Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Glyph...Sigil...Signature.......Thing.

Tom P. strikes again with the following:

I'd love to hear about personal glyph design! I know it's a pretty basic assignment in most art schools, but I've never come up with a good sigil design for my name that I thought worked. Any thoughts on that topic?

Wait.  Glyph design is a basic assignment in most art schools?  Really?  Huh.  Not at mine.  The subject of glyph design or signatures is a tough one for someone who regularly leaves his work unsigned, nevertheless I shall give my thoughts on the matter.  I shall endeavor to grope forth and accidentally fondle some truths.  I shall... You know, I should just get on with it.

First off, I can't really speak for others' glyph design.  I can really only speak of my own struggles with it and how I came to the conclusion that it simply wasn't right for me.  I have the letters "S" and "B" to deal with which, quite frankly, is not a good start.  On their own, they work splendidly.  In combination with other letters they can live happily.  Together, they just don't play well.  I have spent an inordinate amount of time attempting to cram them together in a way that was pleasing, alternating between upper and lower-case, mixing it up with different sizes, getting fancy and laying one letter or the other on its side.  Nothing seemed to work to my satisfaction, and because of this conclusion I am very happy that it was not a hoop I had to jump through in college as my grade would likely have been rather low.

Mind you, after spending much time on the matter by myself, I even dragged my wife into the mix.  She was a graphic designer, then became and art director, and is now the kind of person who hires those people and tells them what to do.  She's pretty good at manipulating typography and she found it as impossible as I had.  We then turned to our rather large collection of design books and annuals looking for inspiration and found nothing that even came close to being helpful.  What we did end up with was pages of S's and B's arranged this way and that, which somehow reminded me of some cliched schoolgirl's notebook that is covered in various arrangements of the name she would bear after marrying her sweetheart.

Mrs. Reginald Trustworthy
Mrs. R. Trustworthy
Mrs. Reginald K. Trustworthy
Mrs. R. K. Trustworthy
Evelyn Trustworthy
Evelyn M. Trustworthy
Mrs. Evelyn M. Trustworthy
And so forth.

The difference between the schoolgirl's fantasy and my own attempts at creating a glyph that felt right was that the schoolgirl's fantasy could actually come true.  In fact, I feel that I failed, and to be honest, this is the closest I ever got to a glyph I was happy with:

You can kind of see my train of thought from top to bottom.

What's wrong with this you ask?  Well, nothing really.  It's just that it doesn't feel like me.  It feels too contrived, somehow.  I'm not taking a jab at others' glyphs, mind you — as far as I'm concerned, there are some excellent signature glyphs out there that are far more contrived and work far better.  It's just that the contrivance doesn't feel right for me.  As a result, I turned to many of my illustration heroes ( Pyle, Rockwell, Wyeth, Dunn, Schoonover, Cornwell), and at the bottom of their paintings was just a simple name.  Sometimes very tightly done, but still just a name.  That felt far more comfortable, and when I do sign my work I just sign it with a simple "Belledin."

I realize that I may not have answered your question.  So I'll stick my neck out a little further.

Overall, I don't think sigils are a bad thing.  There are some excellent artists who've designed some really great signatures for themselves.  When dealing with the matter, yourself, I think it all boils down to making it good, making it fairly simple, and making it feel like it fits your work.  I'm a pretty traditional guy who went a very traditional route.  But maybe you're not.  Maybe your work is far edgier than mine.  If you go the glyph route, then maybe you pursue a similarly edgy design.  Pretty straightforward, right?

Where I feel folks tend to get into trouble is not in the design of the sigil or the signature itself, but rather the application there of.  What I see time and again is where the glyph becomes distracting within a piece's composition.  A quick story for you:

I know an illustrator who, in attempt to maintain the legibility of his signatures after reduction, used to sign his work really large.  What ended up happening was that his signature was so large, that it became a part of the composition, and a dysfunctional part at that.  Were his signature more complicated than it was, it would be that much worse.  Still, he had paintings that he'd labored over that looked pretty awful in real life and some of the work felt like he'd done elaborate background paintings for his signature.  Not many people want that on their wall.

At it's best, a signature should sit nicely in the piece and be something that you have to look for.  Unless intentional, it shouldn't really play as a compositional element, and if it is intentional, make sure it works well.  As far as design goes, I really think simpler is always better.  Simpler things tend not to call nearly as much attention to themselves.  On the other hand, J. C. Leyendecker did some really decorative stuff with his name that is definitely more elaborate than I would recommend anyone ever do and got away with it, so it's clear how little I know.

I'll sum up my thoughts on signatures and glyphs, names and sigils thusly: make it you, but say it, don't shout it.  Another way to put it perhaps is a now outdated philosophy on children: they should be seen and not heard.  Hope that helps.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the insights! I'd played around with glyph design off and on for a while but to date, the best design I've seen for my initials is one someone else did. I suppose a few typography courses might help. So much to learn.


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