Maps Made of Words

I like the idea of typographic maps, from the fairly abstract ones by ORK to the impressively detailed linocuts by Andrew Webber, so it’s nice to see another approach, especially when there are some clever little touches. These posters from Axis Maps show maps of Chicago and Boston made entirely from type, using a technique that is fairly straightforward and which could risk producing a rather dull result, but Axis have created textures and used typographic colour to create an interesting set of images. The overall effect is pleasing, and I think if there was a New York or London version I’d be tempted to get one. A couple of details showing some of the effects I like — using a heavy stroke on type to create the dark line of a river and the overlapping curved text to create the waves on Lake Michigan:


An obvious solution perhaps, but it works rather nicely.

One little niggle though. As much as I like and admire Museo, I don’t think it works as a titling face on these maps, not at this size, and not in this context anyway.

The Royal Opera House

Definitely catching up with old news with this one; I’ve had this Brand New article on the new Royal Opera House identity by Someone bookmarked for a while. If you’ve not seen it already, the new identity centres on a fantastic new cut of the royal crest by Christopher Wormell and is supported by new type and image guidelines. The new typeface is Gotham Light, which is lovely and works wonderfully with the new brand, but I can’t help but feel a little sad to see the Caslon-esque old wordmark go. Still, if it had to go, it had to go, and given how Covent Garden looks and feels nowadays Gotham is a good choice — it’s a fresh clean and light companion to the dense complexity of the crest, and works perfectly with the more modern layouts and imagery they’re using, but was Gill really just too much of a cliché?


The new crest and logo

The new crest itself is wonderful. The old one had a certain old-time charm to it, but next to the new one it looks distinctly shabby. Like Armin Vit, I’m especially impressed that they produced two versions for use on light and dark backgrounds, rather than simply inverting the image. The work is so well done that it’s hard to work out what’s actually different between the two images — they’re not just outlined or trimmed, the thickness, detail and density of each image is different, but designed to give the impression they’re the same. Clever and skillful work by a true master of engraving:

Ampersand Print

Well with a title like “Ampersand Print” this post could refer to any number of things, but this time it’s this rather pleasant letterpress print by Colorcubic. It’s a limited edition of 250, but as I type they have some in stock — I just bought one in fact. The image is a recreation of Herb Lubalin’s ampersand made of Inksie’s four icons and what with the tiny symbols tracing the thin lines it reminds me of fractal patterns. However, unlike most fractals this looks good and it’ll go great on my wall.

Fun With Pencils

Escape from Illustration Island has put together a set of links to download Andrew Loomis books on illustration and drawing. The books are all out of print and free to distribute because they’re now in the public domain, though for the illustrator and artist they’re as relevant as ever. I realised I’d not seen these books since school — I think we had a copy of The Eye of the Painter and a very tattered Figure Drawing For All It’s Worth (I notice even on these scans that this one doesn’t have a cover) and thinking of other useful books on the subject, I found a few links to Stephen Rogers Peck’s Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist. Pretty much everything I learned about anatomy I learned from this book (and much of the rest from this one) so I can wholeheartedly recommend it — it’s not so good for posing and whole-figure drawing, but it’s great for adding detail and character to your figures.


From Figure Drawing For All It’s Worth, I love these mannequin sketches. They remind me of this.


A detail from Drawing the Head and Hands by Loomis, and one from Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist by Stephen Rogers Peck, available here.

Via Pica + Pixel

Colosseo

This is a very belated post, but one I’ve been meaning to do for a while. Cameron Moll’s Colosseo Type poster is a joy to behold. The level of detail in it is astounding, using type to create textures, patterns and outlines to illustrate the Colosseum. The piece is letterpress, and took over 250 hours to create; it’s set in Goudy Trajan and Bembo Pro, and interestingly, some glyphs recreated using tracing and redrawing:

Additionally, glyphs have been recreated based on the work of master Italian calligrapher M. Giovambattista Palatino, as featured in Libro di M. Giovambattista Palatino Cittadino Romano, published in Rome around 1550 AD.Cameron Moll

Belated or not, it turns out now is a good time to post this as Moll is having a sale of not just this, but the Salt Lake Temple poster and the EPS of the traced glyphs from the Palatino book (one of which is up at the top right). So yes, 25% off, and you get a free glyphs poster with one of the larger posters. Excuse the sales-y tone, but I think these posters are worth every penny; they’re lovely on screen, but as physical objects they’re quite beautiful.


