Tag Archives: Calligraphy

From the Point of View of a Trainee – Damien Collot

In our final post in the series, Damien Collot talks about what it was like to be a trainee font developer at Dalton Maag.

Damien during his training

Damien during his training

“I think the best way to learn typeface design is to start with calligraphy and drawing or painting, because with this method you keep the relationship between the hand and the eye, which is very important when designing a typeface. I was very happy that Dalton Maag’s training worked this way too. With calligraphy, you can quickly understand the relationship between the letters and structure. When you’re working on a digital typeface with hundreds of letters, it’s good to be able to understand the underlying spirit of the letter.


Calligraphy practice


Letter painting

“When I came to design my own typeface, I decided to do an incised, text typeface for books. I’ve tried to keep many of the features from calligraphy in it. I did a lot of research and chose what I think is the more exciting and challenging design, because I wanted to use it to get more experience. I’d like to see it in use in a book collection, although it could be quite nice if used for titling.


Typeface in development

“It was great to have Ron Carpenter as my teacher and I am sad to have left the training team. He is always in motion. He is always ready for suggestions and discussions. With him I have had the time to think about my work, find solutions and see for myself what is wrong and what is good. If he has an idea, then he can explain exactly what he thinks, which is important when teaching.


Ron working with Damien

“I have learnt how to improve my work, both in the very tiny details, and then in the complex typeface family conception. I think the most important things have been that I’ve learnt a lot of technical processes. I wasn’t familiar with the technical skills before. I now have a good idea of how typeface design works in the professional context, and I’m feeling more confident.”

From the Point of View of a Trainee – Rafael Saraiva

Rafael Saraiva has recently returned to Brazil to work with out team there after taking part in the Dalton Maag training programme for new type designers. He tells us a little more about what he’s gained from the experience.

“Even though I have a self taught background in calligraphy, it was great to spend a considerable amount of time working only with that at the beginning of the training period. Calligraphy can inform our work a lot and is an infinite source of insights and inspiration.


Rafael’s calligraphy

“After discussing ideas with Ron, my chosen concept was a sans serif typeface with rounded corners and a squarish appearance. This new design should be between ‘friendly’ and ‘tech’ and it would be suitable for corporate use.

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Font concept sketches.

“I designed a limited number of letters for Regular, Thin and Black weights to see how the concept would work as a typographic system. But since we have a limited time window during this training process, Ron advised me to focus on the Regular weight. We are supposed to design the ASCII set during the training, in order to reproduce the way a project is presented to real clients. But we covered accented characters that are not covered in the ASCII set, because they can pose technical challenges when dealing with spacing and kerning.

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Weight testing for Rafael’s font.

“We had several sessions with the Engineers in order to cover technical aspects of font production. We learned the best practices on how to perform quality assurance tests, to engineer and hint our fonts. The last part of the training was very special, because Hinting was something new to me and it was brilliant to get in touch with that aspect of font production.”

8 Hinting


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:

An Introduction to Type Design at Dalton Maag

Dalton Maag has recently begun a training programme for its new recruits, and this is the first of a series of articles giving an insight into the process.


Ron giving Damien some advice

Presiding over the training is one of the longest serving members of Dalton Maag, Ron Carpenter. We asked him about how exactly you take a new recruit and turn them into a type designer.

“We start with calligraphy, which underpins much of what we do as type designers. They spend a couple of weeks on this – not necessarily to produce perfect examples, but to gain a better understanding of the relationship between type and some of its origins.

“What we perceive as ‘normal’ is based on our exposure to type forms over many years, so our relationship with type through reading will vary from person to person. It makes sense to go back to calligraphy and type history to have a better understanding of why the letters of the alphabet are like they are. It helps to demystify the design process. The modulation, stresses and oblique angles found in many typefaces can be traced back to calligraphic principles.


