Politics in art and graphic design

Copy-fitting a 1961 quote from John F. Kennedy on the importance of the press. The left side is done with an EF66 nib cut to a small broad edge; the right side is done with a #6 Mitchell nib. Walnut ink. Drawing paper.

I’ve been making progress on my latest variable edition of manuscript books, which includes, in part, quotations from presidents 1-44 on threats to democracy. Writing out these quotations has been a good experience, reminding me that our nation has had some great leaders.

It’s interesting to see what how other artists are addressing our current political problems.

“Gerry” typeface: rendered maps of gerrymandered districts. Ben Doessel and James Lee , typographers.

Hyperallergenic reports on a new typeface, “Gerry”, which renders maps of gerrymandered districts into letters of the alphabet as a commentary on the “eroding of democracy.” The entire article is here.

I would like to have attended the exhibit “Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008-2018” at the Design Museum in London last year … before many of the artists removed their artwork from the exhibit early to protest the the “artwashing” of an arms industry leader: the museum hosted a private event for Leonardo, an Italian defense contractor.

Paul Kennard had donated Union Mask, which featured an image of a gas mask spewing US and UK missiles, to the museum, but demanded that his work be withdrawn from the exhibition. As he put it, “I certainly don’t want my work to be viewed during a jolly by arms dealers at the museum.” Protesters held signs that read, “#NopeToArms and “The revolution will not be patronised.” Clever.

AIGA has devoted an entire category (or is it a tag?), Politics + Design, on their website. My favorite recent article, filed in Design History 101, is one about Corita Kent.

Playing, preparing, or procrastinating? Or all three?

Glair and gouache with brushes and pens on various book papers.
Glair and gouache with brushes and pens on various book papers.

The design is complete and the text copy-fitted for my next variable manuscript book edition. I’m ready to start lettering.

So I’ve spent the past three days trying to decide what paper. I’ve been testing lettering and painting on various book papers, from Somerset Book to Hannemuehle Ingres to Lana Laid, and more.

All that testing has brought up ideas for other books, and reactivated my attention toward the “other” edition I’ve been working on. But first things first: I’ve got a lot of lettering to do on the present design. I’m totally absorbed in this one, but, objectively, these test marks might be more interesting.

I’m loving working in my studio every day. Can you tell?

Starting new work

We calligraphers have so many choices! Size, compression, letter spacing, slant, line spacing, ascender/descender length, color, weight, shape, serif, tool, paper, writing fluid — the list goes on and on. Sometimes I begin by lettering a line in as many ways occur to me within the parameters of the page size. It can be a way in to a new project.

Jump-starting the design process for a new piece. Walnut ink with 1mm Brause nib on a scrap of watercolor paper about 5 in x 7 in. First line of George Marion McClellan’s poem, “A September Night”.

And some more gothicized italic

After just a few days off, the hand seems to slip through my fingers when I lose focus, but I am enjoying gothicized italic. This page was done June 11.

Gothicized italic, Moon Palace sumi ink, 2mm Brause nib on Strathmore Drawing 400 paper – 9 in x 12 in.

Catching up with a few pages of daily lettering

I’ve been negligent here on my blog — has it really been two months? to the day! — but I’ve been working pretty steadily in my studio. Here are a few pages of daily lettering, mostly delving into gothicized italic and uncial letter forms.

May 24 – After mixing color to match a colored background, I just kept going because I was having so much fun.
May 25 – A first approach to uncial, which I had not studied in years. Just trying to remember the feel of uncials: round, short, fruity (okay, that’s some weird kinaesthesia going on).
May 27 – Getting a little more specific by studying a handout received from Sheila Waters c. 1986.
May 30 – The same uncials, but taking it down in size.

Gothicized italic

I’ve been studying gothicized italic, a hand I’ve never mastered. I began by analyzing a handout of a Lincoln quotation that Sheila Waters provided in a long-ago workshop. I determined the x-height and pen-width, lined up a sheet of paper, penciled in the bare bones of the letters, and had at it. As I worked I made notes about surprising discoveries: “the s is wider than I had thought”, “the final stroke of the e continues diagonally and does not go horizontal”, and so on. Then I repeated the exercise without penciling in the skeletal letters. (I won’t sully Sheila’s reputation — or mine — by reproducing my practice sheets here!) Next, I put up another handout from Sheila, a reproduction of a piece of Edward Johnston’s gothicized italic writing. You can see a portion of that handout in the image above. Once again, I analyzed it, ruled up a sheet, and copied the lettering as closely as possible, making notes as before.

Finally, I wrote out this sheet, choosing another text. My goal was to stick to Johnston’s lettering closely yet adhere to some best calligraphy practices and to make it more my own. I didn’t care for the long thin finials on his t and h, and his standard r is so wild and woolly that the next letter must be shorter to compensate. Next time around I will work on letter width and spacing to better match Johnston’s: mine were both two wide. Also, I regretted the use of the alternate r on the 2nd line. It seems to work best next to another oval letter such as a p.

A pair of testimonials

I recently had the pleasure of making two testimonials for a pair of sister schools. As usual, they took much longer than I anticipated. But it was fun.

detail of an illuminated testimonial
detail of an illuminated testimonial
slanted view of part of one of the testimonials
slanted view detail

Bauhaus today

This article about the resurgence of #bauhaus on social media on the AIGA website caught my interest when it was first published on January 8. I’ve kept open in a browser tab ever since, returning to read it several times since. And now I’m posting about it so I can close the tab 🙂 (Housekeeping is such chore.)

The article raises a few separate issues that resonate.

First, what does it mean when a hashtag gains popularity? Do those who post it know what they’re saying? We don’t know because it arrives with little or no context. And #bauhaus in particular! a concept that is all about context and interdisciplinary work, and which sought to weave art and craft into the fabric of everyday life.

And yet. And yet. As the article points out, social media has succeeded beyond every expectation in weaving itself into our everyday activities — without much of the art/craft, one could say. But new ways of communicating, the memes, the construction of meme generators — many of these are so creative and on-point.

As the article points out, both the Bauhaus school and the social media companies have attempted to present a neutral face, letting their students/users take the political stands. It hasn’t worked out well for Bauhaus or Facebook.

Lettering on fly rods

Lettering for Tom Morgan Rodsmiths

One of the interesting aspects of a freelance calligraphy studio is the wide variety of work. Lettering for Tom Morgan Rodsmiths is a great example. I appreciate getting to contribute my expertise to these hand-crafted fly rods.

I use sumi ink on the bamboo rods and gold ink on graphite and composite rods. Laying down the gold ink is sometimes a challenge. Also a challenge: writing on the curved surface of the rods with a pointed metal nib.