Our first participant for the Ambigram Sketchbook Exchange: Digital Edition (please click the link to find out more about ASE) is John Langdon. He has taken the time to create a fantastic ambigram of Louis Armstrong, who also happens to be one of my favorite jazz musicians. Now, here is John's ambigram along with a written explanation from the artist.
The LOUIS ARMSTRONG ambigram, step by step.
Page 1 Looking for a word. If I recall correctly, I started with an Angels & Demons theme, trying LUCIFER and BEELZEBUB. Then went to HEAVEN and HELL (the first two ambigrams I ever did, in the early 70s), and they led to NIRVANA and VAN HELLSING (sp?). Then to TYPOGRAPHY and EXQUISITE, which made me think about a name of someone who produced exquisite work: SHAKESPEARE, and then LOUIS ARMSTRONG.
LOUIS ARMSTRONG fell into place fairly well, with both an O and an S repeating at regular intervals. Making use of that starting point meant that the ambigram would have to be a chain, which needs two self-contained inversions. The G was an easy one. The ARM would be a bit trickier.
Although this page was turned both 180 degrees and 90 degrees during the exploration process, I have shown it here “right-side-up” as regards the LOUIS ARMSTRONG development. To the east-southeast of the upside-down word BEELZEBUB, is the upside-down word LOUISARMSTRONG. (I start by writing things upside down, rather than writing them right-side-up and then turning the page.) Immediately below that is my first shot at converting the letters to ambigram glyphs. The ARM at this point looks more like ARN. After a couple of experiments with ARMs in the lower left part of the page, I see that by extending the upstroke of the R, I can make the M seem more M-ish, as can be seen in the lower right. The previous ARM, employing script forms, also suggests that an angled style will be better than a vertical orientation.
Page 2 At the top is my somewhat carefully drawn interpretation of my previous sketch, with letters a little less than 1” in height. There are also two quick sketches to see whether I’ll want two or three iterations of LOUIS ARMSTRONG around in a circle to complete the infinite chain. Although the right hand one, which approximates two iterations, provides a better letter height-to-circle size ratio, I think the readability will be better with the three-times-around approach, seen on the left. Below that is an amusing result of trying an optional shape for the chain-linking G.
Page 3 After enlarging the relatively tight drawing on page two by three or four hundred percent, I trace that drawing, making careful measurements to ensure consistent letter height and angle and stroke weight. The letters are drawn in outline, forcing me to be very committed as to where the edge of a letter is. No fudging allowed. I’ve drawn only half of the O, S, and G, as I’ll want each of those letters to be perfectly symmetrical in the end.
Page 4 The O, S, and G have been completed, and all the letters strung out in order. Then that stage is copied and repeated, arranged in full ambigram form, completing the name, with the extra G that will link to the next iteration. This is as far as I would go without using the computer. From here, I would create finished vector art of the letters, then arrange them around one third of a circle (a trial and error process). Then the tops of all the letters (farther from the center of the circle) and the spaces between them will need to be split, allowing them to fan out along radii of the circle. Much adjusting of spatial relationships and some redrawing of letters is involved at that stage. Because the letters appear in both a right-side-up and an upside-down orientation, the R/U glyph, for instance, will need to be split and repaired in both its configurations, making it more efficient to do that work with vector-formed letters, rather than having to draw each letter twice. (I’ll take this project to completion in Adobe Illustrator in the next few weeks, and all that will become clearer when you can SEE what I mean.)
John Langdon Nov. 18, 2008
John, thank you for your wonderful submission & insightful glance into your ambigram design process! To see more of John Langdon's work, please click on his website under the list of Contributors. For more information on the Ambigram Sketchbook Exchange: Digital Edition, click here!