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Pieces of Calligraphy Brian Wissley / Spring 2015

Table of Contents

04 Purpose

08 Exploring Script

18 Changing Direction

22 Creating Movement

32 Implementation



y decision to focus on hand drawn type for my thesis was two-fold. I was driven by reasons that are both personal and professional. As my design work has become increasingly dependent on the computer, I have moved away from creating by hand. Calligraphy is a means of bringing the practice of creating by hand back into my work, reintroducing a part of design that gives me personal fulfillment. Professionally, my success depends on being a versatile designer. Adding a new skill set in calligraphy and hand lettering would afford me more flexibility as a design professional. The primary reason I chose to learn about calligraphy and hand lettered type for my thesis is that my interest in creative work is rooted in

painting and drawing. They are two mediums that initially grabbed my attention as a child and they continued to be a source of enjoyment as a young adult. The pursuit to recreate an image using my own hands is a process I have always found fascinating. I can remember the times that I would sketch the logos for my favorite basketball teams and the shoes that my favorite players wore. That is how I routinely spent portions of my free time growing up. Somewhere along the way to adulthood, I lost that sense of excitement that came along with creating something by hand. When I made the decision to return to school to study graphic design, I was determined to use the opportunity as a means to rediscover my affinity for this process. on

However, until this point in my education, I have done just the opposite. Instead of treating the computer as one tool within a greater set, I have become completely dependent on it. Outside of a few rough pencil sketches during the concept generation phase of my creative process, I do not leave the computer.

skills. Unless a designer chooses one specific area of the profession, graphic design is a broad practice. The skills and techniques required of a designer vary from project to project. Possessing a wide range of design skills makes a designer very versatile, allowing them to adapt to the requirements of any given project.

That is why I used my thesis as a means to work by hand. Exploring calligraphy and hand lettered type gave me the chance to spend time away from the computer. The fact that I was able to stay within the graphic design umbrella while doing so was an added bonus.

An adaptable designer reduces the risk of being pigeon-holed into a specific role. Some designers are perfectly comfortable filling a specific niche, but many designers do not want a skill set, or reputation, that will limit their job prospects. I envision myself as a designer who will need to be free from the restraints of specialization. If a job requiring custom calligraphic or hand-drawn type presents itself in the future, I would hate to have

From a professional perspective, it is my goal to have a diverse and well-rounded set of design

to turn it down because I didn’t have the necessary skills to take it on. At the same time, I don’t want to gain the reputation as a designer who cannot, or will not, take on a project that involves custom calligraphic or hand-drawn type. The matter of specialization also brings up the topic of fatigue. The constant repetition of the same activity can become very tiresome and mundane. Design work is not an exception to the rule. Continually working on the same type of project over and over again can cause a designer to become uninterested in their work after a while. Having experienced this first-hand in my previous career in the insurance industry, I understand just how easily this can happen. By collecting many different tools and abilities, and frequently taking

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on a variety of projects, a designer can minimize the risk of burnout. A designer with a wide range of skills also makes them more marketable to potential employers, especially in a small city. Portland is considered a small city with an even smaller market for design jobs. It is important to me, however, that I pursue my design career here in Portland. As a product of the area, I have developed a deep affinity for the city and everything about it; from the unique culture, to the desirable location. There is something inherently special about it. It’s that same affinity that drives me to merge my love for the local community and my work together. I think it’s natural for designers to have

aspirations of producing work that is nationally, or even internationally, recognized. However, it is my hope to one day create work that will exclusively live locally. The possibility of producing work that will contribute to the Portland culture excites me far more than the idea of creating something that has a much broader reach. This past semester, I had an opportunity to design a new logo for the local radio station WCYY as part of a class. While my logo was not chosen, I was beyond excited to simply participate in the process. This was a very special opportunity for me because I grew up listening to WCYY and to me, it’s an iconic institution. The very thought that my design could have been the new face of the station really had me incredibly inspired.

The Portland design market is small, which means there are a limited number of job opportunities. I will undoubtedly face heavy competition for employment after graduation. Obtaining an edge on the competition will be critical. Since employers and clients look favorably upon a candidate who can perform many different tasks, developing a large collection of skills is the greatest asset that I can arm myself with in this competition.

