Rather than answering that I would like to ask you another question that has got to do with what I would call the new Dutch school of type design and contemporary Dutch type designers, because I feel that they have got a different and perhaps fresher approach to what it means to revive a historical type, compared to many of their contemporary colleagues. What do you think of that whole scene?
I don't know which type designers exactly you're talking about - perhaps people like Peter Matthias Noordzij and Lucas deGroot or the Letterror people.?
I was referring to some of the people connected to Enschéde and DTL like Frank Blokland or Bram de Does and designers like Martin Majoor, Fred Smeijers or even Evert Bloesma.
Some of those people came out of the academy in the Hague which was for many years under the strong influence of the typographic, or perhaps mostly calligraphic, theoretician Gerrit Noordzij (not Majoor or Smeijers, who trained in Arnhem, I believe). He had this kind of theory of a living construction of type on the basis of calligraphic practice, in which he would try to explain the historical development of type in this way, and it seems to me that in some of those type designers you can trace that influence in most of their types - almost all of them. Perhaps because his was a kind of living theory. He was making up, reaffirming and remaking the great classical tradition everyday with his demonstrations - so he wasn't saying Garamond is the best and there's nothing more to be done. There was perhaps a feeling in general there that you could make good new types in a classical tradition to an extent - fresh new types. Perhaps it's a Dutch thing - it's what Jan Van Krimpen did for instance. He was a pure classicist, but he was always against the idea of reviving typefaces. There's the famous story of Monotype asking him to consult on the revival of the Van Dijck typeface and he was never in agreement with it from the start and just made negative noises all the way through the process as far as I am aware. His types are new, but within a purely classical old-face tradition of type, and very beautiful ones too.
It's something that the Dutch type designer Gerard Unger has said to me on occasions, that he has often tried to do revivals, but that he has always ended up doing a new type of his own. Perhaps that's in general a very Dutch view on things. I don't know if that answered your question?
Certainly. Apart from what you have said I think that one of the great contributions of Dutch digital type design - which of course excludes Van Krimpen - is that they seem to have realized something about digital output and the quality of sturdy type characteristic to the Dutch tradition and how it affects legibility.
Yes, I agree with you. It seems that these people were also able and keen to work with digital technology. For instance the Letterror partners Erik Van Blokland and Just Van Rossum were also trained with Noordzij and they know how letters are to be made but at the same time they are also computer programmers - they understand how the machines work and what they can do in terms of digital type. These people are very good craftsmen in both the sense of originating letters and also of executing them in a way that is sensitive to current technology.
Returning to Celeste. I realize that dating back to 1990, it was a long process of designing Celeste, but was wondering if you could somehow outline the process: which were the important stages, did you find the necessity to sketch or make drawings, what sort of proofs did you need in evaluating the type etc.?
I started by just drawing letters in pencil, with a capital height of about 5 centimetres. I drew the lowercase first, because I probably still do find the lowercase letters more interesting.
I remember at the time feeling that once I had done the lowercase I would have to do the capitals which was a bit boring (laughs). Then, actually I didn't use Ikarus for doing Celeste - I scanned my drawings, then imported them as bitmaps into Fontographer and then traced them manually. So, a lot of the work in refining and redesigning the outlines - let's say the lettershapes - was done on the screen of the computer. Once I got some good basic drawings of the type and had scanned them in, I think I only went back to drawing on paper when I came to do the italic, for which I used the roman as a basis to a certain extent - using the possibilities in digital technology for sloping the letters etc. just as a basis for making the italic. But there were certain letters which need to be different, which at that time I couldn't originate on screen: I wasn't able to make the shapes that I wanted by drawing on screen with a mouse, so I had to go back and draw a few letters on paper. But mostly it was done on the computer. Obviously I output proofs of whole character sets and of certain letters which were proving problematic at large sizes - let's say letters of an x-height of about 4 or 5 centimetres on laser printers. As soon as I could I was making text proofs at about 10 point size, evaluating how the type performed in text in that way - and really that's the principle way in which I evaluated the type, making slight adjustments to the form, weight and shape from looking at text proofs - ideally high resolution text proofs. And then you need to go in and interpret how much you need to alter a shape that you are seeing rendered on a screen very large and what difference that is going to make at a small size; then you print it again and it may have worked, or it may not and you'll need to do it again. It's all a process of trial and error.
When you say 10 point - do you actually mean 10 point; that is to say, do you work in real point sizes in the question of proportion for instance?
I obviously proofed it at several common text sizes - say between 9 and 12 point - but I think principally that I had a text file of a proof which was in 10 point, purely because in Quark Xpress or InDesign it is specified in point sizes - that's the only reason I say it.
