You are here: Home Dubuque Book Arts design



Accentuate the Positive Letterform Workshop

Notes and synopsis for this workshop, offered by Peter Fraterdeus. Contact us for details.

Download the Class Notes (3.0mb PDF)

Introduction: Modes of Perception

The eye doesn’t see black on the page, it sees the white.
— Ieuan Rees

The Right Brain or R-mode provides the 'negative' space against which thought (Left Brain or L-mode) marks time,  sequence and order. This is the quiet space, the empty vessel which holds the mind, yet is the mind's easel. It is the complementary, the ground on which the figure plays, yet is also primary, for without it, thought itself could not exist, as we cannot perceive form without its context.
We can think of L-mode as Logical and Linear,  while R-mode is Reflective, Receptive — spacial and immediate. While these are not exclusive to the physical hemispheres of the brain, they are models of perception. 

Life in exoteric, materialistic, Apollonian cultures tends to favor the L-Mode with its linear logical sequential processing. But the Arts, Meditation, Music, Passion, Exhaustion, Trauma, Psychoactive Herbs & Alcohol — the Dionysian influences— all can be paths to R-mode awareness, yet it's fleeting...

Betty Edwards, as with all good Zen teachers, developed practices in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain ( which are designed to quiet the chattering, 'rational,' sequential, symbolic mind, allowing the intuitive perceptual mind to come forward. The conscious recognition of entering R-mode is like a light turning on, a veil lifted, or a window suddenly blown open by a fresh breeze. 

In fact, "enlightenment" is a term used for the attainment of that continuous conscious state, when both R & L modes are fully engaged! Drawing (letterforms) is as good a practice as any! It challenges both analytic reason and intuitive perception in much the same way that music does.

Our approach will be to inform the 'rational' mind, but to prefer the pattern-recognizing, synthesizing, relationship-appreciating mode of the 'empty' mind, which takes what the eye offers without judgement, in order to see 'negative' space as something real and substantial. To perceive the substance of emptiness.

Designing forms, seeing space, consider Lao Tse in the Tao Te Ching:

"Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub; It is the center hole that makes it useful.  Shape clay into a vessel;  It is the space within that makes it useful.  Cut doors and windows for a room;  It is the holes which make it useful.  Therefore benefit comes from what is there;  Usefulness from what is not there.

(trans J. English & Gia-fu Feng 1989)

Marks made with the pencil, graphite sticks, the East Asian Calligrapher's Brush, the drawing pen all with consideration of the power of emptiness.

Perceptual drawing exercises help us develop a toolkit of practical approaches to drawing glyphs or sequences of letters. The same exercises also strengthen and refine pure drawing, of any subject.

Seminars and Workshops from 3 to 10 days.

Longer workshops include elements of instruction in carving and inscribing forms in various materials.

Conducted in English

Day One — Drawing on Emptiness

What do you see?

Practicum : Day One

Drawing as a physical activity, making deliberate marks and expressive marks

Paper Bag Studies :The haptic sense — feeling our way to spatial relationships,

haptic : of or relating to the sense of touch, in particular relating to the perception and manipulation of objects using the senses of touch and proprioception (awareness of the position of the body and its parts)

Viewfinder studies with the Oak Leaf; of a Wood Type Letter
Heuristic Studies of rules and patterns in letterform construction

heuristic : enabling a person to discover or learn something for themselves : a “hands-on” or interactive heuristic approach to learning.

Jonathon Hoefler's exercise in 'tweening' forms between the 'known' letters

Sketching and refinement, iterative process in the "Letters Mingle Souls" design

Mac demo?

Finish Day One with a review of progress and perspectives.

Betty Edwards: Strategies for Perception, Saturation

Perceive the Edges

Perceive the Negative Spaces

Perceive the Relationships and Proportions

Perceive the Lights and Shadows

Perceive the Gestalt – The Thingness of the Thing.

