Scott Kim’s symmetrical alphabet

As a child I used to draw things like animals and people using only the letters in their names. I would stretch and contort each word’s curves to evoke the shape of what it referred to. It’s a game I’m sure many have played. And I liked drawing faces that were also faces when you turned the page upside-down – like this matchbox set, but simpler.

So you can imagine the appeal ambigrams held. (Example above, or see Wikipedia for a basic introduction.) I think I first encountered these shapes, also known as inversions, in Douglas Hofstadter’s books. They involve an artfully contrived symmetry whereby a word can be rotated, reflected or otherwise shifted but remains readable.

I recently came across the beautiful ambigram below: a perfectly symmetrical mirror alphabet from puzzle-designing wizard Scott Kim.

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It’s immediately recognisable as the modern Latin alphabet, but the ingenious warping and blending required to make it symmetrical gives it a striking, quite exotic appearance. Ambigrams are “so purely visual,” Kim has said: “You can explain them in words, but it’s like describing a dance.”

The symmetrical alphabet is available as a poster, and you can see more of the artist’s ambigrams, many of them animated, on his page of inversions. The image is copyright © Scott Kim, scottkim.com, and is used with permission.

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13 Responses to Scott Kim’s symmetrical alphabet

  1. gelolopez says:

    Cool ambigram! Amazing!

  2. alexmccrae1546 says:

    Stan,

    Thanks for that beautiful study in literally ‘literal’ symmetry by the clearly most talented Mr.Kim. An impressive image as a whole, but engaging to the eye in all its intertwining, seriffed, varied forms, as well.

    I know this is hardly a Roscharch (sp.?) test, but I couldn’t help reading the perfectly balanced “X”s on either side of the centered letter “Y” as the scales of justice, whilst the conjoining of his stylized letters “C” and “D” seem to form a kind of abstracted cross-sectional view of a sliced apple.

    Clever how he deftly flipped, or reversed his letter “A” to form his “F”, and did the same little transposition with his “P” and “Q” forms.
    (He was definitely watching his “P”s and “Q”s there.)

    I can see an abstract, simple owl’s head in the way he configured his letter “M”.

    Love his integration of three-letters-in-one flowing form with his “RST” seamless melding.

    Funny, at first blush, Mr. Kim’s exercise in pure symmetry made me flash back to the sepia-toned negative photographic version of the controversial Shroud of Turin, which has a lot of symmetrical imagery going on— matching staining, body imprinting, and fold demarcations all happening over the cloth surface.

    Maybe since I had been reading up on the shroud, just this past weekend, it came immediately to mind. (I think the sepia background tone of Mr. Kim’s piece encouraged my flight of fancy, as well.)

    I also get a bit of a runic and Art Nouveau script feel, or influence in Kim’s work.

  3. Jonathon says:

    That alphabet is beautiful.

    One of my thesis committee members loves ambiguity and has this ambigram by his door.

  4. Shaun Downey says:

    It really is a delightful alphabet. I love it

  5. Stan says:

    gelolopez: Yes, it is!

    Alex: I like your ‘scales of justice’ and ‘sliced apple’, and I bet you’re not the only one who sees these patterns. It does have a runic feel to it, almost as if it’s a perfectly preserved specimen from ancient times (though obviously the contents would be different then).

    Jonathon: That’s a good one too. I notice the accompanying text was written by John Langdon, whose work with Dan Brown and elsewhere has done a lot for ambigrams’ profile.

    Shaun: Me too; it’s a thing of beauty.

  6. [...] Also at Macmillan, John Williams wondered if there’s a case for publically, and Stan Carey took a look at some lesser spotted portmanteaus, and on his own blog, posted about Scott Kim’s very cool symmetrical alphabet. [...]

  7. Visual candy. Enjoyed them twisted letters.

  8. wisewebwoman says:

    Inspiring and lovely. I mused knitting pattern? on the luscious alphabet.
    XO
    WWW

  9. alexmccrae1546 says:

    @www

    In your “knitting pattern” vein, in my first viewing Mr. Kim’s exquisite intertwined alphabet, I harkened back to the stylized medieval Latin script embroidered into the famous Bayeux tapestry; the vast panoramic pictorial chronicling of the lead up to, and eventual violent playing out of that historically pivotal battle at Hastings’ downs.

    As in my earlier Shroud of Turin musings, I think the sepia toned backdrop to Kim’s fine graphic piece triggered a shared color notion in my noggin, as well,(aside from the echoing of the arcane letter forms), w/ the Bayeux tapestry being a running pageant of varied earth tonalities, by and large.

    Interestingly, most folks entertain the notion that the renowned tapestry was made in Norman France, since it is kind of a pictorial paean to the 1066 Norman invasion of Britain at the hands (more likely, axes, arrows, broad swords, daggers, and lances) of William the Conquerer and his minions.

    In fact, the massive enterprise was the work of skilled English artisans— master embroiders all. Who knew?

    @Waywardspirit. “Visual candy “, indeed. Godiva quality, for sure.

  10. Stan says:

    Waywardspirit: True, and nicely put.

    WWW: Now that you mention it, yes: I think it would look good on fabric.

  11. scottekim says:

    Alex: enjoyed your comments about the apple and scales of justice. I love the surprising places making symmetrical lettering takes me.

  12. alexmccrae1546 says:

    @scottekim,

    Such a treat to receive your direct feedback on Stan’s site.

    Clearly you have tickled many a readers aesthetic fancy, here, with your elegant, intricate, interlaced alphabet. Just brilliant.

    As a visual artist myself, like most of our imaginative breed, I’m constantly looking for the designs-within-the-designs, so to speak.
    It seems like such an instinctual, natural thing for us creative folk, where ever our muses take us, to be constantly looking at elements in our field of vision, particularly in nature, for what makes sound design, why a certain building’s forms are so darn compelling, or WOW!…. do you see that elephant in those puffy white cumulus clouds?

    I think that’s why I’ve always been a huge fan of Salivador Dali’s surrealist paintings, in that he appeared to be having so much fun* in combining several distinct objects, seemingly at random, each with its own identity, but when combined by the viewers eye hungering for order and compositional coherence, with a slight refocusing, a totally brand new image would come to the fore.

    Basically he is playing w/ what the field of psychology has termed the visual gestalt—how we have the uncanny ability to see two different images within one seemingly single-subject graphic.

    The classic example, what at first blush appears to be a young woman wearing her turn-of-the century period boa, neck collar, and feathered hat looking away in 3/4 profile to her left. But then if one merely shifts one’s perspective/ focus, we suddenly see the profile of an old, toothless hag.

    Of course our brains can’t register both images at once.

    There’s also the image of what appear to be two side-by-side, identical linear-drawn, 2-dimensional chalices, which at the same time contain two face-to-face human profiles, if one merely shifts focus. Great stuff.

    Scott, keep on doing what you’ve been doing so well. And thanks for the thoughtful comment.

    *Apart from the “fun” aspect, I’m sure genius Dali saw these trômpe l’oeil-like feats as a real painterly, compositional challenge.

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