Primary Tools & Materials:

Additional Tools & Materials: pencil, ruler, xacto knife, LED lights, paperclip

This torn paper letter was inspired by the typography of Dutch designer Willem Sandberg. Sandberg used everyday materials to painstakingly tear letterforms from newspaper, scraps, and construction paper. I decided to try two letterforms; one lowercase and one uppercase A. 

The first thing I learned about this study is that it's difficult to tear curved shapes from paper. Straight lines were easy; all I had to do was fold the paper first, then brace it with a ruler and tear against the straight edge. I did lose half a serif this way, but I kept going anyway, and I ended up liking the asymmetrical style the half-serif gave the letter. The other challenge was in tearing out the negative space. I cheated a little and got these areas going with an xacto knife, alternating tearing against the ruler by hand and using the point of the knife to drag the paper against the straight edge. 

I experimented with various kinds of light in this study - a light table, direct light, and an LED strand of twinkle lights. I even pulled out my six-point starlight lens filter, just to see what kind of effect that might have on the lights' interaction with the letterform. 

The torn edges of these letters instantly make them feel old. Lighting them from behind made the rough, fuzzy edges glow. For me, the most frustrating aspect was in trying to photograph letterforms that had no crisp edges. I could never tell if the image was in focus, because the letter itself felt out of focus. Placing a sheet of white paper between the letters and the light table gave the letters a soft glow. Swapping the order by placing the letterforms under the white paper softened the letter, and made it feel even older - like an print that had been through decades of wear, or a woodcut letter rough from years of use. 

These letters take a lot of time, but the results are captivating. It's no wonder Sandberg continued to use this torn paper method throughout his career. Tearing these letters by hand gave me an appreciation for the immense care for detail Willem Sandberg put into his work, and a new admiration for his style.