Click on photos to enlarge.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


Pictographic typography--with computers, all things are possible.
The definition hasn't changed much, over the 
years, only the means of rendering it.
When I was a Junior in college, I took a required course at Ohio University they called "lettering." Such a term is totally outdated today but this was about 1971. In generations before that, the course would have been called "calligraphy." Although the term "typography" no doubt existed, we didn't really use it, though even then, that was pretty much what the course was all about. Since then, it has proven to be one of the most valuable and practical courses I've ever taken. Back then, the latest thing in typographical layout work was something called "dry transfer lettering." I just checked. They do still make the stuff. calls it the "perfect toy for all ages." For those who aren't familiar with this "toy," a single sheet today runs from about four to eight dollars depending upon the quality and quantity purchased. It's basically carbon film letters on the back of a translucent sheet of plastic which you position over your artwork, then rub with a dull stylus to transfer them to your copy. Expertly used, the result is quite professional looking, camera-ready copy. It was then, and apparently still is now, a rather expensive way to manually do typographical layout work, but it sure beats the hell out of pen and ink lettering.

Two requirements: readable and beautiful.
Typography evolve from calligraphy, or what some call penmanship. I suppose, before that, stone carvers might well be considered the first typographers as they carefully etched names and dates as dictated by some architect or ruler. During the middle ages calligraphy evolved into evolved further as bored monks began to fancifully decorate the first letter on the first line of the first page of manuscripts they were assigned to copy. The actual term, typography, likely first developed with the advent of movable type, as new and different fonts were designed and found favor. Some of them we still use today. However, not since the now-ancient linotype machine has any technical development changed typography more than computer word processing and desktop publishing. More recently, various photo-editing software has taken on typographical features, further propelling the integration of words and images as seen in cutting edge pictographic typography only today's computers could create (top).

Different means of expressing love.
Insofar as daily use is concerned.
One of the assignments in the college course I mentioned earlier was to make a word "look like" what it meant--the word "fire" with burning letters, for instance. That was, of course, con-sidered too easy--a "safe" solution. If I recall, I used the word "disappearing" in which the letters gradually faded until the "g" on the end had all but disappeared. The I Love Typography posters (above) come close to that as they highlight a type of art which we all come in contact with daily, yet are mostly unconscious of its effect upon the way we think, feel, and most of all, buy. The typography at right says it all. "Bad typography is everywhere," in bold red letters while just below the surface the typography reads, "Good typography is invisible." There was a time when that dictum was invariable true. However, today, the graphic design arts and miniscule public attention spans have come to demand typography that reaches out, grabs the viewer, and tries to "shake up" his or her visual and emotional sensibilities.

The topic is unmistakable, boldly crying out in the largest font available while lesser,
secondary terms fill in the blanks surrounding it.
One manner in which this "shake-up" (or perhaps, shake-down) occurs is with the frequent use of a typographic "cloud" (above) in which a topic is obvious at a glance while a mist of other terms surround, support, and enhance the main idea, adding depth and hopefully, some degree of understanding. Often these clouds are assembled using the result of focus group interviews or questionnaires to reflect and depict a poll-like sampling of public opinion. The more often a word is mentioned, the larger its font size.

LOVE sculpture, New York City, 1970, Robert Indiana.
Eye-catching typography.
At least since the advent of Pop Art, typography has invaded the realm of the "fine" arts, most notably that of the painter and sculpture. No artist has taken this trend as far as the "Love" artist, Robert Indiana. Starting with his design for a Museum of Modern Art Christmas card, then evolving into several painting, stamps, posters, and most famously his LOVE sculptures (above). Though there are several versions of various sizes, the one above resides at the corner of 6th Avenue and 55th Street in Manhattan. Indiana would have earned an "A" in my O.U. "lettering" class. The 2009 graphic typography (left) is intended to be iconic, though often such efforts to combine art and typography amount to little more than cultural flotsam and jetsam. In effect, catching the eye and holding it are often two distinctly different items. Despite present-day computers, their graphic design functions, and ease of use, in looking back, we find some of the most compelling and attractive melding of the enhanced written word came straight from a "primitive" graphic design artist imagination as with the masthead for the bible of typographic art, The Penman's Art Journal (below), first published in 1895 and still available today online.

Good design and good taste never go out of style.
Can you read the message? If it fails to communicate,
it fails as fine art.


No comments:

Post a Comment