Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Makeshift Speedy Lettering Method

I haven't mentioned this here on the blog, but I just finished writing the introduction for my friend Sarah Becan's graphic novel Shuteye, which collects several years of her minicomic series by the same name. Shuteye got funded recently on Kickstarter, and I'm really excited to see the final product. It's going to be a nice-looking book.

I was really flattered when Sarah asked me to write the introduction, and as I thought about it (and about the look of the book), I decided that I would offer to letter the introduction by hand. I think it'll fit in better with the rest of the work that way, and Sarah seemed genuinely happy that I had offered to do the little bit of extra labor.

I had also been yearning to do a little lettering. I have to admit, though, that this work didn't quite wind up scratching that itch, because I had to do the final work in a sort of hasty way.

Because I figure someone might someday want a method for hand-lettering a large chunk of text that is speedy but gives competent results—like, I am not going to be embarrassed for Sarah to publish what I wound up with—let me tell you what I did.

1.) Okay, first I had to write the text. And because I do that in a word-processing program, I had a file I could work with. I set the text in small caps (which you can do as an option in Word with control-D), and chose a font that seemed to have spacing and proportions sort of like my all-caps lettering hand. I set the dimensions of the page to correspond with the pages in Sarah's finished book.

2.) I printed it, and through a process of tinkering I got it to print at a size I liked. After a botched first attempt I realized I needed to print it at about 80% size, because full-size 13-point Century looked good in the space available but felt unnatural when I tried step three.

3.) I got out the lightbox and another sheet of paper and "traced" the text I had printed. I wasn't actually tracing it. I have done that before, for different sorts of projects, but in this case I was just using the spacing of the rows as a guide, and the image shining through the lightbox as a reminder of the script I had written. I even altered the text on the fly once or twice.

It's worth noting that, at this stage, I could have opted to do the work much more neatly, but I didn't want my finished product to look like I'd been tracing something.

4.) Because I was lettering pretty fast, I wound up making a few mistakes. I knew I was going to be putting everything through Photoshop in a couple of steps, I figured I'd just write corrected versions of the same words off in the margins, where I could easily cut and paste them into place.

A couple of times it took me more than one try to get a simple word right.

(This second version shows the brightness / contrast adjustments that came during the Photoshop work.)

To do this lettering, I just grabbed the nearest pen to hand, which was my slightly damaged daily-use Rapidograph. Probably this is a weird practice, but I have a ".50" Rapidograph that I keep around for writing postcards and other stuff when I want a nice dark ink. Sometimes I use it for doodling. I really shouldn't use it for finished work, though, because the little needle inside the nib is slightly bent, and that makes it leave like a little "tail" as it approaches the page from some angles.

You can especially see the problem when I write the letter E.

I wound up having to erase each of those things individually in Photoshop; I could have saved myself a lot of work if I'd had a better Rapidograph inked up and ready to use. Anyway, on to the last "step."

5.) I scanned both pages of text, adjusted brightness and contrast, and cleaned things up. That could have taken less time than it did.

The end result: definitely hand-lettered, a little sloppy, but with good straight lines underlying the sloppiness. Lots of imperfection, which means character, and that's more or less what I was shooting when I offered to hand-letter it in the first place.

I didn't have to use an Ames guide at all, even though I was dealing with big blocks of text. I just used typing paper and a pen near at hand. And I think it still looks better than the lettering in Britten & Brulightly.

I'll print the full text of my introduction here on the blog when Shuteye is available for sale.


Loops O'Fury said...

Another reason to look forward to receiving my copy!

Isaac said...

I hope the snippets of text that I posted here will pique your curiosity...