Contemporary Practice – Week 10: Type & Page

Week 10 Lecture & Resources

Notes on Week 10 lecture on Typography.

Typography

Type art found on the streets of Edinburgh.

I found the lecture on typography interesting, and in some ways it was also a trip down memory lane. As a child I spent time living in Antwerp, and was completely enthralled when I was lucky enough to visit the wonderful case room full of lead type at the Plantin Moretus Museum. It was fascinating to see first-hand the way that words were traditionally built up on a page for printing by physically setting up rows and columns of the metal letters.

In the late 1990s, I also found a Letraset in a charity shop I was volunteering in at the time, which provided an intriguing way to physically put letters onto a page, quite different from any printmaking I had done in a school art class. Although frustrating to use at times, perhaps due to my lack of technique, I found the imperfect type I inexpertly transferred to paper had a certain charm about it and the lettering produced had a slightly distressed texture.

Reproduction of illuminated Celtic letters.
(From Celtic Art: The Methods of Construction)

Some years later, I visited Dublin and saw pages of the beautifully illustrated illuminated Book of Kells manuscripts at the incredible Trinity College Library. This gave me a real appreciation of the skill involved in producing them, and a sense of just how laborious this work would have been. The calligraphy on the pages is detailed and neat, but you can see why things moved on in terms of technology so that the speed and quantity of the reproduction of books could be increased.

Letterpress design by Alan Kitching. Image via LongLunch.

In 2016, I attended a LongLunch design talk in Edinburgh with Alan Kitching, which gave me an insight into the possibilities of letterpress printing and taking a heavily analogue, craft-based approach to type and graphic design in general. What I found really engaging was how much visual impact his designs have, despite their simplicity. It’s a real testament to his skill as a typographer and printmaker.

Keys from a Linotype machine. Image via Linotype: The Film.

There are so many ways to approach typography, particularly now that we can have easy access to vector-based drawing software such as Adobe Illustrator. This doesn’t mean, however, that more traditional methods of creating type are suddenly less valid. I think there is room for both craft and technology-led typography, as well as the potential for a blending of the two, which could produce some interesting results.


Research

I love hand-lettering, and it’s something I am keen to learn more about, so I watched a lettering design masterclass from Adobe Max by lettering artist Martina Flor. I’ve been following her work for a while as I find it really inspiring. She talked about how letters are a way to give shape to language, the fact that text and shape are counterparts of the same message, and how you can use the shape and style of letters as a way of storytelling. I found the talk really useful, and it was packed with tips such as experimenting with different kinds of baseline, not just using a standard horizontal one, and instead trying one that’s slanted or curved, for example.

Still from Martina Flor masterclass. Image via Adobe Max.

In the talk, she also discussed how lettering is a way of communicating so much more than just words – which I am inclined to agree with. Even the shape and style of letters can give visual clues about words and their meanings. When you take the example of a French boulangerie with a carefully-crafted shop sign, they are hinting at the quality of their artisanal produce and the craftsmanship of their work.

I also looked at illustrator Lisa Congdon’s hand-lettered pieces based on words taken from the diary of writer Anaïs Nin, as visual inspiration for the workshop task.

Hand lettering pieces by Lisa Congdon. Images via Brain Pickings.

Workshop Challenge

My piece of concrete poetry.


This week, I chose to illustrate an extract from a poem written by Edwin Morgan (he was named as the first Scots Makar, or Scottish national poet, in 2004), called Scottish Fiction. The poem was written specially for a song called In Remote Part/Scottish Fiction on the band Idlewild‘s 2002 album, The Remote Part. It came about after conversations between the lead singer, Roddy Woomble, and the poet himself about what it means to be Scottish in the new millennium.

Scottish Fiction

It isn’t in the mirror
It isn’t on the page
It’s a red-hearted vibration
Pushing through the walls of dark imagination
Finding no equation
There’s a red road rage
But it’s not road rage
It’s asylum seekers engulfed by a grudge
Scottish friction
Scottish fiction

It isn’t in the castle
It isn’t in the mist
It’s a calling of the waters
As they break to show
The new Black Death
With reactors aglow
Do you think your security
Can keep you in purity?
You will not shake us off
Above or below
Scottish friction
Scottish fiction.

Edwin Morgan

Visual Development

Initial type tests.

I played around with the words from the first line of the poem, “it isn’t in the mirror,” until I settled on a visual style that I was happy with. I wanted to show the idea of a shattered mirror, so I experimented with type in Adobe Illustrator to create this effect.

Experimenting with creating visual type effects.
Type tests for the first part of the poem.

Reflection on the week

I really enjoyed interpreting a poem for the workshop task this week. I knew almost immediately which one I wanted to create a design for. I love literature and it was a good exercise to play with the words to figure out different ways of bringing them to life on the page, and I found it a liberating experience to deliberately break the rules that I would typically follow for a piece of graphic design. I chose to focus on the first verse of Scottish Fiction, but I definitely think it would be worth revisiting this work to create the second verse as well. It could be interesting to present the two poetry verses together as a type of diptych.

Typography is something I have been interested in for some time, and it’s such a rich subject that I think there will always be more to learn. I also think it’s important to have a sound knowledge of the basics and an understanding of the history of print, as this can (and should) underpin the work of a graphic designer. It’s beneficial to appreciate where the field originated in order to understand how it has developed, and how it could continue to flourish in the future. I find the history of type a huge source of creative inspiration for me personally as well.


References

Bain, George. 1987. Celtic Art: The Methods of Construction. Constable: London.

Baines, P. and Haslam, A., 2005. Type & Typography. London: Laurence King.

Flor, Martina. 2020. Lettering Design Master Class. [Adobe Max online talk] Available at: https://www.adobe.com/max/2020/sessions/lettering-design-master-class-s8003.html [accessed 25 November 2020]

Idlewild. 2002. The Remote Part. [sound recording: CD]. Perf. Idlewild. Parlophone Records.

Kitching, Alan. 2016. LongLunch Event 62: Alan Kitching [lecture]. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh, 3 March 2016.

Linotype: The Film. 2020. About the Film. Available at https://linotypefilm.com/about.html [accessed 27 November 2020]

LongLunch. 2020. LongLunch Event 62: Alan Kitching. Available at http://www.longlunch.com/alan-kitching [accessed 11 December 2020]

Morgan, Edwin. 2002. Scottish Fiction [poem].

Poetry Foundation. 2020. Edwin Morgan. Poetry Foundation [online]. Available at:
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/edwinmorgan [accessed 23 November 2020]

Popova, Maria. 2012. Anaïs Nin on Life, Hand-Lettered by Artist Lisa Congdon. Brain Pickings [online]. Available at:
https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/08/13/anais-nin-on-life-lisa-congdon/ [accessed 25 November 2020]

Punk News. 2003. Idlewild: The Remote Part. Punk News [online]. Available at:
https://www.punknews.org/review/2275/idlewild-the-remote-part [accessed 23 November 2020]