Endless fiddling

gabriola-alphabet-verticalIf you’re a font geek read on. No timber will harmed in the writing of this blog post. Come back later if you want to see wood worked. In the meantime it’ll be electrons and bits of paper.

I’ve been looking for a new font to carve. I like Roman lettering but for some jobs it’s a bit severe. The usual alternatives, like Celtic, are an acquired taste but work well for some applications. It’s not as simple as clicking on the font menu in Word and choosing one you like the look of. Fonts for carving have to fulfill certain criteria that typed fonts, many of which originated from pen-drawn fonts, won’t achieve. The spidery curlicues of copper plate are unsatisfying to carve and don’t read well when they’re finished. But I like the softer edges and curves of pen-drawn fonts.

I have found a font with some promise. Gabriola is clearly derived from a Roman font but has softer serifs and a certain energy that it gets from its forward sloping axis. The R is always the deal-breaker for me. If the diagonal starts too far along the bottom of the curve it looks a little inflated. If it’s touching the upright it feels pinched. I like this R. I was convinced to try carving the font when I saw the way the tail of the Q extends under other letters.

I’m not entirely convinced by the half serif. The curved upper may have to go. We’ll see. And the K is just asking for trouble. That upper diagonal was born of a paint brush and has no place in a carved font.

Why all the hand-wringing?

I’ve had a couple of cracks at a banner for this blog and haven’t entirely liked the results. This one has promise.

I do most of my layout in Adobe Illustrator. I used to draw or print individual letters and then move them around until I found the right spacing. Fonts in computers have an in-built spacing, or kerning. Some pairs of letters will automatically move closer or further apart. This works well for most documents when the eye passes over the lettering very quickly but when the lettering is the whole point of the job you need a bit more precision. Illustrator has the ability to change the kerning of every pair of letters in an entire document. Look at the spacing the computer gave me to start with:tqw-v2

There’s a lot of room between the O and the R but the K and S are rather cramped. We can solve this with a bit of kerning:


I’ve also taken out a bit of space between the T and the H and given a bit more room in the middle of QUIET. I’ve moved the P and the O in a fraction at the end that makes them feel a little more connected.

I was happy with this on the screen. Then I printed it and realised that all my letters are a bit spindly. They’ll have very little weight if carved like this. Illustrator again: rather than just regular and bold you can choose the weight of each line. A few shades heavier and we’ve got something that might carve well:


The added weight has cramped up a few letters so once more I was back to fiddling with kerning:


I think we’re there. Perhaps a bit more space between the U and the I? Possibly. Maybe next time. I’ve spent more than long enough at the computer today. Time to hit sharp things with heavy things.


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