My name is Vex; I'm a student of the Visual Communication Department in the Bezalel Academy of art and design, Jerusalem.
Three weeks ago I began to seriously get into my graduation thesis project. Today I started this blog because I believe that the process of making this project is interesting enough, and because I need your comments.
It started, like many projects do, with a nerve wrecking creative block. Dozens of talks with friends that came down to vague declarations such as: "I want to do something experimental about the Hebrew script" But what? In the end of most of these conversations I had a few rough drawings in my sketchbook, and some depressing thoughts like "maybe I'd hand in my pet-graphic-novel as my project" One option I considered was to continue a project I did last year (my third of four) called "The Two Dimensional Alphabet" in which I examined the option of an alphabetic system that is written across a plane rather than a single line. The "results" of this experiment were negative, but its products were some large scale posters with text-like structures, without a beginning or an end, and they were pretty cool.
Another line of ideas originated from an old debate I had with Mr. Shmuel Sella, whose Font design course I took for the past three semesters. Mr. Sella claims, and no doubt has a point, that the only way to make a good decent font in Hebrew was to use the "Meruba" or square form of the letter, the Hebrew equivalent to Roman Upright. Whereas I said that trough clever use or the free-cursive form or the "Rashy" form, we could enrich the range of common Hebrew typography and sustain some level of legibility. Along time, these forms will be more and more common, and Hebrew will finally have a useful Italic. Obviously I understand that this can take eons, and that a course in font design is not about changing the basic structure of the letters. Still, the issue about cursive Hebrew kept bothering me: The Hebrew alphabet can be problematic because of the similarity of the letters, almost all of them based on a rectangle, while there are two other "hands" or styles in Hebrew and therefore a potential of new completely different letters that will still be familiar and legible. I don’t know why I waited with this till the beginning of last semester but here it is, the subject for my thesis before you, in 18 pt. and bold: New Hebrew Cursive.
Hebrew typography has been my hobby and profession for years. I know a lot about this field. But I started the project with learning some more. Ada Yardeni’s book “The Book of Hebrew Script” (indeed, She's the graphic artist behind the "Ada" typeface.) is the most comprehensive book; I have come across, about the subject. A considerable part of the theoretical basis of my project was taken from that book.
Ms. Yardeni wrote about the long history of the styles of Hebrew scripts. She analyzed it throughout various eras. Its modern different shapes were also inquired. Ada Yardeni’s book is compulsory for whoever is interested in our language and typography. Later on I went over old issues of the magazine “Baseline” and books about Arabic calligraphy.
I was inspired by the Arabic alphabet, which is really related to the Hebrew one.
I will mention this later.
During the semester break I learnt Arabic.
I used the Arabic textbook “Al Arabia” from junior high school. I filled up pages of hesitated Arabic calligraphy. In order to do this, I used a "Speedball" wide stylus, 5 mm. This is a fine piece of metal, which runs on the paper (preferably chromo mat) smoothly, fast and elegantly. It stores enough ink for fluent writing without leaks.
I chose a tutor for the project. Professor Avi Eisenstein has been teaching me typography since my first year in Bezalel. Eisenstein is a senior Bezalelite personality. Everyone who has ever studied in the Department knows him. Everyone has an opinion about him. He is dramatic and enthusiastic, funny and controversial. I have a feeling that we will work well together. After all I took three classes with him my first three years in Bezalel. He knows me and my way of thinking. I know him and his method of tutoring. A dominant tutor like Eisenstein is not good for every student. In my case, I know more or less what I want. I also know how to combine his tutorial with my ideas. This is what happened with the project of bi-dimensional writing when I was a third year student. This is what’s going to happen now – harmony and fun.
Here is a picture of the bi-dimensional script.
This is the way Hebrew was written by people whose native tongue was Arabic.
Here is another example:
As was mentioned, I’m trying “to hybridize” the Hebrew 'Square' hand (it's kinda like the 'Roman Upright' of Hebrew, although it has nothing to do with Romans and it's not really upright) with other shapes of Hebrew writing. I’m also trying to imagine what the writing may look like if those shapes were used in print. This assumption is not at all refuted: The Latin Italic is a “printed” handwriting that stylized through centuries to its various typographic shapes. The origin of this writing is cursive handwriting which was fixed in the 17th century according to the typographic fashion in Italy. Therefore, it is known as ‘Italics’.
Furthermore, the shape of the lowercase letter in Latin scripts results from the deformation of the capital letter in cursive writing. Nevertheless, this is a much longer process which started with the use of Latin writing back in Ancient Rome.