 

Syriac

I was catching up on some reading recently and found this post on Pascal Zoghbi’s site, 29 letters, on the first printing press in the Middle East. There’s an interesting bit of history around its very existence in the Middle East at all. It was imported from England in 1585 to Saint Anthony’s Monastery in Qozhaya (a valley in modern day Lebanon) which was at the time part of the Ottoman Empire. Throughout the Empire, printing presses (and printed books) had been effectively banned following an edict by Bayezid Ⅱ in 1483. I’ve been reading up on the reasoning for the ban, and it seems that the public reason was that of piety; Arabic was the language of the Qu’ran and therefore was deemed a sacred language, so it was only allowed to be written by hand. The idea of the ‘Word of God’ being squeezed onto paper by a machine was supposedly anathema. There are of course other possible (and to my mind, rather more likely) reasons, in that the industry of copying out books and manuscripts was particularly lucrative and those who did it effectively used their considerable lobbying power to protect their interests. There’s no direct evidence for that, but, well, plus ça change and all that.


Some alternate glyphs from Serdo Mardin, and some photo details from 29 letters.

Anyway, regardless of the reason, the Monastery must have had a dispensation to be allowed to use a press at all, and I imagine as part of the deal they would have had to promise not to print Arabic, and here is where they stuck to the letter (literally) of the law, but not the spirit. Instead of the Arabic script, they used the Syriac. Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic, and was once dominant across the Middle East. By the time that printing press was delivered to the Monastery, it was in serious decline and replaced for most practical purposes by Arabic, except in the Christian liturgy (I freely admit that it was more complicated than that, but, moving on…). So the canny monks printed books in the Arabic language, but using the Syriac script. Sneaky. And here we get to the whole reason for this post, which is a wholehearted, will you look at that beautiful script! It’s really quite lovely. As before with a script I’m not familiar with, I’m not going to start trying to write stuff using a font that supports it, but I’ve taken some of the alternate glyphs from the font Serto Mardin that show the diagonal strokes the best. Beautiful stuff. I also traced a bit from one of the photos, which is up at the top of this post.

Shoe

I was convinced I’d written about Shoe before, but it turns out I haven’t. Shoe, or Niels Shoe Meulman, is the master of calligraphic graffiti, creating the label for the artform of calligraffiti - also the name of his site. I must have seen examples of his work in books and photos hundreds of times, yet sadly not in real life. I don’t think I have anyway. I’d have hoped I’d have noticed. So yes, go and look at his site, there are more pictures of his work, a rather impressive bio, and a nice story on the nature of creative work too.

Palindrome

This new sign for the V&A is wonderful. The museum commissioned Troika to make a sign for the tunnel connecting the museum and South Kensington tube station, and it’s bloody gorgeous. It’s a kinetic sculpture, rotating parts of the museum’s logo (in itself a wonderful thing, by Alan Fletcher in 1989) so that it reads at first from one side, and then from the other. I did wonder at first whether the V and A on Fletcher’s original logo were actually rotationally symmetric, and no, of course they aren’t, but for a sculpture like this the alteration to make them work like that isn’t at all noticeable. Go and watch the video (or of course, visit the museum) to see it in action. It’s so simple and yet so clever, whoever came up with the idea must have been quite pleased with themselves, and justifiably so.



Pictures from Troika’s site.


Not symmetric, but close enough for kinetic sculptural fun.

