Humble yourself before Baskerville

Last message, I mentioned some advice Jean François Porchez gave me during my studies at TypeParis. That also reminded me of another: “Humble yourself before Baskerville!”

While working on my Baskerville “revival,” at least at that early educational stage, I was doing far too much interpretation. I was making things up, not looking closely enough, not developing my eye enough.

I wouldn’t have called it copywork at the time, but coming across this post from Herbert Lui, I saw so many parallels between this technique and this kind of revival exercise:

Copywork is a technique in writing. The idea is to get better at writing by typing out a piece of writing you like. Hunter S. Thompson typed out The Great Gatsby just to get the feeling of what it was like to write that way. The idea of copywork has been applied to UI design and software development; I’m sure you can figure out how to apply it to your creative work. 

Many month- and year-long type design programs have some version of a “revival” project (although how true and literal a revival it is depends a lot on the course and student). This sounds like a version of copywork, already embedded within type design culture to me.

“Copywork is also a great technique for learning, probably because it really forces you to slow down,” Lui continues. In my case, trying to quickly build out the typeface was less important than learning how to accurately draw the shoulder of the lowercase n, or preserve the flourish of the Q.

Redrawing of the letter “n” on vellum, overtop of previous versions.
We did this as a sketch before vectorizing it, but I would likely go straight to vectorizing now. Still, it could be fun this way as well occasionally.

So while some revivals are copywork, I wouldn’t say copywork and revivals are the same. A revival is certainly more than a “warm up exercise.”

What is the 5- or 10-minute version of this, instead of the 5- or 10-week version?

You could equally “humble yourself before” a single phrase set in a Zuzana Licko font, or re-draw a favourite piece of lettering by a colleague overtop of the raster artwork.

I can see how this might get you into the drawing mindset—either a new one, or get you into the flow of drawing your actual work faster.

I’m going to try it out. If you do too—even for a single pair of letters—before your next drawing session, let me know!

Until next time,