Primary Tools & Materials:

Additional Tools & Materials: pencil, paper, inkjet printer, type specimen book, scanner

At first glance, this study sounded like it would be pretty straightforward. Trace existing letters using a light table and metallic ink. And it started that way - I chose five letter Xs from Norman Weinberger's (1971!) Encyclopedia of Comparative Letterforms. I began by tracing the letters exactly as they were - to familiarize myself with the letters' characteristics and details. Then I wondered how I could use this method to create new letterforms made from combinations of the existing letterforms. Right away, I found that many of these letters had characteristics that were either strikingly similar or extremely different - and the contrast could lead to dramatic results. So I started tracing entire letters, then tracing another letter on top of it. Sometimes I would perfectly center the two letters, sometimes I would purposely offset one of the letters to try and create a shadow effect. I'd then fill the entire new letterform with metallic ink to create one new merged letterform. Then I wondered how I could combine the letterforms but still identify the components of the two original letters. I started tracing the two letterforms in different colors so they could be visually picked apart or seen as one shape. Finally, I tried combining the two letterforms, using one to define negative space and subtract from the other. This letter (number 10) is the least legible but it showed a lot of promise for further study in using one letter to subtract from another. 

After this study I took a long time to consider all the different methods for letter reproduction that tracing allows. Tracing allows you to duplicate a letter precisely or take artistic liberties. You can build upon shapes or subtract from shapes to create negative space. You can reposition your source materials to see options before you commit them to paper. You can rotate the paper or the source material to make simple changes to the original letterform that yield entirely different forms. You can choose which parts of the source letter to trace, and where you want to use them. You can double parts of the letter to create symmetry, even if the original letter was asymmetrical. In combining the letters you can cause them to seamlessly merge or trace them in a way that preserves the characteristics of the original letterforms in the new merged letter. The possibilities for new letterforms are endless, and exciting.

Original letterforms found in Encyclopedia of Comparative Letterforms, clockwise from the top left (see image 2):
Koster, by Mackellar, Smith & Jordan
Louis XIV, by Xenotype - Photo-Lettering, Inc.
Clown King, by Xenotype - Photo-Lettering, Inc.
Clock, by Xenotype - Photo-Lettering, Inc.
Hogarth - Photo-Lettering, Inc.