The first assignment: Caslon

parker's picture

Caslon is the first assignment in lettering — why?

hrant's picture

Lack of imagination?
Fear of change?

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

Tina, another assignment -- your Typophile icon.

parker's picture

Hrant, so what is a good change? imagination?

Nick, what about the Typophile icon? another assignment — how many? you gave one (the S with T, E, &,s.......)

Nick Shinn's picture

I thought you were already working on the S :-)

hrant's picture

Tina, some people like to celebrate, others are never satisfied. The former make the current generation happier, the latter make future generations happier.

hhp

William Berkson's picture

Tina, I don't know if you are at the Art Center College of Design,
but Doyald Young, who taught about letter forms and logos there for
many years tells the story in his Fonts and Logos that his
first lesson in drawing letters was Caslon. At the time he started, I
would guess Caslon was probably the most used typeface in books. I
believe he continued the practice. So you are receiving a tradition.

Historically, probably Garamond should be the one, as it really seems
to be the architype of printed letters following it.

Caslon has through the centuries been probably the most widely used
typeface for the English language, but also controversial. Some say
it is a collection of mistakes, and others that it has a great
harmony and readability as a whole. Perhaps the controversies over it
make it still a good place to start.

andi emery's picture

I was thoroughly interested in this question, Tina, so I did a little bit of digging through my type books. I wanted to know more about the reason too! I came up with much the same information that William posted — and a little bit more. I thought I would share this with you, in case you were interested, too.:

"Despite the many hundreds of text faces designed since 1460, the original old style faces (Garamond, Plantin, Janson, Caslon, etc.) are still considered to be among the most readable ever designed and therefore, are commonly used in publications where an abundance of continuous text is necessary. The essential humanistic qualities of this type style (a sense of rhythm, strong horizontal stress, with a flowing, easy interaction between characters) are commonly strived for in contemporary typeface design even, occasionally, in sans serif."
— taken from David Jury's About Face: Reviving the rules of typography

D.B. Updike explains the popularity of Caslon's type thus: "While Caslon modelled his letters on Dutch types, they were much better; for he introduced into his fonts a quality of interest, a variety of design, and a delicacy of modelling, which few Dutch types possessed. Dutch fonts were monotonous, but Caslon's fonts were not so. His letters, when analyzed, especially in the smaller sizes, are not perfect, individually; but in mass their effect is agreeable". Caslon does not have the elegance of Garamond's letters but their 'defects' are recognized as being typically Anglo-Saxon and as such have come to represent perfectly the sturdy English tradition in typography.

Thanks!

hoefler's picture

It's worth mentioning that Updike was famous for hating the Dutch. At one point in Printing Types, he goes so far as to criticize a "stingy little Dutch type," one which later in the book is correctly identified as the work of Frenchman Robert Granjon, where it is summarily praised. Updike's books are very useful, but I wouldn't look to them for objectivity.

Tina, what does your Caslon assignment consist of?

Nick Shinn's picture

Oz Cooper's comment on Caslon was along the lines of "If Caslon had 'improved' his types as much as others have subsequently, it's doubtful it would still be around to be improved upon."

Cooper didn't like types that are ruthlessly methodical and clean. Not a big Bodoni fan.

So, from your point of view, it would probably be more straightforward to render a Didone, but perhaps the idea is that there's more to learn from something that's not so predictable. Also, it has a trace of the angled pen, which is interesting.

If you're lettering it by hand, it's probably quite forgiving, so not a bad place to start.

hrant's picture

> Updike was famous for hating the Dutch.

