Easy way to draw conscripts in Illustrator

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silvercat
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Easy way to draw conscripts in Illustrator

Post by silvercat »

This is written for someone with a basic knowledge of Illustrator. You should also be able to adapt it for other software. This post won’t tell you how to design a script. It won't make a font that you can type with your keyboard (although you could then take them and but them into a font creator), but it will make nice images that you can copy and paste next to each other. I’m using letter and glyph interchangeably here.

You have my permission to save, archive, alter, and remix this post, so long as you include credit me (Silvercat) and include the URL. This was originally posted on my blog (https://www.silversspace.com/2020/12/ea ... lustrator/) but I'm editing it slightly here.

Depending on where you stop in this post, you can get anywhere from a fixed line-width design, to something like comic sans, to something that at first glance looks like it's out of the local English newspaper. That said, this is based on what I was doing with one conscript and is aimed towards an European Latin-ish design. If you want something that looks hand-drawn, well, honestly the easiest way is to get out a pen or a brush and write it.

To start with, create a new document in Illustrator with a nice large canvas. Turn on the grid. It doesn’t particularly matter what size the grid is, but 8 subdivisions work well for lining things up. I have the grid at 72px, which means each letter will be an inch tall if printed.

Draw your glyphs as lines. Use guides and refer to your other letters often. A wider stroke will make it look more like type – I was using 7 point. You’ll probably have to make adjustments later in any case, so don’t worry overly much about getting it perfect.

Re-use parts of letters where you can, like dots, curves, and angles. It doesn’t matter how many pieces a letter is made up of. I like drawing circles and cutting them to pieces as appropriate to get a good curve, but that may not work for all conscripts.

Image

At this point, you could stop – it’ll be an acceptable set of characters, but letter nerds will notice some issues. You can fudge some of these with a round cap on the stroke.

Image

The problem is that the strokes end in whatever direction they’re facing. Whether done as calligraphy or as a font, letters end in a deliberate way. Compare the leg on the first glyph and the curve on the second with similar Latin letters, like below. In both cases, they end horizontally. You’re not limited to horizontal or vertical, but make a decision about it.

Image

How do you fix it? Easy.

Outline the stroke (Object > Path > Outline stroke) then cut away the offending bits with a rectangle and Minus Front in the Pathfinder palette. If you want to be super-accurate (and you should), turn on ‘snap to grid’ (Shift+CTRL+” or View>Snap to Grid) and reposition your shapes to perfectly align to the grid. You’ll likely have to use a combination of selecting shapes with the Selection tool and selecting segments with the Direct Selection Tool. A couple of bumps with the arrow keys and you’ll be spot on.

For angles, like the leg on the first letter, before you outline, you’ll want to reposition it so it stays in your grid (unless you deem that acceptable). And you’ll want to make sure there’s enough extra on any stroke that you can cut it cleanly. This can mean redoing your curves, so think ahead.

Here are two options
Image

How about if you want something fancier? This is where it gets fun.

Go back to your letters that are made of just lines. Open a calligraphic brush library or make a new brush. For something similar to Latin letters, use the settings below.

Image

Apply that to your lines, with a 1pt stroke. You’ll get something like below, with thick verticals and thin horizontals. (You can decide whether you want to apply it to dots or not, or to use a narrower stroker) But now you have a lot of adjusting to do to get it gridded.

Image

You could actually just fix it and then leave it like that. Mess around with different calligraphic brushes to see different effects. You could also do like above to get sans-serif glyphs with variable line weight.

Or you can make a fancy serif version. Note: this is the quick and easy way. You can get fancier with curved serifs. Take a look at different font faces for ideas.

We’re making a slab serif font here.

The first step is to make nice clean angles for the serifs to hang off from. Extend your lines so that the round ends will get cut off, outline the stroke, then go to town with Minus Front. Get everything arranged on the grid nicely. It can be easier to outline each line at a time so you can make adjustments to angles and lengths as the other lines get set into place.

