My Poor Handwriting Is a Nice Font

I used this great, free program online, YourFonts, to convert my handwriting into a true-type typeface. I spent a long time saving up for a copy of Fontographer — it cost about three hundred bucks — and drawing matrices with its crude vector editor in 1998. It took me months to come up with something that looked twice as cracked as the typeface I made in about six minutes using YourFonts‘ free Web site.  All I had to do was print out their template, write my handwriting, scan my template, and upload it, download the font, and install it. It’s amazing. I have no idea why they are doing this unless they are collecting some kind of massive compendium of folk typefaces for a writing recognition program or something. But it is well worth the ten minutes to create a typeface.

Advertise  YourFonts and Get Software

Advertise YourFonts and Get Software

I’m a kind of low-grade typeface nerd. I can recognize most of the major typefaces, such as Baskerville, Garamond, Helvetica, Franklin Gothic, Optima, Gill, Futura, etc. I had an interview at and felt like I was visiting Chess Records or something. I also find typographer’s manifestoes to be immensely entertaining as cracked polemics and megalomaniacal screeds. Check out Jan Tschichold’s The New Typography, “Despite their basically correct theories, however, the artists of the Jugenstil did not succeed in creating a truly meaningful style.” Typographers have the authority to tell you what is correct and incorrect, what is meaningful and where there is no meaning. A recent documentary, Helvetica, gave a mild peak into what from the outside would seem to be a mild-mannered profession, a subset of graphic design, that is typographers working like engineers to bring us carefully designed typefaces such as, of course, Helvetica or what have you. Instead these are often created by visionary, argumentative, aesthetic bullies who were confident enough to create typefaces that ended up decorating every sports stadium and fast food cup. The irony here of course is that ubiquitous Helvetica was a collaborative project created by relatively mild-mannered people while the more aggressive and rigors typefaces created by people like Jan Tschichold tend to only be used by graphic designer’s who are attracted to his dogma and/or the actual success of his design projects such as the mid-20th century Penguin Paperbacks.

I do not have the patience or eve the confidence of a good type designer. Jan Tschichold says something like all good type designers worked as sign painters because they had the letterforms drilled into their brain. These are the given components of type — the shape of the letters — and he is correct. I also imagine that many of them have pretty good handwriting.

I practiced my handwriting a great deal while growing up. I covered sheets of paper. But I developed for some reason a tight, miniscule handwriting that I could not maintain. I learned the palmer script, and actually hand wrote most of my papers through high school. I imagine now that it is assumed a person will turn in a print out from a computer prepared on a Word processer and that is still most likely word.

My goal in writing these papers was to fit as many words on the page as possible as clearly as possible. It would take ten or fifteen minutes to transfer my draft copy to my “clean” copy — but whatever caused my handwriting to fail, laziness, attention deficit disorder, not sweating the small or even medium sized stuff, I don’t know — was the same thing that lead to the gradual erosion of my always modest spelling skills.

I began really seriously writing with a word processor on an Atari’s 16 bit person computer, the Atari ST in 1987. Most of my writing was done on a computer from that time onward. I bought a Mac Classic in 1991 with Microsoft Word 4.0 and have been using Word on a MAC ever since.

I also kept a handwritten journal and enjoying filling the pages with marks, but I never went back reread what I wrote.  I still keep these journals now but in going back to reread what is there I am lost. My handwriting is become larger but the letter forms don’t really fall into any regular pattern. I can usually make out what is in my journals and with practice I can read it — but in general I suppose I am taking Natalie Goldberg’s advice about a private writing space very seriously. These journals are private even from me.

An old story says that Charles Dickens says someone named John Bell that “he wrote three hands: one which only he himself could read, one which only his clerk could read, and one which nobody could read.” I tried to track down this John Bell found that Lord Eldon called John Bell, perhaps the same John Bell?, “the best equity lawyer in England, though he could ‘neither read, write, walk, nor talk.'” I completely sympathize with this problem. I have thoughts and I am not prevented by any infirmity and yet what is in my brain cannot be translated into something that is either reading, writing, or speech. I have become used to this constant loss through translation into signs and symbols that supposedly convey some kind of meaning to someone else.

One of the pleasures of a word processor is that I think and then type and words appear on the screen where I can read them. I am kind of flummoxed by how they got there.

I have horrible handwriting and poor spelling. This oddly doesn’t make me necessarily a bad writer; however I would say given the pure skill level of being a scribe I would most likely find my duties transferred from the bench where the monks were busy transcribing Aristotle and Euclid and such to the guy who was slaughtering calves to make vellum or something. There wasn’t a lot of call in the Middle Ages for original text. Books were valuable objects that had been written for the most part in a lost time. It odd now that text itself has become a flood, a wash. The ruling delivery mechanism for text is based not in words on a page but in information on a screen, that is data, and where letters on a page had a kind of timeless quality — they were still, unmoving, the letter shapes themselves immutable and dictated by forces greater than a single person — the ruling metaphor for data is water. Data flows through pipes, accumulates in reservoirs, and is frozen or thaws.

Creating your own font in ten minutes is yet one more yanking of the carpet out from the old idea of timeless text. A typeface can be created for a specific function. For a blog post like this one, for instance. For a birthday card. For fun. For whatever you like

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