This was the first time that I taught the Condensed Program, and while I realize that I tend to be a little too nostalgic about these things, I do feel that I got to spend a very unique summer with a group of real special designers. The program is structured to allow participants to focus exclusively on their work for a very intense five weeks. Class was from 9am to 9pm, for four days a week. I was co-teaching with Just, and Sumner would come in to individually coach participants in long one-on-one sessions. On the fifth day we visited rare books collections of different New York libraries. This tight schedule was interspersed with diverse tutorials, presentations and lectures ¹).
Just and I are not only really old friends but both KABK alumni (he teaches in the Type]Media program). Our understanding of type, as well as our ideas of learning, are heavily influenced by Gerrit Noordzij's teachings. So I was not very surprised by the ease with which we agreed on how we wanted this class to work. Also, I should mention that the initial teacher conference took place at Beast over a mind boggling eggs benedict on chorizo hash. If you think this detail is of no consequence there is a decent chance that your understanding of the holistic ²) approach to type design is lacking at best.
Designing from the bottom upWe were going to work our way from writing (which is not the same as calligraphy) to drawing and sketching towards digitizing an original typeface. The idea is that when a student bases the design of their personal project on their own, written letterforms instead of working from a historic sample, there is a deeper understanding of the actual reasons for the character shapes as well as a physical reference that will answer most questions that inevitably arise during the design process. The designer can always refer back to her own writing in order to figure out what a character should look like and how it interacts with the rest of their alphabet.
I think we allowed for about a week and a half for writing before we transitioned into drawing, and in the beginning we went lower case only. Part of the reason was that Sumner, at that time still in California, had a multi-part lecture that he initially held via Skype during which he addressed the historic difference between upper and lower case alphabets. To me this was really helpful for understanding why the two alphabets have such trouble living in the same typeface. Another reason is that I believe that once the designer has figured out what the lower case alphabet is going to do, crafting capitals that go with it is relatively trivial. Of course, equally true is the notion that one should develop a wide variety of letterforms as soon as possible to get a better understanding of ones own design. But I guess you have to make concessions, and this is where we went.
LecturesSumner Stone prepared an in-depth, multi-part lecture during which he traced the development of our upper case alphabet, based mainly on the example of the M, from it's very early, hieroglyphic roots to today's shapes. In a separate lecture he talked about the change of trade and technology in the type industry, from Gutenberg to today's digital foundry model.
Sasha Tochilovsky, curator at the Herb Lubalin Study Center of Design and Typography who also teaches in the Type@Cooper Extended Program, gave an impressive presentation of, quite literally, a pile of the beautiful, original work collected and made available at the Lubalin Center. The artifacts and Sasha's intimate, detailed knowlege were so inspiring, it looked like there were sparks flying.
The author Valerie Lester gave a talk about Giambattista Bodoni, which was quite timely as 2013 will be the bicenteninal of Bodoni's death. With great style, a wealth of original research and image material Valerie managed to put a real, personal face on one of the greats of printing, type design and type founding. She is currently working on a biography, which I can hardly wait to get my fingers on.
Cara di Edwardo, the Type@Cooper program coordinator and all around type and calligraphy teacher, practitioner and connoisseur, gave a presentation on writing with the pointed nib pen. She showed different kind of nibs, placed this group of writing tools into historical context, and demonstrated the very typical type of thick thin (expansion) contrast it produces.
Location, location, location…We were located in the Cooper Union's beautiful foundation building and had three very cool, connected rooms with a view over Astor Place. Considering the temperatures outside, which frankly, seem completely insane to someone from northern Europe, the AC worked like a charm almost all of the time. We even got a blackboard, which seems essential to me. How else do you explain type?
Crunch timeIt seems to me now that the toughest part of the program started once the participants dove head first into their own personal project. Going back and forth between sketching and digitizing they worked their way towards an original design. In spite of the back breaking 12-hour days, the students just carried on, got together and worked through the weekends. Many had to not only get acquainted to a new piece of software while learning the art of building good beziers, but at the same time they were figuring out what shapes and proportions the typeface they were giving birth to demanded.
Some worked in Frederik Berlaen's RoboFont and some in FontLab. I took the opportunity to jump onto that RoboFont bandwagon, and so far I can report absolutely no regrets. The experience of switching from FontLab to RoboFont has been like switching from a Windows PC to a Mac.
Library visitsFridays were dedicated to a series of highly exclusive library visits. We had appointments with the curators of the rare books devisions, such as Jessica Pigza at the New York Public Library, the Grolliers Club's Meghan Constantinou and Jane Siegel at Columbia University's Butler Library, who presented us with treasure troves of beautiful, antiquarian volumes. Sumner guided through the presentations with a fascinating depth of historical knowledge, while keeping it fresh and relevant for the burgeoning type designer. Unfortunately and quite surprisingly, I discovered that most of the nineteenth century is lost on me and that I am quite prejudiced towards display type. However, my very own personal high point was certainly Christoffel Plantin's Polyglot Bible put before us at the NYPL. I never expected to see one in person and when I realized what I was looking at, I felt like I had been bitch-slapped with the calf skin bound collectors box of the Ninth Gate. The more I read about the peculiar history of this master piece the more fascinating it becomes. It truly is an unmitigated bibliophile marvel.
Guest critiquesTwo weeks before the end of the program Erik van Blokland flew in from the Netherlands for a spectacular double-feature lecture and a guest critique, nudging the projects towards the goal line.
The final crit was administered by Cyrus Highsmith. Cyrus just published a smart, charming and beautiful book about typography, "Inside Paragraphs: Typographic Fundamentals"
Hard earned resultsOn the last day of the program we were treated to a final presentation of the fruits of weeks of tireless work. I was completely taken and touched by the level of professional quality, and personal expression each and every participant achieved in such a limited time of intense study and practice. Afterwards there was pizza, drinks and elated faces. Then people went on to scatter around the world, back to the five continents they had come from. Here is a taste of the work created in our class ³) in the Type@Cooper Condensed program:
Last but certainly not leastBig ole’ shout out, with great thanks to our tip-top team of TAs: Blake Olmstead, Karen Parry and Isabel Urbina, students of the Type@Cooper Extended program.
- Here is an article on the blog of Print Magazine
- Participants Ron Gilad & Chavelli Tsui reporting on the program over at I Love Typography.
- Cole Impieri, wrote a 6 part report about her experience as a participant of the program.
- The official Twitter stream of Type@Cooper
- The official Type@Cooper website
- Type@Cooper's Flicker pool
- Type@Cooper on Tumbler
- Type@Cooper on Pinterest
(¹ Now, if you are wondering who put all of this genius stuff together, who created this program from scratch? Her name is Cara Di Edwardo, and she serves as the program coordinator for the Type@Cooper program, a.k.a. the brain and the engine.
(² For a better understanding of the holistic method read Dirk Gently. If you are not at all interested in the holistic method you should really still read Dirk Gently.
(³ Group 2 of the Type@Cooper Condensed program was taught by Jean-François Porchez and Stéphane Elbaz. Check out Jean-Francois’ account of their experience on his blog.
I loved that we had two groups running at the same time. It was nice to be able to stop downstairs to see what your group was working on, and it was also great to be able to come down to get additional feedback from both you and Just. Great post, Hannes!