Well, the connection of hand-written letters is an excellent case to look for new shapes. I wandered like a high-school student and I photocopied my friends’ notebook.
I’ll write about this tomorrow.
This is a brief review from my book of sketches.
This is the style of such connections from my hand-writing. Here I’m trying to design ligatures.
I made a short experiment. I put a pencil on a note-book. I started moving the pencil in circles while I was moving my hand along the width of the paper. One time I did it from left to right. The other time I did it from right to left.
Before you is the result:
When I “write cursive” from left to right, the result is a uniform cursive surface on which it is possible to identify Latin letters. Ostensibly, the cursive script in Latin languages is well assimilated in our reading habits (it is possible to identify letters eventhough there was no intention to write them). Furthermore, the cursive script is more natural for the hand. In the motion of my hand from right to left, I somewhat felt that the motion of the pencil in circles was resisted. Everyone who tried to write with a stylus knows that it is easy to move one’s hand in circles to the right. But it is difficult to move one’s hand to the left in circles. The result of this may be a torn paper, splashes of ink and frustration.
How come the Semitic writers did not change their direction of writing? How did the Arabic writing become cursive from right to left?
Anyhow, I’ll try to find connections and combinations of letters in these trials of automatic writing. It is strange to realize that I like the texture of the “text” from the right eventhough it is defected and irregular. It is certainly interesting.
To the first part I let some people make the same experiment with the automatic writing. Well, there was a difference in some people’s curling from right to left and the sketching from left to right. However, the gap between the two surfaces of notes differed between the various people. For example: my mate P. is a brilliant illustrator and a talented designer. But his hand-writing is terrible. Two of his hand-writings were remarkably similar. Both of them are similar to his illegible hand-writing.
There are cursive Hebrew scripts.
The most popular is the Ashkenazi Hebrew style (a “handwrite” as we know it) There is also Rashi writing (“semi cursive”)
The font “David Slanted” (one of my favorite fonts) is a brilliant experience to introduce Rashi writing to the mainstream of Hebrew print.
Furthermore, there are "Rolit"and "Rahat" (they exist in a calligraphic shape. Check it in the book “Artistic Hebrew Writing” by L. P. Tubi), the cool and beutiful “glass of milk” of "The Pilot"…
Did I forget anything?
So, what is the difference between those writings and what I’m doing? I’m not quite sure.
At the moment what I’m doing is completely illegible. It is experimental and extreme more than the other typefaces. I’m also flirting with the Arabic alphabet. This hasn’t happened in Hebrew typography since the 16th century.
A corner in my studio.
This week I sketched more than twenty sheets of paper in a paintbrush.
The letters on the left are a font which I have designed from the third year until the first semester of this year. And the map is related to a totally different project.
As I said, for the last days I have been sitting with photocopies of few peoples’ notebooks. I have been trying to be inspired by their hand-writing. The styling is done by calligraphic writing with a thick stylus. I sometimes design signs by drawing and classic hand-lettering with a pencil and some rulers.
Having done that, I met with my tutor. Eisenstein is satisfied with the purpose of the project. However, I copied words from notebooks without really bothering to think about what I’m writing. Strange things were created. “You wrote 'dirtily'” said Avi. “But it seems elegant. You ought to write words of neutral meaning such as ‘typography’ or ‘cursive’"
He is absolutely right. But why should I write “spacing” or “rhythm”? This is boring. I decided to write women’s names. The writing is twisted and lyric. Whoever insists may justify this textual choice.
Here are the first ladies:
There are Talia, Dikla, Shirly, Inbar Nophar, Simma, Zilla, Vered and Yasmin. I won’t make you tired with tens of pages.
In the fifties, a Lebanese typographer, Nassri Katar worked on the design of printed Arabic style whose letters are not joined, and all are sitting on the baseline. His aim was to solve many problems of printing in Arabic when Letterpress was the only printing technology for mass production. An Arab printer needs around two hundred metal letters in order to write proper Arabic. Nevertheless, the type in question does not have the typographical qualities that the Arab handwriting does.
Nassri Katar was a candidate for the Nobel Award for his life project. So, what is the matter in designing cursive Hebrew style?
Modern technology quiet easily permits it. (It impossible to exaggerate with the importance of Adobe's 'Indesign' in the field of typographical design, especially in Semitic languages).
I decided to do automatic-writing each morning, like so:
That in order to exercise my hand. It is sometimes possible to find here interesting joints and ligatures. The texture of the paper reminds me of something the script I design should aspire to.
Do you remember I tried to write with a paint-brush? I tried to style the shapes of the letter with a stylus.
