Type design study from Old Master – Letter A

Well, I admit that running my own site is like trying to build an island in the sea. I can’t avoid the feeling of floating around in the universe of web design. Until now, I have developed some custom content templates which make me more comfortable to write and edit content, though they are still in need of refinement.

So, for the first content of the site, I’ll write about Typography, the one that I currently try to digest from Albrecht Dürer.

Dürer is one of my favorites. He’s also been regarded as the greatest German Old Master of the Northern Renaissance. I still remember the first time I looked at one of Dürer’s most famous drawing – Praying Hands. Since it was time when I first learned how to hold a pencil properly, there was not much to say about any impression or if I got a lesson from him; but I still take notice of him in any reading material.

Albrecht Dürer - Praying Hands, a pen-and-ink drawing made circa 1508
Albrecht Dürer – Praying Hands, a pen-and-ink drawing made circa 1508

Time has changed, my aesthetics and knowledge have, too. It is undoubtedly true that every piece of works of Dürer give such liveliness in a well-balanced composition. It was my superficiality as I once thought that Dürer was an overrated artist who lacked knowledge of human anatomy with sloppy works. This is a shame for us who consider to have better condition in the modern time, but we sometimes also have such an enormous ego and never try to see out of the box.

In honor of Dürer, this is one of my very first try at studying from his typography/type design. Later, I will try to take another subjects such as classic human proportion, which I believe can support me a lot in drawing and design.

Classically, most of the letters in alphabet are constructed with a square or half of a square. As square is defined as an absolutely balanced ratio, Dürer also tried to design the ancient letters with the exact measurement in these manners. So there is nothing wrong beginning with A, while in regular typography book, we should start with O and E instead. It means that the content Dürer covered in his book is not proper Typography or Type Design as in modern books, though we may consider this is a good source to learn something about grid and proportion from the Old Masters’ works.

letter-A-source

Draw squares in which each letter will be contained. When you place each letter into its square, its thicker limbs are to measure a tenth of the width of the square, but its thin limbs are to be only a third as wide. Keep this in mind for all letters of the alphabet.
– Albrecht Dürer, Underweysung der Messung mit dem Zirckel und Richtscheyt

Dürer basically has said nothing about the optical illusion of the same width in various angles. I have supposition that the grid systems presented here are so well-composed that they compensate mostly visual effects as the one I mention above. Then I have a optimistic thought that Dürer’s guide could be so much safe for beginners to learn how to draw fine letters.

I take advantages of using Adobe Illustrator. Using vector tools combining with absolute guides make it easy to lay basic frame of A.

letter-A-001

The original suggestion for finishing the top of A is just amazing. This is the first time I give a try in this manner. The serpentine ending is brilliant. It helps to suggest the predominant thick stem of A which also improves legibility in my opinion. This type of ending is not only for decoration, it economizes the top portion of the letter as well.

letter-A-002

This one below is the minimal version of the above one. The thick stem is emphasized in this manner.

letter-A-003

The last variation is also the most popular version with the blunt apex. This A is conceived as its primitive form – a triangle.

letter-A-004

Refined works.

letter-A-005