UNDERSTANDING BEZIER HANDLES WITH GEOMETRIC DRAWINGS

M. Normand

University of South Florida St. Petersburg (UNITED STATES)
"Before looking any deeper into the subject, observe that elementary geometry played a major part.” -P.Bézier

As an instructor I make an effort every year to explain the pen tool in the context of type design. Yet, students continue to fumble with the tool. They continue to lean on tutorials that teach sloppy methods or they investigate the tool on their own, developing bad habits.

There are many books and online tutorials on Illustrator filled with tips, tricks and workarounds. Yet none of the book/online tutorials supply the reader with any information on the correct approach to drawing with the pen tool. None of these tutorials give any structure or insight to methods for editing drawings in a controllable consistent manner.

The information that will follow should not be anything new to a master type designer, rather it is intended for those who want to better understand the pen tool in adobe Illustrator. This paper will provide explanations deeply rooted in type design and use simple geometric constructions to help one visualize how Bezier points behave.

Type Designers have been utilizing a controllable form of drawing for almost 20 years. So, why not apply some of these techniques to regular vector drawings? Why draw in this way? What is going on with these Bézier points that makes it different from type design to creating a one-off vector drawing?

The intent is to show examples of the type designer approach, the very thoughtful but very sloppy drawings from math books, and researched visual explanations rooted in very simple geometric drawings.

In this paper, three concepts of Bézier handles using geometric examples will be covered. They include: the construction and understanding of a circle; the drawing and understanding of tangents; and the drawing of curves using proportions and grids. The ideas and examples are rooted in observations in advanced geometry and type design. They playfully attempt to illustrate complex ideas into visual language easily understood by the international community of design professionals, educators, and students.

Looking at geometric drawings and how type is designed will help students and professionals better understand using the pen tool in their own practice. This paper will reveal the shortcomings of existing tutorials and describe the pen tool in a way that aligns with simple geometry. Where the current tutorials fall short and these new methods pick up are in the area of editing.