Sunday, October 5, 2014

Glyph design: zigzag capitals ( M N )

There are two letters in the capital alphabet composed of diagonal strokes contained between vertical stems—‘M’, and ‘N’. Because of the letters’ architecture, they violate the typical rules of stress. Strictly, the ‘M’ should go thick–thick–thin–thick (from left to right), and the ‘N’ should consist entirely of stressed strokes. But just like with the ‘z’ (which, strictly, would be entirely hairline), some strokes in the ‘M’ and ‘N’ are arbitrarily made thin so that the stress alternates with each stroke. Owing to the pointed-nib calligraphy pen, which stresses in part based on the direction the stroke is drawn in—up being thin and down being thick—the usual convention is to make the ascending leg of the ‘M’ and both stems of the ‘N’ into hairlines.
Sabon and Minion Pro have slanted stems, while Proforma has vertical stems on its ‘M’.
Sabon and Minion Pro have slanted stems, while Proforma has vertical stems on its ‘M’.
 The ‘M’ can be made either from the ‘W’, or from the ‘I’ and ‘V’. It depends on the slant of the outer stems. Some typefaces, like Sabon and Minion Pro (and a few sans serifs, like Futura) have slanted stems, others like Proforma have vertical stems. Floribunda will have an unslanted ‘M’, so this tutorial will use the ‘I’ and ‘V’ method. The two ‘I’ glyphs should overlap with the ‘V’ just enough so that their intersection points lie at roughly the same height as the lower edge of the ‘I’ brackets. The left ‘I’ should also be thinned to the hairline thickness.

Only a few adjustments will need to be made—namely the removal of the inner upper serifs, and of course, the usual adjustments on the lower serifs.
The ‘N’ is made by taking the left side of the ‘M’ and rotating a copy 180 degrees, as shown. The ‘N’ is usually the same width as the ‘H’, though its stems are the hairline thickness. The ‘N’s stems are joined by a single diagonal, which meets its right stem at a vertex (with no serifs).
The letter’s crotches may need to be adjusted so that the letter looks more symmetrical. It is common for the lower edge of the diagonal to be somewhat collinear with the bracket on its upper left serif. Its stem serifs should also be skewed in the opposite direction that they were on the ‘M’ (meaning the longer side faces the interior of the letter), since they now need to fill the enormous apertures created by the ‘N’s form.