Mary's Library

Friday, January 20, 2006


Wilhelm decided to have some cards made up with his “coordinates,” as I believe they call address, phone number, and email address these days, so we stopped by Ditto’s after lunch at Laskar’s the other day. (Laskar’s has become our second favorite restaurant in Spokane, after Picabu Bistro.) Herr W chose a simple conservative typeface and white card stock.

They looked so good that I, too, wanted cards. I had mine made up in a typeface called Basque, a modest san-serif with undertones of deco and overtones of nouveau. Herr W picked them up for me today and they look great. They have elan. Now if only there were someone to give them to. I’m thinking of them more as a year’s worth of bookmarks.

I had an anxious few moments deciding on the font as the print shop had a very thick book of typefaces. It’s so difficult for those of us with no imagination to know what something will look like unless we see it before us.

This whole experience sent me to the library for a book about printing and type. Because I liked the title so much I brought home STOP STEALING SHEEP & Find Out How Type Works, by Erick Spiekermann and E M Ginger, 2nd ed, Adobe Press (2002.)

It has lots of vivid photos, examples of a gazillion fonts, and explanations of kerning and leading and all the arcana of the world of composition. The authors urge the reader to look closely at the letters on the page. I mean, really look at them – at the serifs and ascenders and decenders, at the thickness of the line in various parts of a letter, and at the way the printed letter relates to the space around it, which believe me is just as important as the letter itself.

A typewriter produces something called monospacing or letterspacing, where each letter has the same amount of lateral space whether it’s an m or an l.
This sentence is in such a letterspaced typeface, courier. Because of their flexibility computers can use a font where the space for skinny letters is less than that for fat letters, as is the case with most print set by a human compositor. This sentence is in such a typeface, called Verdana, which was designed to be particularly readable on a computer screen.

The title of the book I borrowed from the library is inspired by a comment by the famous type designer, Frederic Goudy (1865-1947.) When he was given an award for excellence in type design, he took one look at the certificate and mumbled, “Anyone who would letterspace lower case would steal sheep.” This anecdote is probably apocryphal, but it makes a great title for a book about type. And he was right about letterspacing lower case.

STOP STEALING SHEEP is one of those books that provokes strong feelings in readers. The reviewers at tend to give it either one star or five. The critics have some good points. All the best stuff is in tiny crowded red print in the margins. This in a book about how to use type and space for legibility. Go figure.

If you’re serious about learning how to use fonts to best effect, there’s another book that has just this moment been published called THINKING WITH TYPE: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, and Students, by Ellen Lupton, Princeton Architectural Press (2006.) This one gets five stars from everybody who reviews it. You can get a look inside both of these books on Amazon.


At 6:04 AM PST , Anonymous Bill said...

Mary has certainly come a long way from her days as a cub reporter in New Jersey, when she thought that Boldface Bodoni was a local gangster.


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