But you don't measure out the proportion to fit to a certain point size?
No, I didn't. But in a sense that the design was developed and refined by proofing at those text sizes then in a way you could say that it's designed for those sizes - although if a type is well made to work in that kind of situation, then it may well work smaller or bigger.
I have seen Celeste in several thousand point size on the side of a Canadian Airlines jumbo jet, which is nothing I had in mind when I was designing it, but it seemed to work okay.
That must be quite an experience. I wanted to ask a question about that - how does it feel seeing you typeface applied in various situations.
If it's well used it gives you a small buzz, it can be exciting.
(At this point we decided to return to speak about Celeste - Red.)
Obviously, to make text proofs, you need to have given your typeface some basic spacing. Spacing is just as much a part of type design and of equal importance to making shapes of the letters themselves. So, this is done as you go along - and it seems to me that if you need to make text proofs, you can't do it without giving the type some decent, basic spacing. Adjustments of particular forms and shapes as well as weight of stems for instance and differences or improvements in the relative spacing of the letters is something that is done at the same time. If you notice that there is an inconsistency or something that interrupts the rhythm of the typeface which is due to the spacing then you correct it as you go along. I'm talking about designing one font of a typeface at a time. When I originally designed Celeste as a student project all I did was the basic character set of the regular version - then you've only done say a quarter of the work of the average text family, because then you need to go on to at least an italic and probably a bold and the bold italic. Doing the italic, being naturally lazy, I took the easy option and started it by sloping the regular: but I new that I wanted it to be an italic of a relatively regular inclination, although a proper italic with certain stroke formations and different forms of letters from the regular.
like for instance?
Like the lowercase 'a' and 'g'. I remember what took me quite a while to work out was the length, angle and form of the termination of downstroke on, say, the right hand side of the 'n' - the little flicked upstroke which is quite a thin elongated curve in, for instance, conventional modern-face italics like Bodoni, which give them a very vertical emphasis. Initially I started with a right hand serif of the form of the regular inclined upwards, which didn't give me enough of an italic impression; so then I altered it to be a kind of round termination, but deciding on the length, weight and angle of that is quite a basic thing for an italic type, because it gets repeated many times. And that angle of course has to tie in with the angle of the upstroke - the stroke that begins the curves of letters like 'n, m, h and r' - and those two things have to tie up and create either a regular, or perhaps irregular, rhythm. That's something that took me quite a long time to work out, by trying things on screen and proofing. That's another good thing about working in a digital media, that you can quite easily and quickly make variations - you can cut and paste new forms of serif and try things out.
Did you take a peek at any other italics or designs to try and figure out how it works?
Sure. You're always influenced by many things as you're working; I can't consciously remember anything in particular, but I am always looking at other typefaces and borrowing ideas if I like how something works - or on the contrary, rejecting an idea if I don't like how it works. But I remember having - not a particularly original - but my own specific idea of how I wanted Celeste Italic to work: it was not to be too cursive, and not too condensed; it should provide quite a strong angled differentiation from the regular, but not be a very scripty italic like both the conventional modern-face italics are and the old-face italics, which can be very cursive. It was to be a proper italic in structure but mainly differentiate itself by angle, so that it provided a relatively calm interruption to the rhythm of the regular version - a differentiation that wasn't too strident. I had very calming ideas about the structure - I wanted Celeste to work well in long texts and all the parts of it to harmonize well. You could say that having an italic that differentiates itself very strongly could be useful in certain situations, and I would agree with you, but I thought that in other situations it might be good to have an italic which didn't interrupt the rhythm too much, if there was to be a text with an enormous amount of italic - certain kinds of dictionaries, or listings or something - then I thought it might be useful. In fact it seemed to me to work quite well; there's an edition of the Oxford Companion to English Literature which uses Celeste and where it works quite well in this sense, it seems to me, because there's a lot of book titles in every paragraph, every entry.
It is actually a specific quality particular to Celeste.
Yes, I thought this is something that marks it out, a thing that people wouldn't particularly notice. And I have seen Celeste used in certain situations where people haven't liked the fact that the italic is relatively wide in letter width compared to many italics, and they have condensed it - probably gone into Fontographer and simply condensed it - which is fine, they can do what they want. There is also the intention I had about the capital letters in Celeste, which are following conventional wisdom to a certain extent in being not as tall as the ascenders of the lowercase, but also they are hardly any bolder in stroke weight than the lowercase. In older classical types the capitals are often quite a lot heavier. I also wanted the capitals not to stand out too much. It is still my interpretation that the spirit of a typeface is basically in the lowercase letters, and I don't want to emphasize the capitals too much - they shouldn't stand out too much.