The result was terrible. In the best case the letters did not change their shape. In the worst case they boasted with unnecessary and forced joints. This is the way Latin letters are connected. I’m trying to create organic connections for each letter. The connection needs to be a part of the shape of the letter, as it is in Arabic, instead of being a trace of the motion of the paintbrush.
An Arab letter is built on a round grid whose diameter is at the height of the letter Aliph. Rhombuses are created by drawing the stylus which writes the letter. Those rhombuses help keep the proportion in designing.
Here is the grid on which I intend to work soon.
She just happened when I did some calligraphy.
I wrote her intending to draw only the significant part of the letter, the one you couldn't recognize the letter without. The inner stroke of the Heh was replaced by a diacritic dot.
Today I started designing a few letters. I started with Lamed and Shin because those are letters are linked in many people’s hand-writings. The way Lamed and Shin are linked is combined in the shape of the letter. The result is a complete sign.
Simultaneously, I will continue with automatic writing and calligraphy.
I missed a meeting with Eisenstein, my tutor and a meeting with Adi Stern, who's typography class I took last semester. Adi promised to have a look at my project. I didn’t show up for the meeting because I had a session with the Head of the Department; I presented the project to him. He approved of it. (ha ha, lucky me) Of all the meetings I planned on the same day, the session with the Head of the Department was the least helpful.
Anyway, I will go on the way I did all last week, because I believe my way is just and fun.
Go to part two
I'll say it again: cursive and semi-cursive styles of writing have already existed in Hebrew. I promise to scan and upload some examples as soon as “Mythos”, an (awful!) online bookstore, send me the book “The Book of Hebrew Script” which I ordered a month ago.
In Jewish communities throughout the Arab world it is possible to see a few styles of writing which were influenced by the Arab alphabet. Those shapes are beautiful. Why aren’t they in use any longer?
Why is there only one font of the Rashi style which is only used in the Scriptures?
Most of the commercial advertising in Israel is issued in English. Nevertheless Hebrew such has a great potential. This realy bothers me. My first guess is that the cursive writings disappeared because Ashkenazi (European) Jews, like The linguist Eliezer Ben Yehuda, writers like Bialik and Shlonsky, revived and secularized Hebrew. The Hebrew culture which developed in Israel in the early twentieth century is a mixture of the Ashkenazy Legacy. And a little local Sephardy influence. The “Arab” scripts which came from Yemen or Morocco must have followed the guttural pronunciation of the consonants “Het” and “Ayin” and disappeared from everyday use. Did we give up on the richness of our writing when the Zionist ethos was created? Is it related to the fact that as the Israeli identity was established we became enemies with the Arabs?
On the other hand, the Ashkenazi pronunciation disappeared as well... You will find plenty of theories of conspiracy in other blogs not here.
Go to part three There may be a technological reason.
It is hard to convert cursive free writing to print, especially to letterpress. It took the Arabs a long time to get used to this invention. Except for Nassri Kattar’s daring attempt, there were no tries to adjust Arab alphabet to print. Therefore, in places in the world where cursive Hebrew styles developed, there was no print! Simultaneously, in Europe the Latin writing prospered, while the Hebrew print was rather rare. Publishers who needed Hebrew letters used Christian letter-carvers. Even the classic font Frank-Ruehl was cast in a Christian German foundry. Thus, the famous Ashkenazi square letter was fixed in the mainstream of print. The shape of that letter was affected by Latin type design. The 19th century Hebrew font Drogolin is an attempt to give Hebrew The style and the contrast of the kinds of Latin letters such as Bodoni and Dido.
I changed the Lamed. There are some more new letters.
One basic assumptions of this project is that modern technologies allow complex scripts to be used in graphic design software. The format of Open-Type can use different configurations of a letter regarding its position in the word, and simplifies the use of Kashidas ("Semitic justification") and ligatures.
I believe that there is nothing more beautiful than a font designed with love from its basic idea to the delicate nuances.
But it's not gonna happen in the forthcoming months.
My main work in to change the basic structure of the letter. This is the focus of my project. I will certainly improve the shape of the letters you have seen here. I still have tons of work on the development of the system. The system is meant to create letters which will be modular enough so that theoretically it will be possible to turn them into a working model. But the design of a model is a very long process (for instance, I needed three semesters in order to work on a standard Hebrew font. and that font is not ready yet). I doubt if I can design a reasonable font by the opening of the exhibition…
Q: What the hell were you thinking about when you designed this Gimmel?!
I realized that in each step of this project, products I plan multiply. Every time I sit to work on the project I have more different matters to see to. Today I divided the work to three parts – as usually I started with free automatic writing. I then designed a few new letters according to the round grid I wrote about and today I started designing with a milimeter paper a square version of the letters I designed with French curves.
