Bryan Font

I recently wrote about my dad, and how he was put on an 'end of life pathway'. This meant a lot of time at his bedside, unable to communicate or respond but (hopefully) still able to hear us. We played his favourite classical music (one for a future episode of Troika), read the news or books, and generally waffling in an attempt to provide some comfort. Mostly he slept, and we listened to his breathing, trying to discern any changes.

It was during all this that I had an idea.

Growing up I was subconsciously inspired by the different aspects of design that he introduced to me, from mid-century vinyl record covers to architecture and signage. In particular, his distinctive architect's handwriting was very evocative to me, and I decided I should try and capture it as a font. It could be something carrying his name that outlives him, and also something else to talk to him about.

A handwritten piece or cardboard detailing instructions on how to remove the model railway layout, even detailing where screws are
Instructions that dad left us (A, D & J) on how to save the garden model railway layout. As with everything he did, it's dated (Bryan Hicks, 17th January 2000)

My dad was a passionate railway photographer, and we were surrounded by boxes upon boxes of 35mm and medium format slides. Each photograph was meticulously recorded with date, location and even specifics such as aperture and shutter speed (information that's now recorded automatically as EXIF data). This offered a lot of examples to base the font on, but it varied over the years, particularly with the effect of Parkinsons in the last 15 years. After a few few false starts, I found a particularly good example from the 1990's where he was documenting a slideshow of Class 50 locomotives. I scanned these using the iOS Notes app built-in document scanner.

This gave me an ideal starting point of an almost complete set of latin characters and numerals, all written in a similar size and weight. I took photos of these and used the grid template from calligraphr to assemble the characters using Procreate on the iPad.

Calligraphr's character templates were a useful way to gather images of glyphs and size them consistently.

Calligraphr then converted the rough scans into a prototype font. This provided a great starting point, but after I took it into Glyphs 3 app, I ended up redrawing each character and starting again:

The evolution of the letter a, from blurry scan to rough vector version and smooth final version
  • Smoothing out distortion caused by ink bleed and scanning, but keeping the width variance of the pen.
  • Creating important missing glyphs (such as $, Q) by re-using existing shapes
  • Remove all spacing and try again. But that was spaced too tight, so I then remove that again, and redid it. Third time lucky! Then I could work through kerning pairs. This part felt like the time I learnt how to true a bicycle wheel, I never thought it would end.

There were several stylistic choices my dad made in his handwriting that were vital to reproduce in the font. For example, the shape of the lowercase T altered depending on whether it was written cursively or on it's own:

He always offset the dot (apparently this is called the 'tittle'!) in the lowercase I and J to the right:

Then there's the flamboyant leg of the R, curved bottom arm of the E, lowercase cursive Z, tall and elegant sterling symbol and the ampersand just showing the 'e' rather than 'et':

One of the issues with handwriting fonts is that the characters are clearly repeated, but using discretionary ligatures allowed me to vary the glyph shapes a bit:

My dad also used a lot of 'ditto' marks, and this was also something I was keen to capture. I've included three different sizes of these, triggered by typing 2,3 or 4 hyphens:

I've had a focus for getting this font ready, as I wanted to use it on the Order of Service for his funeral. Due to print lead times, it had to be an earlier version that was spaced a bit tight, but it came out well:

The printed order of service for my dad's funeral, showing a range of photos from an eight year old schoolboy to a 66 year old on a narrowboat

I really enjoyed the whole process, from researching examples and explaining it all to dad, to making subtle tweaks in Glyphs app and seeing the effect live in its text preview. It's a labour of love and a fascinating learning process. Above all though, it's been something to keep me going amongst the overwhelming sadness.

So far I've mostly concentrated on characters that I've found examples of, but may well add more in the future. If you have a particular need for a glyph, let me know and might have a go! There will be further tweaks and improvements of course.

You can download the font for free in the shop, but if you use and enjoy it, please consider donating to Parkinsons UK in his memory.


Call Jon Hicks on +44 (0)7917 391536
Tweet @hicksdesign

Hicks Design
Wenrisc House
Meadow Court
Witney, OX28 6ER
United Kingdom