Why n the frist letter to start my project?

matheus's picture

hi everybody,


John Hudson's picture

Well you don't have to draw n first -- unless your instructors require it -- but it is the usual starting place. The n establishes a number of things about the face: x-height, basic lowercase stem weight, contrast between thick and thin strokes, curve speed (i.e. how gradually or quickly the curve joins the straight) and, perhaps most importantly, provides a sound basis for spacing. The relationship between the internal space of the n and the space between two n's is the typical basis for spacing a Latin typeface. You should not only draw the n, you should then arrange several n's in a row and try to space them.

Giampa's picture

No matter how much logic you may apply I would never begin designing a typeface with the letter

matheus's picture

dear sir,
and about the swiss school determinations of "n"?
many brasilian guys tell me about it...

dezcom's picture

Perhaps your teacher is just trying to find an organized way for all class members to compare their experiences and the letter"n" would then be the common ground for discussion. I am sure there are many different ways to begin a font. I start with the lower case e and a and the tinker with ascender and descender letters untill I figure out the ratio that I want to use. This is always subject to change for me at least.
I am not saying do it my way. I think you should do as your teacher suggests and learn from him what you can. Later, after you get more experience, you can figure out what works best for you. Just keep working at it and don't fear making changes, you only learn by them. You can always save every variation and compare them. This is a good learning tool.

Keep at it! regards,


Giampa's picture


I trained under Nick Schwabe, a Swiss pressman who had worked with Jan Tschichold. I am not sure what to say about the Swiss. Nick was better than good, he was excellent. However the Swiss, at least he and Jan Tschichold, were very fixed with their opinions. About as flexible as a straight edge.

Nick reminded me of my sister's husband. My sister's husband always insisted the correct way to bake a ham was to cut the ends off before putting it into the oven. His siblings did the same thing. My sister cut the ends off the ham before baking it under great protest because of the peer pressure upon her. Then one day her "mother in law" came over for dinner, yes, baked ham, and my sister asked her, "why do you cut the ends off the "ham" before you bake it? Her "mother in law" told her she doesn't, she only did that when the "ham was too big to fit into the oven". So don't be one of those "automatic ham end cutters". The reason may not be as good as you think.


So, although I have experience with Swiss printers, I have no experience with Swiss type designers. Perhaps you may think about this. The Swiss style tends to be mechanical rather than humanistic. That comment is bound to raise the ire of many in this forum. In fact I am not entirely married to the idea because I have examples of the opposite.

Swiss type cutters worked much differently than the English or the American. Hunter Middleton of Ludlow expressed to me that there were two basic schools of Swiss/German punchcutters. One would cut a counter punch with the expectations of first cutting a perfect punch, second striking it with perfect results. A serious challenge in craftsmanship for sure.The "other Swiss/German school" did not believe in the counter punch but preferred, (wink, wink!) to cut it with gravure. By this I mean a counter punch was never used.

A common practic with American and British punchcutters would be to cut an undersized counter punch, strike it, then clean up the imperfections with a gravure.

A counter punch was not struck when using a Benton Punchcutter, the counter, in name only was cut much as they were in the Swiss/German school. http://lanstontype.com/BentonPantograph.html

So, like I say, as you have pointed out, if it is true, the Swiss are the Swiss. And then there are others. The question to ask, which are you going to be? John seems to have followed the Swiss, I would have thought him to have been more British. John by the way is very good. Follow your own instincts, find out what works for you. I think if you "re-read Sol Hess" you will understand his great wisdom.

That said, I must say I have never heard of this annal fixation with the letter n.

So there is several schools of thought. One would be to buy a smaller ham, the other would be to cut the ends off the ham, the third would be to buy a bigger oven.

dezcom's picture

>So there is several schools of thought. One would be to buy a smaller ham, the other would be to cut the ends off the ham, the third would be to buy a bigger oven.<
LOL!!! and some would go to "Honey Baked Hams" and get it spiral cut :-)

as8's picture

Here is a specimen, it is called "crudo" in Italy,
according with Novarese's phat classification.

Giampa's picture

But most importantly, in the end, what really counts is the "taste".

I am going for lunch.

dezcom's picture

Back on topic

jim_rimmer's picture

In beginning the design of a new typeface, attacking the detailing of a lowercase n or any letter for that matter would be of little value to me. My approach is not so much methodical, but intuitive. I would leave the finiting of a letter like n to later on when I have developed something that is ready to be detailed.

I favour lettering a short word or two in a loose but controlled manner until I come up with something that has possibilities. Rather than to carefully draft these first letters, my custom in most cases it to more or less "write" them using a flat sletch pencil sharpened to a calligraphic edge. That is not to say that I am in every case reaching for a calligraphic letter. A lead sharpened in this way gives me the form and proportions of the letters I choose to draw.

I am not even certain that I select the same combinations of letters for each attempted type, but it seems to me that I make up the letter combinations that suit me ad the developing letterforms at the time.
This might seem by some to be directionless, but it is the way I work, and it is what I have become comfortable with. There are times that I might start out with a lowercase t, and the resulting t then tells me what letter I want next to it. When a combinations of letters begin to work together, I can think about expanding it to a complete set of lowercase.

I think for the most part in terms of text. It's not that I don't like to tackle display faces, but I just think of words and phrases in composition, and this method of writing forms gives me a direction.

I can accept that my method is "off the wall'" and not the best way for everyone to work. Neither is it valueless, because it works for what I want to achieve.

It is my curse that each time I attack a group of letters and it expands into a phrase; all the way through the process I am trying to see it under the effects of (letterpress) Impression. I guess you could say that I have channel vision, but on the other hand a face done in that way need not be focused toward letterpress alone.

Gerald Giampa has mention the work of Sol Hess and Frederic Goudy, and that they both worked in an ecclectic manner. I have read a great deal about Goudy over more than fifty years of interest of getting type onto paper, and I can know that Goudy worked in a less than methodical way. (if a person can manage it, there is a very comprehensive collection of FWG's work in the Special Collections Dept of the University of Washington in Seattle) He could however design freely and quickly, and knew where he was going. In one of his writings he noted that he once took direction for a type he was going to draw from an ancient printed page, where on letter had a broken serif. Goudy saw value in that. It gave him direction. He has also written that he once got inspiration from the shape of an i.

I have never heard of n being the first point of departure in the designing of a typeface, but who knows? If that works it would be no less bizarre than taking the dot of an i as an examplar. To me it seems somewhat rigid, and something that as Giampa has said would perhaps be better tackled later on in the process.

My method is the result of forty years or so of comping layouts and designs in pencil, chalk, markers and gouache and brush. I do value this past experience for my own purposes. In Adrain Wilson's writings about book design he shows a good many examples of title page comping by the above mediums. I visited him some twenty years or more ago at this Press In Tuscany Alley in San Francisco, and he gave generously of his time an into the bargain, handed me his book as a gift to a visiting printer.

Matheus should ask his typography instructor just why the n is the first letter to consider. I would like to know where the theory came from.

Jim Rimmer

John Hudson's picture

Gerald G: . . .is speaking of final stages of type design.

I should perhaps clarify that I was talking about the making of a typeface, not the design of a typeface in more generative or creative phase. When it comes time to start making a font, there are benefits to starting with the lowercase n, for the reasons outlined above: it is a letter that establishes some common norms that can be built on. I agree that 'design' precedes this.

Syndicate content Syndicate content