The Stroke Theory of Writing

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Originally published in Dutch in 1985, this small volume by Gerrit Noordzij expounds an entirely new theory of the design of writing. At its core are three concepts:

    A function α, which describes the transition from one counterpoint to the next

The heartline is the skeleton of a stroke. It is a zero-width description of the path of a pen. The counterpoint is the width and angle of the writing instrument, which can change independently from the direction of the stroke. Between any two counterpoints is a transition, gradual or abrupt, which describes the taper of the line (or lack thereof).

Using these concepts together, Noordzij posits two primary types of contrast: Translation and Expansion:

Translation is contrast that arises due to the changing angle of the heartline relative to the counterpoint. Contrast in calligraphy is one example: the stroke is thickest when the angle of the pen is perpendicular to the motion of the stroke, and thinnest when the angle of the pen matches stroke direction.

Expansion is contrast that arises due to a change in the width of the counterpoint. Contrast in brush painting is one example: the stroke is thickest when pressure is applied to the brush and the brush expands.

Translation can be combined with expansion, as when pressure is applied to the stroke of a broad-nib pen, or by using an angled brush.

Noordzij applies these concepts to typography, which he refers to as "dehydraded writing". He suggests that although typographical strokes are drawn rather than written, their modulation can be described using these terms.

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