I have a face for radio

Paper Cuts

Like this site, Pink Mince is another side project that’s been going for so long that its own history is part of why I can’t bring myself to call it quits. I may publish sporadically, but I’m really proud of the eleven issues (not to mention the Minis, the merch, and the far-more-active Tumblr moodboard) I’ve produced across the last 6 years or so.

Despite the body of work, it’s rare for a zine get much of a reach, so I don’t often get to talk much about what the overall project has been about over the years. Happily, book artist Christopher Kardambikis invited me for an interview on Paper Cuts, an online radio show he hosts, where he talks to zine makers and other DIY publishers about the things they do. It was great to ramble on for a bit, and finally explain what I mean when I say that Pink Mince isn’t just a gay zine, but is also a showcase for contemporary typeface design and vintage lettering that features pictures of dudes.

Sparky in Vienna

(That’s me sneaking a discussion of Pink Mince into a talk on Letraset I was giving in Vienna.)

A Brief History of Typography 1928 – 1980

Note: for the sake of posterity, and because I’ve been blogging long enough to know that online stories tend to go missing after a while, I’ve started trying to repost articles in which I’m included. This lovely post by Ellen Shapiro, who came to see us at Pencil to Pixel, originally appeared on Print magazine’s site.

At Monotype’s “Pencil to Pixel” pop-up exhibition in New York City last month, 3,400 students and professions learned about the history of typography. Artifacts demonstrated how metal type was historically designed, made, specified by designers, and set by typesetting companies — and translated into today’s font menus for individual users.

“The lesson from an exhibition like this is that the design of a typeface can outlast the moment that produces it, and that a good design can evolve to meet the needs of technology without losing its essential spirit,” said Dan Rhatigan, Monotype’s UK type director. “Lots of younger designers who came through seemed really eager to see the background of the typefaces they already know, and the exhibit helped them appreciate why we’re still trying to improve the technology behind those designs,” he added.

Here are close-ups of some of the artifacts that were on display as well as some typography history:

1928 — Eric Gill’s pencil and ink drawings for Gill Sans, the fifth best-selling typeface of the twentieth century. Gill (1882-1940), a British sculptor, stonecarver, printmaker and typeface designer, designed Gill Sans in 1926-1928 for Monotype at the request of Stanley Morison, who was interested in a contemporary sans serif face with British character. Classified a “humanist” sans-serif face intended to be legible in both display and text, its proportions were based on Roman letterforms rather than being constructed geometrically. Famed uses of Gill Sans include programs for British Rail, the London Underground, Penguin Books, Saab Automobile, and the BBC. Note the use of white gouache paint to touch up the letterforms.

1937—Copper patterns for Eric Gill’s Joanna. Copper pattern plates were utilized in the manufacturing stage between the drawings and the metal type itself. A transitional serif typeface named for one of Gill’s daughters, Joanna was designed in 1930 and originally intended as a proprietary face for his printing business, Hague and Gill, opened in Buckhamshire, outside London, with son-in-law René Hague. It was adapted by Monotype in 1937 and made publicly available in 1958. Gill set the text of An Essay on Typography, his classic book on letterforms, typesetting and page design, in Joanna. In the book, he demonstrated and championed the first use of “rag right” rather than justified columns to create even letter- and word spacing.

1939—“Big Red,” a comprehensive specimen book of Linotype faces. Published by Mergenthaler Linotype Company, this classic reference tool measures 7.75″ x 10.75″ and contains 1,215 pages of type specimens for hand-set headlines and text set on linotype machines, including model ads and announcements with lavish use of dingbats, ornaments and borders.

1932—Littleworth. These rare, original letter drawings are in the Monotype archive for Littleworth, a hot-metal typeface no longer available,

1971—Classic linotype faces were remastered for photo-typesetting. These brochures announced Monotype newly released versions of Helvetica and Univers for use on the first photo-typesetting machines.

1980—The ITC Typeface Collection, a specimen book of the library of the International Typeface Corporation. This 574-page, 12 x 12” square book is a compendium of the individual “26 Good Reasons to Use” booklets originally designed by Herb Lubalin and released by ITC throughout the 1970s. It was published to interest manufacturers of typographic equipment and materials in licensing the ITC typeface library, which included American Typewriter, Avant Garde Gothic, ITC Benguiat, ITC Bookman, ITC Century, ITC Franklin Gothic, ITC Garamond, Korinna, Lubalin Graph, Serif Gothic, Souvenir, and Zapf Dingbats. In addition to Herb Lubalin, type designers included Ed Benguiat, Tom Carnase, Tony DiSpigna, Aldo Novarese and Herman Zapf.

The book concludes with a copyfitting chart, essential to all designers, part of whose job was to mathematically convert typewritten manuscripts into set type by calculating the size and leading to fit on the page.

In 1980, ITC subscribers included Cello-Tak, Chartpak, Letraset and Zipatone, manufacturers of rub-down lettering, in addition to Alphatype, Berthold, Compugraphic, Monotype, and other purveyors of photo-typesetting equipment. Agfa Monotype acquired ITC in 2000.

2013—the typographic body art of Dan Rhatigan, Monotype’s UK-based type director. This was the “display” in the exhibit I was most curious about (even though he was standing next to a display of covers and spreads of U&lc, a few of which I’d had a hand in).

