Lefties and lettering

Andreas Stötzner's picture

I think it is rather commonplace that in Latin formal writing we right-handers have advantage over the lefties. The orientation of hand and tool combined with the shape of letters and direction left-to-right is constitutive for the typical ductus of, e.g., Roman Capitals.

This is more of a teacher’s consideration. I give courses on lettering and this means to encounter with left-handed students, naturally. I refrain from forcing them into something which is rather uncomfortable, so for quite some time I let them write all letters mirrored, from right to left, with the left hand. If they use a broad-nib edding the ink bleeds through the paper and at the end we just flip the sheet and see a normel left-to-right lettering; the results are as good as those from the righties, sometimes even better.

Has anyone of you similar considerations or experiences with lefthand formal lettering exercise?

PabloImpallari's picture

I think that Doylad Young was left handed.
http://www.lynda.com/Documentaries-tutorials/doyaldyounglogotypedesigner...

From Font & Logos:
"I first fold a letter-size sheet of bond paper from top to bottom to use as an underlay for my hand so that the graphite doesn't smudge".

-----
Another methods in the attached image:

ralf h.'s picture

On some occasions I have used the method seen in the top line in the middle of the illustration above. So going from left to write on a regular piece of paper and inverting only the stroke directions. It's probably the most easy way to start with, when one just takes a short calligraphy workshop.
It has it's limits though. It only works for simple and more static letters. You can't do an end swash on the right side of course, because this is where you actually start …

But the methods seen on the right side remove all limitations for lefties. I saw some great examples of this technique on youtube some years ago, but unfortunately they were deleted. If I remember correctly, that guy, who created really stunning work, combined both methods. He used that special pen holder AND had the sheet turned 90 degrees. As a result, the position of the hand is actually pretty similar to regular left-handed writing.

John Hudson's picture

The 'vertical line writing' in which the page is rotated 90 degrees is very sensible. It enables the left-handed writer to maintain an unflexed wrist, which reduces fatigue and more easily involve arm movements in the writing.

Islamic calligraphers regularly write with the page rotated thus, in order to produce the typical ductus of the Arabic script while maintaining a straight wrist.

Remember, the direction of reading does not need to be the direction of writing.

quadibloc's picture

Of course, the methods used by right-handed people in writing Hebrew texts (basically, turning the page 90 degrees) seem as though they might be relevant here as well. Ah, I see that John Hudson has already mentioned this immediately above in connection with writing Arabic.

hrant's picture

Writing mirrored isn't uncomfortable? Sure you don't have to be able to read what you're writing with total ease, but let's not pretend it's totally irrelevant - far from it. Write in the dark and check your results...

There is no good solution. Except allowing lefties to achieve different results (which they never are - they're always forced to contort... I mean even more than righties).

http://typophile.com/node/48843

One thing I wrote there:
"
BTW, I managed to dig up that "Left-Handed Calligraphy" book (Vance Studley, a 1991 Dover facsimile of the 1979 edition) and the inconsistencies I see here are reflected there as well. By turns you read things like "With a little effort, you can learn to letter with the broad-edged pen as well as the right-hander", followed not far afterwards by things like "the left-handed person is kept at a disadvantage" and "It is an altogether different way of tackling the problem and must be seen from this other point of view". Every passage contains a "sure, no problem" followed by a "it's really different". Very unnerving, and it leaves the impression that the nasty truth is being obscured.
"

But the best stuff was John's experimentation.

hhp

Mel N. Collie's picture

All lefties are not the same. Are you a leftie?

hrant's picture

Hell no! :-)

hhp

Mel N. Collie's picture

Well, leftie writing and writing in the dark are not similar activities. Lefties can write totally uncontorted, and, as there are so many people and possibilies, nothing is being obscured, so much as you, as a one-handed person, are just out of your depth of understanding, and not likely to extend your experience.

