose system and didn’t produce a good standard of printing.

It wasn’t until American missionary William Gamble, who was appointed by the American Presbyterian Church and sent to Shanghai and Hong Kong in 1858, that things moved on. He adapted the proportional Latin movable type system to the Chinese ideographic character set, and unified the character cutting method by introducing the electrotype type-making method to the Far East. The nature of the technology in use reinforced the square boundary that had previously been introduced to the script. The ‘square’ spirit has since then been transferred to all the Hanzi typefaces.

Metal typesetting of Korean Hangul, picture: Hangeul Typography School

Metal typesetting of Korean Hangul, picture: Hangeul Typography School

 Hangul are used to be drawn within the square, picture: Hangeul Typography School

Hangul are also drawn within the square, picture: Hangeul Typography School

The legendary Shuetai font family, Kana, Kanji being set in square. picture: @miucaffe on Flickr

The legendary Shuetai font family, Kana, Kanji being set in square. picture: @miucaffe on Flickr

Japanese Kana and Korean Hangul’s ideographic nature also made them fit into the ‘square’ system, since the three ideographic scripts are together called CJK scripts, as invented by Dr Ken Lunde in his classic book ‘CJKV Processing’.

CJK Typefaces in the Square

Shuetai font family’s Kana was being drawn within the square

Shuetai font family’s Kana drawn within the square

As CJK typeface designers, we are all very familiar with the ‘CJK unified ideograph’ character set, which takes up half the contents of any Unicode codebook. The CJK typefaces went through the phototypesetting age and, in today’s digital age, the solid form is not a technical constraint anymore. The square is thus not as prominent as in the hot metal age, however, CJK typefaces are still being draw in 1em square box (1000x1000upm in font design software), and with an inner square used to define letter spacing among characters. We have noticed that there is a trend that new Korean fonts are also now being drawn in a rather condensed rectangle bounding box, so perhaps new technology is now dictating limits to other scripts in the way that it has to Hanzi in the past.

Julius Hui