“My tattoos are always a point of interest with type crowds,” said Rhatigan, who said he got his first tattoo, the swashy ‘R’ of an ersatz family crest he designed, in 1998. “After staring at that ‘R’ for months, I realized that my love of type is timeless. So I started adding shapes I loved from different typefaces, working with different tattoo artists who appreciate the idea enough to carefully reproduce the artwork I supply.”

Rhatigan’s friend Indra Kupferschmid put together a custom MyFonts list of most of the typefaces that are tattooed on him. There are a few others, too, he added (some of which apparently can’t be shown in polite company), including letters from Delittle Wood Type foundry; from H&FJ’s Champion Gothic; and from Sodachrome, designed by Rhatigan and Ian Moore for House Industry’s Photo-Lettering collection.

Pencilled, Pixelated

Since I started working full-time at Monotype, and especially since I took over as UK Type Director last Spring, work has consumed a larger and larger part of my life. This would be bad if I didn’t love this job more than any other I’ve ever had, and if I didn’t feel like I was contributing to what happens at Monotype. My attempts to keep up with this site, always a tricky endeavor at the best of times, may have fallen slack, but I’ve hardly been slacking off elsewhere.

Monotype. One of a kind. (Photo by http://twitter.com/desypha)

The last two weeks have been the culmination of a frantic couple of months of preparation for a giant exhibition of work from Monotype’s past and its present, and hopefully a look at its future. Pencil to Pixel, masterminded by my extraordinarily talented colleague James Fooks-Bale, designed by SEA, partially curated (and with guided tours) by me, and pulled off thanks to the efforts of many more, was huge success by all measures, and hopefully one of many more endeavors to come.

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Portraits of an aging blogger

Sparky by Male® 1

On the whole, I am not a confident man, especially about my looks or my body. This is slowly getting worse as I get older, and I move further away from an optimum version of my self-image that I never quite achieved, and is now beyond my reach for good. The background of that is typical, tedious, and not worth getting into, but the overall effect is that I generally hate seeing pictures of myself, as they tend to reinforce what I already think. I’m still curious to see them, though, because from time to time they turn out alright, and I get a glimpse of a version of myself that I don’t loathe quite so much. Once in a while, a bit of external perspective makes me think there may be some promise left after all.

Sparky by Male® 3

Last month, I had a chance to meet up with a photographer/artist/restaurateur named Martin, or Male®, as he goes by on the internet, while he was in London. Martin had contributed some great photos to Pink Mince a while back. We’d never met in person before, and he wanted to photograph my tattoos. We got on well enough, so strolled around a bit one afternoon and caught a show at the Barbican the next day, during which he’d occasionally stop me for a few portraits. (If you know me well enough, you can identify the expression I make when I’m self-conscious but trying to look calm, cool, and collected regardless.)

Sparky by Male® 4

It’s been startling to see the results as they’ve trickled onto his blog since then. While I still cringe a little at the site of myself, I don’t actually dislike the composite portrait that is built up throughout the set. A little older, scrawnier, greyer than I’d care to see, but there’s character there, and I tend to forget about that. It helps that Martin’s skilled with a camera, and has chosen moments well. But that considered view from someone else who is seeing me with fewer preconceptions is refreshing. Maybe I’m not such a wreck after all?

Sparky by Male® 6

Ask me again when I’m tired or particularly frustrated and I may change my thoughts altogether, but at the moment I’ll cling to a bit of good vibes. I spend so much time in my own head, where the outlook is often rather bleak, that it’s a pleasant change of pace to look in from the outside. Thanks for the brief taste of self-esteem, Martin!

Continue reading “Portraits of an aging blogger”

Hello, Dolly

Hello, Dolly

Now that it’s healed, it’s a little easier to show off the latest addition to my collection of typographic tattoos. This little beauty is from the italic face of Dolly, available from Underware. I had mentioned to one of the Underware guys a few years ago that I’d wanted to add something of theirs to the collection, and after using Dolly for ages the time finally seemed right when I was back in New York a few weeks ago.

Avant Garde

Avant Garde

I spent the day working on a custom version of this typeface, thinking that it’s one of those designs that only seems to deserve its fame when it’s used just right, but the rest of the time feels a bit off. I don’t love it, but I have a deep affection for it. Avant Garde was, after all, the typeface that turned me into a typographer.

Kroy 80 Supplies and Specimens-coverKroy 80 Supplies and Specimens-11.jpg

When I was a pimply 14-year-old freshman in high school who still just wanted to draw comics for a living, I joined the staff of the school newspaper hoping to contribute a bit of art now and then. One of the first things I was taught was the use of the Kroy machine, which set type on transparent strips of adhesive tape for the headlines in the paper. Among the font discs we had on hand was Avant Garde Demi, and it included a number of the alternate glyphs that actually make this design interesting. Playing with that font and that machine was the first time I thought about the visual possibilities of a certain style of letter, and how you could create something by manipulating how you arranged letters. It wasn’t an immediate conversation, but something clicked, connected to my fascination with comic book titles and sound effect balloons, and — obviously — eventually led to a lifelong fixation.

Avant Garde Sparky

[Letraset photo via alexvmsf]