Blue Pencil

Blue Pencil is a “slog”: a slow blog. It does not get updated daily or even on a regular schedule. Instead, it gets updated when there is something of value to be posted. Postings often take a long time to prepare and appear at intervals of a few weeks or even months. Sometimes there is a flurry of postings within the span of a few days. Blue Pencil may be unpredictable in its frequency, but not in its purpose. Blue Pencil is fiercely dedicated to the 3Rs: research, reading and writing.

From the Archives no. 26—Helvetica and Univers addendum

Indra Kupferschmid was in New York today and we had lunch. She provided me with a document that indicates that the idea for renaming Neue Haas Grotesk as Helvetica did not originate with Walter Cunz as the Mergenthaler Linotype advertisment states but with Heinz Eul, a sales manager at D. Stempel AG. (Eul gave the document to Erik Spiekermann who kindly provided a scan of it to Indra.) The story is told in Helvetica Forever: The Story of a Typeface …
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From the Archives no. 26—Helvetica and Univers

During a visit to the Herb Lubalin Study Center at Cooper Union I flipped through some early issues of U&lc. In the first issue (vol. 1, no. 1 1974) I came across a three-page advertisement from Mergenthaler Linotype (labeled an article by them) in which the first page (p. 43) was devoted to an announcement of two new weights of Helvetica. Entitled “Everything you ever wanted to know about Helvetica—but were afraid to ask” (a nod to the popular book Everything …
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Tutorial no. 7—Making a g

I was invited by Bill Moran to take part in Wayzgoose 2011 at the Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin this past weekend. I demonstrated calligraphy on Friday and provided an introduction to Western writing with the broad-edged pen to participants on Saturday. During my Friday demonstration I began making a series of lowercase gs and Laura Lewis managed to capture a small part of my writing on video. Although it is only a snippet it does manage …
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Blue Pencil no. 18—Arial addendum no. 4

I recently received an email from Robin Nicholas, Monotype’s Head of Typography in the United Kingdom, shedding more light on Monotype’s attempt in the 1950s to redesign Monotype Grotesque to satisfy the needs of German and Swiss customers: 
The saga of these fonts [three “New Grotesque” fonts] was rumbling on when I joined the TDO [Monotype’s Type Drawing Office] in 1965, although I did not get directly involved. It began in 1956 with a request from German and Swiss customers …
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Tutorial no. 6—Tight but not touching kerning

This tutorial was sparked by “The Kerning Game,” my review of Kern Type in Imprint. The 1970s were the heyday of what Hermann Zapf disparagingly called “sexy spacing” but what trade typographers called TNT (“tight but not touching”) typography. The designer who led this revolution was Herb Lubalin (1918-1981). Although the notion of “tight but not touching” typography is associated with the acceptance of phototypography in the 1960s and 1970s Lubalin’s exploration of the style began during his tenure …
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Tutorial no. 5—Calligraphy: The Basics of Italic addendum

The posts on The Basics of Italic became very convoluted once I tried to verbally describe the ductus of each letter. My 1993 ACI sheets did not include basic ductus information for some reason. (Maybe because the audience were calligraphers and I assumed they could figure out the rudiments of making letters from models.) But that assumption won’t fly with readers of this blog who have no experience with writing with broad-edged tools. So I am making available here as …
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Tutorial no. 5—Calligraphy: The Basics of Italic 4

The Basics of Italic: SwashesThis post, the last of The Basics of Italic, shows the rudiments of creating swash Italic letters. Most swash letters are ascenders or descenders since swashes need room to breathe and the most commonly available free space is in the margins and between lines. Swashes on ascending strokes, both vertical and diagonal, are shown in Row 1. b d f h k l—The swash replaces the entry stroke at the top of these letters (with …
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Tutorial no. 5—Calligraphy: The Basics of Italic 3

