I’ve mentioned in a few exercises so far that I’d like to look further at Typography and investigate lettering of different sorts. Well, freshly inspired after watching interviews with different graphic designers and after being gently elbowed to do some research on something I enjoy by Tutor Feedback, I’ve decided to pull my finger out and have a closer look at lettering. I intend to do this through a variety of methods.
Helvetica. Rented from Amazon Prime
This is the first documentary about a typeface that I have ever sat through and it was actually very interesting. It was about the rise of a typeface called Helvetica and the subsequent story of how it has dominated the world of advertising text ever since. A variety of people were interviewed, some of whom loved and some of whom hate Helvetica. There was a brief explanation of the history of type faces, about how each one originally had to be carved out of metal by hand, this is something I had never properly considered before. I had known how type used to be made but had assumed that different fonts only really became a feature with the rise of computers. I was very surprised to learn how wrong that assumption was! Since watching this programme I have started to notice Helvetica font everywhere. Whilst I disagree with some of the interviewees opinions that it is the font of the Vietnam War/Capitalism, I can see why people think it is overused. It really is everywhere but that is because it is so well made and therefore useful! Main lesson learnt – Legibility is paramount.
This came up on a list of documentary films reccomended for people interested in Typography. It turned out to be nothing to do with it at all but still quite interesting. It explored how ‘the digital revolution of the last decade has unleashed creativity and the talent of people in a big way’.
It basically described how the accessibility of art forms through rapidly evolving technology has meant that everyone can now call themselves a photographer, a movie maker, a musician. The people interviewed within it were split between two camps. On the one hand there were the people who made out that we are on the edge of a cultural dark age due to the rise of the mundane artist, this level of mundane being put down to the lack of requirement to posses a high level of talent, followed by the belief that the mundane artists will overrun everything. I would disagree with this, surely if there is a wealth of mundane artists and you are an artist who has developed skill and quality, it’ll just mean that you stand out from even more people?
The other camp of people on the documentary seem to be more in favour of the evolution of the various art forms through the increase in technologies accessibility. These people were looking forward to seeing what the world looked like in ten years time to see how these fresh opportunities available to people have shaped the world of art culture.
This documentary reminded me of a couple of exercises within the course manual, most notably Part 4. Research Point. Gareth Dent – ‘Dealing with the flood’.
YouTube is a great learning resource especially for those short on time like myself. I have found several very helpful videos introducing the topic of Typography.
In this TED talk, Mia Cinelli describes why typography is important and relates the process that she went through of turning a sample of handwritten text into a font.
In this introductory video I received a basic guide to why typography is used and how one letter form can lead to another. For example, when an ‘n’ has been designed, the design for an ‘m’ and a ‘u’ are relatively simple.
As part of my investigating typography started to look at a few books. These were initially chosen because they looked to be palatable but turned out to be fascinating!
‘Why Fonts Matter – Sarah Hyndman’
This was a very user friendly introduction into different fonts, or, as I was soon re-educated ‘typefaces’. The reader undergoes several visual experiments which prove each point as it is introduced. My favourite of these was Chapter 11 which dealt with sensory experience. Whilst I had always known in a supermarket that brands try to imply value or pedigree through typefaces, I had never realised that my eating experience was also affected. One experiment inparticular deals with sweet/sour, the reader eats an item whilst looking at an angular sharp typeface, they do the same whilst looking at a rounded plumper one. The mouthful taken whilst looking at the sharp angular typeface will taste the most sour. This was incredible, I had no idea that fonts/typefaces could do this!
This made me pick up another book…
‘Just My Type – Simon Garfield‘
I initially chose this book because it looked as though it would give me more of an educational background on the history of typography, plus, it had lots of small chapters so I figured I could force my way through it if it became too dull.
No forcing required.
The tales in the history of type cannot be made up. Trying to say which bit hooked me the most is hard. Cobden-Sanderson, creator of Doves was an early contender, not content to let the type pass hands after his death he took three years to steadily throw it all in the Thames (at 76 years old) and then to make sure it stayed there, bequeathed it to the river in his Will.
Another favourite was the tale of Eric Gill, creator of Gill Sans. Disclaimer – I have quite a military (dark) sense of humour so please don’t find it too offensive when I say I found this excerpt hilarious – “Eric Gill is remembered for many things: his engravings in wood and stone, his lifelong passion for lettering, his devotion to English craftsmanship – and his typefaces, notable Gill Sans, one of the twentieth centuries earliest and classic sans serif fonts.And then there is that other thing: Gill’s scandalous and ceaseless sexual experimentation”. Page 48 Lines 1-6.
I really wasn’t expecting that in a book about typography!
The majority of the book turned out to be a thorough summary of the different notable points in the history of typography and it’s uses which I must admit has made me curious to explore old painted signs. From the sound of the book, 1920’s Paris metro signs will definetley be worth a look. It also reminded me of something else I used to find very visually appealing that I had totally forgotten about, old entertainments posters with a variety of fonts such as music hall listings or old circus style advertising.
This drove me online to do a bit of research and collect some examples. I made a Pinterest board which can be viewed here.
Looking at these posters reminded me of the themes of Time and Place from this module. I think the old posters are great, they have character, the new ones in comparison are a bit ‘arty’ for my personal taste. As I was wishing that theatre poster design could revert back to the old style, I realised exactly why they cant! Those themes and methods are so associated with a Golden Age of entertainment, music halls and dancing girls etc, that using them now would mislead people into what they were about to buy a ticket for. These are not the posters that would accompany a poetry recital or a display of contemporary dance!
Looking at this amalgamation of typefaces eventually lead me into looking at calligraphy. Calligraphy is one of those things that I would love to be really good at but haven’t yet the time to master.
Instead I picked up a book called ‘Creating Calligraphy – Inkspired’ by Betty Soldi. This is another great book which I would recommend to everybody. It’s well made, the photography inside it is stunning and the attitude of the teacher is wonderful. She constantly reassures the reader that there are no mistakes, errors are fine and the key is just to relax and enjoy. The book also contains a systematic series of letter progressions to trace, room to practice and some pages to literally just go crazy with. I’ve completed mine from cover to cover and I could cheerfully do it all again!
Pinterest Boards – Collating More Items of Interest
A board initiated by the mention of Paris Metro signs which has grown to incorporate old advertising signs in general. They’re all works of art!
A board to collect items that use multiple typefaces on the same piece. Initially started out of interest but then with a nagging feeling that this might come in handy on the next module, Graphics 1. Surely there will be a typography section in there somewhere?!