Blackletter in Mexico

Cristina Paoli's picture

I just completed the MA Typo/Graphic Studies at LCC in London. My final project was about the use of blackletter in Mexico. I explored the possible reasons for its use, historical facts, and the shapes and tendencies of Mexican blackletters. From the photographic research performed in Mexico I found patterns and deviations in Mexican blackletters. Then I deconstructed each signage, ending up with more than 1500 individual characters. I removed the letters from its context and colour, transforming the colourful typographic elements of the original signs into black silhouettes. Afterwards I overlaid all characters of each letter in order to appreciate the most popular shapes, line strokes, elements and ornaments. The result is an X-Ray look-alike alphabet, that conveys the essence of Mexican blackletters.

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Cristina Paoli's picture

Here are some examples of Mexican Blackletters

rs_donsata's picture

A couple of nice samples from extinted Matiz magazine:

Héctor

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

Hey, Cristina,

I don't mean to hijack this thread, but seeing these storefront photos you posted reminded me of the buses in Buenos Aires... Many of them sport hand-painted signs and decorations (done by artisans known as fileteadores), and if my memory is correct some of those buses use blackletter, too.

The only good image I could find online is here... it is not blackletter and does not come from a bus, but it is a good example of what fileteado looks like.

alya's picture

Cristina, do you have any historical info on how the blackletter came to be such a famous vernacular element in Mexico?

Cristina Paoli's picture

Hi Ricardo,
Sorry for taking so long to post something… Great sign! Beautiful letters!.. actually in Mexico we also have some like that… but I have absolutely no idea of how those letters are called, but the ‘fileteado’ sounds appropriate because it literally means something with ‘filetes’, which are long and narrow ornaments attached to something else.
interesting…

By the way in Mexico we have professional hand letterers as well. They are called ‘rotulistas’.

Cristina Paoli's picture

Dear Alia,

The reason why blackletter is used in Mexico is not entirely clear, although I have some theories on the matter. One possible explanation could come from the Spanish background of the country. The overwhelming Colonial history is still present, not only in the collective unconscious but also in buildings, plazas and entire cities some of which use this letterform in their signage as a way of communicating their abounding Colonial background to tourists and visitors. But this can’t be the only reason why Mexicans use blackletter, simply because many are not aware of this connotation, and others have something else in mind when there are exposed to this letterform.
My belief is that the use of blackletter in folk functional graphics out of the Colonial contexts comes from the very essence of Mexican culture. Mexicans are fond of ornaments, colour and contrast; humour and fantasy; rituals and festivities. One needs only to visit the nearest market available to experience all this at once; the viewer would be welcomed by the sound of local music, which rhythms mix with the ongoing voices of merchants offering magical or paradisiacal products that range from fruits and vegetables to plants or objects, one more astounding that the other. Walking along, this imaginary spectator would be overwhelm by the smells in the environment; at every step a new odour would invade his nostrils, going from the smell of flowers been sold at his right, to the seductive aroma of food been prepared on his left, to the indefinable fragrance of raw fruit that is just in front of him. In parallel, his eyes would be bombarded by an army of colours and shapes, which are as seductive and overwhelming as the elements arousing his other senses.
This is every day life in Mexico, and this is the context in which blackletter is embraced and used. The letterform in its self is full of ornaments and contrast, playful and mysterious at the same time; the conjunction of characters overpowers the background, just as the elements of the market overtake the environment and therefore the viewer.

xensen's picture

Beautiful work. I too would buy a copy.

On the subject of the "discovery" of the Americas I would like to mention that I recently discovered an excellent Mexican restaurant on 24th Street. (You can discover things that were already known to others.)

Of course, it would be a long time after the initial encounter between Europeans and Americans before anyone had any concept of "America."

xensen's picture

Cristina,

When did blackletter become so much a part of Mexican folk graphics?

I'm wondering if it has any connection to the period of the emperor Maximillian, archduke of Austria, and his wife Carlota of Belgium (in other words, the 1860s).

Cristina Paoli's picture

Xensen,

On the subject of the Discovery of America… actually my original line of thought was the same as you, but I understand is a delicate matter and of course is always better to be as accurate as possible when one is writing about something.
I appreciate your willingness to understand what I was trying to communicate.

