Once upon a time, creating signage involved more than Microsoft Word, 72-point Comic Sans, and an inkjet printer. Everything from storefronts to street signs were hand-lettered—with brush and paint. But all is not lost. Even as staid (and quick-and-dirty DIY) signage proliferates, there’s a revival afoot in traditional sign painting. Dedicated practitioners get their close-up in Faythe Levine and Sam Macon‘s Sign Painters, published last fall by Princeton Architectural Press. But with a subject as scintillating as hand-lettered signage, why stop at a book? The anecdotal history of the craft and stories of sign painters working in cities throughout the United States comes to the big screen in a documentary that is now making the rounds (next up: screenings in Orlando, New York, and Seattle). The trailer is bound to inspire you to drop that die-cut vinyl lettering:
Poor typeface selection, butchered executions of proper glyph handling, the ridiculous setting of justified copy: these are just some of the typographic tragedies that TypeEd aims to banish from the planet. “We exist to protect and serve the letterform, typesetting against the villains of bad design,” say Michael Stinson and Rachel Elnar, who founded the Los Angeles-based program of typography and typesetting courses last year in their design studio, Ramp Creative+Design. “Our mission is to educate designers, students, and practitioners on the fundamental skills of typography.” Among their latest offerings is “In the Loop,” a six-hour script letterform workshop taught by veteran creative director Leah Faust. We asked Stinson, a veteran designer/art director and TypeEd’s lead instructor, to tell us more about “typesetting for the jetsetting” and couldn’t resist the ‘ol desert island fonts question—read on for his top three typefaces.
What led you to create TypeEd?
Rachel went back to teach in the Cal State University system after an elevan-year hiatus, and noticed that with the overflow of computer-based classes into college curriculums, design fundamentals like typography were pushed to the wayside. So, she brought me in as guest speaker to give her interactive class a few typography tips. After seeing the enthusiasm, we eventually we decided to start an education program in our design studio.
What will “In the Loop” workshop participants learn?
In The Loop is an exploration of script-making and letterform crafting. The workshop will cover the history of iconic script signage in Los Angeles, and discuss how to make a script memorable and effective. Attendees will learn about the aspects of readability, angle, stroke variation, and how to translate scripts to digital form.
What is your greatest design pet peeve?
My greatest design pet peeve is the absence of thinking in design. When a designer chooses elements because of personal preference instead of being informed by research, history or concept, I feel that they’ve really missed a great opportunity. Designing without thinking is pure lack of consideration for the reader.
Fontastic graffiti, stencilled on a wall in Guelph, Ontario.
“The plague of Times New Roman is the unspoken disease of our age….[S]urprisingly, given a visual training, some architects have fallen victim to the plague. Times New Roman is often incised into new buildings in major cities, unrelated to the essence of their architectural character. Before the TNR outbreak, beautiful signage was normal, whether a take on a classic of architectural typography, or a font pushing the progressive zeitgeist of the building style. Those were the old times. Now a 1930s newspaper font is a default setting for monumental inscription. It’s one that we must switch off.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald suggested that it was the profusion of Gatsby‘s beautiful shirts that brought tears to the gray eyes of Daisy Buchanan, but we suspect it wasn’t so much the “stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange” but those “monograms of Indian blue” that really got her. Put your own stamp on Gatsby’s glam “JG” with this Monogram Maker app from Warner Bros., the studio behind Baz Luhrmann‘s supersaturated film version of the classic novel. Simply select a pair of shiny letters and a desired shape and then download your new personal logo for use in a range of digital formats.
The gleaming logo, spotlit on the exhibition’s title wall. At right, the cover of the exhibition catalogue, which includes prefaces by Richard Hell and John Lydon.
When it comes to punk, the graphics tend to get gritty–all ragey handwriting fonts and distressed stenciling–but while a hit of GO-RILLA or Kra Kra is sufficient to evoke a Sex Pistols state of mind or a Ramones-era DIY kerning moment, it doesn’t quite capture the sartorial chasm of “chaos to couture.” Enter Peter Saville, who created the exhibition logo for the “PUNK” exhibition organized by the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He used lettering by Paul Barnes to evoke the “coup d’état in youth culture” that was punk. “There has been very little liaison with the Met and the photograph on your site is the first time we have seen the logo actually in use,” Saville tells us. “The logo employs an irreverent use of 18th-century typefaces (by Fournier) in keeping with Nick Knight‘s briefing for the design of the show, which was Versailles on the eve of the French Revolution.”
Wisconsin’s Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum is the only museum dedicated to the preservation, study, production, and printing of wood type. Admission is free, thanks in part to the all-volunteer staff, and the collection includes 1.5 million pieces of wood type and more than 1,000 styles and sizes of patterns. In addition to a 145-foot wall of wood type–the world’s largest–the museum even has its own Matthew Carter-designed typeface, Carter Latin Wide. “I’m not a printer, least of all a letterpress printer,” the famed typographer has said of first foray into wood type. “But I tried to think like one and imagine a typeface that allowed me to print something in a way that I could not otherwise do.”
