The Bride of Science - Letter "B" | Skillshare Projects

Nancy Herrmann

Creative Director and Packaging Designer



The Bride of Science - Letter "B"

Hello fellow classmates!

For my lettering project, I have chosen to work on The Bride of Science: Romance, Reason and Byron's Daughter by Benjamin Wooley. I have read this book several times over the years and find it fascinating every time. It has a great intersection of history, biography, poetry and scandal.

Here are some bullet points about the book:

  • Biography of Ada Lovelace, also known as The Enchantress of Numbers, is widely considered the first computer programmer who published the "code" and instructions for Charles Babbage's Difference Engine.
  • Ada was the conflicted daughter of a temptuous and short-lived marriage between hedonist poet Lord Byron and the prim and proper Anabella Milbank.
  • Setting is the Victorian era in England, the beginning of the Machine Age and great transformations in travel, communication, health, industry and science. 

I have included additional sketchbook notes below, as well as some thumbnail sketches.

After contemplating possible letters "A" and "W," I decided to tackle the letter "B" for Bride, Byron, Babbage, Bernoulli and Benjamin. Ha, I'm feeling a little Sesame Street-ish after that last sentence.

Besides having many related words, "B" also offers great options with its interlocking bowls and symmetry to illustrate the marriage between reason and romanticism, a key theme in the book. 


From there, I picked a few loose concepts to explore the letterform.

  • marriage (between Byron and Anabella, art and science)
  • Victorian (penmanship, letter-writing, three "R's" reading, writing, 'rithmetic)
  • Difference Engine (gears, mathematics, science, industry)
  • madness (phrenology, mesmerism, lunatic asylums, hysteria, Frankenstein)

Below, I worked on some examples of Copperplate writing with three popular styles of the time: French, Palace and the later Edwardian style. I also found a nice font "Chateau" that is an elaboration of the Palace style.

I'm starting to think about some intertwining of the rational and romantic. Looking to combine straight rigid forms with round, fluid ones.  The letter "B" already lends itself to that exploration. Perhaps the use of gears and swirls or curved forms (below).

Next is an exploration of the Palace style letter made of the miniature gears. It could also resemble a string of pearls or filigree used for a decorative touch on industrial machinery.

Finally, some additional letters combining a solid, rigid form with ornamentation.

I have several ideas here, but need to flesh a couple of them out more. Even the curlcue lettering feels too staid and controlled. I'd like to find a way to represent the hedonism, madness and hysteria that seemed to be pervasive throughout the time – Ada's mother was constantly worried that she would "catch" it from her hedonist father. Perhaps through more twisting and wrapping of the leaves and ornamentation. Or maybe something altogether scribbly and wild.

I'll continue to work and post. And, I would very much appreciate any thoughts on direction here. If you've read this far, thanks for your interest!


I love this project and the practice that goes with it. I've gotten some welcome feedback, so thanks for those who shared. Alas, clients have been keeping me busy with my "day" job as creative director over the past couple of weeks. I have progressed slowly but the project is often on my mind. In any case, here are some additional sketches.

As I reflected back on my earlier drawings, it seemed to me that, while the swirls and ornaments added some energy to the solid "B" forms, it still felt too controlled. So, I've been focusing on adding more of the madness to the letterforms. I've keep the Victorian-inspired script but tried a looser hand adding scribbles and a less precise shading. I've also added inkblots to the lower right version. I fancy this direction with its smudged mix of ink and water (alluding to a breakdown of both form and personality), but need to play with it a bit more.

I'm not exactly sure how to render these in Illustrator, but have followed Jessica's example by plotting vector points as a start. While it a helpful exercise, I'm not sure the points will work on the scribbled version which are shaded vs. outlined.


I've been terribly absent from this drop cap due to work projects. Finally, here is some development on one direction of the letter. After sitting on it for awhile, I went back to try my hand at an ornamented version with some new ideas in mind. Below is a pencil sketch with the "B" and some swirls and leaf designs.

I'm not the greatest at drawing, so I mixed some hand sketches with other stock illustrations and pieced them together. I added a bit of roughness in the form of PS filters to the swirls to reference the unstable life that Ada led, so I traced and composited the illustration and work with a classic, clean"B" letterform.

I started thinking about Ada as a Victorian punk. Her life was very much fractured by the divorce between Lord Byron and her mother Annabella. She was also quite independent and was always pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable. I was inspired to do a little cut and paste to the printed letter to reflect this state. 

Once I started playing with color, it seemed very gothic and somewhat Frankenstein-ish. An interesting note about that: Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein was a close friend of Lord Byron's and the story came out of a ghost story-telling session a bunch of the writers had together.

I chose a digital style typeface for the book copy to reference Ada's acknowledged role as the first "computer programmer." Below are a couple of color versions. 

I landed on the red background with black and white accents.

The final comp is below. Perhaps this leans more toward a book cover design than a simple drop cap. I do think it feels much more contemporary compared to the original version (shown at the top of the post). Ultimately, I think the back cover would need a photo of Ada Lovelace so potential readers would clearly get that its a biography rather than murder mystery.

I would love to hear your feedback.

I am still working on a version using the inkblots from my earlier explorations. My thoughts are that it could take on a sort of Rorschach-like form. To be continued. 


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