So, here they are in front of you, Michal, Efrat, Na’ama and Margalit:
This font is influenced by the Arab style called "Kuffic". I assume it was invented in order for it to be possible to write Arabic on mosaics. but it is widely used in various media.
Now, as for those shapes, I can now style another font which is less “shaky” than the free font is, something which may remind me of Chaim, Sapir or HaZvi typefaces? I don’t know.
My daily exercise was to divide the Alpha-Beth to groups.
In every font and every writing style the letters are divided according to similar characteristics. For instance, the letters written in the end of a word are normally designed with the same characteristics or the famous ùòèð"æ â"õ letters (Shin, Ayin, Teit, Nun, Zain, Gimel and Zadik). In many fonts the ùòèð"æ â"õ letters are distinct from the other letters in the way The the letter's heads is linked to the lower part of the letter.
It sounds like something which may organize my work and make the script I invent a bit more systematic and modular. So, I sat for an hour and drew Hebrew letters in every style I could remember. Then I cut them and started moving them around.
What should I say?
I somewhat felt like in Chemistry laboratory of high-school, since I was steering and moving all kinds of materials with no method and no reason. I was waiting in vain to understand something.
Hopefully, it will be possible to group the letters while I work on the letters themselves since I cannot plan this in advance. This unstable business was dispersed at a certain stage. Now the whole studio is covered with tiny pieces of paper with letters on them.
This is more or less the time to check new shapes for this writing. So far I have designed the letters in this round chubby way:
Here is another possible direction:
This is the level of finishing these shapes will have whatever the style is going to be:
On Thursday I spoke to Yehuda Hofshi – a designer, writer and a lecturer in Bezalel. He indicated how critical this stage is. I have to come to a few important decisions regarding the final design (presumably with or without serifs? thin or chubby? with straight lines or maybe make it a round font?) Each decision will make me design doesens of signs. Have I already mentioned that I am getting closer and closer to the deadline? Yehuda suggested that I write a word (or name) in two or three possible styles. This will appear on the blog tomorrow with God's will.
I found a way to collect the letters in my handwriting – according to the way they are connected. It sounds complex and refutable. But the cursive Hebrew script will be divided to letters that can connect from the right upwards, from the right downwards, from the left downwards. Some letters will not be joined at all – final letters, and a combination of what was previously mentioned. These cursive letters will force a similar design of letters. I don't really have a problem with this complexity because the handwriting is legible and one can easily write it.
In this photo it is possible to see the partition of the existing letters. The table with X's in its lower part is a list of the letters I more or know how they are going to look. Not bad for one month. Ha?
Roni L. my good friend and a gifted typographer had a look at what I have so far designed for the project. She claims that the most significant part of the project is the division of the writing to groups of letters. There ought to be logic in each letter you design" She said and made me swear to pay no attention to my stylistic whims. There is no reason for the Lamed to be bent to the back if it is a tall letter. There is no reason to write an initial letter at the middle of the word. The excuse is "It looks nicer this way" may turn my work from a serious academic project into a decorative nonsense.
Today I met with my tutor Eisenstein. He examined patiently every sign I have sketched in the last two weeks. He gave me a list of comments. Every word he said is important. I have plenty of work until I get a modular set of reasonable letters.
I'm also grateful to Liri for having expressed his opinion about the photos I introduced here yesterday.
I'm very curious to know what the other students are doing.
I'm sure that all of them are at a very interesting stage now. They already know more or less what they are planning to do. There are probably beginnings of products. But no one has started facing the exhausting stage of fine design or production.
O.K. I have my personal friends. We have been discussing our projects between us quite a lot, after all, that's what keeps us busy most of the time. But I have hardly seen all the other tens of students of our department since the beginning of the semester. I'm almost the only one who is working on the project in the studio of the department (which is rather nice. I got a hold of three lockers and two meters of a wall. I even built a sketching desk for myself). The tutorial for the project is done between a student and his tutor one on one. I asked Eisenstein why this is the way the tutorial is done. He claimed that the main reason is that people are afraid that ideas will be stolen from them. "Some people keep closing the door, when they meet with me" he said. My Dear Shirly B. claims that the reason is that in the second semester of the fourth year everyone who meets you in the corridor just has to ask you what progress you make with the project. Many people are tired of talking to strangers about the project.
I thought about the hundred foreign surfers who have so far entered this blog and all the students who pass by my studio who look and sometimes ask questions. I probably belong to the other extreme. I'm doing a well seen project. I have two good reasons: First of all, this project relates to communication. Every person who expresses his honest opinion about the how he reads (or has trouble reading) my lettering will help me to design a better type.
