I suspect that my word choice for this ambigram sketchbook project was strongly influenced by the upcoming holiday season. Last year I made a general Happy Holidays ambigram card, but this time, I wanted to be more holiday-specific.
The Merry Christmas ambigram
This is my first step in every ambigram design that I work on. I write out the word, and then write it upside down beneath the first word. Usually I use either uppercase or lowercase letters. There are several reasons why I like this approach. First and foremost, it helps me determine the letter ratio, whether it’s 1-to-1, 2-to-1, 3-to-1, etc. The basic handwriting eliminates visual aesthetics (for now), as focusing on aesthetics too early in the process can hamper legibility and readability. Most importantly, this simplistic approach allows me to visualize the transitions between the letters. I might do a few doodles here and there, but depending on the complexity of the word, I usually have a good visual of the ambigram in my mind before I even attempt more detailed sketches. The vertical line that you see splitting the word in two simply tells me that there is an even number of letters and I only have to sketch half of the word, flip it over, and complete the ambigram. Had there been an odd number of letters, I would’ve had to overlap the center letter (this will make sense in the following sketches.)
First complete rough
This looks like a very messy sketch. Well, there is a very good reason for that! After visualizing the ambigram with the help of my quick brainstorm, I had a pretty good idea of what each of the letters would look like. First, I started drawing with very light pencil strokes and shaped the letters out one by one until I got to the ‘C/H/R/I’ combination. Throughout this stage, I rotated the paper countless times & sketches from both directions; when developing an ambigram, it is very important to rotate it consistently to make sure that all the letters are legible. I stopped at the ‘H’ because it was the midpoint of the word. However, after the first rough sketch, I realized that the ‘C/H/R’ transition will be the most complex in the whole word. I had trouble visualizing it in my head & realized that early during my sketching stage, which is where the next page of sketches came in.
In any ambigram, you can have 99% of the letters & transitions worked out, yet there will be that one pesky letter combination that you might never get to work. When starting to work on the ‘C/H/R/I’ combination. The ‘H/R’ did not cause that much of an issue. If you analyze the two letters, they both have a cross-bar (more prominent in the ‘H’ than the ‘R’) and at least one shared vertical side. Having common verticals, horizontals & curves in two or more letters makes one’s life a lot easier when trying to create an ambigram! The bigger problem was the ‘C/I’ combination. The ‘I’ (in most common alphabets) is a perfectly geometric character without a single curve, while the ‘C’ is nothing but one continuous curve. The challenge here was to curve the character enough to have it represent the ‘C’ in Christmas, while retaining enough geometry and rigidity to appear as an upside down ‘I’. As you can see from the sketches, I tried several uppercase and lowercase versions, as well as mix u/c & l/c together. Also I attempted to merge the ‘C/H/R’ together as one graphic and then add a lowercase ‘I’, but that didn’t work very well, as the block of letters seemed disjointed. Finally, in the last sketch you see (bottom right) I decided to ignore the ‘C’ and attempt the ‘H/R/I’ combination. While sketching the leg of the ‘R’ where it comes close to the bottom of the ‘I’, the stroke naturally curved around the leg of the ‘R’. When I rotated the sketch upside down (as I do multiple times throughout the ambigram process) it looked more like a ‘C’ then any previous sketches. Finally!!! After this sketch, I was also able to visualize the ‘C/H/R/I’ combination working well with the rest of the word. Next!
Now that the most difficult block of letters was more or less solved, I turned my attention to the easier letters. The ‘MERRY/STMAS’ (the STMAS being upside down of course) came out similar to the first rough sketch, as the merging of the letters and transitions from letter to letter were very clear in my head. You see some slight refinement in these sketches, but that’s about it. I experimented slightly with the connection of the ‘M/E’ and different serifs on the ‘R’s’ and the ‘E’. In the end, I decided to keep the serifs similar to the rest of the letters in the ambigram. I also attempted an uppercase ‘T’ instead of a lowercase, but discarded that idea as I thought it looked a bit harsh.
Up until now, I’ve switched between plain paper and graphing paper (1/4 inch grid) because in the later stages, I wanted a basic grid for my sketches. For the final rough, I switched to graphing paper that had a 1/8 inch grid, because I wanted more control over the finer details of the ambigram. As you can see, I’ve made some slight adjustments to the previous sketches & ideas that I had. I curved the ‘I’ a bit more, and visually your eye carries over from the leg of the ‘R’ into the ‘I’, so it’s an implied (but not an actual) transition. Other then some slight aesthetic changes, the ambigram did not change much from the first rough. When I bring this ambigram into the computer, I might make some other miniscule changes, but in terms of development on a paper with pencil, I think it is pretty complete. I used three different types of paper in this ambigram development; plain paper for some initial brainstorming & smaller sketches (as the ‘CHRI’ block), graph paper with a 1/4 inch grid for some of the roughs, and graph paper with a 1/8 inch grid for the final rough. In the end, the final design took about four pages.