While Stocks Last

Me Design Magazine highlighted this fascinating project, While Stocks Last by designer Leandro Lattes; a massive collection of photos of Madrid, across two books, documenting the incidental details of the city; shop signs, intercom buzzers, bars, cafés and the like. I’m normally pretty wary of ‘found type’ collections as they tend to lack any kind of context, analysis or insight — or indeed any sense that they are curated, but what makes this different is the restriction to the one city, and the intent to document things that are likely to disappear without record. There’s very much the power of the collection going on with projects like this; individually the objects and scenes may have some interest, but all together like this they draw you in — the similarities and differences become compelling and before you know it you’ve lost an hour or two. Go and take a look.

Aktiv Grotesk

A few months ago I went to BrightType 2010 at Brighton University — two talks, one by Richard Rutter and another by Bruno Maag — which I meant to write up at the time but sadly never got around to. One thing that stuck with me was Bruno Maag’s 5 minute rant against Helvetica where he compared it unfavourably to Univers and decried its overuse and the unthinking adoration given to it. Apparently Maag likes to include a bit of a rant like this in all his talks, but it was new to me and quite refreshing. Basically, Bruno Maag detests Helvetica, and has designed a new face, Aktiv Grotesk, to kill it off.

The new face is designed both to correct the apparent flaws in Helvetica and as a new, warmer, friendlier Univers. I guess I’d need to spend some time with it to know how it feels in use, but first impressions are pretty good. Univers is one of my all time favourites and Aktiv Grotesk has much of the same feel, though I’m not sure it really feels friendlier. I always thought Univers had a lot of character and was pretty friendly already, so I’m surprised Maag described it as ‘cold’. I guess it depends on your associations. Comparing Univers*, Helvetica, Helvetica Neue, Aktiv Grotesk and Akzidenz Grotesk is pretty interesting. You can immediately see that while there’s a connection, Aktiv Grotesk is is definitely an entirely new face — the counters are more open, possibly due to the squaring off Maag mentions; the strokes are sophisticated and refined, more like a display face; and the whole thing has a beautifully even colour:


* Admittedly my version of Univers is pretty crap, not that I’ve found much better available online.

There are a few oddities in it though. In particular, that ‘s’ is just plain odd. In context, above, it fits in mostly OK, but it appears to lean backwards. It feels unstable. Both the Helveticas and Univers have S’s that come to a satisfactory finish at both ends, and Akzidenz Grotesk has that chunky flare at the ends of the stroke to balance it out, but Aktiv Grotesk just tails off a bit. It feels, dare I say it, a bit like Arial.

Also, perhaps I’m being fussy about nomenclature, but that italic isn’t. It’s a slanted roman. I guess it’s called an italic for marketing purposes, but it does rankle a bit as a true italic would be welcome in a face like this.

And while I’m having a moan, this statement surprised me a bit:

“Being a Swiss typographer, it’s always been Univers. Even in my apprenticeship we didn’t have Helvetica in the printshop. Then I went to Basel school of design and of course in Weingart’s workshop it was Univers, never Helvetica. Then I come to England and there’s all these designers using Helvetica! The Macintosh had just come out and Helvetica was on every single machine. Everyone was so fascinated with it … I never understood that.”Bruno Maag in Creative Review

Really? When I was growing up I remember that when there were sans serif faces they were either Univers or Folio. My uncle was a typesetter and designer and I remember the books of Lorem Ipsum set in Univers he used to chop up and paste into layout comps. It was never Helvetica. But then, these were the cold, damp provinces, so perhaps things were different in that London, you know, where they had computers and all that clever stuff. Maybe.

So for what it’s worth, I think Aktiv Grotesk is a real winner of a face (that ‘s’ notwithstanding) and will be pretty nice to play with and use professionally, but I doubt it’ll unseat Helvetica as the sans designers turn to. As a high quality font and with its Swiss typographic credentials, it does stand a chance of eclipsing Univers though, which would be a shame.