A Team on a Mission

Since the establishment of the Fontfabric Type Foundry, one of our fundamental goals has been to promote Cyrillic fonts and script at home and abroad. It’s a theme we are passionate about, especially since it allows us to organize events where we can identify and mentor rising talents with the potential to become professional type designers. The second edition of our weekend workshop took place in November, and demand proved high enough for us to expand the original limit to 25 participants!

The initial impetus for this particular workshop came from Svet Simov’s talk on his experience as the company’s founder and CEO, providing two specific pieces of advice:

“It’s impossible to cyrillize[1] a typeface by simply adapting it from an existing version – you have to know the basic principles of designing from scratch.”

“Think of a typeface as a separate universe, where we go from the micro (a symbol) to the macro (font use). In this regard, working on a font is a rich process that will continuously enhance your graphic design skills, from icon design to style unification.”

The ABC of Type

Our entire team was involved in both the pre-production stage, as well as leading the actual lectures during the two-day workshop. Type Director Plamen Motev began by introducing various terms and characteristics that would ease the process of classifying type on a chronological basis. Stan Partalev, one of our type designers, took up the torch afterwards and spoke on the basic principles of construction, as well how to work with optical compensations of letter shapes.

We tried to emphasize the importance of structure interrelations via handwriting, as seen in Gerrit Noordzij’s work on stroke translation and expansion with broad-nibbed and pointed pens. The participants were given the opportunity to practice handwriting with a consistent angle, so they could study the stroke behavior for themselves.

Since the workshop’s main goal was to design a Cyrillic typeface, we had to go deeper into the script’s history and influence. For this our third lecturer Nikolay Petroussenko stepped in and took the audience back to the very creation of Cyrillic and its predecessor Glagolitic. Together they covered the basic type styles, ranging from ustav and polu-ustav to fast writing and vyaz. We also made sure to focus on global connections, including the role of Russian tsar Peter the Great, who commissioned a reformed and modernized version of Cyrillic, known as the Civil Type.

We wrapped up this first part by examining the first wave of Bulgarian typography (mid-20th century), whose work on oval Cyrillic scripts was instrumental in shaping local type identity, and continues to inspire the current, second wave of designers.

Preparing the Ground

After the first few lectures were done, Plamen presented the final task to the participants. Not surprisingly, it involved designing your own typeface from scratch, but with a twist – everyone had to include the characters required to write ‘фонтфабрик’.

Before everyone got down to business, however, Nikolay explained a few sketching and writing techniques, such as drawing from the inside out or avoiding a ‘fixed outline’ style. Our workshop assistants had prepared a handy template with the skeleton strokes of a sample pair (serif/sans serif), serving as both a starting point and a guide to determine the proportions and details of everyone’s typeface.

Next up, Stan showcased the proper way to digitize a final sketch in a number of vector design programs, including Adobe Illustrator and Glyphs. As most school days go, this one ended with a piece of homework as well. The attendants were asked to focus on three key letters in Cyrillic – н, о, х – as their basic shapes more or less incorporate all other symbols within the alphabet, and as such provide a good basis for a complete typeface.

Creativity in Action

Day 2 mostly revolved around practical exercises, with additional lectures and feedback interspersed at regular intervals. Plamen’s homework review set the stage, before the first big question arose – how to accurately space letters while attempting to digitize them?

Luckily for everyone present, we had Stan in the house, and he was happy to share his thoughts on the subject, largely based on the theory of Walter Tracy, and later carefully enhanced via in-house formulas. Naturally, this discussion would not be complete without figuring out how to fit specific letter pairs, better known as ‘kerning’. Taking a step towards post-production, Plamen also offered attendees a glimpse into OpenType programming, hinting[2] and supplementary testing.

All in all, this second part of our workshop featured long periods of individual work, punctuated by regular feedback from our team, who were themselves frequently ’interrupted’ with curious questions from the audience. Our overall impression was that many of you were so deeply involved in the process that they sometimes forgot to take breaks!

‘Export workshop file as …’

While the final minutes of the workshop ticked away, our guests’ inner urge to fulfill their design goals went into overdrive. Everyone was in a hurry to finalize their project and bring out the best in it, and at the end all of the typefaces were printed and stuck onto the wall for one final, ultimate evaluation. All in all we spent two productive and thought-provoking days with a balanced mix of theory, practice, and some quality laughs along the way – hope to see more of you at our next event!

[BACK TO POST] To cyrillize — to extend a pre-existing typeface with a Cyrillic adaptation.

[BACK TO POST] Hinting — a method to improve a font’s display characteristics at low resolutions.

* We would like to extend our sincere gratitude to Missia23, who were our kind hosts for the weekend.