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Exploring Script


here is a defined line between hand lettering and calligraphy. As the website, I Love Typography, explains;

“Whereas lettering is based on draftsmanship, the art of drawing letters in creating a unique customized typographic image, calligraphy achieves the same through penmanship or writing, using unique strokes that cannot be reproduced without suffering variations. The rhythm achieved by the speed of the tool in calligraphy is emulated by the tension of extreme points when drawing a letter. “ They are two separate art forms with different skill sets. That doesn’t mean, however, that one cannot influence the other. There is a place where

they can live together. It is this area where the two practices coexist that is at the center of my thesis. I have long been interested in creating type by hand, but I never took the initiative to learn how to do it properly. Nor was it something that had been formally addressed in my education. Regardless of the reason, I began this project without any knowledge in either hand lettering or calligraphy. My unfamiliarity with the two practices led to some initial confusion. I initially set out to teach myself hand lettering, thinking that calligraphy was included in that umbrella. My preliminary research quickly informed me of their differences. It also informed me that trying to take on both would be too ambitious for one semester. It was

then that I decided to focus my efforts strictly on teaching myself one calligraphic script. Through my teacher, Charles Melcher, I was introduced to a local calligrapher, Margo Dittmer, who kindly offered to help guide me through the process of learning about calligraphy. She introduced me to the tools that were at my disposal, including various pens, brushes, papers, and nibs. It was then that I learned about the difference between a pointed nib and a broad nib. The pointed nib requires varying levels of pressure to make a desired stroke, making it a very intricate process. The use of the broad nib is much simpler. It only entails holding the pen at a specific angle. For that reason, I chose to only use a large, square nib for the duration of my project.

As for the specific script I decided to work with, I deferred to Margo. She recommended that I focus on a basic italic script. The minimal number of strokes it takes to write each letter made it ideal for a beginner. Margo gave me a set of exercises to follow that showed me how to properly construct the letter forms. These drills became the basis for my work. Each week, I set out to trace and duplicate the letter groups outlined on the sheets, creating 10 iterations of each.

with a set of well-established guidelines that need to be followed in order to correctly learn it. This gave me an immediate framework to work within, making it more conducive to my learning abilities.

The structure that these exercises provided me was critical. Hand lettering is a very broad practice that comes with a good amount of freedom. That makes it difficult for someone, like me, who requires structure to learn effectively. With calligraphy being a very traditional art form, it comes

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“whereas lettering is based on draftsmanship, the art of drawing letters in creating a unique customized typographic image, calligraphy achieves the same through penmanship or writing, using unique strokes that cannot be reproduced without suffering variations.“ From the website


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at work

This is my work station located in the basement of my home. Pictured are the materials and equipment I used for my calligraphy work, including ink, pen, water, bond paper, and drafting board.

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breaking the ice

My first few attempts at using a fountain pen. I began by drawing lines to get a feel for how the pen worked (top) and then progressed to making modules (middle and bottom).


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mUch needed help

An example of the practice exercises that my calligraphy teacher assigned me. I would trace over the predrawn forms and then continue making a few more on my own.

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Samples of my calligraphy work based on the practice exercises my teacher provided me with. For each of the 8 exercises, I did 10 iterations.


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Samples of my calligraphy work after it had been reviewed by my calligraphy teacher. Come to find out, I was holding the pen at the wrong angle, which caused my stokes to be thick in places where they were supposed to be thin, and thin where they were supposed to be thick.


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“pressure should be in shoulder, not on two bridge fingers.�

Helpful advice pulled from the notes of Charles Melcher, who once took a calligraphy class.

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Changing Direction


ven though I had narrowed the focus of my project to one specific script, the goal was still too ambitious. I needed to have a different end game in mind for my calligraphy work that was more time sensitive. It wasn’t until a teacher, Samantha Haedrich, brought a recent rebranding project done by the design studio Pentagram to my attention that I gained a clear vision for my project.

Michael Bierut, noticed that many of the past logos used by the company revolved around a calligraphic script. One, originally introduced in 1973, caught his attention in particular. He knew, however, that simply reintroducing an old logo wasn’t going to solve the issue at hand. Saks wanted to show that they were looking to the future. To achieve this, Bierut wanted to create something that had a dramatic sense of scale and energy.

In 2004, Saks Fifth Avenue approached Pentagram’s New York City office with the task of creating a new identity for the company. The logo that they were using at the time was deemed ineffective, especially within their packaging.

He noticed that the calligraphic type of the old logo had intricate strokes with interesting contrast between the thick and thin lines. He decided to put the logo in a square and then subdivide that square in to 64 evenly-sized squares. This gave give him a collection of squares made up of bits and pieces of the type. These pieces successfully highlighted the sense of scale and energy that

During his research on the brand’s history, the partner at Pentagram heading the redesign,

existed within the original type. The squares were not only a successful design element individually, but they were also effective when rearranged and assembled into varying compositions. What resulted was a bold and elegant identity system that could be adapted to various pieces within the brand. This example highlights the value that calligraphy has not just in its direct form, but indirectly as well. I learned that sometimes the most interesting aspect of calligraphic script is not the complete letterforms themselves, but simply a piece of the letterforms. These pieces can be used to create a completely different design element.

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The old Saks Fifth Avenue logo that Pentagram brought back and how it was divided into a grid of 64 squares.


A look at the squres both independently and grouped into a random arrangement.


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a new perspective

The new identity system applied to Saks Fifth Avenue’s packaging.

