Skeletons

I have decided to write a series of posts explaining how Tengwar Annatar and Tengwar Telcontar were made, since I have received some questions about it over the years. To begin with, the most common method used when digitizing a typeface is to draw the outlines of the glyphs using Bézier curves:

Contour of tinco made up of Bézier curves

These Bézier curves are convenient to work with, and you can easily form virtually any shape with them. In fact, I found out when I started working on my first font that they were too versatile for my needs. So far, my fonts have been essentially calligraphic; that is to say, the glyphs are designed to look as if written with a pen. And when I attempted to achieve this by drawing the contours, I found that far too much time went into such things as ensuring consistent weight, forming nicely rounded line endings, etc. But if I were to write the letters using the method I wanted to imitate, i.e. with a pen on paper, I would not have to worry about things like that. All those features would come automatically, since they are defined primarily by the pen itself, independently from how I move it. (Obviously I’m talking about an “ideal” pen here.) What I wanted to spend my time on was to define the motion of the pen.

Thus, I decided to not use this method to make my fonts. In fact, with a few exceptions, I have not directly edited any of the contours of my glyphs. Instead, I made use of another concept, namely the skeleton, i. e., the path that the pen traces (shown in dark red in the following picture).

Skeleton of tinco

As can easily be seen, by defining the skeleton instead of the outline the complexity is considerably reduced: each stroke has two sides, but only one centre, so in that respect alone there is a halving of the number of Bézier curves that has to be defined. The outline shown in the first picture is made up of 23 nodes (although it could possibly be cut down slightly without disturbing the shape too much); in contrast, its skeleton is drawn with 10 nodes (not shown in the picture).

Of course, working with skeletons is much more limiting than working with the outlines. One way to get more freedom is to let the angle of the pen vary. For example, in Tengwar Annatar, the bar that closes the lúva in parmatéma and quessétema is drawn with a pen held at a slightly smaller angle to the baseline, which makes the bar thinner than it would otherwise be.

However, each individual stroke is drawn with a fixed angle, due to a limitation in the program I used to draw the glyphs. Since I was not entirely satisfied with this, for Tengwar Telcontar I implemented a way of varying the angle of the pen over the course of the stroke, which enabled me to achieve some subtle effects. As can be seen in the occasional grey pen marks in the picture above, the pen is held at a larger angle at the start of the lúva, closest to the telco, compared to at the end. Another, more illustrating example is the closing bar of parmatéma:

Vala in Annatar and Telcontar

In the Tengwar Annatar at the left, the bar is drawn with a constant angle, which results in a fairly uniform stroke. In Telcontar on the other hand, the angle increases as we progress to the right, which makes for a more interesting shape.

My next post will be about how I have used METAFONT to draw my glyphs.

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