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2018-01-18T17:57:02.061Z
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Sandro Botticelli was born in Florence about 1445. In 1470, aged just 25, and shortly after printing was introduced to Italy, his prodigious talent led him to open his own studio. He flourished under the patronage of the Medici family and was invited by Pope Sixtus IV to paint frescoes in the recently restored Sistine Chapel of the Apostolic Palace, almost three decades before Michelangelo wielded his brush and brilliance to the chapel’s ceiling.

Prior to leaving for Rome in the summer of 1481, Botticelli produced drawings for an illustrated edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy. The drawings were to serve as models for Baccio Baldini’s twenty copper engravings. The book went to print before the illustrations were completed. Most surviving copies exist with just several of the engravings, some printed alongside the text, or inexpertly in the margins, while others have been pasted in at a later date. Although most commentators suggest that the edition, printed in Florence by Nicolaus Laurentii in 1481, was a failure, more than 130 copies have survived, suggesting that the print-run and subsequent sales were nonetheless pretty good. However, as a piece of book design, as an effort to...

Just to be clear from the start: I don’t speak Hebrew. When I first started working with Hebrew type, I couldn’t tell one letter from another, or even whether the page was right-side-up or upside-down. In short, I was completely unqualified to work with the Hebrew alphabet.

As odd as it may seem, though, there were some advantages to my lack of knowledge. Without any preconceptions, I was open to all possible design options, and I was prepared to undertake serious research. Most importantly, I understood that the project would be a long-term commitment, and I was prepared to give it as much time as it needed.

Even so, the question remains whether an outsider can make a useful or inspiring contribution to a script that he is not familiar with. I am a firm believer that it is possible, and in fact many great advances in type design and typography have been made by people who were outsiders or even illiterate, since the skills required to speak a language are quite different from the skills required to work with its visual aspect. Of course, an outsider has to work harder to learn a script’s history, traditions and conventions, mapping out its expressive potential. I knew that in the process of exploring Hebrew type I would make silly mistakes that would never even occur to a native designer, that coming to understand the historical models, references and writing tools would be a long journey, but having already designed Cyrillic,...

Since before agricultural civilization, humans have used plants for their special properties – to nourish and heal, to harm and to poison. The earliest written compilations of plants can be traced back to the second millennium BC, with early traditions in Egypt, Mesopotamia, China and India. In Greco-Roman antiquity, the Athenian, Theophrastus (c. 371 – c. 287 BC), a contemporary of Aristotle and Plato, is often considered the father of botany; his Historia Plantarum (‘Enquiry into Plants’) proving influential right through to the Italian Renaissance. Books dedicated to describing herbs and plants and their properties and uses are known as herbals. Such books proved popular with doctors and apothecaries throughout the entire Middle Ages.

The very first printed herbal is De viribus herbarum carmen (‘On the Powers of Herbs’) printed by Arnaldus de Bruxella in Naples in 1477. Arnaldus is rather unusual in that he printed all of his books in one of two roman fonts. His second roman, used in this Latin herbal is rather distinctive and, in my opinion, thoroughly charming, despite the overall too-tight letter-spacing and inconsistencies in the height of capitals. Likewise, Conrad von Megenberg’s Buch der Natur, printed in Augsburg by Johann Bämler and dated October 30, 1475, is for the most part, unillustrated (with the exception of a full-page woodcut of various plants on folio...

Notes on Designing and Producing the Typeface Wind

Hansje van Halem is a graphic designer who works with type. She blurs the boundaries between type and image, between foreground and background, often creating seductive patterns that only reveal their texts only when viewed from the distance, making the reader work hard to decode their message. I’ve been following her work for a long time, and about a year ago I went to a lecture in Amsterdam where she presented her latest projects.

After the lecture I asked Hansje if she’d ever consider publishing some of her type work as retail fonts. She replied that she finds the typefaces that she makes to be very personal tools, that she wouldn’t be able to give them to others since they are what makes the work hers. I didn’t want to push too hard, but I suggested that we could take some of the principles of her work and make creative tools for both her and the general public to use.

The timing was right. Hansje had just worked with type designer and programmer Just van Rossum, who had ‘industrialised’ her work for the identity of Lowlands, the Netherlands’ largest music festival, turning it into scripts that generate posters and animations. This streamlined what would have otherwise been the extremely tedious process of applying such...

Sandro Botticelli was born in Florence about 1445. In 1470, aged just 25, and shortly after printing was introduced to Italy, his prodigious talent led him to open his own studio. He flourished under the patronage of the Medici family and was invited by Pope Sixtus IV to paint frescoes in the recently restored Sistine Chapel of the Apostolic Palace, almost three decades before Michelangelo wielded his brush and brilliance to the chapel’s ceiling.