On the matter of when blackletter became so popular in Mexican folk functional graphics… well that’s trickier, first of all because for what I know no one has dig into that! So I’ve had to do my bit of research, but for now I have concentrated more on analyzing the ‘live’ design matter on the streets of Mexico today, than tracing down a philology of Mexican blackletters (which would be fascinating! And I don’t discard doing it one day).
I know the date when blackletter movable type arrived to Mexico: 1538, and I know it was used on printed matter, but when it jumped to hand letter signage? It remains to be discovered. I also know that today ‘rotulistas’ (professional hand letterers in Mexico) take inspiration from the internet —I know this because I asked a few to draw me an specimen: one said he didn’t knew all letters so he would try to find them out (he never did) and the other told me that he would search on the web and print them out for me! … Of course that wasn’t what I wanted so I encourage him to draw them (and he did).

Is important to bear in mind that most folk functional graphics in Mexico are set in roman type in its serif or sans serif versions.

.00's picture

I wonder if the blackletter connection in Mexico has anything to do with the Austrian influence via Maximillian. There are a number of traditional Austrian styles of beer that now only exist in Mexico. You can hear the Austrian musical influence on Ranchero, all those 3/4 waltzes and polkas that dominate the Mariachi repertoire.

Just a thought.

James

Quenepa1's picture

Cristina, I wandered onto this site by accident...not a typophile, but I am investigating the history of the linocut in Puerto Rico (many artists were influenced strongly by the work of the Taller de Grafica Popular, which attributes its own work to Guadalupe Posada, who has everything to do with prolific and artistic use of the printing press...so I am very interested in the reference you provide for the history of the printing press in Mexico. It is one of the most detailed I have been able to locate to date, and am wondering if you wouldn't mind providing a citation for this, so I can investigate it more fully in relation to my own research?

Cristina Paoli's picture

Quenepa1,

Hope you can read Spanish!!!!

I have loads of bibliography. But many books are really hard to find…

Medina, José Toribio. La imprenta en México. México, UNAM. 1991

Torre Rovello, José. El libro, la imprenta y el periodismo en América durante la dominación española. México. UNAM. 1991

Carreño, Alberto María. Estudios bibliográficos. México. Ediciones Victoria. 1962.

Yhmoff Cabrera, Jesús. Los Cromnerger, la historia de una imprenta del siglo XVI en Sevilla y México. Madrid. Ediciones de cultura hispánica. 1991.

Stols Alexandre, A.M. Antonio Espinosa, el Segundo impresor mexicano. UNAM. 1989.

Zulaica Gárate, Roman. Los franciscanos y la imprenta en México. UNAM. 1991.

Lafaye, Jacques. Albores de la imprenta. El libro en España y Portugal y sus posesiones de ultramar (siglos XV y XVI). México. Fondo de Cultura Económica. 2004.

Henestrosa, Cristóbal. Espinosa. Rescate de una tipografía novohispana. México. 2005.

Bermúdez, Jorge R. Gráfica e identidad nacional. México. UAM Xochimilco. 1994.

And there are MANY more… but I don’t have the bibliography with me just now. (Anyhow this should be a good start).

Also check out this site it might contain articles relevant to your research
http://www.adabi.org.mx/adabi.htm

Some useful names of people that work this topic:
Juan Pascoe
Mariana Garone
Cristóbal Henestrosa
Ignacio (Nacho) Peón
Gonzalo García Bercha

hrant's picture

> http://www.adabi.org.mx/adabi.htm

Funny, "adabi" means "literary" in Arabic!

hhp

Cristina Paoli's picture

Terminaldesign,

Maybe so… But blackletter first came to Mexico with the Spanish, and during that time blackletter, especially Rotunda, was very popular in Spain.
I don’t know much about printing press (or for that matter typographical culture) during the Maximilian emperorship in Mexico. But it is absolutely worth dig into that, because maybe some interesting facts could come out of it. Thanks!

Cristina Paoli's picture

hrant,
Fantastic! Beautiful coincidences of life (or language)
adabi stands for: Apoyo al Desarrollo de Archivos y Bibliotecas de México, A.C.
Which means: Support for the development of archivals and libraries of Mexico.

Vassilis's picture

Hi
Christina I'm new in this forum. I just wanted to say that I found your book idea very interesting. By the way I have just started my MA course in LCC. Are you still going around there but maybe you don't leave in England anymore. I would be very glad to meet you and maybe have a chat.

Take care

devisionbell's picture

Christina, this work is incredibly inspirational. Well done! As someone in the early stages of thrashing out a direction for a Masters of Computer Graphic Design in New Zealand I thank you for your post. I can only but hope that as I pursue my dissertation my outcomes are half as interesting as yours. All the best with publication potential, I too hope to read your work in the future. Definitely a work that I will purchase for myself and the university I work for.