The museum recently moved into a new home in Two Rivers, and the race is on to reopening day, planned for this summer. According to director Jim Moran, Hamilton desperately needs funding–and an army of volunteers–to physically move millions of pieces of type, plates, presses, tools, and raw materials. Enter letterpress-loving Neenah Paper, which has launched a “Help Save Hamilton” campaign that will donate to the museum all money raised from a series of limited-edition prints. First up is “Form & Function” (above), designed by Two Paperdolls. “I scanned the back of some wood type to achieve an authentic texture,” says Jennifer James of the Philadelphia-based studio, “and adorned the letterforms with ornaments you might find in an ‘old school’ letterpress shop.”
“This is one of the strangest items I’ve ever seen entered into a typography competition….It’s a beautiful book with a blue cover. The title of the book has a blank space for you to fill in. The only typography inside the entire book is some standard text in small print on the copyright page. That’s it. Instead, every page has a grid in light non-photo blue lines. Every few pages the grid changes to another pattern. This goes on for a hundred or more pages. What is going on here?
This is a book about the hidden structure of typography. The blue lines are collected from available empty notebook pages from all over the world–fully 47 different ruling styles, from traditional grade-school line-spacing to music staves and mathematical grid styles. These represent the underpinning structure of all writing and typography, a structure too often ignored today by fashionable high-flying digital designers (who can do literally anything–and constantly do). This little book is a comfortable reminder of the bedrock rules underlying all typography. It’s waiting for you to add the text along the guidelines required. It’s a essentially a typographic ‘Book of Rules.’ (Duh!)”
-Art Chantry on Rimini Berlin‘s Notebook, designed by Till Beckmann, Jenny Hasselbach, and Franziska Morlok. The book, published by Revolver, was Chantry’s Judge’s Choice pick for the 57th annual Type Director’s Club competition. Check out this year’s TDC winners in communication design and typeface design.
“I fell into a job working for a book printer in Los Angeles. He taught me how to set type—metal type, by hand—and that was a learning experience for me, just being exposed to books and piles of paper, pinched together by binding. And somehow the simplicity of that affected me and work. And this printer was a letterpress printer, so I got into the beauty of the pressed letterforms and paper. Somehow that moved me along into doing books. And I didn’t necessarily have to repeat the letterpress idea, but books and pages and flipping of pages, just drove me crazy. I had to deal with it. I had this deep need to make some kind of book, and it didn’t matter what it was about. I just said to myself, ‘I have to make a book. Now is the time to make a book.’
So it sort of evolved, backwards and inside out. I had no logical thoughts behind it, and finally my mind went back to those times when I was either hitchhiking or riding across country, and US 66 and gasoline stations, and they were like belches in the landscape, and I just felt like I want to capture these things somehow, and maybe this is the excuse—to make a book. So it’s the idea of a book that came first and the second was this idea of gasoline stations.”
-Ed Ruscha, in a recent conversation with Paul Holdengraber at the New York Public Library. An exhibition (pictured) of Ruscha’s books, together with books and works of art by more than 100 contemporary artists that respond to his original project, is on view through April 27 at Gagosian Gallery in New York.
The amazing Letman (a.k.a. Job Wouters) will be on hand tonight at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis to discuss and demonstrate his eye-popping approach to the alphabet–think illustration meets grafitti meets graphic design. The Amsterdam-based designer’s talk and hand-lettering demo, which will be webcast live at 7 p.m. EST, is part of the Walker’s “Insights” series of design lectures that earlier this month welcomed Geoff McFetridge and Eike König, and next week features Wouters’ fellow Mokummer, Luna Maurer. Each of the designers has been commissioned to create a project for the Walker, and Wouters is at work on mural. While you await tonight’s webcast, enjoy his 2003 video, “”abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz” (below), in which Wouters and his then four-year-old nephew, Gradus, practice their penmanship.
An e-book issued by the Vatican to commemorate the papacy of Benedict XVI (who Barry Blitt has depicted relaxing on a hammock on the cover of this week’s New Yorker) reminds readers that the “the Pope’s ministry is a guarantee of obedience to Christ and to his Word,” even if that Word is set in…Comic Sans. That’s right, design fans, the 265th pope is going out not with a bang but a typographic whimper. Benedictus XVI, which now greets all visitors to the parchment-look homepage of the Vatican as it muddles through the virtual side of Seda Vacante, is a collection of 60 photos of the pope on the job–palling around with John Paul II in the pre-Twitter era, consulting scripture, kissing babies, walking along bucolic lanes, and brandishing a variety of weighty golden objects–all annotated in godless Comic Sans. Adding to the typographic heresy is the prominent digital watermark of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, that appears on most of the photos: it is set in Papyrus.