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Creating Movement


was convinced that my final project didn’t have to be completely calligraphic. I realized that I could take attributes or techniques from the calligraphic script I was working with and incorporate them into a different graphic form. It was this realization that spurred the idea that became my final project. Bierut’s model inspired me to develop a custom logotype for a fictional company named BAMSKE that I could apply to an identity system. For one, this type of project was suitable for the time frame I had to work within, but it also provided me with an opportunity to cross into the territory where calligraphy and hand lettering coexist because I knew I didn’t want the mark to be purely calligraphic.

A logotype consisting of a traditional script carries a connotation of sophistication and exclusivity with it, limiting the type of company that it can represent. Being the sports fan that I am, I knew I wanted BAMSKE to be athletic in nature and a completely calligraphic mark wouldn’t fit the values of the brand. However, after conducting a fair amount of visual research by looking at images of various athletes in action, I knew that the subtle references to the italic script would help convey the idea of athletic movement. So the italic strokes were incorporated sparingly. To create the letterforms, I referred back to some of my initial calligraphic exercises to pick out some moments that I thought really showcased the script’s movement. After finding a few, I used

a calligraphy marker to try to recreate those strokes and bring them into each of the letters. When I scanned these preliminary sketches and brought them into Adobe Illustrator, I was able to embellish these particular pieces to enhance their presence. The flourishes in the B and M ended up being the most successful attempts. I also wanted the notion of teamwork to show in logotype. Another thing I discovered during my initial research is that many of the current athletic apparel companies promote the advancement of the individual athlete. A focus on a team-first mentality would help differentiate this brand from the competition. I represented this visually by having the letterforms work together in pairs; The B and the A, the M and the S, and the K and the E.

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one at a time

Concept sketches of the individual letterforms for the BAMSKE logotype. For each letter, I tried to divide them up into separate pieces.


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Concept sketches for the complete BAMSKE logotype. My focus was to find interesting ways that the letterforms could work together in pairs.

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line weights

Concept sketches for the complete BAMSKE logotype using a calligraphy marker. The goal here was to determine the proper line weight for the letterforms.


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The vectorized sketches for the logotype. Unnecessary flourishes were eliminated and variations were made for the B and the M.

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A few of the many lockup variations for both the primary and alternate logotype. I also played with the skew and incline of the logotype in an effort to enhance the feeling of movement.


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the chosen one

Final lockup for the primary and alternate logotype. With the secondary information located below the logotype, the focus remains on the word BAMSKE and the skew creates more movement.


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A diagram that indicates the specific parts of the logotype that were influenced by my calligraphy work. In some cases, the letterforms were derived from a completely different letter.

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f teamwork was going to be the cornerstone of the brand, it had to be reflected in the tag line as well. I needed something that captured the sense of camaraderie that only exists between teammates who have bonded together. “Together As One� effectively communicates that experience while simultaneously staying compact and catchy. From my personal experience, I was already familiar with the fact that athletics require a good amount of energy. It was important that I conveyed this in the logotype as well. With the letterforms already established, I concluded that the best way to do this was through the use of color. I gathered a wide spectrum of bright, vibrant colors that I eventually narrowed down to a sharp blue and neon green. Not only are the colors active,

they provide a high level of contrast that aids in the legibility of the mark. Creating a place for this logotype to live was the final step of my process. This meant applying it to relevant objects for an athletic apparel brand’s identity system such as clothing, hang tags, labels, and packaging. An integral part of this implementation is making sure there are cohesive elements that run through each of the pieces. This includes the materials that are used to make the items. As a result, I concentrated on materials that not only fit the blue and green color scheme, but that were also derived from the athletic apparel itself. For example, the foam sheets that I used for the shoe box and hang tags are reminiscent of the interior padding in athletic footwear.

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color options

The color palettes that were considered during the development of the logotype. I wanted to use a vibrant color so that the logotype would give off an energetic vibe.


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The final lockup of the primary and alternate logotype with the selected color palette applied. These particular hues not only create energy, but they also have good contrast that aids legibility.

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I knew that it was important to use a material that related to athletics and use it throughout all the items of the identity system. I settled on a foam-like material that reminded me of the interior padding of atheltic footwear.


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tag line

BAMSKE is a brand that embodies teamwork. The tag lined needed to be something short and sweet that conveyed that message. “Together As One� does just that.


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identity system

Here are a few of the branded pieces that I created for the identity sytem. Pictured is the shoe box (top), hat (bottom right), shirt and hang tag (bottom left).

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© 2015 Brian Wissley All rights reserved. Written and Designed

Brian Wissley

Printed and Bound Blurb Typefaces

Myriad Pro Avenir Next


Design Indaba (website). Accessed April 6, 2015. good-design-has-level-wit

I Love Typography (website). Accessed February 16, 2015. “Ira Glass on Storytelling, Part 3 of 4.” YouTube video, 5:20. Posted by “PRI Public Radio International,” August 18, 2009. Pentagram (website). Accessed March 2, 2015.

Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design, Maine College of Art, Portland, Maine by Brian Wissley, May 2015.

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Pieces of Calligraphy