Thursday, April 24

Beautiful Ambigrams by Tiffany Harvey

An ambigram, also sometimes known as an inversion, is a graphical figure that spells out a word not only in its form as presented, but also in another direction or orientation. The text can also consist of a few words, and the the text spelled out in the other direction or orientation is often the same, but can also be a different text. Douglas R. Hofstadter describes an ambigram as a "calligraphic design that manages to squeeze two different readings into the selfsame set of curves."

I think this is a lovely idea that is not seen often in wedding stationery. Picture this on thank you cards, or on a program cover - how unique!

I had the pleasure of cyber-meeting Miss Tiffany Harvey recently, who created these lovely graphics you see. As a talented designer who creates custom Ambigrams, I was excited to introduce her to you! She creates intriguing and beautiful imagery, and is very knowledgeable and articulate on the craft she practices.

What is an ambigram?
I like to explain ambigrams as the merging of calligraphy and optical illusions. There are actually many types of ambigrams, they are basically any way you can draw a word that can be read from more than one perspective, and both Wikipedia and have great examples of the various kinds. However, the most well known ambigrams are rotational designs: a word (or phrase) that reads the same upside down, or rotates to become a whole new word. These are the designs that I focus on.

When and how did ambigrams come to exist?
People have been creating ambigrams longer than they realize (some words, like "mom" create natural ambigrams), but in the '70's both John Langdon and Scott Kim started working independantly to discover just how many ways you can warp a word. Scott Kim published a book in 1981 called "Inversions", which is another common name for the designs. Ambigrams became more well-known recently when John Langdon created a series of designs for Dan Brown's book "Angels & Demons" (which also gained popularity with the release of the "The Da Vinci Code").

What inspired you to begin creating ambigrams?
An online friend of mine was asked to be in a book about words used as tattoos. When she posted a picture of her featured tattoo, John Langdon's mirrored design of "Balance", I had my frist glimpse of ambigrams. I rushed over to Langdon's site and was fascinated by the rotationals designs. I've always been interested in calligraphy, optical illusions, any kind of puzzle or secret code, so I had to give it a try myself. I first attempted my last name, "Harvey", which luckily was an almost natural ambigram on it's own (quickly drawn with a mouse here ). Then I tried pairing "Justin" and "Tiffany", my husband's and my name, which is suprisingly still one of my most popular ambigrams (it can be found on the front page of my site). After that I doodled any name or word I could think of, and after a few months of successful sketches, I started creating custom designs.

How do you create an ambigram?
First I write out the letters of the first name I want to use. Try to think of as many variations of the letter as you can, including lowercase letters, uppercase, cursive and variations in calligraphy. Then turn the page over and write the letters of the name again (or the second name you want to use). Start at one end and look for any similarities you can find between the two sets of letters. The more you create ambigrams, the more you will discover new ways to pair the letters, and you will build up a large index of possible letter combinations. It is also important to take a good look at different fonts and types of calligraphy. Try drawing the letters and notice where the lines curve, become thick or thin, what part are the same troughout the font. Having a good knowledge of fonts will help your ambigrams to become more readable and refined. Once you are finished, ask a friend to read the name(s), and get some honest feedback about what could be improved. You know what the design is supposed to say, and recognize the letters easily, but it may be hard to tell how readable the design actually is.

Can you create an Ambigram with any name under the sun?
One-word designs, which read the same upside down, can usually be created from any word or name. The best part about these is that you only have to create the first half of the design, flip that over to create the second half, and you are done! However, you certainly come across names that are not possible. Sometimes designs have tricky letter combinations that can be done in one font, but not another.

We love the way you can create one image using both a couples names. Is this something any couple can choose to do, or do their names have to have the same number of letters?
For two names to pair, they do not necessarily have to be the same number of letters, but they do need to be similar in length (normally no more than two letters different). Sometimes it is actually easier to create an ambigram from two names of different lengths than two with the same number of letters, it all depends on how the letters combine with one another. (Often one letter will turn into two or three letters when upside down, just rotate an "m" and see how easily you can create the word "ill".) But there are ways to get even the trickiest names to pair. Don't forget about formal versions of names, or nicknames. "Sammy" might be too short, but what about "Samantha"? I have often created an extra letter with a rotated "&" sign, or even the word "and" when there is a larger letter difference. You can put both of the names on the same line ("Justin and Tiffany", which would read the same upside down), or rotate them independantly ("Justin" and "Tiffany" becomes "Tiffany and "Justin"). And if all else fails, maybe it would be better to just use your last name?

Are there specific type faces you use, or can a customer request the look of a certain type of lettering?
I love working with a variety of fonts! While every design may not be possible with any font, most are pretty flexible. In general, Old English is usually the 'default' style for ambigram artists, because a lot of things can be hidden in those angles, but I really try to work with a wide range of font styles. Of course, the customer is the one who ultimately picks the font, and they usually choose their font from one of my previous designs, so I have done many designs in the same few fonts. (You can see all of my ambigrams, categorized by font styles, here )

Thank you Tiffany! You have really opened up the world of Ambigrams for me! The price is amazingly reasonable, and I can't wait to order mine and hubby's names, "Danny and Danae" which she assures me will be a breeze.

Visit her site at

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