-nic

rs_donsata's picture

I think that we like blackletter in México is not for any specific historical reason but because we simply like profussion and a kind of visual brutality, note that you won't find delicate blackletters in hand lettering.

Héctor

hrant's picture

This "we just like it" view was in fact presented
by Gabriel Martinez Meave during the Q&A session
of the blackletter panel discussion at ATypI-Leipzig.

hhp

Cristina Paoli's picture

Vassilis,
I’m back in Mexico now, so unfortunately I’m not going to be able to meet you (but if you ever come to Mexico let me know!)
I wish you the very best in you MA at LCC and encourage you to get your hands dirty in the great letterpress workshop!

devisionbell,
Thank you for your comments and support! I’m sure you’ll do great in your dissertation if you choose a topic you are passionate about.

Quenepa1's picture

Cristina, thank you so much for all these resources. I am printing them out now and we'll see where they take me. Y, si, leo en espanol :)

As I mentioned I am new to the site and almost forgot how I got here in the first place, but it is really a great resource and a wealth of information. I would really like to see your work one day...when my travels take me to Mexico, I'll definitely be checking out the Guadalupe Posada museum and old printing press sites, and hopefully will be able to track you down too. Intriguingly, my master's work (I'm in education) was in graffiti as a literacy (which is unfortunately not considered as such in most schools), and that was where I was first introduced to blackletters (AKA calo, no?) Pues, writing and writing for now to finish up the dissertation, but mil gracias again for your detailed list above.

Mary Sefranek
Programs in English and Bilingual/Bicultural Education
Teachers College, Columbia University
New York

Cristina Paoli's picture

Quenepa1,

Hope you find them and that they be useful to your research.
Best wishes.

istitch's picture

[accidental post]

Ross McClain's picture

Cristiana

Have you posted the PDF of your book yet? I'd love to get a copy. Great work!

istitch's picture

or (even better yet) perhaps we will be able to purchase one in the near future…

fontplayer's picture

Wonderful idea. I hope to do a phototrip through Mexico someday, documenting some of the great stonework, and stone fences I saw while driving through the parts of the country I have visited.

If by chance you should be near Guadalajara, Make sure you see their Ballet Folklorico. It is an auditory and visual feast you will never forget. And it is very distinct from the Mexico City presentation, which is more traditional. And the stately Teatro Degollado is a wonderful venue for it.

saidlechat's picture

Hola Christina,

First of all, congratulations! The work you did is really amazing.
When I went to Mexico I was always impressed and fascinated by the way Mexicans use
colours and graphics. As I'm from "grey" Germany this was so refreshing!

I'm working at the moment on a similar theme. For my final Project in my graphic design studies I try to research the modern day usage of Blackletter.
I'm especially interested in the way how people outside Germany and Europe percieve
Blackletter fonts and for what purposes they are used.
I feel this differs a lot from how people see it in central Europe.
Maybe I can contact you and you could help me with my research?
I am preparing a kind of question sheet with different examples of Blackletter.
In my synthesis in a second ste I want to see how Blackletter could be used in a modern way, far from the beer-nationalist-punk-skateboard-kind of way.

Ademas si lo prefieres podemos comunicar en español!

Muchisimas gracias en adelante

Cristina Paoli's picture

Dear Ross McClain,

Nop (sorry), I haven’t posted the PDF. I’m currently working on a final version of this book: writing new stuff, getting exiting new pictures of tattoos and grafitti…
Unfortunately I’m not going to be able to post a PDF of the book… but as Istitch said… You are going to be able to buy it very soon!!! (before the end of the year)

And Ross… well thanks for the cheers.

Geoff Riding's picture

> but as Istitch said… You are going to be able to buy it very soon!!

Great! I just finished reading "Blackletter: Type and National Idenity", an excellent book. I can't wait for another book on blackletter, perhaps with somewhat different perspective on the matter. :^)

hrant's picture

> “Blackletter: Type and National Idenity”

That is indeed a superb book (it's one of the two things that triggered my own interest
in blackletter), and not least because it doesn't shy away from the reality that national
identity exists, and it matters (although like anything else, it can be abused).

hhp

Cristina Paoli's picture

Hola Saidlechat,

Well I’ll be happy to help you in anything I can. Write me an email thru this forum.

I don’t know if it might be of use to you… Last August I performed a questionnaire in Mexico City about the use and perceptions of blackletter in Mexico to about 65 or more people.
I did it my self, so I’m not sure if the questions I asked were the best ones… but is done and translated to English. If you want I can share it with you, no problem.
Curiously… most people haven’t really noticed the letterform around the City!

Tu proyecto suena muy interesante. Te deseo mucha suerte!

Cristina Paoli's picture

Blackletter: Type and National Idenity By Peter Bain and Paul Shaw

Fabulous book! It was of great help to me. (is one of my cherished books). Maybe the best one to get into the subject. And also refreshing… since is a contemporary work.

saidlechat's picture

Hola Christina,

I'm glad you replied, I already feared the topic was dead.
Actually the questionnaire is exactly the kind of thing I need.
I prepared one myself.
I didn't ask many questions as for my work I won't be able to make a profound investigation, It is more of getting a basic idea. Also, as we all do I can't wait to get to the design part of the project...

As the project progresses I took the decision to show the results in the format of a magazine, only or in the major part using different blackletter fonts. Well we'll see.
As for now it would be a great help if you could send me the results of your questionaire.
I will also send you mine to give you an idea.

Muchas gracias y hasta prontito,

fontplayer's picture

I am in Ensenada and have a few nice samples that I will upload when I get back. (can't do it from this internet cafe)

fontplayer's picture

The best ones are still in my camera. The little yellow and white buses that run around Ensenada BC have some great lettering. I will post those later tonight. Here's some that are ready. The first two were found in two different Catholic churces.

fontplayer's picture

These two were on a shop window near la casa de mi suegra.

fontplayer's picture

The bus painter seems to have it down.

hrant's picture

Love the tittles.

hhp

Tholan's picture

Hi Christina,

very interesting thread!
Did you found the use of long-s »ſ« during your work. Till what time, if you found the character. In Germany is it in use in blackletter till today (not always).

Thomas

rs_donsata's picture

I have never seen the long s in signs in México, only in very old texts.

Héctor

Tholan's picture

rs_donsata, till when was it used? Can you narrow this down?

rs_donsata's picture

I really can't tell, but it was not in use by the beginning of the XIX century.

Héctor

Hannah's picture

Hi everyone, just new to typophile

In Germany Fraktur and Schwabacher are the predominant blackletter categories historically. Both have the extended f and s terminals below the base line. However I am unsure of the rare times blackletter is used in Germany which category they now hark back too.

Hannah's picture

It sounds like more than one of us has the same kind of idea - wanting to make a modern blackletter.

I did post a new topic THE MODERN BLACKLETTER is anyone is interested. Talking about how to create a modern blackletter with empathy to it's historical roots.

Hannah's picture

Hi Cristina Paoli,

In my final year focusing on blackletter for the major project I have admired your work on mexican blackletter. Sounds like you have had good success now that you are publishing a book.

Have you had alot of opportunities after completing your project?

I was interested in what kind of mark you got given for your final project? (an optional question).

dan_reynolds's picture

Hi,

Schwabacher isn't used so much in German graphics anymore. One sees more Fraktur and Textura these days. Some of this is probably because there aren't too may digital Schwabacher fonts available on the market.

Hannah's picture

ahh, I see!

Cristina Paoli's picture

Hey fontplayer,

Those are some beautiful examples!!!!

Tholan,
Nop. I haven’t seen a long s in Mexican blackletter. Because we don’t have that letter in Spanish.

Cristina Paoli's picture

>Hi Cristina Paoli,

>In my final year focusing on blackletter for the major project I have >admired your work on mexican blackletter. Sounds like you have had >good success now that you are publishing a book.

>Have you had alot of opportunities after completing your project?

Yes Hanna. Actually loads of people are interested in blackletter, and I’ve had beautiful responses to my project, that have led to exiting projects and forums.
I’m really happy and overwhelmed with the success the project has had so far.

>I was interested in what kind of mark you got given for your final >project? (an optional question).

I got an A. And a beautiful pencil from my tutor inscribed with the word EXCELLENT. (I think I value more the pencil than the mark!)

;-)

hrant's picture

The thing is, it's not really a letter, it's simply a way (an archaic way) to write the regular ol' "s", depending on where it falls in the word. And although I certainly haven't looked carefully, I'd be surprised if the practice was completely absent from old Mexican typography (and even more so manuscripts).

hhp

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