I begin by writing the word or name in all capital letters. I then look at the word upside down. (I have learned to write upside down just to save the trouble of inverting my sketchbook every time.)
I look at the letter that’s farthest to the left (actually the last letter of the word) and try to imagine it as the first letter of the word. Let’s use the word VISTA as an example.
In order to make the I into a T, it needs a horizontal stroke at the end
opposite the dot.
Adding that horizontal to make the T doesn’t have any diminishing effect on the recognizability of the I. This is due to one of the most important factors regarding the success of rotational ambigrams: We “read” (recognize/comprehend) letters using information we get from their tops, more than from their bottoms (much like recognizing people, as well).
is about the easiest word to make an ambigram from that I can imagine, except, of course for words like NOON, of which there are probably a few. But the basic process remains the same even when the manipulations are much more challenging.
There is one major departure from what I’ve described above: sometimes a letter facing one way needs to be created by combining letters that face the other direction, or perhaps parts of letters. An easy example to picture would be a lower-case style M, , that, when inverted would become lower case ITI, , (three vertical strokes connected in a cursive manner, at the bottom.
When a word resists becoming an ambigram on a one-letter-to-one-letter basis, it may sometimes be solved by starting with just the vertical strokes. But the number of verticals may be flexible as well: a capital R will comprise two verticals, while a lower case will have just one. It’s important to remain open to all the imaginable options in order to create an ambigram.
In order to explore and take advantage of those options, it’s critical to determine what the essence of each letter is: what can be eliminated, added, or twisted without losing its basic identity. Many of the capital letters, (, for instance) have a simple vertical “stem” (to use the typographic term) from which the more unique characteristics branch out. With the exceptions of the L and T, eliminating the vertical stem will leave a completely recognizable letter. . So perhaps the number of verticals could be flexible for that reason as well.
In the case of the letter X, the essence is that two strokes cross, and almost certainly at least one of the two crossing strokes will be a diagonal. Capital Xs and lower case Xs are the same, and that essence remains the same in as many calligraphic and typographic styles as I can think of.
Many letters of the alphabet vary from capital to lower case forms. The shapes of a few lower case letters have changed a bit from what they were when they first evolved from capitals, and in a couple of cases, both the older and the newer versions are still used. For instance, there are at least two familiar lower case As () and Gs (). Each of these will have an essence that’s distinct from the others.
Creating ambigrams is, at its essence, an exercising in breaking rules. As a rule, words only read from one vantage point. As a rule, a letterform only needs to represent one sound. As we attempt to create words in ways the alphabet never had in mind, we have to subvert those conventions, and we have to be openminded to doing things we’ve always considered “wrong.” For instance we will often need to mix capital letters with lower case letters.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of studying and drawing conventional letters from classic typefaces. Knowing them intimately, like knowing people, will bring understanding, respect and love. When you have those as the primary aspects of your relationship with letters, you’l find that they can be very compliant — they’ll be willing do just about anything you want.
Good luck and have fun!Return to top of page