Signs & Lettering

Handyman՚s Modern Manuals

I was having a look through this collection of Popular Science editions on Google Books, and saw this beautiful advertising illustration. Naturally I’ve traced it, but the original ticks so many boxes — it’s hand-drawn, it has a strong sense of dimension, leaping out of the page at you, and the lettering on the banner and especially the price roundel is, like the illustration as a whole, beautifully composed.

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My tracing — the detail circle is my own addition, I’d love to see the front of this book properly.

The arrangement of books creates a lovely dance across the page — it’s a shame the type composition of the rest of the advert, while competently done, doesn’t have as much flair. I’d like to know who the illustrator was, and what the front of the books really looked like — I’m fascinated by that little ship illustration and would love to see the whole thing properly. In fact, what are the books like? In an earlier advert there was a hint at some of the cover illustrations, but I’d like to see the ‘real thing’. Anyone out there got some?

Penmanship of The XVI, XVII & XVIIIth Centuries

I’m sure this set of Google Books scans has gone round the design sites and twitter before, but I’ve only just recently come across it. Pretty much everything in here is beautiful and wonderful to just browse through, but if you’re a student of lettering and calligraphy (and of course, of type) then you’ll find it pretty useful too.

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Personally I’ve mixed feelings about swashes and decorative initials, they look gorgeous but rarely seem appropriate to anything except for, well, historical contexts like the ones in this book. Often when I see them I think they look forced — shoved in there because they exist rather than because they add to the design or layout — It’s a real shame because I guess I’m not alone in really wanting to have a project that just calls out for a damn good swash, and yet when I do I start to fret that it’s just starry-eyed wishful thinking overruling good sense (and taste). It could be that I worry too much and should just get the pen out and start slashing away at the page with ink for the hell of it. Well, maybe not slashing as such, but when you look at some of these you get a real sense of the possibilities of drama and enthusiasm; the chance to create some really playful and exciting stuff. Wonderful:

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Irina Vinnik

I was looking through this particularly linkbaity article and found the beautiful piece below, Alphabet, by Irina Vinnik. It really reminds me of a couple of books of fables and fairytales I had as a kid — they all had beautifully ornamented capitals at the start of each story and I was completely fascinated by them. I did trace quite a few and spent rather a lot of time trying to draw my own. Sadly I’ve not got any of those early attempts so I can’t see if they were any good or not, but it did get me into a long and happy habit of tracing and redrawing letters and lettering which has been incredibly useful throughout my career. Funny thing with kids, I’ve noticed with friends of mine who have children that shovelling tons and tons of information at them and seeing what sticks seems to be a pretty good strategy. Your mileage may vary, of course.

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One Hundred Dollars

I guess now and again I can promote some of my own work — hey, it’s what keeps me from writing articles for Ministry of Type all the time, and this piece draws together a number of themes I’ve written about before here so it feels pretty relevant. This is an illustration piece I did for Wired Magazine for their US edition’s cover story, The Future of Money. It’s also appeared in the UK and Italian editions and in GQ magazine in Mexico and South Africa, which I’m pretty thrilled about.

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The full illustration.

When creating, or even looking at, a banknote design, one of the first things you realise is their inherent and very deliberate imperfections. There’ll be an apparent mis-registration of colour, a strangely ragged line, a discontinuity in a pattern or an odd serif or ligature on a piece of lettering, but it’s exactly how it was designed. Without it, it wouldn’t be right. The design of banknotes represent something I find gloriously poetic — imperfect perfection — if it was perfect by our usual standards, it would be imperfect. Wonderful. So tried to capture some of that in my design, overlaying colours with an offset, adjusting the lettering a little bit to reflect the kind of oddities on real dollar notes and creating the odd layer of extra guilloche-work barely fine enough to see. I’m glad Wired is well printed and that it all came through.

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First off, my favourite, guilloches! Guilloches have an irresistable fascination for me, the finely detailed patterning building on top of itself, over and over, to create anything from complex shaded illustrations or subtle fields of colour, and all you need to do is to look a little closer to get drawn in… wonderful. Fractals have a similar kind of appeal, but there’s more of a craft to creating guilloche patterns, some idea of I made this rather than I discovered this. A subtle distinction for some, but it just gives one an edge over the other in my mind.

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The lettering was actually the most time consuming part of the piece. The denomination took some time, but the big bit of work was the multi-layered title. The faces of the letters themselves are shaded with two sets of guilloche patterns, and the 3D effect was done mostly by hand — adjusting for optical clarity and to bring in a few of those all-so-important errors. I toyed with the offsetting on the faces (to create the pale outlines and shadowed cuts) especially as the “R” came out a little strange, with that square cut-off on the inner edge of the outline. I left that for a while and when I came back to it I decided I actually liked it, so it stayed.

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The cropping out of the guilloche patterns to create the shading took time to set up and then quite a lot of time for the computer to do the necessary intersections. Anyone who was following my Twitter personal account at the time may have noticed a fair bit of bitching about Illustrator’s pathfinder tools, often spitting out “The filter produced no results” after 10 or so minutes of thinking, which generally drives me to use Photoshop’s vector tools for stuff: they have their deficiences, but they do the job without Illustrator’s tedious whining errors. It took 30 minutes of it thinking about it, but it got there in the end. It seemed a bit easier the second time around, when I did the localised title for Wired Italy, though sadly no quicker.

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The circular pattern of cubes I did using Google Sketchup, which I’ve been using a fair bit to create another piece (which may be a poster one day), outputting it as an EPS and then going over it in Illustrator changing all the outlines to the right thicknesses and colours, then doing it again for the offset colour overlays. Fun times.

It was great to be able to use many of the ideas I’d explored before and have to make them work together in a full commercial piece. It’s fun when you’re given a brief like this, and pretty exciting seeing your work printed in a magazine.