Yes, he really was unfair. And he had too much praise for Spanish type. On the other hand, anybody who's been to Spain might excuse that. :-)

In the case of Caslon, frankly I think that to some degree at least sloppiness has been mistaken for creative flair. A certain "warmth" in the forms is great (everybody knows I'm not exactly the biggest fan of Bodoni...) but there's a difference between that and just not caring for consistency, which can only harm the unity of the design. Which is not to say that such consistency should preclude good craft - and to me the high point of Caslon is in fact the tricks he pulls in the Italic UC "Q":

http://www.themicrofoundry.com/other/caslon_q.gif

Not only is it non-linear, there's even topological variance, all brilliantly done. But of course this type of thing is too sophisticated to teach in a first course! :-/

hhp

Miss Tiffany's picture

Perhaps what is being drawn isn't near as important as the fact that it is being drawn. In other words, the act of pencil to paper and studying letterforms and learning how the white interacts with the black or how the stem interacts with the bowl. Choosing Caslon could be safe and boring, but I think the point is too learn how to draw letters.

hrant's picture

But Tina is asking: why Caslon?

Really, can it anything more than legacy-clinging? Especially since Caslon's irregularity can only confuse a learner. Something like Walbaum would be much better, no? And why not work with a digital font? Like Kepler. Certainly its multiple axes can make for much more attuned exercises.

hhp

paul d hunt's picture

From Lettering For Advertising by Mortimer Leach:

"A study of many subsequent type faces will show that Caslon has had a considerable influence upon their design. Once a student has learned to draw Caslon letters, he will find it easier to analyze the construction of contemporary alphabets based on the 'Humanistic' forms. I consider Caslon to be the grandfather of many of these alphabets."

Nick Shinn's picture

Paul, that's an awesome book.

***

The idea seems to be emerging that the Caslon face occupies a central place in typography, ie you can go forward or back in time from it, more or less humanistic, rougher or cleaner.

It was, so they say, the one old-style face that survived being melted down in the 19th century. Popular as a display face in the 1980s (pre digital).

parker's picture

Thank you guys. William, no (I read about Caslon long ago — one of the books by Ruari McLean.)
Jonathan, I need to work with 3 kinds of space: words, lines, and letters; 72 pt Caslon, 6 points leading between 4 centered lines — Art, as far as it is able / follows nature / as a student imitates / his master...

"I thought you were already working on the S :-)"

Nick, ah yes. and even more:

I print a font (60-72 pt) with low resolution; then scan the font; from that point — I'm not trying to stay close to the original (e.g. the same cap height, strokes etc), but to build a "new font"; and to compare the location of the drawing points. maybe I'm not so original, but I think this is a good exercise.

Miss Tiffany's picture

But Tina is asking: why Caslon?

Yes, but I was simply pointing out that it doesn't need to be a "modern" typeface.

hrant's picture

> It was, so they say, the one old-style face that
> survived being melted down in the 19th century.

http://www.themicrofoundry.com/other/trends.gif

hhp

dan_reynolds's picture

Hrant, do you have a source for that graphic?

__
www.typeoff.de

hrant's picture

Yes, it's from Frank Denman's "The shaping of our alphabet; a study of changing type styles", 1955. It's a great book, with a prescient conclusive section.

hhp

William Berkson's picture

I wonder if the graphic is accurate. Caslon was revived in 1844, and I thought has been used ever since, first in the UK, and then toward the latter part of the century in the US. But I don't know the extent of the usage.

hrant's picture

No, the face's popularity become so low that there even came a time when the Caslon foundry itself stopped advertising the fact that they had their foundational design for sale. I'm just waiting for the slump to hit Helvetica and Times. :-)

hhp

andi emery's picture

Isn't Garamond older than Caslon? Shouldn't Garamond be the grandfather of the Old Styles? Why wouldn't Garamond be considered the first assignment?

parker's picture

Andrea, I see that one of your titles is Typography Professor; do you talk with your students "why Caslon" and not......any other typeface?

