Spline Script

It's been a while since the last time I was down the rabbit hole of generative handwriting. However, I thought I'd describe the experiments I've been doing over the past week or so in some more detail.

Let me start by pointing out that many have been exploring this before me, whether generative or not. My personal favorite is Letters from my Mother by Vera Molnár. Another interesting project is this work on neural networks for handwriting.

My current script consists of an alphabet that is generated before each execution. Each character, or glyph, is generated in the same way, but they can have different properties.

First you will need to define a function that can generate points distributed within a suitable domain. Let's call this function domainfxn. domainfxn defines the area within which the glyph is generated. An easy choice is a square. A more natural choice, if you want it to look like hand writing, is a tilted ellipsoid. The latter is what I will use here.

One way to create such an ellipsoid is to create a function that can generate points that are uniformly distributed in a unit circle. Then squeeze those points together by multiplying the x coordinate by by a small number (e.g. 0.5) Finally you can tilt the results by rotating the points by a suitable angle.

Glyph Visualization
Domain with five centroids

We now have a function that defines the domain. Next we use that function to generate n centroids. In my example I use n=5. These centroids split the domain into n sections. If you are familiar with Voronoi tessellations, you will already know what this means. If not, have a look at the illustration above.

These n centroids combined with domainfxn is now used to define a glyph. Each time we want to draw the glyph we now do the following: For each centroid, generate a new point within the area of the domain that corresponds to that particular centroid. And finally, use these new points to draw a spline. An example of this can seen below.

Glyph Animation
Glyph Animation

This approach has the advantage of giving the glyph some variation between each time it is drawn. Arguably it also has the disadvantage of giving too much variation. To illustrate this we show multiple instances of the same glyph in the illustration below. Each line corresponds to a single glyph. There are some ways to make this a little more "tight", but I also like how this looks.

Glyph Examples
Glyph Examples

If you look carefully at the above illustration you will also notice that every glyph has a "looping" tendency. This is achieved by ordering the centroids according to their angle relative to the middle of the glyph (the origin of the domain). This is just one of many possible tweaks you can add to control the overall appearance of the resulting script. Another adjustment is to change the size of the domain of some of the glyphs.

We now have the means to generate a working alphabet. To use the alphabet to write words we simply concatenate the spline of a single glyph with the neighbouring characters in the word.

Below is an example of how it looks when you put it all together. This image writes out a section from the first chapter of Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. The cursive effect is created by using the sand painting method described in this earlier post, along with random walks as described here.

Spline Script
Spline Script, excerpt from Orxy and Crake by Margaret Atwood.

There are many more things to test with this system, but this is how the current version behaves.

One of the main reasons for coming back to asemic writing is to test it on my plotter. Below is picture of a plot I made with a Pilot Parallel Pen and Lamy turquoise ink. Using a fountain pen gives a very interesting effect as you can see below. The way the ink flows and the resulting gradients and layering effects makes the writing look more convincing.

Drawing 4c80cca
Spline Script plotted with a Pilot Parallel Pen on the Axidraw (v2) plotter,
excerpt from Orxy and Crake by Margaret Atwood.
Drawing 4c80cca
Plotted Spline Script Detail

If you want to buy a plot like this you should have a look here. Otherwise, if you are interested in the actual code I use to do this, you can find it at Github. The code makes use of my Lisp framework, which is described here.


  1. Having read this you will hopefully be qualified to be frustrated over how you can't quite make this work the way you want it to.
  2. For instance ~0.3π radians, depending on your coordinate system.
  3. I found the color scheme here.