Secondly, unlike many other projects in visual communication, the way to the final shape of the letters is not less important than the final "product" which will be shown in the exhibition. Therefore, it is necessary that more people become aware of that process. Regarding copying and stealing ideas, I'm not disturbed: whoever copies from me will always be one step behind me.
Today I joined the big league:
I put up on the message board of the studio a relatively detailed timetable. My timetable starts next week and finishes on the day the project has to be submitted (mark the 27th of June). My schedule is comfortably divided to "planning of letters", "designing the final letter" (manually) "the computerization of the final letter", "organizing the exhibition" (for that I devoted a month. I still have posters to design) and a "hysteria coefficient" (I took an extra week in order to prevent problems, and if there will be no problems I'll work on my sunten). I believe that I found the key to a quiet life.
Before I start designing a letter I check its calligraphic shape, to see what feels natural for the hand to draw, and how the lines wax and wane.
Then I try to interpret it to a "typographic" and set all the letters on a grid.
Now I can check how the letter works in a word. At this stage I discover that things that look wonderful when they are separate do not always work in a whole.
Here I took three pictures. But the truth is that I was working all day on the letters Gimmel and Zayin. I filled quiet a lot of papers with sketches of those letters. Of course, this is not the final version of the font. I think it will be a lot lighter.
If you manage to read what is written here, send me a reply.
And what is written here?
Go to part four
In the Herodiane period, first and second centuries, cursive Hebrew script and extreme cursive were quite common throughout the Land of Israel and Judea. It was an official form of writing: Many legal documents written in such scripts were found. The failure of Bar-Kochva's revolt against the Roman occupation and the destruction of the second temple led to the exile of the Jewish people and to the extermination of that cursive script.
No inscriptions in Herodiane manuscript dated after 135 were found.
The more I work on the project, the more I read and look for Hebrew manuscripts. The less I join letters. The connection of letters defects many Hebrew letters. They lost their identity (for instance the tiny letter Yod could never be connected). The connection of letters may seem awkward. However, I would like the letter to "stream". The letter should be created by few draws of the stylus. I'm trying to find a clear syntax which would seem natural and logical. I consider it more important than the connection of letters. Some letters are easily connected. They will stay there until the end of the exhibition or the end of the year or for good. My beloved Siamese daughters. ..
I was asked whether it would be easy to write in this script.
I need to clarify to myself what the aims of this project are. At the moment I'm working on a typeface for print only. But the shapes and the feel of this typeface result from handwriting. Is there a contradiction? I'm not sure, but I have to think about it.
One of the reasons why I believe there is no contradiction between the two approaches is that typing is becoming more common than handwriting. In adition, modern printing technologies permit very simple typing of complex cursive script. Adobe's InDesign allows cursive writing in Arabic, Latin ligatures and the changing of letters themselves, as well as the extension of particular letters in the text:
Go to part five
The square ("upright") characters were used for writing Hebrew Scriptures. Therefore, its shapes were consecrated. There are precise traditions for the way it has to be written. Thus, it became a Jewish universal script. A Jewish Scripture from Yemen would have almost identical letters as a Jewish Scripture from Poland.
Manuscripts develop with a local influence – the Latin influence in Europe and the Arab influence in the Oriental diasporas. It is natural for local scripts that only few people use, to disappear.
This Newsletter started off as the blog I started two weeks ago in order to document the process of working on my thesis project. The blog was an excellent means to write important or interesting stuff which arise while I'm working. Its public display, the automatic dating and mainly the simple and rapid possibility to keep pictures taken by a digital camera caused me to be more consistent with the documentation of the process of working. I think that in such a project the process is important because it is entirely unclear to me what the final product or its significance is. I’m only positive that the way to the result is very interesting.
Nevertheless, the "Israblog" website is not a good neighborhood. Therefore, from now on the documentation of the project will be a format of a weekly newsletter for selected subscribers. Hi, Dad.
Today I didn't do anything for the project. I visited my parents in Herzeliya. I intend to go to the one year anniversary party of the excellent records company G6pd. The artists of that company, some of them are close friend of mine, create mainly electronic music.
I have a few more letters to design. Several weeks ago, when I only sketched the first doodle, I spoke to Adi Stern. He warned me about the "flexible brief" of projects which are a lasting and associative experiment. The brief I submitted to Yossi Ohayon, the head of the V.C Department sounds rather flexible. It didn't promise anything more concrete than “the examination of borderline cases in which square characters meet manuscripts and manuscripts meet Arabic”. Before the session with Yossi I had realized that my “examination of borderline cases” came down to designing the shape of the letters and less on experiments in writing which is not classic calligraphy or lettering with black ink or pencil.
As the days go by my work looks less and less brilliant. I don’t draw letters in the sand. I don’t drip ink into the aquarium. I only keep sketching all day. Piles of waxed paper, even the strong orange or bright green inks were left in the locker. Apparently, I’m working now on one product only: the design of the shape of extreme cursive Hebrew script. Now that's a strict and clear brief. Isn’t it? Well, It’s not. This is an open road. I know about the beginning of that script. I decided on its origins; one origin is in square characters, the second origin is in Ashkenazi free handwrite which we use every day. The third origin is in Arab script, Hebrew's next of keen. But nothing is known for sure in advance. I have no idea what it is going to look like in the end. Everyday I discover something new. (Today I discovered that Hebrew letters join whenever the connection suits them and not necessarily whenever I want them to). I certainly don’t know how my presentation is going to look like and what’s going to be in the exhibition.
Script is abstract, immaterial (even shapeless). It is movements of the hand on the paper. It is basic principles for the design of various fonts. I suppose that finally there will be a few posters. I have no idea.
Shapes of writing reciprocally influence each other. Nevertheless, there has never been a combination of Arabic, Hebrew and Ashkenazi scripts. These are my influences. That’s where I live. This dish is delicious because it is possible.
Today somebody asked me what this writing is supposed “to express”.
I was somewhat bewildered. So far I haven’t given it any thought.
Why does this question arise all the time? does everything that’s written in Arabic and Hebrew together must be political? Maybe so. It's definitely not political in the sense of recruited art, for I had no intention to deliver any message. I only do a research that might have a political denotation.
Search for the right Kof:
Because it is writing, and this script is even legible. It is possible to communicate with it.
According to the timetable, I’m supposed to finish designing the basic shape of the letters until Saturday night. I only have to design the Zadik, Kof and Tav. So I’m doing quite good. I’m determined on the final shape of most letters. Therefore, I begin to discover that this script has laws and principles. For instance, the letters are mostly connected by "thorns" which turn downwards (in words like "Madlane" and "Daphne").
The apexes of Reish, Heh, Kaf, Chet and Dalet are tilted. The Zayin and Gimmel have similar features when they go under the baseline. The connection of two letters with a Yod between them always works. This script is getting more and more coherent by the day.
I’m through with the initial sketches for the writing. I have all the letters and their connections. Not everything is working smoothly. But I presume that all the problems will be solved as I continue working.
I start thinking about the font I’m going to design within the forthcoming month.
This is a sad joke to design a font in only a month – especially this font of a script which does not really exist and it needs an entirely new set of rules. Furthermore, the design of this script is problematic from every aspect: It is tilted Serif. It is full of ligatures, letters which go over or down the baseline. I start suspecting that the resulting font will not be as good as the theoretic basis behind it.
So far I have designed a few words in various “fonts”.
The matter of a Serif font is now doubtful: Pay attention to the word "Michelle", it is fluent. It has coherency and authenticity. Besides, how are tags related to cursive writing? "Tag Sofrim" or "Scriber's tags" (mistakably known as “Serifs” because of their similarity to serifs in latin scripts, The tag on the tops of the Hebrew letters are not additions. But the place where the scriber put the writing implement). Scriber's tags can be a part of the square characters or any “elegant” writing. However, in free handwrite there are less pen stokes and no tags or decorations.
Nevertheless, I think these tags are veri important. They are the “Yiddishekait” (Jewish heritage) of this script. This is the “Hebrew” characteristic of the letters. Without these tags the letters are more reminiscent of the Arab alphabet. The balance I would like to have between my sources of inspiration is destabilized without them.
I decided on Serif writing like the one used in the word "Meirav". (bottom row, second to the left)
I thought of discussing my decision with Avi Eisenstein. But it is not necessary. It is quiet clear to me that this is my grid.
I start wavering again about the significance of this project. A change in the style of writing takes place by natural causes. It is almost evolutionary. Personal tendencies of writers, technological changes (writing with a quill or using a pen, parchment or paper, and the “Wild Card”: printing), environmental influences (the influence of Gothic Latin writing on the Ashkenazi Hebrew style and the fluency of Arab writing over Hebrew writers in Arab countries) fashion and economic constraints. Non the less, there are some worldwide examples for scripts which were designed by individual persons. The Cyrillic and the Galgolitic scripts are attributed to St. Cyril who wished to transcribe the Bible into Slavic languages that had no alphabets. I have heard that the Korean writing had been designed as a result of a request of a Korean ruler who had decided to restrict the Chinese influence on his culture. I’m positive that there are many othjer examples as such.
