Tips For Understanding Flourishing

This week I'll be sharing my thoughts on adding Flourishing to lettering. There's something about the graceful curves of flourishes that confidently represent opulence, beauty, and quality. The thing is, they are finicky and require attention to detail. 

"Flourishes if not used tastefully obscure rather than enhance the simple form of the letter or design" - Tommy Thompson (Script Lettering for Artists)

There is definitely a fine balance that needs to be achieved in order to create effective flourishes, and it's something that I am still working on and learning every time I practice. Before we move on, I have to admit that I still have a lot to learn, but I hope that this article can at least spark some thought around the ideas and help you guys out. Cheers!

First Things First - Learn By Drawing Past Examples
There are some specific rules we can follow to help us design beautiful flourishing, and I'll touch on a few of those later on. But before attempting to design flourishing of your own, I think you'll find it beneficial to draw examples of flourished lettering from artists you admire. The act of observational drawing (drawing what we see) will help us better understand what is possible in terms of flourishing, by teaching us what has already worked in the past. Once we have drawn a few examples, incorporating flourishes into our own work will be less intimidating because we'll go into our design process with a few ideas of what has already worked for other artists. Below are a couple of my favorite examples of flourishing. I'll demonstrate how I practice using observational drawing, by replicating the "Loreto" logo originally drawn by Doyald Young, and then I'll offer some tips for drawing flourishes. 

To deliberately practice, I sit down with the intent on recreating a chosen piece of lettering, and spend how ever long it takes to recreate that piece by hand. Sometimes it takes around fifteen minutes and other times around an hour. It just depends on how complicated the piece is and how refined you want to make your drawing. In the grand scheme of things, fifteen to sixty minutes is a very manageable amount of time to commit, and trust me, you will be surprised with how much you can learn in that amount of time if you are completely focused.

When drawing from observation, it might help to think about the process as similar to putting together a puzzle. You'll be constantly referring back to the drawing you are trying to replicate (or the picture of the puzzle on the front of the box) to figure out where the next piece goes and how it relates to the rest of the puzzle. The only difference is that you have to draw each puzzle piece! 

What's the first thing you do when you put together a puzzle? The answer is, you establish the border. In both the puzzle and the drawing, the border is a constraint that will give us a place to begin our puzzle or drawing. So, that is how I like to start an observational drawing piece for practice. 

Tips and Tricks for Drawing Flourishes
Below are some examples of flourishes from Tommy Thompson's book entitled, Script Lettering For Artists. The first image are the basic building blocks, and the second image is a compilation of a few examples of how they can be combined, mixed, and matched to create unique flourishes. Check out examples of lettering with flourishing and see if you can spot these basic shapes put into practice.

(Flourish Drawing Credit - Tommy Thompson - Script Lettering For Artists)

(Flourish Drawing Credit - Tommy Thompson - Script Lettering For Artists)

(Flourish Drawing Credit - Tommy Thompson - Script Lettering For Artists)

(Flourish Drawing Credit - Tommy Thompson - Script Lettering For Artists)

  • Avoid flattening out sections of a curve. To get the curve right, it might help to think about each curve having a positive and negative shape. For instance, when drawing a spiral, the inner shape should be a gradual taper from thin to thick as it moves out from the center point. It often takes a bit of drawing, erasing, and redrawing to unearth a nice curve.

•Practice Dividing Spaces
A good way to think about flourishes is that they are basically lines that divide a space; and there are multiple ways to divide any space. If you'd like to practice dividing spaces with my little 4x4 square template, you can download and print out a copy from here.

• Lightly Define Flourishes Until You Have Divided The Space The way You See Best Fit - Then Commit and Darken Line
Deciding which types of flourishes, where, and how large they should be is an iterative process that takes some experimenting. I have found it helps to first draw very lightly while you are figuring out what might work.