Nevertheless, there is the wrist, there is the page, there is the target image, and people who have to make all kinds of images find ways to draw what needs to be drawn, because that is what we do.

hrant's picture

Lefties can write totally uncontorted

Unless they're forced to reproduce the broad-nib forms that righties produce. And my whole point is that I don't think they should be.

hhp

William Berkson's picture

I'm left handed. I was surprised when I saw Debra Band, who is a calligrapher and illuminator sign this book for me left-handed. (She, ahem, uses my Williams Caslon Text for the commentary portions of the book.) I asked her how she does it, and she said she writes vertically, and starts from the top for English text (as in Pablo's illustration) and from the bottom for Hebrew. She said that she can read text in any orientation now, and even mirrored from the paper cut designs she has done. So I figure it might take some time for the eyes to learn to adjust, but it's obviously doable.

hrant's picture

She said that she can read text in any orientation now

That's not how the retina is built. And is it fair to expect lefties to learn to read funny? Doable does not equal optimal.

hhp

William Berkson's picture

>not how the retina is built
Huh? Chinese and Japanese are traditionally written vertically, top to bottom.

hrant's picture

And I traditionally drive too fast for my own good.

hhp

quadibloc's picture

@William Berkson:
Huh? Chinese and Japanese are traditionally written vertically, top to bottom.

Yes, but when that is done, the characters are still right-side-up when written, and it is read in the same direction.

It is true that the retina is not built so that objects are easily recognized when in different rotational orientations. One can read text upside-down or sideways, but it takes effort and/or practice.

John Hudson's picture

I believe Hrant is referring to the fact that the human eye provides somewhat better range of acuity in the horizontal direction than in the vertical. This shouldn't surprise us, evolutionarily, since we spend more time scanning horizontally than vertically, and our eye shape also reflect this. What the reading pattern of vertical east Asian scripts demonstrates is that there is sufficient vertical acuity for reading in that direction. Hrant may argue that it cannot be optimal, but only comparison testing of native readers would indicate whether this results in a significant difference in terms of speed/accuracy.

The question of rotated writing seems to me entirely different from that of rotated reading. Writing direction and reading direction do not need to be the same because writing and reading are different tasks. When writing, one does not need to read the text, only to see what one is doing (for most people; there are some individuals who are very good at writing with their eyes closed).

hrant's picture

I believe Hrant is referring to the fact that the human eye provides somewhat better range of acuity in the horizontal direction than in the vertical.

Correct.
BTW that's one big reason my site is horizontal. :-)

there is sufficient vertical acuity for reading in that direction.

Yes, sufficient, but yes, not optimal. We can also read all-caps text, but we know lc is easier to read.

When writing, one does not need to read the text, only to see what one is doing

Like seeing if the letters are coming out nice (as opposed to simply coming out, for which you don't have to rotate anything)? :-/

My stance is simply that forcing lefties to contort (anything, including reading) just so they follow the arbitrary rules of righties is Bad.

hhp

John Hudson's picture

Arbitrary rules? The typical modulation patterns of the signs of any script are not arbitrary: they're the evolved product of competence over time with particular tools. The fact that the majority of practitioners in any culture have been right handed is significant to the results, to be sure, but the very variety of modulation patterns in the world's writing systems indicates that it is not determinative of a singular pattern. But that doesn't mean that the evolved patterns of individual scripts are not important in terms of reading. Remember, what we're talking about is a combination of shapes and modulation, and different combinations of shape and modulation produce different spatial frequencies. Writing systems, as some of Pelli's studies have shown, have distinctive spatial frequencies and, within a system, spatial frequency within a particular tuning range, which result from particular combinations of shapes and modulation patterns. If you change the modulation pattern applied to the same set of shapes, or change the set of shapes to which you apply the same modulation pattern, you end up with different spatial frequency. This is what I demonstrated in that older thread, in which I illustrated Latin letters written with a Devanagari modulation pattern: you end up with a spatial frequency that a) is atypical of the Latin script and b) -- more critically, I think -- varies more than the typical spatial frequency, which may be problematic for reading. Why should this be so? Because writing systems have evidently evolved as mechanisms for achieving particular spatial frequencies, so that reading is not disrupted by re-tuning. That is to say, the combinations of shapes and modulation patterns have been well chosen.

Ergo, the solution to comfortable writing for lefties cannot simply be to mirror the position of right-handed writers with the same tools -- hence flipping the modulation pattern -- without also considering the shapes that are being formed. In effect, what you would need is a separate script for lefties that enabled them to produce new combinations of shape and modulation pattern.

hrant's picture

It's arbitrary because the marking tool as well as the right-arm/wrist/hand/fingers system are irrelevant to the goal.

Because writing systems have evidently evolved as mechanisms for achieving particular spatial frequencies, so that reading is not disrupted by re-tuning. That is to say, the combinations of shapes and modulation patterns have been well chosen.

I can't buy that at all. Sure, it hasn't been a headless chicken, but it's closer to that than "well chosen".

what you would need is a separate script for lefties that enabled them to produce new combinations of shape and modulation pattern.

Indeed. So the first step is to totally stop telling them to make what righties make.

hhp

John Hudson's picture

How do you account for the fact that individual writing systems appear to have developed systemic spatial frequency? It seems to me a fairly clear case of evolution in a Darwinian sense: since the criterion of fitness of a writing system is reading, writing systems evolve to favour shape and modulation combinations that aid reading. This is not to say that all writing systems are equally good, let alone optimal, but that they exhibit an observable outcome vis à vis spatial frequency in the combinations of shape and modulation that they evolve. When I said 'well chosen', this is what I meant: not conscious design, but something like natural selection.

hrant's picture

I could guess what you mean by "systemic spatial frequency", but it's better if you could explain.

hhp

Mel N. Collie's picture

"So the first step is to totally stop telling them to make what righties make."

Lol. I think the issue is what readers want to read, not what either righties and lefties want to write. Given that, it's how, not what, that's at issue.

hrant's picture

Sure, if we can get righties to stop obsessing about the fallacy of "proper ductus" that would be the biggest advance in type design since Day One (which is why I adore Legato so much). But that's a much higher mountain - and following your desire for thread integrity, not the topic here.

hhp

John Hudson's picture

I could guess what you mean by "systemic spatial frequency", but it's better if you could explain.

I mean spatial frequency that, within an individual writing system, falls within one of the perceptual tuning bands. Another thing to note about this phenomenon is that it is scalable, such that even when different weights are applied to a script style, naturally resulting in differences of spatial frequency between the weights, within each weight the same tuning applies. This is no small feat, especially when one considers is is arrived at by generations of writers and readers who have no scientific understanding of spatial frequency and its rôle in reading, i.e. it is arrived at by something like natural selection.
_____

While, as you say, Legato -- and type design in general -- is outside the scope of a thread about lefty handwriting, I think it is worth pausing to consider what Legato represents in terms of combinations of shape and modulation pattern. What Evert managed so well is to create strong typical shapes of Latin letters with a new, tool-independent modulation pattern that maintains consistent spatial frequency. The modulation pattern is the innovation, and the strong typicality of the shapes and the consistent spatial frequency are what makes it successful. If, in order to accommodate the novel modulation, the letter shapes had needed to diverge significantly from typical models, the resulting typeface would have joined various idiosyncratic experiments that are practically useless as fonts for setting text that anyone wants to read. If the novel modulation had resulted in inconsistent spatial frequency, such that different letters required different perceptual tuning, this would predictably result in slower reading speeds.

So, how does this relate to lefty handwriting? Obviously, in handwriting, the modulation pattern is not tool-independent; therefore, the kind of control that Evert had that enabled him to introduce a new modulation pattern while not disrupting either typical shapes or spatial frequency consistency is not available. It seems to me, in that case, that the only way you can achieve those goals in left-handed writing -- if one rejects repositioning of the arm or rotation of the page -- is to use a tool that produces little or no stroke modulation, because any tool that results in strong modulation is going to produce either inconsistent spatial frequency or divergence from normal letter shapes.

It is not that 'righties are obsessing about proper [modulation]'*, but that readers are expecting typical shapes, and the shapes of letters have been arrived at evolutionarily in ways that favour particular modulation patterns in order to produce consistent spatial frequency. In type design, as Evert showed, these modulation patterns can be mutated through tool-independent manipulation, but in writing there is always a tool that, however manipulated, has an impact on the modulation pattern.

* I'm trying to avoid using the word ductus to mean modulation pattern, as the term has a more proper use in discussing writing, i.e. the stroke construction pattern of an individual letter, literally the 'path'.

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