Legacy of Letters 2013 profile—Tony Di Spigna

Tony Di Spigna has been creating gems of Spencerian script—his term for drawn lettering derived from roundhand and other forms of pointed-pen writing—for over forty years. He learned the skill from Tom Carnase while working for Herb Lubalin & Associates, though I believe he has surpassed his mentor. There are two things that have always impressed me the most about Tony’s Spencerian script: 1. the gracefulness and naturalness of his curves; and 2. his ability to make compositions that hold together as designs rather than just agglomerations of beautiful letters.

“Imported from Brooklyn”, created for beer packaging, appears off-balance because it is reproduced here out of context. It is missing the type that would complete the design to the right of the bottom flourish and below the yn in “Brooklyn”. Other than that, this is a superb composition. Note how Tony has handled the difficult fr combination; the way the swashed crossbar of t intersects the bowl of p; and the beautiful terminal flourish on the n that doubles back on itself before ending in the typical spiral.

Tony’s Spencerian lettering for a 1978 Roberta Flack album was reproduced on the back cover as shown here with the song titles overlaying the flourish at the bottom; and on the front cover without the flourish. Pointed-pen writing is dependent on pressure to create weight and thus there is no reason that similar strokes have to be similarly thick, unlike broad-edged pen writing. Unlike many younger letterers, Tony understands this and in the nimbus-like flourish on the R, the simple one on the k and the elaborate flourish that unspools from the crossbar of the F, he judiciously heavies up only a few curves. In this manner he controls the distribution of “color” of the design, avoiding “hot spots”. As ornate as “Roberta Flack” is, Tony has refrained from pulling out flourishes from every potential letter (b, t and l are all left alone).

Another example of Tony’s knack for letting the innate beauty of the letters speak for itself rather than overpowering a composition with sugary flourishes is “Film Classics”, one of my favorite pieces of his Spencerian script. While there are a few aspects of the previous examples that I could nitpick about it, this is downright perfect. The various swashes of the initial F and C are exquisitely modulated as they intertwine with each other, spiral around or pierce the loops of nearby letters. The three ss provide a subtle counterpoint to the overall rhythm of the title with the first and second ones providing a lead-in to the dot of the i and the third completing the entire composition. A modest masterpiece.

“Sarah Vaughan / Songs of The Beatles” (1981) offers an opportunity to see Tony’s Spencerian lettering in context. I suspect the commission was sparked by his earlier album cover for Roberta Flack since it too was released by Atlantic Records. It is not as ornate as the Flack lettering; there are no elaborate flourishes. The focal point is the central V that spreads out to embrace both the singer’s first and last names as well as making a link to “Songs of” by looping through the S. The join of the e in “The” to the B in “Beatles” is a nice touch; as is the parallelism of the V and h in Vaughan.

Tony will be teaching the fundamentals of Spencerian script this summer as part of the Legacy of Letters 2013 Tour and Workshop. There is still time to sign up and take advantage of an unprecedented opportunity to learn how to draw such captivating and elegant letters. Visit the Legacy of Letters section of this website for more information.