& The Heads will contain my first (somewhat) legitimate foray into type design. As you may have deduced from earlier “digital sketches” that were posted here (here & here), the design of the book is tied to the idea of RGB color, in particular to the RGB phosphors that allow our precious & pernicious & delicate screens to show color.

Fig. 05.12.01
First sketches. The grid was set up on the computer and printed out so that I could work by hand. 12 pt. en quads, a 1:2 grid.

So, a grid, then, in red, green & blue. And type for the titles composed of, built out of, that grid. Letterpress printed from spacing material, flat rectangles of lead, ordinarily the physical component that makes a blank space on the printed page, now arranged in a pixel grid, raised up, inked and printed. The trace of the non-space, the brilliant color of the mutable absence.

Fig. 05.12.02
Working with variations on the letterforms.

The design of a modular typeface is a pretty basic typography exercise. But since I don’t know much about type design it seemed like a good place to start. (Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton and Lettering & Type by Bruce Willen and Nolen Strals, have been my guides.) & it has certainly been instructive. Even within a rigid system there are many variations of a letterform that can be created (see Fig. 05.12.02).

Fig. 05.12.03
The top alphabet contains some lowercase forms. The bottom is closer to the final designs, with each letter being made up of an odd number of “pixels”—1, 3 or 5. Except for the ampersand, formed from an “E” and “t,” and four “pixels” wide.

The titles for the poems are in all caps, so the designs are only for those letters (& the ampersand), done at actual size. These initial drawings were done by hand. I think that when they’re actually printed, they will rest somewhere between the unevenness of the drawn versions and the cleanliness of the digital renderings (see Fig. 05.12.08).

Fig. 05.12.04
Drawings for the potential “decorative” letters for the title pages. Some tests of kerning the letters, and variations of the “Y” in context.

I liked some of the earlier versions with a “modulated” stroke, but after conducting a few tests with the actual titles I determined that the best option would be a “condensed” typeface. And then it was a matter of refining the system and looking for workable, related shapes for the letters. I experimented with lowercase forms for some of the more problematic letters (B, D, R, K), but eventually settled on only using the lowercase form for the “N,” while the “Q” is both capital and lowercase (see Fig. 05.12.03).

Fig. 05.12.05
The final alphabet at the top, and renderings of the actual titles.

But there is always the title page(s) and cover as well. So maybe there will be a more decorative version (see Fig. 05.12.04). Bigger though.

Fig. 05.12.06
More renderings of the actual titles. Playing with word spacing and the “TT” and “TTT” ligatures.

Putting the letters into use in the actual configurations of the titles yielded new problems. The form of the “Y” was determined by how it looked in a specific title (YSYSYS, see Fig. 05.12.04), as that title was the most heavily patterned. Problems of spacing also became apparent, particularly with the “T,” so I decided to use ligatures when there was more than one “T” in a row (see Fig. 05.12.06).

Fig. 05.12.07
More titles. Some redrawn with the ligatures. The letterspacing is still not perfect on the grid, but the ligatures work better.

These letters, honestly, are the put of the book that I am most unsure about at this point. Partly the design of the letters themselves, partly the technical aspects of actually printing them, and partly how they will drive the overall design and feel and experience of the book. Too much? Too weird? Too bright? Too big?

Fig. 05.12.08
The clean, digital alphabet with some title tests. The printed versions will not be this clear and consistent.

But these are the risks that come along with a challenge.

No comments: