11 May, 2010
An Enchanted Alphabet
I have a special affection for decorated letters, especially the ornamented designs of the nineteenth century. You know the kind: they're chubby Regency typefaces, slab serifs or high-contrast ‘Fat Faces,’ mostly, whose surfaces are emblazoned with intricate patterns or pastoral scenes. The collection of L. J. Pouchée contains some genuine masterpieces that I’ve long admired, letters festooned with grapevines or peonies or cobblestones, or illuminated with bucolic vignettes of farmer at the plough. “We should really do something in this vein,” I once said to Tobias. “Covered in fax machines, or pigeons?” he quipped. I dropped the topic.
Designer Jeanie Nelson has picked it up. On her blog Jeanie & Jewell, she’s exhibiting a wonderful collection of ornamented capitals of her own invention, and they are absolutely enchanting. There are so many things to love about these that I hardly know where to begin: the cheery colors whose roles change from letter to letter, the witty imagery that conceals more than a few oblique puns, the whimsical way she tweaks the nose of typographic convention whenever the spirit moves her. (Most type designers start with the sober letter H that serves as a template for the rest of the design; Jeanie Nelson’s H, right now, is having more fun than any H that’s ever lived.) I’m delighted by this design not only because of its squirrels, dragons, pineapples and ice cream cones, but because it pays homage to a potent and beloved historical style without ever becoming a stuffy museum piece in period dress. That the koala bear in the K is climbing a letter made of wood just makes it doubly fantastic. —JH