The Basics of Italic: Entry/Exit Strokes The previous two posts paved the way to making a “serif-less” Italic with the broad-edged pen. By “serif-less” I meant that the letters were missing entry (entrata) and exit (uscita) strokes. In calligraphy, Italic letters, other than some capitals, do not traditionally have serifs. But entry and exit strokes function in a similar way visually. They are both visual aids and physical/kinetic ones. Entry strokes allow the pen to more easily begin a …
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Tutorial no. 5—Calligraphy: The Basics of Italic 2

The Basics of Italic: Stress
These tutorials on the basics of Italic began with a monoline skeletal letter to establish the basic forms. But Cancellaresca corsiva, the original Renaissance name for Italic, is traditionally made with a broad-edged pen. The broad-edged pen creates thicks and thins (stress) as it moves through space in different directions. This gives the letters much of their magic. (A good theoretical analysis of the effects of the broad-edged pen versus those of the flexible pointed pen …
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Blue Pencil no. 18—Arial addendum no. 3

The Arial thread that I began a few weeks ago keeps attracting comment. Indra Kupferschmid, the German typographer, has sent me a series of emails full of some provocative questions about Monotype Grotesque. I have taken the liberty (with Indra’s approval) of quoting the most pertinent parts of her emails. I am also posting her supporting images. Indra writes, “I never heard of a “New Grotesque” [from Monotype] from 1956. Why would they stop developing it when every single foundry …
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Tutorial no. 5—Calligraphy: The Basics of Italic 1

The Basics of Italic: Skeletal Forms The four images that comprise The Basics of Italic are scans of photocopied sheets I designed in 1993 for inclusion in the newsletter of the Associazione Calligrafica Italiana in Milano, Italy. That is why the notes are written in Italian. I will provide an English translation for each sheet as it is posted. The first sheet shows the skeletal forms of Italic as a means of comparing and contrasting it with …
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Blue Pencil no. 18—Arial addendum no. 2

Nick Sherman has been avidly following my Arial postings and in a recent email had this to say:
In the post, you say: “A clone is not only a typeface that looks like another one but has nearly the same data. By this definition Arial is not a clone of Helvetica, even though it has muscled in on Helvetica’s commercial success.” In some ways you are wrong. While the outlines of Arial are different from Helvetica, most of the …
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Blue Pencil no. 18—Arial addendum

Nick Sherman suggests that those interested in the Arial story look under the Wikipedia hood to see who has contributed to its account of the typeface. “This can be found by comparing previous edits of the article, under the ‘View history’ tab. For example, you can see that Thomas Phinney has edited the Arial article several times. You can also find some interesting tidbits under the ‘Discussion’ tab. He also reminds me that John Downer tackled the subject …
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Blue Pencil no. 18—Some history about Arial

I have moved the third portion of Matthew Carter’s email to me regarding Just My Type (see Blue Pencil no. 17—Correction) to a separate post since it was not a correction but a further elucidation of a commment I made. And I have paired it with Rod McDonald’s follow-up email (formerly Blue Pencil no. 17—Addendum).
Matthew Carter: Somewhere there must be a proper account of the beginnings of Arial, but at the risk of repeating myself or somebody else, here goes. …
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Blue Pencil no. 17—Corrections

I received this email from Matthew Carter pointing out some mistakes in my dissection of Just My Type.
A couple of corrections to your corrections: p. 66 The original weight of Snell Roundhand was released in 1966. I arrived in Brooklyn in September of 1965 and had to do Cascade first and make a start on Helvetica Compressed. My one surviving Snell drawing was revised on August 1st 1966 which provides a ‘terminus post quem.’ The Bold and Black weights …
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Blue Pencil no. 17Just My Type: Addendum no. 2

In my published review of Just My Type for Imprint I mentioned some of the larger themes percolating beneath the surface of the book. One that I forgot is the notion that typefaces should look like typefaces. This is similar to Eric Gill’s declaration that “Letters are not pictures or representations.” (An Essay on Typography, p. 23) Gill was offended by letters that tried to look like things (such as letters made of tree branches, viz. the back cover of …
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