More, please.

The Elastic Mind

I was browsing through the AIGA Design Archives and was attracted right away to this book cover for Design and the Elastic Mind. Irma Boom designed the cover and the beautiful lettering was done by Daniël Maarleveld, you can see more of his lettering and some background info here (thanks to Sean Kelly for the info). I’ve been experimenting with creating letters from guilloches, so I wanted to look a bit closer at how the designer had done these. It’s pretty interesting, though I’m guessing it’s software filling paths with a basic guilloche than any kind of mathematical derivation of the letters themselves. It’s still very attractive and effective, and I’m wondering what software was used to make it — exploring Excentro I’ve not seen any path-filling options — so I shall ask.

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I had a look round for more info on the book, and found that it’s supporting an exhibition of the same name at MOMA. There’s a website devoted to it including this Flash ‘interactive’ thing, which grandly introduces itself thus:

The exhibition highlights designers’ ability to grasp momentous changes in technology, science, and history—changes that demand or reflect major adjustments in human behavior—and translate them into objects that people can actually understand and use.

Now, after a while poking around on the site I can say that it’s somewhat lacking in that regard. The typography is unremittingly dreary; a set of very long lists set in microscopic low-contrast text with odd arrows that imply function but give none, bullets all over the place and thoroughly opaque labelling of everything. There’s an animated overlay that briefly shows images from the extended info for each of the list entries (which of course obscures the title and brief intro to it), and traces lines to other things that it’s apparently related to. You can click each of the things and find some actual interesting information in there, and some really nice imagery, but the sense of confusion never really goes away, you’re left with questions — where am I in the site, what is this, what are these connections for and about? If the intention is to show that there’s loads of stuff out there, that it’s hard to read and that finding out about any of it is an onerous task and that following the connections between things is baffling and involves you having to do work to even find out what it is and is connected to, then the site is a blinding success. And what is it with those arrows?

Shame really, because the book cover is quite lovely.

The Hebrew Writers Guild

Related to the previous post, I’ve also found this collection of stamp designs. There are a lot here from the Mid Century Modern aesthetic too, including this beautiful Israeli stamp celebrating the Hebrew Writers Guild. I love the irregularity of the numerals, the complex detail in the design, and the pleasing visual metaphor:

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In case you’re wondering, yes, I do like a lot of the Israeli stamp designs, but it’s not an exclusive thing; I like stamps from Poland, travel brochures, emergency banknotes and commercial packaging too.

Mid Century Modern Stickers, Labels and Stamps

Browsing Grain Edit earlier I saw a sidebar link to the Mid Century Modern - Sticker, Label + Stamp Club on Flickr. The title describes it pretty well, but with 1804 items (as of writing) the scope of the collection is pretty breathtaking. I sometimes wonder at all the collections of mid-century stuff online, there’s a hell of a lot of it out there and I enjoy finding new collections like this, but will I tire of it at some point? Perhaps it’s old enough now so that most of the crap to have been edited out — long composted in landfills or left to crumble in attics and the backs of garages — and what we’re seeing is genuinely timeless, quality design. I certainly hope that’s what it is. For now, I’m happy to have found this collection, and even happier to have the time to spend tracing a few things, like this Israeli stamp illustrating the story of Jonah and The Whale:

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The pattern of buildings reminds me of the illustrations from books of biblical stories I was given to read as a kid. The pink whale on the right is from the detachable tab that comes with the stamp.

I didn’t fancy leaving it all as flat colour — much of the appeal here comes from the simplicity of the printing, especially the visible halftoning — so I took the shapes I’d made for the two tones of black and used Vectoraster* to create the halftones, and I’m quite pleased with the result. Illustrator wasn’t though; my attempt at doing halftones for the pinks crashed it pretty comprehensively.

Hatch Show Print

Andy Polaine recently tweeted a link to this video on David Airey’s site about Hatch Show Print, a letterpress shop established in 1879 in Nashville, Tennessee, which is still operating. The manager, Jim Sherraden, has strong views on how to run the shop, with a motto of “preservation through production”, the idea being that all the equipment, all the blocks, everything, is still used regularly, even if it’s for one print. Sherradden regards the shop as a living museum; everything is letterpress, and done by hand, and interestingly:

we don’t introduce new typefaces because I don’t want to pollute the integrity of the archive.

I’m glad someone is doing this. I’m glad that this style, so American, is being maintained, that these wood blocks are being used for printing and not for decorating someone’s wall, and that these presses are still operating and being maintained. I’m glad someone’s doing this, because I don’t think I’d want to. I know I’d find myself craving new typefaces, screenprinting, digital print, variety. So yes, I’m glad someone’s doing this. Someone else.

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Some stills from the video. Look at all those wood blocks. Wow.

Buried Type

I was going through some old photos I found in a folder and came across this one. I took it in Brighton several years ago, there were some roadworks in the North Laine and I must have wondered at the tape and signage buried in it. I found it amusing when I saw it again and rather like the effect, so I’m putting it up here.

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MMX

For all that I’ve heard and read from friends, colleagues and associates, it seems that the end of 2009 can’t come soon enough. I’ve not had a bad year at all — it’s been full of good things, both professional and personal — but somehow I’ve picked up the excitement and promise of a new year and I’m looking forward to 2010. It’s going to be a good year, I think. So, without further ado, I’ll bring your attention to a fantastic collection of ‘The End’ title stills from Warner Bros on The Movie Title Stills Collection, perfectly timed to commemorate the end of the year. Go and take a look!

Have a very happy and prosperous new year, and thank you for your visits, your kind, interesting and useful emails — I read every one and even if I can’t reply I appreciate and enjoy all of them. Here’s to two thousand and ten!

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Some end titles from The Movie Title Stills Collection