Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ambigram Submission: Revelation, Typophile, Roxanne & Sins

Mark Simonson is a type and graphic designer working out of Minnesota. I met him on the Typophile forums, and he offered to submit some beautiful ambigrams, along with sketches, a detailed though process and tips & suggestions for other ambigramists. (Is that even a word? It is now!)
Here are his submissions.

As a result of the discussion on Typophile, I was asked to create this design for a tattoo. I've attached sketches and some of the exploratory artwork.

Sketch 1

First sketch shows a bit of brainstorming. The basic idea seems to have come pretty quickly, but I don't remember exactly how. It's strange that there are two non-starters, then something not far from the final idea. I must have had a "revelation." :-) As I recall, my basic approach was to work from the outside in, the inside out, or both at once, trying to picture it upside down as I went. Rotating the drawing frequently is essential.

Sketch 2

Second sketch shows a refinement of the basic idea. (There is also a blackletter variation shown that I didn't pursue further.) Only one half is drawn, which was then traced in the next sketch.

Sketch 3

Third sketch is on velum, traced from sketch #2 in both orientations. This was to see whether it read well and looked good. I guess I wasn't quite happy with this.

Sketch 4

Sketch four shows the same idea rendered upright instead of slanted, just one half of the design.

Sketch 5

Sketch five shows some more refinement of the same idea. At this point, I scanned it into the computer in order to work with the design more efficiently in Illustrator.
First vector draft

Here is the first draft of the design in Illustrator, based on the last sketch. The final forms are nearly worked out, but need more refinement.

Final variations

This shows the final variations. The top is a refinement of the draft shown previously. As an option, I did two variations with flourishes added. The bottom one was chosen.

This was done as part of the discussion about ambigrams on I did several others before arriving at this solution. You can see the others online at


Another commission. This one was very easy to work out, almost a natural ambigram. It's both legible and aesthetically pleasing. I spent most of my energy on the formal qualities, since there was very little to work out in the symmetry.

This was another commissioned design. I like the way it looks, but I don't think it reads very well, and therefore not very successful (in my opinion)

Ambi-tips (sounds catchier then ambigram tips, no?)

- Rotate the design frequently when you are working on it. The process is very iterative, and needs a lot of push and pull.
- Once you have drawn half of the ambigram in Illustrator (or another graphics program), you can copy and rotate it for the other half, or to replace one side when you've made changes to the other.
- Keep an open mind to ambiguous forms. (This is probably the hardest part.)
- Calligraphic and script forms tend to work better than typographic forms because the elements tend to be more ambiguous and modular.
- Too much ambiguity can make it unreadable.
- Consider the different forms a letter may take.
- Part of one letter may be part of a different letter when the whole is rotated (the best ambigrams have this quality).
- A decorative element may be part of a letter when the whole is rotated, or vice versa.
- Strive for visual and stylistic unity (not strictly necessary, but always makes it better).

Great submissions and some wonderful tips! Thank you Mark!
(a link to Mark's website can be found under "Contributors" on the right hand side.)


nagfa said...

Had always been wanting to know who designed this! Even more brilliant looking at the thought process!


Florian said...

Great! But: Mark Simonson is not a Simpson.

Ambiblog said...

Wow...thank you for that correction Florian. Fixed and my apologies to Mark as well.

Anonymous said...

I really like how the revelation ambigram turned out. I even had requests to design an ambigram for them with a similar style as this one. It was a tough design to follow. Great job.

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