New Goal: $48,000
When Micah and I first decided to try funding this project on Kickstarter, we set our goal at $37,000 so that we could cast 500lbs of new type at the end of it. As we got closer to the launch, we lowered our funding goal to $25,000 because it seemed more realistic. After reaching $25,000 on the first day, we decided we might as well try for the whole shebang. Having reached $37,000 there are now new possibilities, like engraving a full set of Romance-language accents or a wider range of ligatured characters. Or simply subsidizing some of the materials I will need to purchase to fulfill the pledges. Either way, we will put the money to good use and make the best, most elaborate typeface we can. Thank you for your support.
The Back Story: New Type for New Books
Proprietary type design has been an integral part of the private press movement since its inception. In an effort to realize their vision of the ideal book, early private press printers designed or commissioned typefaces that conveyed their personal aesthetic more accurately than the types that were available from commercial foundries. Drawing inspiration from this practice, the commercial type foundries of the early twentieth century introduced a wide range of legible and handsome text faces. As the printing trades shifted away from letterpress in the second half of the twentieth century, the technology of type production shifted with it, leaving very few options for proprietary metal type production. To print letterpress with metal type in the late twentieth or early twenty-first century meant, with few exceptions, printing from commercial types that were produced in the early twentieth century. Despite the persuasive advertising claims of certain foundries, early twentieth century typefaces derive their forms from the art historical moment in which they were produced; lovely as some of them may be, they are peculiarly of their time and not of ours. In order to make new private press books in the twenty-first century we need to have new typefaces.
When I began drawing letterforms in 1996, I did so in a state of typographic panic. I had been printing letterpress for seven years and I suddenly found that I could no longer print words—the typefaces that were available to me simply did not convey how I felt about the texts I wanted to print. They were general and I craved specificity. My first efforts at letter design were primitive but they signaled a definitive break from using commercial typefaces in my books. At the time, I imagined that I would be printing from my own typefaces within a year or two. Instead, I spent twelve years drawing, looking, and redrawing before making my first typeface with which I could set running text. Out of necessity, I have since designed my typefaces on the computer and printed them from photo-polymer plates. It was not until 2011, when I first met Micah Currier and Dan Morris of the Dale Guild Type Foundry, that printing from my own metal type became a realistic proposition.
Why Metal Type?
There are many debates about what letterpress printing actually is. Is it simply a process of relief printmaking in which any raised surface—a polymer plate, for instance—is inked and pressed into paper? Or is the essence of letterpress inextricably bound up in the setting of individual pieces of type into words and pages which are then inked and pressed into paper? I find these discussions tedious because they do not address my main concern in printing: the graphic image of the text page. For me the issue is simple: using commercial metal type requires me to surrender the principal graphic content of my work—the typographic page—to another designer's vision. This runs contrary to my every motivation in making books. I would rather print my own typefaces from polymer plates. If, however, I can use my own metal type I would not hesitate to choose it over a polymer plate. Although polymer plates have been crucial to the progress of my work there is an essential experiential difference between setting type on a computer and setting it by hand. Here is a video in which I discuss this difference. You'll need to put the volume on high to hear it. It was taken during a discussion with Gaylord Schanilec and Jane Siegel at the Center for Book Arts, NYC.
My collaboration with Micah Currier and the Dale Guild
In January of 2011 I first contacted Micah Currier and Dan Morris at the Dale Guild Type Foundry to discuss cutting and casting a titling typeface for my book Specimens of Diverse Characters. Although Micah and Dan had become proficient type founders, none of us had ever attempted to make a new metal typeface before. Among the many questions we had getting started, the most basic was whether the points with which I measure in my digital drafting programs were the same size as points on the Guild's Industrial-era machines. When designing my digital typefaces I fit each character on a fixed set width in the same way that metal types are fit. In approaching Micah and Dan I was presuming that my digital fitting coordinates would have a real-life equivalent when fit on the Guild's milling machine. We all doubted this would be true but from our first trial matrices we found that my digital coordinates had a direct corollary with the Guild's tools. The significance of figuring out the fitting of the typeface before manufacturing it was that it removes an extremely laborious and costly step form the process. In the year that has followed that first experiment, Micah and I have developed a comprehensive working protocol to transfer my digital designs to the Guild's nineteenth century tools.
The type family that I am trying to make is comprised of my Cancellaresca Milanese and its companion roman, Gremolata. Cancellaresca Milanese is based on a type that first appeared in Milan in 1541 in the books of Giovanni Antonio Castiglione. The type distinguishes itself in its combination of calligraphic energy with a minimal slope in its lower case and its comparatively small, upright capitals. Generally viewed as a descendent of the typefaces of Ludovico degli Arrighi, Castiglione's type has a darker, rougher quality than Ludovico's—its grace is a forceful one. In the design of Cancellaresca Milanese I have attempted to retain the liveliness of Castiglione's original type by resisting the temptation to "correct" the slightly modulating alignment or homogenize the finial strokes on the ascending and descending characters. The type is outfitted with both corsiva (as in the original) and formata descenders as well as a significant number of compound ligatured characters. I first developed the digital predecessor of the type for my book Æthelwold Etc in 2009 and I have used it in a few publications, taking each opportunity to redraw and refine the characters.
I designed Gremolata in 2011 as a companion roman for Cancellaresca Milanese to be used in my book Specimens of Diverse Characters. For Gremolata, I designed a slightly larger set of capitals based on those in the Cancellaresca, and paired them with a lower case that is inspired, but not based on, Alpine typefaces of the mid-sixteenth century. Together, the typefaces are meant to act like roman and italic typefaces would have acted in the sixteenth century: they are slightly irregular and neither the roman nor the italic is subservient to the other. They are meant to work in tandem as equals. Between the two typefaces there are over 185 unique characters and symbols, allowing for complex setting in multiple Romance languages.
Above: Gremolata (with Iohann Titling in red). Below: Cancellaresca Milanese
As this type family is proprietary, I am not offering type in exchange for funding. Instead, I am offering printed artifacts made with the finished type or, in some instances, with the digital predecessors of the type. Most of the rewards are not yet made but you can see a couple of them below. For information on Specimens of Diverse Characters, visit these blog posts:
For information on Æthelwold Etc, visit these blog posts:
In there you will also find a copy of my centrifugal color theory. Or you can go directly there:
Below are some completed rewards. In order from the top: a spread and detail from Pervigilium Veneris, translated by Bruce Whiteman and set in the first printing of the digital predecessor of Cancellaresca Milanese; the Alexander the Great page from Specimens of Diverse Characters using the digital predecessor of Cancellaresca Milanese with formata descenders; and the Horace page also from Specimens of Diverse Characters using the digital predecessor of Gremolata; the Alphabetical Fetishist t-shirt.
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