Image

Now make a little rectangle where you want a serif to be. The exact size is up to you. I did one square wide and half a square tall. You can use those just like that for serifs, but I want to get a little fancier. Select one corner and bump it up a point or two. Now copy, rotate, and reflect your way around the letter. (It’s easiest if you copy the serifs to a space below so you can just grab them without going back to a previous glyph).

For thinner strokes, you want thinner serifs – for the wide strokes I put the serif halfway into the stroke and for the thin, the back of the serif shape touches the opposite side of the stroke. It helps to turn on Smart Guides so you can get the exact middle on the exact line segment you want. You can use a serif font as a guide, but in the end where you put serifs and where you don’t is up to you.

Image

Now do all the rest of your letters and try not to curse past-you for deciding the writing system should have so many glyphs. Could be worse – you could be carving the whole thing into stone.
Last edited by silvercat on 08 Dec 2020 08:52, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Easy way to draw conscripts in Illustrator

Post by Salmoneus »

I'm a little confused - you present this as being about just how to draw conscripts in Illustrator, but a lot of it just seems to be about script design. Why does having rounded stroke-ends "fix" a "problem"? Why must I "make a decision" to pick one terminal angle for all strokes? This is all script design issues, and you don't really explain your decision, just assume them. In reality, though, scripts are not all written in on moveable type in imitation of stone carving (or on computers in imitation of moveable type in imitation of stone carving). If not, then it's not necessary for all strokes to end in the same way - indeed, this is probably unrealistic for a script that is meant to be written by hand (the end of a pen or brush stroke will natually differ according to whether it's the initiation, termination or reversal of a stroke, and sometimes depending on the direction of the line, and the typical speed of writing at that point. This issue goes double for 'serifs' - you kind of assume moverable type serifs, based on roman stonecarving serifs, without explanation.

That doesn't invalidate your suggestions, but you might want to be clearer that they're only aimed at those who are attempting a European-style printed script.


[regarding your suggestions themselves, I'm somewhat curious, not being an expert myself: why go to all the hassle of 'cutting off' the ends of shapes by overlaying other shapes, rather than just directly moving the path nodes? And isn't this an unnecessary step anyway, if you're then going to modify your pen as you do? I'd have thought that the fixed pen orientation that you specify would do this automatically for you?]


Not trying to criticise, just add some caveats for the reader.
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Re: Easy way to draw conscripts in Illustrator

Post by silvercat »

This post and the blog post was based on what I was doing with a particular conlang. This is for a script that's designed on a computer - if you want a hand-written script the easiest way to do it is to draw it by hand (with a brush or pen) and scan it. I'm also assuming that people can look at it and go 'nope, that's not what I'm going for'. I'll make a note.

You're right, I'm making some typography assumptions based on my profession as a graphic designer. But as a graphic designer, I can tell you even if you're just tracing stuff you're constant making design decisions. You could draw out the script perfectly on paper and just trace it, but why waste the time if you're going to take it onto the computer?

I could argue the point that in hand-drawing you still end lines the same way, just with more options, but that's just getting nitpicky. Like I said, in calligraphy lines are ended in a deliberate way as well.

You don't have to pick one direction to end a stroke, I'm just saying be consistent. If you look at any font, there will be at least two directions and often C and G will end in angles.

But you'll note that there are actually five different designs here - fixed-width with straight terminals, fixed-width with round terminals, variable width with round terminals, variable width with straight terminals, and a variable width slab-serif.

As shown in the sixth picture, the brush I used has round terminals. If you want straight terminals you have to do it after applying a brush and outlining the stroke.

Cutting off the edges is much faster than editing all the nodes, especially if you're dealing with curved edges. It's time-consuming to fix the angles and get everything in exactly the right position without changing the angle. It's certainly doable, but why take the time to zoom in and fiddle with one point when you can get it done in 5 seconds with the Pathfinder palette? Illustrator is what I'm in all day long with my profession - I may be a mediocre conlanger but I'm an expert with Illustrator.
my pronouns: they/them or e/em/eirs/emself
Main conlang: Ŋyjichɯn. Other conlangs: Tsɑkø (naming language), Ie, Tynthna, Maanxmuʃt, Ylialis
All my conlangs
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