Fontography isn’t just a big part of this business. It’s a big part of our lives. There’s so many things letters can express, not just the words they spell, but moods or feelings. Are they formal? Are they whimsical? And this alphabet is just one of the ways that words can be written. We have done designs with Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Ethiopian, Russian, Greek, and more.
Recently I’ve become interested in a method of writing that’s just about died out, pen stenography. Keep in mind I had no idea what pen stenography was when I decided to learn about it. “It’s written in some sort of shorthand.” was, to me, a phrase that sometimes came up in old mystery novels that meant that this clue would be undecipherable without more clues, later on. But shorthand is actually an entirely different method of writing, as different from this alphabet as Arabic is different from Chinese.
There are also, in fact, more than one type of shorthand. The two that seemed easiest to find on the internet were Pitman Shorthand and Gregg Shorthand. Pitman shorthand must be written on lined paper with a special pen that people don’t generally own today but must have been the standard 150 years ago. I briefly considered learning this anyway because of the historical significance of Pitman shorthand in inspiring Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics, but Gregg Shorthand can be written on the sketchpad that Blick gave me as a lagniappe last time I was there buying supplies, and can be written in pencil. So Gregg shorthand was the kind I decided to learn.
I’m actually kind of sad I haven’t done this sooner. I learned cursive writing in grade school. Of what use is cursive writing? It isn’t any faster than block letters. If it’s just supposed to look nice then calligraphy should be a grade school topic. But shorthand looks nice, and it’s faster, and it groups the sounds into very similar shapes. The intention, I’m assuming, is that if a word is written sloppily it can still be read because it will signify, if not the proper sound, at least a very similar one. The upshot would be that a child who learned shorthand would know that a T is an unvoiced D, something that is very important to know in some foreign languages, like Russian.
I’ve even read that cursive writing, all those joined up letters, were invented in Europe after exposure to Arabic writing. That is Europeans, impressed with the beauty and elegance of Arabic, wanted their own version of joined up writing, so they began inventing cursive scripts. If that’s the case, I consider all cursive scripts to be failed experiments. None of them come close to the beauty and elegance of Arabic.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so I can’t really defend that point of view.
But elegance can be defended objectively, if we use the word the way engineers do. Does Gregg Shorthand allow one to express the same words as this alphabet or Arabic, but use fewer strokes?
The word is “Beautiful”:
Now I’m not learning shorthand in order to be able to take dictation or to be able to write even my own notes faster or with less wear on my pencils.
I’m not even learning it to become the protagonist in a mystery novel. Although that does sound like an awesome Roman Polanski movie, right? Someone learns shorthand in order to get a job transcribing old court records, and uncovers a conspiracy that is still going on 80 years later. He’s been doing those kinds of bookish paranoid films since Ninth Gate.
No, I’m learning it because it looks so pretty. I think it’s time for a resurgence of shorthand, not for any practical reason, but for artistic reasons. All those swoops and loops have a very mod aesthetic. And with the right art brush a phrase written in Gregg Shorthand could look very tribal.
The only difficulty I’ve faced in learning shorthand is that in some ways it’s like learning Chinese. Each word has a glyph that you have to learn. Like Chinese, each glyph usually has a phonetic hint. (Chinese characters usually contain ideographic, phonetic, and grammatical hints.) So learning to read this stuff is a lot easier than learning to write it. In Gregg Shorthand, the glyphs are composed of strokes that have phonetic meanings and complicated abbreviation rules, but I’ve found that you can start learning and practicing shorthand with little or no grasp of the abbreviation rules, and then pick those up as you go along.
Whether or not anyone out there digs this, I think that Gregg Shorthand is going to be a source of beauty and inspiration for me as I work on many of my designs in the future.Read More