22 January, 2011
Legacy of Letters: An Italian Tour
So enormous are the contributions of the Italian people to typography that they often pass unnoticed. The words you are reading may be written in the English language, but they are rendered in the Latin alphabet, which comes to us via Roman ancestors. We celebrate these same ancestors in the name of our upright Roman alphabet, and we remember their country of origin in our slanted Italics. If you ever use H&FJ’s Requiem typeface, take note: taxonomically it is a Venetian Old-Style, its letterforms modeled on the work of a renaissance Roman calligrapher, who was inspired by the inscriptional lettering on a classical Roman monument, which was dedicated to a Roman emperor. The emperor’s name was Trajan, an Italian name you may recognize from your font menu; he is immortalized there alongside dozens of his compatriots, including Aldus, Arrighi, Bodoni, and Jenson.
Since Italy has remained a cradle of letters and literacy since classical times, it makes an excellent destination for any lover of typography. This June, design historian and calligrapher Paul Shaw will be leading Legacy of Letters, an eight-day typographic tour of some of Italy’s most typographic destinations. Including both Emilia-Romagna and the Veneto, the tour includes stops in twelve typographic capitals including Parma, Mantua, Verona and Venice. Registration is now open for a limited number of spaces.
23 June, 2010
Lettering of the WPA
Our designer Brian Hennings stumbled across a great resource this morning: on the website of the Library of Congress, a collection of 926 posters from the Works Progress Administration. The LOC has done a nice job with this collection, providing for each poster not only the relevant archival information, but high-resolution TIFF files that are free to download.
I’ve yet to meet the designer who doesn’t have at least a little affection for optimistic lettering of the WPA. We’ve stopped short of ever developing a full-tilt Art Deco revival, but many of our sans serifs undeniably feel the pull of the Machine Age. Verlag’s stark geometries include a conscious nod to the bold logo of the National Recovery Administration, while Tungsten is a modular typeface that resists the retro vibe of WPA “gaspipe” lettering. The Library of Congress collection offers a rare opportunity to see rarer styles still, perhaps ones that might obliquely inform some future H&FJ design. —JH
5 November, 2009
Photo: Mike Essl
Leonardo da Vinci might have made scientific studies of the vascular system and designed the steam cannon, but today he’s best remembered as the painter of the Mona Lisa. Some identify Johann Sebastian Bach with his concerti, cantatas, and brilliant fantasias for the keyboard, but most know him only as the tunesmith behind that staple of afternoon weddings, “Air on the G String.” It’s a cruel fate, to be remembered only for your least ambitious work, as type designers from Frederic Goudy to Ed Benguiat can surely attest. But none has suffered more than the estimable Herb Lubalin, a situation which the Cooper Union will begin to correct tonight.
Lubalin’s name has become convenient shorthand for his eponymous family of typefaces, ITC Lubalin Graph. The design, an okay slab serif in seventies dress, was in turn an adaptation of his sans serif design ITC Avant Garde — itself an adaptation of his earlier logotype and lettering for Avant Garde magazine. For many, Lubalin’s body of work ends here, a tragedy that eclipses a whole universe of letters that came from the hand and mind of one of typography’s most significant practitioners.
Tonight, the Cooper Union in New York opens Lubalin Now: the inaugural exhibit at the Herb Lubalin Study Center of Design and Typography. The exhibit, curated by Mike Essl and Alexander Tochilovsky, celebrates not only Lubalin’s work but that of contemporary designers who channel the Lubalinesque. Just a very few of my favorites appear below; the show promises lots more, as well as an answer to an age-old question: it’s Loo-bal-in, not Loob-a-lin. —JH
Opening Reception Thursday, November 5, 2009, 6:00–8:00pm
Exhibit on view through December 8, 2009
The Cooper Union
41 Cooper Square
New York, NY 10003
Left: Justin Thomas Kay; Right: Matt Owens
Left: Alex Trochut; Right: Gretel
Left: Like Minded Studio; Right: Thirst
3 November, 2009
Titles & End Credits
Changing fashions in movie titles are one of the richest veins in typography’s fossil record. On his website, graphic designer Christian Annyas has put together a nice collection of movie title stills — both opening and end credits — offering a handy synopsis of twentieth century lettering. Rather than an exhaustive survey, Annyas has curated a small and personal collection that’s conveniently organized by decade: dipping into any period offers a convenient way of getting a taste for the lettering of the era.
Keep an eye out for “in-camera” lettering, in which lettering is incorporated into on-screen props. The book in Jeux Interdits uses a popular trope; the telephone in Dial M for Murder and the playing cards of Le Roman d’un Tricheur have become classics. Truly stirring is the occasional title that feels jarringly modern: The Fly has the sort of purposeful unease that still strikes a chill, fifty-one years later. —JH