1.7.9 Typographic / Word Art

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Rosetta Stone
Trajan column inscription
St Jerome’s Bible
First printed bibles
Johnston Sans, Johnston
Futura, Renner
Ceci n’est pas une pipe, Magritte
Rockwell font

Univers font, Frutiger
Rail Alphabet, Kinnier
Abstraction of texts, Wool
Apple pixel fonts, Kare
Sagmeister/ Lou Reed album cover
Happy Show, The, Sagmeister
You blow me away, Craig Ward


A review of Typographic Art has to start with a look at that basic building block, the typeface or font.

It’s not just the font, it’s the language too. The Rosetta Stone, dated to 196 BCE and discovered by Napoleon’s troops in 1799, was inscribed thrice in Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic script, and Greek script.

It detailed a decree of King Ptolemy V Epiphanes. As the three accounts had only minor differences and this permitted the deciphering of the Egyptian hieroglyphs.
[Source: Wikimedia commons]

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

The upper image appears at the base of Trajan’s column in Rome, installed in 113 CE. conceived by Trajan’s architect is assumed to have been Apollodoros of Damascus, and this was a commemoration of the emperor’s victorious Dacian campaigns. The inscription stated The Senate and people of Rome [give or dedicate this] to the emperor Caesar, son of the divine Nerva…

When the Arts & Crafts movement emerged in the UK around 1860, roughly the same time as the Aesthetic Movement, its artisans much appreciated this Trajan typeface as among the best ever drawn.

As a result many signs and engravings created with an intentionally artistic design in the early twentieth century were based on them. The lower image shows work that Eric Gill did on the ‘Trajan’ font. Gill was a Royal Designer for Industry and became an Associate of the Royal Academy of Arts.
[Source: Wikimedia commons]
Jerome (347-420), aka Jerome of Stridon, is commonly known as Saint Jerome.

He was a Father of the early Christian Church, famous for translating the Bible from Greek into Latin. He began in 382 by correcting the existing Latin-language version of the New Testament, commonly referred to as the Vetus Latina. By 390 he turned to translating from the original Hebrew, believing that mainstream Rabbinical Judaism had rejected the Septuagint as invalid Jewish scriptural texts because of mistranslations along with its Hellenistic heretical elements. He completed this work by 405. Prior to Jerome’s Vulgate, all Latin translations of the Old Testament had been based on the Septuagint, and not the Hebrew.

The top image is a French 1260s illuminated version on vellum of Jerome’s Latin Bible.

The lower image shows a page from the mid-15th c in a Dutch Book of Hours, the Psalter of St Jerome, it depicts St Jerome with a lion holding up its paw.

Jerome was known for his Christian moral teachings. He focused his attention on the lives of women and identified how a woman devoted to Jesus should live her life. This because of the patronage he enjoyed with several prominent female ascetics from affluent senatorial families.
[source: Wikimedia commons]

Image source: christies.com

Image source: blogs.bl.uk

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: bl.uk

When printing emerged the fonts had not just to be selected but carved or moulded.

For his 1450s bible (top image), Johan Gutenberg selected St Jerome’s Vulgate text as this had by then become the approved Catholic Church. It had a the Latin version of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament. The pages were printed twice, first with black and then with red ink. Later versions left a space for the red that was then added by hand. There were some early 40-line pages, but the bulk and all later copies used a 42-line format. Gutenberg’s pages were ‘double folio’ with two pages on each side. The Gutenberg Bible is printed in the blackletter or Gothic styles that would become known as Textualis (Textura) and Schwabacher. These fonts were in use across western Europe from 1150 until the 17th c.

The bottom image shows the 1526 Tyndale Bible, the first to be printed in English. Vernacular Bibles (those in local languages) became available in various parts of Europe, where they added fuel to the fight for the Reformation; a political crisis that resulted in the splitting of Christianity into Catholic and Protestant Churches.
[Source: bl.uk]
One signficant modern font was ‘Johnston Sans’ developed by calligrapher Edward Johnston to be used as a unifying theme for the London Underground Group. Its commercial manager, Frank Pick, commissioned it in 1913 to create a corporate identity.

