Archive for October, 2006

Revival or survival

October 30, 2006


My new assignment is a revival from a letter-pressed book I bought from a second-hand market. The type-face is Stempel Garamond and I am going to digitize it in Fontlab. I guess there are already plenty of garamond out there and Stemple garamond has already been digitized. But this is not a commercial venture and it should only be looked at as an exercise to learn how letter-shapes work by mean of research and comparisons. I will also use Fontlab for the first time and I will undoubtedly learn an awful lot about bezier curves, kerning, metrics and all the rest.


The first part of the assignment was to identify the type-face. It was Stempel garamond but at first I thought it was Sabon. Only the book was printed in the 30’s and Sabon was only designed a few decades later. Anyway, I started looking for books about Stampel garamond and I could gather from “Anatomy of a Typeface” that Stempel garamond was adapted from a specimen sheet of garamond types printed in 1592 in germany by Konrad Berner (Egenolff-Berner). After much confusion in the library of Meermano Museum in Den Haag, I got more lucky searching the net for good quality scans of the specimen sheet.

I compared all sizes of the specimen sheet to the 12pt Stempel garamond from the book and unsurprisingly the “cicero” matches almost perfectly to the Stempel garamond. Some of the garamond types from the specimen are a little wider and the counter bigger and more open. The “m” and the “o” is definitely wider than the Stempel and the upper counter of the “a” is more open than the Stempel. The ascenders and descenders are longer than the Stempel and interestingly they vary hugely from size to size. You only have to compare the Canon “d” with the Petit Canon “d”. Some of the serifs are strikingly different like the upper left serif of the “p”. It is a little bit higher in the garamond specimen sheet. The lower right serif of the “u” is longer and no so angled as that of the Stempel. The “g” is more squished and the counters more even in the Stempel.


I still have some ground to cover with this comparison. In the end I hope to be able to identify the kind of decisions taken by the designer at Stempel. Hopefuly, this will help me in taking decisions when digitizing the Stempel. I could even use some shapes from the garamond sheet in order to be closer to the original garamond design. But I already understand that this is a polemical subject in the type world.

The pen

October 8, 2006


I should have posted this I while ago but somehow I’ve forgoten

Every thursday we are going to do a whole day of caligraphy. Pointed nib in the morning and broad nib in the afternoon. I didn’t expect caligraphy to be so physicaly exhausting. By the end of the day your whole body aces. But the frustrating thing is that the results on paper are so poor. It looks like you’ve been writing with your left hand. Well actually I am left handed so for me it would be the right hand then. Do you still follow me?

So the pointed nib, as the name indicates, is the pointy one. When you make horizontal and upward strokes the pen makes thin strokes but if you press on the nib as you make a downward stroke the nid opens up and you get a thick stroke. As a result you get very high contrast and vertical axis letters. One could say that you get Bodoni or “Didot” looking letters. If you refer the Noordzij’s theory of writing in his book “the stroke”, the type of contrast you make with the pointed pen is the result of the “expension” properties of that nib. It’s not the direction of the nib that defines the thick and thin parts of the letters but rather the pressure you apply on the nib.

Now lets talk about the broad nib pen. For this lesson we didn’t actualy use a pen but instead we used a brush. The reason is that with the broad nib pen you should only make downward strokes. Thecnicaly you can make upward strokes with a pen but you can’t with a brush. So with the brush we wont be able to cheat. We didn’t go as far as making real letters yet. We learned to hold the pen at a 30% angle by making horizontal and vertical strokes. By the end of the lesson your back is broken and you’ve only covered two sheets of paper with wobbly lines. In theory when making letters with the braod nib pen the contrast is the result of the “translation” properties of that nib. It’s not the pressure you apply on the pen that defines the thick and thin parts of the letter but rather the direction you give to the nib.


October 3, 2006

I have to design my own monogram. Great, this is my first design assignment since the start of the courses. Only this is going to be a rather interesting challenge. My initials are no others than the notorious SS.

Despite being very strong graphic shapes with a kind of universal qualities —is it a snake or a river— you realize that it’s quite difficult not to associate them with fascism or more surprisingly with the dollar sign. Being the two same letters there is an element of repetition and relation to one another. Both S’s are of equal importance. A positive aspect is that it could be relatively easy to generate a pattern out of the monogram.

No letter is intrinsically aggressive or passive. It’s what has been associated with those letters that make them feel uncomfortable or reassuring.
If my name was Isaac Quin the sound of my initials might make me smarter than I really am. Pat Matthews might suggest that I am a very influent person. Tom Viner would open up a door that releases a torrent of emotions from exaltation to boredom. Esther Thomson would send us back to our childhood and to those years when america seemed inoffensive. I can imagine the look of bewilderment on someone’s face if my name was Karl Kenneth-King.

Neither digital nor analog

October 3, 2006

Drawbot and calligraphy are quite different things. One is concerned with translating computer commands —or is it bits?— into shapes and the other is rather more ancient and relies only on your old fashion arm and hand to generate shapes.

Frankly I suck at Drawbot and I am not that great at calligraphy either. This makes for a bad combination because you feel at once stupid and clumsy. Too much of both becomes a dangerous cocktail of headaches and arm cramps.

All these new activities make me realize that I am part of that very short generation of designers who can’t use a pair of scissors and are scared of their own computers.

In the past there was a generation of designers who learned to cut and stick letters together with illustrations and photographs. These guys liked to get their agile hands dirty. There was no hope for you in the design field if you had two left hands.

Soon there will be an army of young designers who program their own softwares, fix their own computers and turn buildings into giant Tetris game.

Well, maybe I fantasize a bit about the past and the future but I really believe that right now there is a whole bunch of designers out there whose best computer trick is to use command-Z.