andi emery's picture

No, actually, I don't. I don't give out that assignment, in fact. I teach students the history of the alphabet, the history of type, where it comes from; and I try to map the path of how we got to where we are today. I have very little time to cover so very much history and I think this is very important to students. I mean, you can't know where you are going if you don't know where you've been. It's also hard to pick and choose what to teach - there are so many great things to study! One of the reasons why I enjoy coming here so often is to find out the answers to a lot of questions, get resources that people recommend, hear opinions and facts from people who know more than I do, participate as best I can and, ultimately, learn. I've learned a great deal from the people here - and I love it.

hoefler's picture

William's post above is an important one -- the midcentury revival of Caslon's types by Pickering (and others) had a profound influence upon book typography, and set the stage for the revivals of the next century. I don't know that we'd have seen William Morris' humanist revivals, let alone the work of Morison or Benton or Griffith, had it not been for the renewed interested in Caslon.

Caslon was in sufficient use for the next hundred years that the "Caslon" name underwent the usual dilution in the marketplace. Every American foundry that had a Caslon type that bore some resemblence to the types of William Caslon had a greater number of "Caslon" types that didn't -- "Caslon Antique" and "Caslon Open" are two that survive today, real canards that have nothing to do with any of the Caslons. The 1923 ATF book is full of antiques (!) and moderns (!!) named "Caslon."

It's possible that anyone picking Caslon for a freshman assignment is doing so because thirty years ago, it was one of the designs most readily accessible in a variety of media (from Presstype to Linotronic output.) If the next generation of typography teachers chooses Times Roman, it might be for similar reasons.

andi emery's picture

I've just answered my own question about Garamond, having explored the Wiki. And thanks for your insights, Jonathan.

parker's picture

ok. if not Caslon — any other font?

________is the first assignment in lettering (— why?)

John Hudson's picture

I love that graphic from the Denman book. Every time I see it, it makes me want to sit down and design a 'Victorian Bizarre' typeface.

Nick Shinn's picture

Edward Tufte might have something to say about that graphic.

The only statistical measurement of typeface usage I'm aware of is a 1950s UK book (which I have in storage, and I can't remember its title or authors, although I can remember the design of the spine and the layout of many pages!), not Denman.

***

If not tracing Caslon, drawing Bodoni.
The idea being that drawing (with the right side of the brain) produces a fuller understanding of form, and that Bodoni, being a plainer design, would instill a better feeling for basic proportional harmony.

hrant's picture

On the other hand, it can be said that letters that are easier to trace are less useful.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

If the purpose is to understand form, I propose that a copy drawn "by eye" gives a fuller appreciation, because it uses both sides of the brain, whereas tracing is a simpler exercise in hand-eye coordination.

For instance, if you copy an "o" by eye, you have to be acutely aware of its proportion in order to get it right, and the fullness of its curvature -- but not if you trace it, where the main concerns are smoothness and symmetry.

Norbert Florendo's picture

From a typographer's viewpoint, the only student excercise that truly opened my eyes was the tracing of inter-character negative shapes. We would select a large point size headline from an ad then trace and blacken the spaces between each character. It really cultivated a sense of balanced spacing.

Of course, those old freelancers out there will remember the plight of running out of certain letters when creating a headline using Letraset sheets. This was all "PM" (Pre-Macintosh).

It was always late at night and inevitably you had to trace any missing characters with a Rapidograph then paste them in so you could complete the job.

Necessity was the mother of invention.

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Yes, I'm old, but I'm back in style!

Nick Shinn's picture

>trace any missing characters

...or frankenstein them from parts of other letters, with a scalpel.

Norbert Florendo's picture

Oddly enough, pre-digital use of type galleys and photo-headlines gave the basic graphic designer literal hands-on experience with letterforms.

Kerning headlines on paste-ups with an X-acto blade, and building missing letters a la Frankenstein as you mentioned were all part of everyday production (unless you had your own typesetting equipment).

If tracing letterforms is abandoned by new teachers of typography, at least some excercise of manipulating spacing by hand should be retained.

Once a student associates real physical space with visual space a better sense of balanced type color can be attained.

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Yes, I'm old, but I'm back in style!

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