Johnston’s work originated the genre of the humanist sans-serif typeface, typefaces that are sans-serif but take inspiration from traditional serif fonts and Roman inscriptions. His student Eric Gill, who worked on the development of the typeface, used it as a model for his own Gill Sans, released from 1928.

Johnston applied proportions of Roman capital letters to his typeface, so it was rooted in history, rooted in traditional calligraphy. But it has an elegance and a simplicity that fitted the modern age. Prior to this, printed script had tried to reproduce the calligraphic fancies of Victorian handwriting, with its decorative curls and flourishes, known as serifs. The new letters deliberately left out (thus, sans) the flourishes.

The top image shows an early version of Johnston’s design. It has a four-terminal W and a condensed R. The middle image shows it’s later use on an enamelled sign. The lower image showsthe font’s definition.
[source: bbc.co.uk/ Wikimedia commons]

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: bbc.co.uk / Ditchling Museum of Arts and Crafts

Image source: digitalarts

Image source: itsnicethat.com

Image source: reddit.com

Futura is a geometric sans-serif typeface designed by German Paul Renner and released in 1927. It was designed as a contribution for the New Frankfurt-project. This was both an affordable public housing program in Frankfurt between 1925 and 1930. It was also the name of a magazine, published from 1926 to 1931, dedicated to international trends in art, architecture, housing and education.

Futura has an appearance of efficiency and forwardness – see top image.

Although Renner was not associated with the Bauhaus, he shared many of its idioms and believed that a modern typeface should express modern models, rather than be a revival of a previous design. It was developed as a typeface by the Bauer Type Foundry, in competition with Ludwig & Mayer’s seminal Erbar typeface of 1926.

Futura was favoured by the Nazi Party (middle image), NASA (see below) and Louis Vuitton.

Futura font was used on the plaque that was left on the Moon in the Apollo 11 mission – see bottom image.
[Source: see the three image sources]
René Magritte‘s surrealist Treachery of Images in 1929 uses text to make his point,
The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture “This is a pipe”, I’d have been lying!
[Source: Wikimedia commons}

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: identifont.com

Image source: twitter.com

Image source: thetrams.co.uk

Rockwell is a slab serif typeface designed by the Monotype Corporation, supervised by Monotype’s engineering manager Frank Hinman Pierpont. and released in 1934.

Rockwell is a geometric slab-serif with a monoline construction, with all of its strokes appearing to be roughly the same width and its capital O roughly circular (top image). This gives it a similar impression to common sans-serif designs of the period like Akzidenz Grotesk, Franklin Gothic, or Futura.

The Guinness World Records used Rockwell in some of its early-1990s editions. Informational signage at Expo 86 made extensive use of the Rockwell typeface (niddle image). Docklands Light Railway used a bold weight of this typeface in the late 1980s and early 1990s (bottom image).
[Source: Wikimedia commons]
Adrian Johann Frutiger was a Swiss typeface designer who influenced the direction of type design in the second half of the 20th century. Frutiger’s most famous designs, Univers (top image), Frutiger and Avenir, are landmark sans-serif families spanning the three main genres of sans-serif typefaces: neogrotesque, humanist and geometric.

The 1898 Akzidenz-Grotesk is cited as the primary model for Univers. Each weight and width, in roman (upright) and oblique (italic), in total 21 variants, was drawn and approved before any matrices were cut. For the Univers font, Frutiger introduced a two-digit code; the first digit (3 through 8) indicates the weight, three being the lightest. The second digit indicates the face-width and either roman or oblique.

Athens airport signage used Univers 57 (Condensed Regular) for its Latin text.

London street signs used Univers Bold Condensed.

[Source: Wikimedia commons]

Image source: identifont.com

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: identifont.com

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: alchetron.com

Rail Alphabet is a typeface designed by Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert for signage on the British Rail network.