But in my opinion it is over ambitious to design an unnecessary writing which can hardly be hand-written and hence requires a modern printing technology. Tomorrow I will consult Eisenstein.
My meeting with Eisenstein today was almost solemn. In the last two weeks plenty of sketches piled up. Those sketches had to be associated to each other. Therefore, I put all of them on the wall. Listen, it is great fun to see that a ten day work catches up two walls in a medium size room. Eisenstein made a few important comments about the joints between letters which seemed problematic to him. He also paid a special attention to masses and spacing. But regarding the denotation of this script, he could not really encourage me. He is such a delighted formalist. He claims that the aesthetic values of this typeface sufficiently justify its existence. Moreover, the attempt to make up a new writing is interesting in itself. Let me be less satisfied. While Eisenstein was talking about the look of my writing, it sounded as if he was describing some kind of a Baroque ornament. I truly believe that it excites him. But I wouldn’t want this script to excel in ornamentation. I have been working hard enough in order to reduce it and focus my thesis on each letter and each joint. Isn’t is recognizable?
As for the cancellation of my doubts from last night: I’m still enchanted by the Vegetative manner by which scripts develop in reality. I still suspect that my script is as “instant” as soup from a can. It's just not the real thing. This is incorrect and unsatisfying.
After the meeting with Eisenstein I continued working on the new font according to the grid from yesterday. This is one of the coolest things I have done in my life despite all the restrictions.
I was encouraged by the charm of the first two words I composed with the font I’m designing. I told everyone who was ready to hear that I overtook my time-table by a week. But today you will find out yourselves:
I knew it wouldn’t be simple.. The required density of the connections clashes with the meter of the letter and its inner space. Therefore, some words look more “cramped” whereas some of them look more “spacious” as long as all the letters are concerned. Moreover, the letters vary in height and This characteristic is of importance and principal for the sake of fluency. Thus, each line looks wiggly.
Here I managed to correct it a little bit:
But I still had plenty of problems with many other letters of the Alpha-Beth. I think that those problems will be solved by designing heavier letters. It will be much easier for me to set the space in and in-between the letters. As was in the former sketches, everything will look more united and the short letters won’t look as if got lost in space.
But now I’ll go home and do something else.
See you next week.
I’m a bad girl.
All the last week I started working on a new font every few hours. Something was stuck on the most basic level. Only after working hard and designing many ugly letters did I understand that the problem was that I stuck too much to the grid. I threw the gridline papers and the rulers and returned to the sketch of “Na’ama” which I did two months ago.
After two months of work, and piles of sketches, the sketch of “Na’ama” is still, I believe, the coolest thing I have done for this project. My guess is that the nice thing in “Na’ama” is the lack of unity and the lack of logic. As strange as it sounds, I tried to bend these to the system of a font which it theoretically usable in printing.
But something did not work. The problem seemed to be the crookedness of the writing. When I tried to scale down the letters and use them in a sentence, matters only became more complicated. I went around the printer and the sketching board. I re-designed all the letters quiet many times.
At this stage I gave up. I decided to leave the waxed papers and do something else, something pleasant.
I took a high school notebook and went to the balcony in a bikini and sun tan lotion. I was sitting there for a few hours and writing in the notebook in my new handwriting with a simple Rapidograph. This I should have done a long time ago. Sure, I did a lot of hand lettering for this project, but always thinking calligraphically instead of using free handwriting.
While working on this project I basically paid attention to the legibility of the script. Only now do I think about its “writeability”. This is usually not an aspect that typographers give much thought to, since the shape of the letter is given. The basic shape of the letter in every script is affected by the way people moved their hands in order to draw the shapes of the letters. Shapes “which cannot be written” disappear quickly. Shapes of letters also change because of the way the hand is tilted. This is how cursive types become.
We go back to the question of the aim of my project. What’s the point in designing a semi-cursive shape of a Hebrew if this process can be true only when it happens naturally?
My entire project is based on a paradox. Possibly the design of a font is not the product this project should aspire to. I need to think about it. I have always said that my project might not have a final product, but it does have a hypothesis. I decided on three sources of structure and shape for this script (the two types of Modern Hebrew and the Arab alphabet). I tried to find the connection between them. When I went through this process, I came to a few interesting conclusions about writing and Hebrew, designers and the Middle East. I manage to create a new system of writing with its own laws and a significant inner division (the "ùòèðæ â"õ of that writing). So The font is problematic, So what.