Prior to leaving for Rome in the summer of 1481, Botticelli produced drawings for an illustrated edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy. The drawings were to serve as models for Baccio Baldini’s twenty copper engravings. The book went to print before the illustrations were completed. Most surviving copies exist with just several of the engravings, some printed alongside the text, or inexpertly in the margins, while others have been pasted in at a later date. Although most commentators suggest that the edition, printed in Florence by Nicolaus Laurentii in 1481, was a failure, more than 130 copies have survived, suggesting that the print-run and subsequent sales were nonetheless pretty good. However, as a piece of book design, as an effort to combine engravings...

Just to be clear from the start: I don’t speak Hebrew. When I first started working with Hebrew type, I couldn’t tell one letter from another, or even whether the page was right-side-up or upside-down. In short, I was completely unqualified to work with the Hebrew alphabet.

As odd as it may seem, though, there were some advantages to my lack of knowledge. Without any preconceptions, I was open to all possible design options, and I was prepared to undertake serious research. Most importantly, I understood that the project would be a long-term commitment, and I was prepared to give it as much time as it needed.

Even so, the question remains whether an outsider can make a useful or inspiring contribution to a script that he is not familiar with. I am a firm believer that it is possible, and in fact many great advances in type design and typography have been made by people who were outsiders or even illiterate, since the skills required to speak a language are quite different from the skills required to work with its visual aspect. Of course, an outsider has to work harder to learn a script’s history, traditions and conventions, mapping out its expressive potential. I knew that in the process of exploring Hebrew type I would make silly mistakes that would never even occur to a native designer, that coming to understand the historical models, references and writing tools would be a long journey, but having already designed Cyrillic,...

Since before agricultural civilization, humans have used plants for their special properties – to nourish and heal, to harm and to poison. The earliest written compilations of plants can be traced back to the second millennium BC, with early traditions in Egypt, Mesopotamia, China and India. In Greco-Roman antiquity, the Athenian, Theophrastus (c. 371 – c. 287 BC), a contemporary of Aristotle and Plato, is often considered the father of botany; his Historia Plantarum (‘Enquiry into Plants’) proving influential right through to the Italian Renaissance. Books dedicated to describing herbs and plants and their properties and uses are known as herbals. Such books proved popular with doctors and apothecaries throughout the entire Middle Ages.

The very first printed herbal is De viribus herbarum carmen (‘On the Powers of Herbs’) printed by Arnaldus de Bruxella in Naples in 1477. Arnaldus is rather unusual in that he printed all of his books in one of two roman fonts. His second roman, used in this Latin herbal is rather distinctive and, in my opinion, thoroughly charming, despite the overall too-tight letter-spacing and inconsistencies in the height of capitals. Likewise, Conrad von Megenberg’s Buch der Natur, printed in Augsburg by Johann Bämler and dated October 30, 1475, is for the most part, unillustrated (with the exception of a full-page woodcut of various plants on folio 224v). Moreover,...

I started the Endangered Alphabets Project in 2010 when I discovered that about a third of the world’s 120-plus writing systems may become extinct within the next one or two generations.

As you probably know, every culture has its own spoken language, and in many cases its own written language, too — a writing system it has developed to express and record its own beliefs, its own experiences, its understanding of the world. What the members of that culture have collectively written in that script is the record of their cultural identity: spiritual texts, historical documents, poems, deeds, letters between family members.

Especially for indigenous and minority cultures, though, there is tremendous pressure — institutional pressure, governmental pressure, economic pressure, even military pressure — to abandon their traditional writing systems and use some more “convenient” or “global” script. If they give in to that pressure, everything written in their own script becomes incomprehensible and lost to the very culture that created and wrote in it.

The United Nations’ Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People says: “Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.”

In fact, not only are such rights rarely protected by law, but the world’s governments themselves are the most likely candidates to infringe on or refuse such rights.

Denying members of a minority culture the right to...

Informal is not an adjective that readily comes to mind in describing anything in the type catalogue of New York foundry, Hoefler & Co. From the highly formal sparkle of Renaissance inspired text romans like Requiem through its humanist sans, Ideal Sans, to the precision and aplomb of the shaded and layered Obsidian, all walk the page with a decidedly formal poise. Perhaps the closest they have come to informality is in the beautiful cursive letterforms in the italic styles of the recently released ‘non-typewriter typewriter face’, Operator – but again, informal those letters are not.

Inkwell, then, is unusual in two respects: first, that it marks H&Co’s first foray into informal fonts (and scripts!); and second, that it is a family that extends across genres from a constructed, yet assuredly handwritten inline script through informal Blackletter and Tuscan styles. Uniting these otherwise disparate family members are, not the calligrapher’s quills and nibs but the everyday writing tools that we all reach for to take and make notes.

Each core style in this ‘little universe of fonts’ comes in six weights. I particularly like the Tuscan. Why bifurcate the terminals when you can simply bifurcate everything – even the symbols and punctuation! Wonderful.

If informal fonts were candy, then comic sans is the jaw-aching, tongue-staining gobstopper – Inkwell, the Fair Trade, organic, very dark chocolate. Too, Inkwell demonstrates that informal need not mean disheveled and insolent....