First used at Liverpool Street station, it was then adopted by the Design Research Unit (DRU) as part of their comprehensive 1965 rebranding of British Railways. This included a new logo (the double arrow), a shortened name British Rail, and the total adoption of Rail Alphabet for all lettering other than printed matter including station signage, trackside signs, fixed notices, signs inside trains and train liveries.

Rail Alphabet was also used as part of the livery of Sealink ships until that company’s privatisation in the late 1980s.

In 1989 InterCity’s Mark 4 passenger carriages switched to Frutiger for much of their interior signage.
[Source: see image sources]
Time to look at some Typographic artworks. This is Christopher Wool‘s 1980s The Abstraction of Text.

He consciously breaks up the words and phrases on the canvas in a grid-like fashion that makes them harder to read, thus stripping the letters of their meaning in the vocable and forcing the viewer to see them as abstract shapes. In treating these letters and words as abstract shapes Wool does not subject them to conventional spacing or punctuation rules – they are fractured and letters are occasionally left out. Reading them for meaning can often be like putting together a puzzle making the experience like learning to read for the first time all over again.

The quote is taken from Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 film Apocalypse Now.

[Source: guyhepner.com]

Image source: guyhepner.com

Image source: milanote.com

Image source: smithsonianmag.com

In 1982, Susan Kare was welding a life-sized razorback hog sculpture commissioned by an Arkansas museum when she received a phone call from high school friend Andy Hertzfeld. In exchange for an Apple II computer, he solicited her to hand-draw a few icons and font elements to inspire the upcoming Macintosh computer.

However, she had no experience in computer graphics and “didn’t know the first thing about designing a typeface” or pixel art so she drew heavily upon her fine art experience in mosaics, needlepoint, and pointillism.

Kare mocked up several 32×32 pixel representations for software commands and applications. This included an icon of scissors for the ‘cut’ command, a finger for ‘paste’, and a paintbrush for MacPaint.

Compelled to actually join the team for a fixed-length part-time job, she interviewed by bringing a variety of typography books from the Palo Alto public library, alongside her well-prepared notebook. She “aced” the interview and was hired in January 1983. Her business cards read ‘Hi Macintosh Artist’.

The top image shows some of her industry-directing icons.The lower image shows pixel fonts she designed in 1983-4 and launched with the original Mac computer.
[Source: smithsonianmag.com]

Image source: kevingallagher.github.io

Stefan Sagmeister (1962-) is an Austrian graphic designer, and typographer based in New York City. He ran ad campaigns for Levi’s and HBO and in 1993 he founded his company, Sagmeister Inc, to create designs for the music industry.

He has designed album covers for Lou Reed (pictured), The Rolling Stones (Brisges to Babylon), Aerosmith (Nine Lives), Talking Heads (Once in a Lifetime)… From 2011 until 2019 he partnered with Jessica Walsh under the name Sagmeister & Walsh Inc.

The image is Lou Reed’s Set the Twilight Reeling album cover.
[Source: kevingallagher.github.io]
In 2012, filling the Institute of Contemporary Art’s (Los Angeles) entire second-floor galleries and ramp, and activating the in-between spaces of the museum, The Happy Show offered visitors the experience of walking into Stefan Sagmeister‘s mind as he attempts to increase his happiness via mediation, cognitive therapy, and mood-altering pharmaceuticals.
[Source: sagmeister.com]

Image source: sagmeister.com

Image source: wordsarepictures.co.uk
You blow me away was a legibility experiment conducted in collaboration between Craig Ward, artist, and Jason Tozer, photographer. Twenty sheets of glass were screen printed with the text, then captured in various states of destruction using ballbearings and pool balls.

Ward stated: The resulting images, whilst extremely kinetic and exciting, are equally as much a study in pushing the boundaries of legibility, as they are in experimentation with different delays on the flash catching the glass in various stages and degrees of destruction.
[Source: debutart.com]

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