Edge is a shared boundary - Liminal Study of edges, boundaries - Scribble / string studies

Pure Contour Drawing, five minutes of the wrinkles in the hand. Toning the paper w/graphite

Sighting has to do with constants: Reason, Ratios and Relationships

St. Thomas Aquinas:

The requirements for Beauty – Integritas, Consonantia, Quidditas

(Wholeness, Harmony & Essense)

Seeing and drawing

What is the hardest letter to draw? To see?
Which is harder, drawing or seeing?
Haptic (touch, fasten) perception of negative space. [Wood Type Exercise Large – Small ]
Heuristic (self-discovered) perception of shape & space [Non-Alphabetic Symbols (Jon. Hoefler’s exercises)]
Drawing for Design – Progressive Refinement, Iterative Process [pin-marks for registration, overlay]
Using the computer for refinement – Hidden sources of problems, kinks in curves, vector entrance & exit

Day 2 — Applied Perceptions of Space

If negative spaces are given equal importance to the positive forms, all parts of the drawing seem interesting and all work togerher to create a unified image. If, on the other hand, the focus is almost entirely on the positive forms, the drawing may seem uninteresting and disunified – even boring – no matter how beautifully rendered the positive form may be. — Betty Edwards (The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain,  p120)

Practicum : Day Two

Putting “flesh on the bones” or “wrapping the stone”?

Watercolor Postcards

Calligraphic Writing

Letterform Design

Ann Hechle’s Aspects of Language : Sound panel, etc.

Platonic Ideals enter the Material World

The Eye, the Mind, the Hand, the Heart.


The best bet for finding these books is online. Try searching for the ISBN number at or


Betty Edwards
    Drawing on the Artist Within: A Guide to Innovation, Invention, Imagination and Creativity
        (Simon & Schuster ISBN: 0671493868 / 0-671-49386-8)
    Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (ISBN: 0874770882 / 0-87477-088-2)
    Color by Betty Edwards: A Course in Mastering the Art of Mixing Colors
        (ISBN: 1585422193 / 1-58542-219-3)
Nicolette Grey
    Lettering as Drawing ISBN 0800847296
Micheal Harvey
    Creative Lettering : Drawing and Design ISBN 0-8008-1997-7 (Taplinger)


Ann Hechle
Peter Fraterdeus
   This document:
Ieuan Rees
Lao Tzu – Tao te Ching
Jonathon Hoefler – Introduction to Typeface Design 110

Supply List

This is a list of important tools and materials. Most will be in your toolbox already.
Pencils, soft, medium and hard ie: 3B HB 2H 4H
Technical Drawing Pens  size 0 or 00 (.35 or .30 mm) (the higher priced refillable pens can be used with subtle colors...) with appropriate inks. Watercolor inks (light-blue, purple) for refillable pens. Black waterproof fiber pens
    Rapidograph or Mars pens or equivalent high-qualityfiber tipped like Zig Millenium) (fiber)
Long-hair sable 'pencils' (lettering brushes) # 3, #5
"one-stroke" flat lettering brush 1/2 inch
kneaded rubber eraser & white plastic eraser (Mars, etc)
paper: 11x14 (or larger) pad drafting vellum (18x24 can be divided to 12x18 which is fine)
paper: cold-press watercolor  block 6x9
drafting tape :
watercolors,  travel/pan set & small watercolor palette & small squat bottle for rinsing brushes, etc
magnifier for looking at small stuff up close
Xacto or single-edge razor blades for sharpening pencils (no 'pencil sharpeners' please!)
12" 30-60-90 drafting triangle & small t-square, drafting board, etc
12-18 inches of white packing twine / nylon cord
MacBook (or whatever, ok! :-) with Adobe Illustrator and Wacom drawing tablet account : this web-based graphics tool application may be VERY useful to those who don't have access to Adobe's professional tools). Sign up for a free account and check it out...
Also, Inkscape, an open-source vector drawing tool. 

Of course, there’s nothing like the real thing. If you’re doing serious or professional work, Adobe Illustrator is de rigueur.


Powered by Plone CMS, the Open Source Content Management System

This site conforms to the following standards: