Last week I finished up compiling my best information into a free PDF guide to help get you started with hand lettering. Now I want to build on that and help you take your lettering to the next level with syncopation.
Syncopation is a term used in music, which means to give stress and emphasis to the weak beats instead of the strong beats. It’s a way of throwing the listener a curve ball. They may not have been expecting to hear the weak beats, and because of that, it is very interesting to the listener. This is because being predictable is boring.
Your favorite songs are probably not the ones that were predictable every second along the way when you first listened to it. This is because we love our music to surprise us, and the same goes with lettering. The reason that lettering still exists as a vibrant industry, even though we can create perfectly legible and readable words on computers, is because lettering makes words interesting. There are various aspects that contribute to creating interesting words, and one of them is syncopation.
This lettering piece may or may not be interesting to read. To some extent, it’s slightly cool because it’s interesting that the letter I is smaller than the rest. This is a minimal use of syncopation. I interrupted the pattern of the all-caps, serif letters by shrinking that letter I. At the same time, if it weren’t for that letter I, it would really lack personality. This is because everything basically looks the same.
There’s nothing wrong with trying to make your lettering look perfect, as if you just printed it out from your computer. However, I believe you’re missing out on a huge advantage that lettering offers: the opportunity to create engaging words that look unique from any other type.
Taking Full Advantage of Syncopation
Just like music, your lettering has a rhythm to it. Your lettering has speed, harmony, and direction with which you read it. Syncopation takes knowing what part of that rhythm and pattern is appropriate to interrupt. This will increase the visual interest of your lettering. It’s a fine balance between creating interest in your lettering and having a mess.
In order to make sure you avoid a mess, you should make sure you have a solid understanding of the lettering basics. You need an understanding of how letters work before you try to deconstruct them and there natural patterns.
As you may have learned from my free hand lettering guide, some of these basic structures of lettering are things like the baseline, x-height, and the cap height. Once you have a grasp on how to use them, and understand that they’re patterns that belong to all words, you can then manipulate and interrupt that pattern to create visual interest.
As you can see, the baseline in this piece is interrupted several times with the letter I, the two Ns, and the R. Furthermore, the I is even further interrupted to put more attention on the beginning letter. The blue guides show us that visual pattern among the letters that show where the letters stop. With a few letters breaking that barrier, it causes the viewer to stop and look a while longer, because it’s unlike anything else they have seen. On top of that, the x-height is interrupted as well, with the V and the R creating a second layer of syncopation which makes the piece even more visually engaging.
Another way to make sure that your lettering doesn’t turn into a mess when syncopating your work, is by making the interrupted pattern, a pattern in and of itself. As you can see in the above piece, the interruptions share their own harmony of themselves, separate of the lettering piece. The interruptions near the baseline share a curling motion, mostly aimed in the same direction, and reoccur at pretty consistent intervals.
I have shared how I have been able to use syncopation with the interruption of the baseline and x-height, but it goes beyond that. Syncopation is a global concept you can use in any part of your lettering. The key is to identify patterns in your lettering, and (gracefully) interrupt that pattern.
Syncopation takes time and practice to gain an understanding of how to use it correctly. Feel free to play around with it, fail at it, and try again. If you do that, it won’t be long until you finally get the hang of it.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to share this with your lettering friends: