Primary Tools & Materials:

Additional Tools & Materials: various paint brushes, light table, inkjet printer, scanner

This is a letter I've been imagining for a while, and I'm calling it "Hand Painted Helvetica." I wanted to take the most iconic, well known and most widely used mechanical typeface, and paint it by hand. The catch is that I wanted to paint it by hand in parts - as you must with a letter like this - but paint these parts separately, then combine them to create the letter in Photoshop. My ultimate goal was to build the letter in such a way that you can identify how many strokes created the letter, in which order they were painted, or to what degree they overlap. I guess you could call it a dissected Helvetica. 

I started by painting a grid of Gs in Helvetica on white printer paper. Using my light table, I placed another white sheet on top so I could trace the letters with paint. I used three paint brushes of various length and shapes to paint the individual parts of the letters. The first thing I did was paint my "control" G - with all strokes at once, in paint - so you can compare the "normal" G with the dissected or deconstructed Gs to come. In image 3 you can see what one of these sheets of letter parts looked like. The idea was to practice each part many times so I'd have a variety of strokes to choose from once I brought it into Photoshop. Once in the computer, I did just that - which gave me a lot of flexibility to not only choose the cleanest or most distinctive strokes, but correct crooked strokes. 

Image one is the first of these digitally collaged letters. Here, I placed each stroke on top of the next in the order they would have been painted. This created the effect of tucking one end of the stroke under the next stroke. To stress those overlaps even more, I added a dark gradient to the end that's tucked under, which makes those joints even more noticeable. 

Image four, again, is my "control" - I painted that one on paper, all at once. Notice how the joints are still visible, but the letter as a whole is one color. In the next image - number 5 - I arranged the parts of the letters then applied the multiply effect to each part, which makes the overlapping strokes more vivid, displaying as darker shapes. In the last letter - number 6 - I combined the strokes then used the darken effect to highlight the joints. In this one the joints are less defined as in the previous letter, but still more defined than the "control." 

After conducting this study, I have a clear picture in my head of how a straight-laced, mechanical sans serif like Helvetica could be designed in this "deconstructed" way. I could use the gradient shadow effect, or a stippling method to slightly darken the letter beneath those joints, or any other number of graphic effects. The idea that a mechanically designed letter can reference the construction of its handmade ancestors is fascinating to me, and I hope to apply it to several type styles in future studies.