Type design study from Old Master – Letter S

That was a really old story in art. I can remember something wise said by an art teacher who may be Robert Beverly Hale, in his book “Drawing lesson from Old Masters” or Glenn Vilppu in his “Drawing Manual”. It was said that people usually get impressed by high contrast edges more than subtle contrast, just because of their mediocre perception which can’t help them to conceive a delicately harmonious rendering. The same context can be applied in linear design. I want to confess that as a beginner, I used to make design from straight lines and grid systems. Anytime I face to a more flexible subject, for example Skype logo, I totally get wrecked in my mind. Really, it is hard draw a nice flowing curve which becomes flawless and lively in motion. As Aemon in Game of Thrones once said: “Kill the boy, and let the man be born”, I make a decision as well as a challenge on my own. I will create a nice letter S.

Peter Paul Rubens Portrait of Hélène Fourment
Peter Paul Rubens, Portrait of Hélène Fourment

Any letter is hard enough to craft as soon as you began to learn the principles of type design. But I want to say honestly that the S is not only the one I find the most struggling to start with, but also the most fascinating one. The letter is so distinctive, but today we sometimes link it with the horizontally reflected Z version in certain trends. Then these traditional forms of S suddenly bring something vital to me.

Below is the original instruction from Dürer, you can find detailed writing in his book.


There comes the first style of S spine. This one recalls calligraphy appearance which suggests the transition of flat nib pen stroke.


The latter version of S totally drives me crazy. At first I could not handle these kind of curves. It truly require both skills and patience, along with a lot of focus in virtual perception. Though, the result is so sweet, I can’t take my eyes off that elegant spine or that very fine endings which Dürer suggested.


This is also the first letter I create for design challenge which I make for myself, which means that I will design a logo named Silverpoint. Next character will come soon.

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