The poster of the classic Hebrew font “Drogolin” from the Molcho Catalogue (Bezalel production, 198…) has been hanging in front of my face for a month. I think it’s time to take it off. Everything I have designed so far now seems old-fationed. I need a different inspiration.
On the right "Before", on the left "After"
After the two pictures had been taken, the department managed to close down our studio for the sake of acceptation examinations. So it doesn’t really matter. The two papers are in a folder now.
Here is a happy common nightmare among the students of Bezalel: Two lecturers whose opinions you appreciate, totally contradict each other about the project. In this case its about the very heart of my project. Today I spoke to Adi Stern who came for a visit in the studio. He claimed that the main problem of this script is that it is illegible. For instance he pointed out the letters Pe, Beth and Gimmel that really go one step before the Reish, The Chet and the Aleph, from their resemblance to familiar letters. Obviously, this is hard to read. Eisenstein will admit that too. But he will not call it “illegibility”. Maybe it is necessary to differentiate between “legibility” and “clarity”. I believe, and Eisenstein shears this opinion, that every alphabetic system takes time to learn. Even the Rashi Script which is similar to square Hebrew letters can hardly be read by people who are not used to it. One should learn Rashi script although one reads well the Hebrew free handwrite and square type. This is the reason for the table which compares between the Rashi script and “Koren” Hebrew font letters in the Bible I got in my military basic training.
According to Eisenstein's approach, a set of letters is legible if it has signs with a common logic of design, that differ enough for one to distinguish between different letters, and similar enough to be used as a totally modular set.
Therefore, Eisenstein is especially interested in letters which are related to the conventional shape of the letter in an associative and loose way. Letters like the Aiyn which is created by its right part and the gestalt of the other hand of the Aiyn in the letter which comes from the left.
Such things also happen in the “natural” fluency of hand writing. This is how ligatures are created. The Pei I’m trying to design is another step after the Pei of the Ashkenazi handwrite script:
First, in the square script the nose turns inward from the upper part of the letter. In the fluent writing the nose of the Pe turns in from the lower part of the letter. In “my” writing the only thing that remains is the nose of the Pe. The top of the letter is skipped. That's not THAT far-fached, isn't it?
In the first place I didn’t want the alphabet I would design to be entirely legible. I want to challenge the viewer (or maybe the reader? This always bothers me a lot). I really enjoy myself when others challenge me. Adi’s question is a question of dosage. After all even if I don’t change the basic shapes of the Hebrew letters and I go for a font every reader of Hebrew can read, my aim will still be fulfilled if it will still have correlation with the handwrite script and the Arab alphabet. This can be a challenging enough task, that's for sure.
In my opinion, the problem of my font is not its illegibility or legibility. (This was my guess in some of the cases); the chief problem was inconsistence.
In the forthcoming weeks, while I work on the font, I will have to start thinking a bit like an illustrator and make all these shape look like a big happy family. I have no idea what the final result is going to look like. But I guess I’ll start by moderating the more extreme letters I have designed. I believe that the answers will come out. This script has an internal truth, one should only discover it. There is no "Me".
My friend, Roni Levit sat with me a couple of hours today, and tried to understand how to write this. She was trying to précis each letter to its basic shape as a line of pencil, without styling it or getting into calligraphy. Roni tried to understand the mechanism of this script regardless of its design. The result was a scheme on which I can now make up any font I wish. This result is more concise than other things I have done so far. Besides that, I continued working on few letters on the level of designing a font. Maybe now this is it?
Happy Holiday everybody. See you next week.
For the last three weeks I have been working on the design of a font. This is a minuet with something like forty shapes in order to make them all work together in harmony. Designing a font is a lot of fun. But it is hard to describe this fun in words. It's like going off about solving the Hungarian cube.
Go to the part six
Meanwhile, regarding my experience, cursive writing and Hebrew don't go together; it looks strange. Some letters, like Yod for instance, could never conjoin. And to the others ligatures will seem unnatural and unpleasant. The manuscript which we use nowadays is an excellent example of fluency. This writing is everyday use and it is easily and quickly absorbed. It is easy to write it. Furthermore, it is sufficiently similar to the shape of square characters. the brief history of the Hebrew print is probably the reason why this script is not popular in contemporary Hebrew typography as italic script is in Latin typography. I promise that the next font I will design will be a cursive script that could be used to create a hierarchy in running text. Just let me finish this project and I’ll start working on the next one.
Now I have to focus on those conclusions. I have to think of a way of presenting the project, it's now time to do that.
I don’t know when I’m going to send the next newsletter. I promise that this is going to happen as soon as I have something interesting to say. I will always be happy to read or hear your comments. This time I enclosed many sketches especially for this.