Howdy, Stranger!

It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!

LeMo aka PatternMan aka Frank E Blokland

About

Username
LeMo aka PatternMan aka Frank E Blokland
Joined
Visits
3,035
Last Active
Roles
Member, Type Person
Points
869
Posts
518
  • Type-design education: its importance and (future) role

    Although this topic started as a job offer, at some point it became a discussion on the importance and role of formal type-design education. This as such is not new: the same happened in this topic. This made me post the text below on my personal Facebook page in July of this year. This subject deserves its own topic on TypeDrawers, I reckon, and I will make a start here by cross-posting my Facebook text.

    FYI: I am Senior Lecturer at the KABK, where I teach calligraphy and type design at the graphic department since 1987, and I lecture type design (and related technology) at the Plantin Institute of Typography in Antwerp since 1995. My daily business is producing digital type and developing font tools (together with URW, also for educational use [LeMo]) at the Dutch Type Library (since 1990).

    -------------------

    Obviously there are different opinions about the advantages of type-design education on TypeDrawers and it is interesting to see that the supposed restrictive effects on the creativity of type designers are enlarged by those who lack formal education (this is not criticism but a finding –please correct me if I am wrong). I must admit here that I enjoy the discussion and sometimes find the arguments intriguing. However, I am wondering what the future of the type design metier, which I have always considered an exponent of delicacy and exquisiteness, will be now it is hardly exclusive anymore.

    The TypeDrawers forum is a platform for those who are active or interested in the fields of type design, lettering, and typography. There is no balloting and everyone can join. This means that experienced, often older, type designers exchange ideas and share knowledge with youngsters –and there are many youngsters who make type nowadays (again, this is not criticism but a finding –please correct me if I am wrong). After all, font-production software is extremely affordable or even available for free today and hardware is fast and inexpensive, especially if one compares this with the power and the pricing of font-production systems in the past. The result is a large amount of fonts that are available for comparable low prices, or even for free in case of Open-Source fonts.

    A big difference with the period before the introduction of desktop publishing is that there is no filtering, i.e., everyone can publish typefaces without a reviewing process. Big distributors are eager to put all fonts on the market, because at the end a lot of small profits make a big one together. Of course, it is also possible to publish a typeface by oneself, like one can publish (print-on-demand) books and music directly via the web.
     
        Before the rise of desktop publishing the big typesetting machine manufacturers produced a handful of typefaces per year and it was not easy to get a new design accepted (I know that from experience). Roughly forty years ago ITC (International Typeface Corporation) was probably the most prolific company, because it was only focusing on font production, i.e., ITC did not produce hardware. There was a special team at URW that manually digitized the ITC typefaces with a lens cursor + tablet in the IKARUS format.

    One would expect that in a rapidly expanding profession the need for formal education would proportionally increase. However, that seems not to be the case. In the related discussions here on TypeDrawers, a repetitively recurring argument against education is that it potentially can stunt the proper development of one’s original voice. Because of the easy to acquire software and hardware for the production of digital type in combination with the fact that almost everything is released on the end-user market, the ‘original voice’ argument is indeed an attractive one against education.
     
        However, education as such should not be blamed if some tutors apply a sort of one-sided conditioning or perhaps might even try to indoctrinate students. It is flattering for an educator if students embrace his/her ideas, but the primary task of education is to provide a solid foundation for further development and for enhanced reflection. For type design this means that education should result in technical skills combined with knowledge of the historical developments in the profession (including the changing esthetic preferences during the different style periods) together with insight in (the influence of) technology.

    I should emphasize here that being an autodidact is as such not a bad thing. After all, there are quite some famous type designers from the past, such as Eric Gill and Jan van Krimpen, who were basically self-taught (although Gill had lettering lessons from Edward Johnston). However, these designers were almost always working together with experts in the field: for example Gill worked together with Monotype’s Type Drawing Office (TDO) and with the punchcutter Charles Malin when he was working on Perpetua. Van Krimpen worked together with the punchcutter Paul Helmuth Rädisch and also with Monotype’s TDO (although JvK was not too pleased with what happened with his designs there). One may question whether a forum as TypeDrawers can function as a surrogate for direct professional assistance, as sometimes is suggested.

    By marking the historical and technological boundaries of the type designer’s profession and by stimulating a critical and analytical way of thinking, students should be able to find their own place in the profession and to develop their unique personal ‘hand’. Although craftsmanship formed and still forms the basis for the type designers’ metier and conventions define its boundaries, educators should always be careful that their training does not suppress the natural desire of designers to trespass IMHO.
     
        Without an in-depth knowledge of the history of type design, insight in what was produced in the course of time, control over the applied technology, and above all knowledge of the basics of the type design, it will be hard to prove that a new typeface, of which the production was not hampered by formal education, is introducing an original voice.

    That being said, I do realize that formal education is not within everyone’s possibilities, if only because of the required investment in time and money. Especially if one knows that the diluted font market in combination with the low pricing does not by definition guarantee a proper return on the investment.
  • Re: ‘Grand Cru Classés’ sprouting from Antwerp soil

    Following the Annual Academic Meeting of the Plantin Institute of Typography at the Museum Plantin-Moretus Antwerp on Saturday 30 September 2017, the opening of the exhibition In de sporen van Plantin (‘In the footsteps of Plantin’) will take place. At this expo the 2017 laureates of the courses Expert class Book design (EcBd) and Expert class Type design (EcTd) present their projects. In case of the EcTd this is supplemented with a selection of work from two 2016 laureates, which has been made after the student’s graduation and that is based on the projects started during the course’s last year.