If I remember well, I think you touched on that in the book you wrote about Paul RennerŠ
Well its a bigger problem in German, which has so many capitals. Perhaps it's because I knew something about German, that I realized it can be a problem with certain typefaces.
Well a few questions in conclusion. Maybe you could elaborate on the difference between Celeste and the new text type that you are currently working on?
I am just finishing a new typeface which is called Parable which will be released by Fontshop International in April 2002. It's quite different to Celeste. I think I discovered the original drawings for it the other day that I made about eight years ago - and it's gone through several versions since then and changed quite significantly since the original drawings. My intention is to optimize it for texts that require very small sizes of type, which is an interest I have developed from making the Celeste Small Text version. This new type is optimized for texts which require very small sizes, let's say newspapers, dictionaries, bibles - things like that - and I've tried to make it very robust and legible for those small sizes and consequently it is quite bold in its regular version; it doesn't have an awful lot of stroke contrast, and has relatively short ascenders and descenders. But in terms of style of letter, it is basically an old-face type, so it is quite different from Celeste in the structure of the letters and it has an italic which is more cursive.
Tilt of the bowl.
Yes. In some of its earlier versions it had quite a gothic feeling to it in some broken curves. But it has gone away from that to a certain extent. It is a useful text type I hope, but it can be used at larger sizes as well - it is not similar to Celeste at all.
A final question. I had the fortune to have had a very rudimentary introduction to composition in lead type in the Graphic Museum of Denmark where I studied for 6 months. In the old printing workshops, say of medium size, I suppose they would have a stock of some six or perhaps ten complete founts of type in various sizes - I mean they wouldn't have that great a selection - so my question is how do you see the role and function of the type designer with so many types already in existence?
I don't know. It is easy to be pessimistic - and I don't delude myself that what I do is very important. I think there might be commissions for typefaces for very specific purposes which are still needed and very necessary today - for certain new media, perhaps. Basically website designers end up using 2 or 3 typefaces from the Microsoft repertoire which are very well hinted for screen use. Hinting is a whole other area which crosses over with design these days in terms of type for screen - it is just an area in which I don't have much expertise in and I prefer to work for print media. You could say that we have all the typefaces we could possibly need for print, but it is something that I like doing, designing type, and I try to give a new typeface a kind of functional intention and that is that case with my new typeface, Parable. It was a kind of general text type, and I got bored with it at one point and I left it for about two years without doing anything. And when I took it out of the drawer again and looked at the proofs I thought: 'What would be the justification for me finishing this type; it is going to be a lot of work and do I really believe in it, and what would make it relevant?' It has a few original stylistic ideas, which is perhaps enough - I think one good or original or slightly different idea, just one, and it may be a small idea, is enough to justify a typeface - but I decided to make it optically compensated for really small sizes which kind of gave me a theme with which to work, a vehicle with which to carry the type along and to give it an identity. It seemed to me that instead of just making another general text type that had a certain stylistic quality, why not give this one a very strong functional identity. People could use it for whatever they want to but it would also work very well for a specific purpose. And given that I am interested in complex typography myself ... well I guess that my typeface designs are partly driven by my own interests as a typographer. I can see a way of using my new typeface Parable, for instance in designing books with a lot of complicated text, which I would be interested in designing - dictionaries or listings or even bibles - I am not a religious man but it 's an interesting typographic task to do that kind of thing.
The question strikes me as being interesting because I have followed for instance the releases of FontFont and other digital type distributors - and a recent release FF Atma have got about 56 variants in 4 weights! Do the demands of visual communication today really require such an extensive typographic palette - or is more of an excuse to create a kind of typographic playground for people who enjoy that sort of activity?
I think that people who have a mastery of digital technique of type design are able to that kind of thing quite easily - to make tens or even hundreds of variations of a typeface. Personally as a typographer I probably would never even use all of the versions. It might be useful at a certain point which I cannot foresee, to have lots of intermediate weights and different versions of a typeface but I find it comforting to have a solid basic repertoire of say 6 to 10 variants of a typeface because - I don't know - I am not sure that the reader will be able to assimilate that many distinctions in terms of typographic differentiation that the typographic designer makes. There is a kind of reaction against that kind of thing and I have had conversations with some type designers and students of type design who say: 'What I want to do is to make basically useful and small families of typefaces. I don't see any reason for this massive proliferation of weights'. It can be confusing, I think, to typographers. I wouldn't want to stop anybody doing it - it's fine with me, but I've never seen the great use in it myself.
I don't have any strong ideological point to make about that - it's just something I wouldn't do myself, because it would take up too much of my time (laughs). Are we done?
On behalf of TypoRed and myself, thank you very much for joining us here at this peaceful corner of Gràcia [Barcelona].
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