Cosimo working on his calligraphy

Rafael's calligraphy work

Rafael’s calligraphy work

“The second phase consists of painting letters. 24pt samples from each of the major type classifications are provided and these have to be reproduced to an x-height of around 75mm (about 3 inches) using brushes and black and white gouache. This is quite an intensive process requiring a minute attention to detail, and is designed to enhance visual sensitivity – training the eye to see what is there, at a relatively small size, and making the necessary decisions to recreate the same thing at a much larger, working size. In much the same way our designers here work in FontLab, but this process is a more direct way, without the constraints of Bezier outline manipulation. It’s about making calculations on proportion, weight, position; shape etc. based on visual judgement rather than measuring – a skill that goes to the heart of type design. The principle features and characteristics of different type styles can also be examined during this phase.

“Our designers have to assess a design according to the minute detail, often at small point sizes, so it’s important to know how to manipulate the actual size when working at a larger drawing size.

dirty brushes

Dirty brushes


An example of painting characters

“Depending on previous experience, they then spend time familiarising themselves with the design aspects of FontLab and begin to discuss creating a concept for a new design of their own choosing. This is preferably something that could be a useful addition to our Type Library here at Dalton Maag. It’s quite a big step, but gives them an opportunity to express themselves, whilst gaining knowledge in the more formal aspects of type design and the use of FontLab.

“They need to justify the new concept and consider its viability; does the concept work? Does it make sense? Does it fulfil a role? How would you market and sell this typeface?

“We try to steer them away from the personal or quirky display styles and towards something which is more commercially viable. So I’m looking for something that fulfils a particular role, whether it’s functional for a particular print or screen environment or something with a fresh personality that may not have been tried before. The new concept is expanded to include caps, lowercase, figures and basic punctuation followed by the planning and execution of a range of weights or, for a Text font, a matching italic.

mary on screen

Mary working hard on her project

matts screen

Matt’s project in progress

“They then spend some time with our Font Reliability department so they gain some insights into Quality Assurance and the technical aspects of type design so we can minimise those issues which lead to difficulties when a font is engineered. They also spend time hinting so that they appreciate some of the practical issues concerning the screen rendering of their new design concept.

“Throughout the training process, each recruit keeps a log of what they’re doing from day to day so we can monitor progress to see if the program needs to be expanded or amended. It has to be said that, even with this initial training completed, there is still much to learn, but at this stage the trainees can move into a production team to continue the process.”

Tibetan Calligraphy

Tibetan Calligraphy Workshop held by Tashi Mannox,  February 9th – 10th, 2013, London.

Two full days spent with pens and inked hands, for once away from our monitors and for the pleasure of the eye. On Saturday morning, over a couple of hours, the teacher, Tashi Mannox, introduced us to the basic features of the Uchen style. Among several existing styles, the Uchen is considered as the traditional one and became the reference for long text, reading typefaces.
fig. 1 Cover of our Tibetan writing manual
Tibetan writing manual
As with the Latin script, Tibetan is written accordingly to the thickness of the tool you are using; the proportions are based upon a structure built from the pen in use. The angle is 45 degrees (more or less, without being too dogmatic). The upper part of the letter is 3 units high (a unit is made of two pen strokes), the bottom part is another 3 units. A 2 unit high area above will contain the vowel signs. The glyphs are drawn in a constant width of 3 units.
fig. 2 Character structure based on grid determined by pen size.
Character structure
One important feature to keep in mind is how the strokes are traced. Traditionally, the pen is cut from dry bamboo (stronger than the young and green bamboo). This kind of pen has a degree of flexibility allowing to create the characteristic shapes of Tibetan strokes. The pen is constantly twisted to draw a modulated line. The space within the letters must be managed carefully in order to create balanced shapes.
fig. 3 Sample of a letter, with its stroke order
Character stroke order
The Tibetan script itself, within its boundaries, is very flexible. A lot of conjuncts are showing consonants and vowels embedded into each other, like in most of the scripts of the Indian sub-continent. Eventually, Tibetan words are separated by a dot that stands at the height of the headline of the letter.
fig. 4  Samples of conjuncts

conjuncts1 Conjuncts 2
fig. 5 Om Ma Ni mantra 

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For more images from the workshop see below.

Amélie Bonet, Pilar Cano, Eleni Beveratou and Michele Patanè