    An important aspect of the EcTd course is the direct exchange of knowledge and experience between the students. This exchange is stimulated by a type-revival project, on which the students have to work together. The revival is always based on unique historical material from the renowned collection of the Museum Plantin-Moretus. This year the students selected the Gros Canon Romain attributed to Claude Garamont (ca.1510–1561) and cut before 1549, and its adaptation commissioned by Plantin named Moyen Canon Romain from 1570. For the latter Hendrik van den Keere (ca.1540–1580) shortened the ascenders and descenders: this way the type could be cast in a mould for a shorter body size. The image (from my dissertation) below shows historical foundry type of the Moyen Canon Romain (cast with fixed registers of the mould) on top and the Gros Canon Romain as cast in 1959 (without fixed widths).



    I enjoyed this year’s choice especially because the Gros and Moyen Canon Romain played an important role in my research into Renaissance type-production standardization, as one can read in my dissertation (for the record: I did not influence the student’s choice in any way). The variable lengths of the ascenders and descenders make the Gros/Moyen combination a variable font avant la lettre. Whether the Moyen Canon Romain can be seen as a precursor of the ‘Goût Hollandais’ is open for discussion (as we did during the course). After all, the Dutch type from the Baroque combined an enlargement of the x-height with an additional condensing of the letter forms, which is in line with the space-hierarchy rules (less space within the letters makes less space between words and lines possible). It will not come as a surprise that the students made a variable font for the GrosMoyen, as they baptized their digital revival. This font also contains an axis for the ink squashes.



    Besides taking part in the revival project, each student has to design a new typeface personally, whether completely from scratch or being a revival that is, for example, also based on material from the museum’s collection (this is not mandatory). At the exhibition a variety of projects can be seen, which includes a revival based on historical material from the punchcutter Ameet Tavernier (1522–1570), experiments with a color font on the basis of the Gros Parangon cut by François Guyot (†1570) around 1544, a revival based on William Addison Dwiggins’ Tippecanoe type from 1942, and everything in between.



    I would like to emphasize here that the exhibition would not be possible without the very generous sponsoring by Agfa Graphics. This is already the sixth time that Agfa Graphics provides high-quality prints on Forex A0 panels, together with the nice cardboard-based installations for the Expert class Book design presentations!

    In de sporen van Plantin runs in the Museum Plantin-Moretus from 1 October till 26 November 2017.
  • Re: ‘Grand Cru Classés’ sprouting from Antwerp soil

    However I do feel formal education can potentially stunt the proper development of one's original voice […]
    In my previous work, I could see a style developing and after graduation it was essentially erased.
    Education as such should not be blamed if some tutors apply a sort of one-sided conditioning or perhaps even try to indoctrinate students. Of course, it is flattering for an educator if students embrace his/her ideas, but the primary task of education is to provide a solid foundation for further development and for enhanced reflection. For type design this means that education should result in technical skills combined with knowledge of the historical developments in the profession (including the changing esthetic preferences during the different style periods) together with insight in (the influence of) technology.

    By marking the historical and technological boundaries of the type designer’s profession and by stimulating a critical and analytical way of thinking, students should be able to find their own place in the profession and to develop their unique personal ‘hand’. Although craftsmanship formed and still forms the basis for the type designers’ metier and conventions define its boundaries, educators should always be careful that their training does not suppress the natural desire of designers to trespass IMHO.
  • Re: At what point of the design process do you start digitising your drawings?

    Hi Avi,
    Drawing by hand, at least when it is small, doesn't offer the crisp lines that digital design does, so it is more difficult to add subtle details like corners in curves and that stuff.
    I think that this purely relies on the drawing skills of the type designer. The cover below is from a publication by Gerrit Noordzij on type designs by Dutch art-school students that dates from 1983. The size of the booklet is A4 and Gerrit used my letters 1:1 for the cover. These letters were made completely freehand, except for the straight lines.



    And, of course, Gerrit Noordzij’s own type designs, which he applied on book jackets, were made by hand: he used brush and paint on polyester film. I think these letters are pretty subtle and crisp.



  • Re: At what point of the design process do you start digitising your drawings?

    Hi Mark,
    I think the common element here is the importance of becoming skilled with the tool that you use. It's not so much the tool as the skill and experience of its user.
    That would –correct me if I’m wrong– imply that every tool is fine for whatever the job is, as long as the user is skilled. Actually I think that the job itself defines what the best tool is.
    The thing that has that helped me the most with working with Bézier curves is to realize that it's not drawing. It's more like sculpting.
    In some case drawing can be the more appropriate way to define the contours than sculpting, especially for making revivals. My experience is that it is pretty easy (and tempting) to copy letter parts in Bézier format but less easy to draw tiny and delicate differences.



    In for instance DTL VandenKeere and DTL Fleischmann no serif is identical –on purpose. These details are easy to draw and to manually digitize. Hence, at DTL we normally draw revivals on paper, or at least we start that way.



    Also I believe that being able to adjust one’s tools directly positively influences the quality and originality of the design.



    For instance Elmo van Slingerland’s DTL Dorian is the result of digitizing letter forms made by a very skilled calligrapher who is extremely capable of drawing with pencil, pen, and brush.



    In case of for example Hermann Zapf or Jan van Krimpen, I don’t think that their type designs can be separated from their skills as calligrapher and type drawer. Even if we take into consideration that the technology was different in the past.