||[Sep. 29th, 2005|10:04 pm]
Having read "Anatomy of a Typeface" and now also reading Bartman's "Five hundred years of book design" got me a bit obsessed with oldstyle (i.e. italian humanist) typefaces. I started trying to make one a few days ago. I've just sketched a few letters so far; maybe I could claim the b came out okay, but even its counter is too wide, I think. The "a" is terrifically hard, but surprisingly interesting.
The letter "a" at about the transitional period (e.g. Baskerville) and later isn't too exciting. It seems rather fluid all around, and has a decently-sized counter. But oh, the old-style "a"! All sturdy and angular and with a bigger space between the bowl and ear. I went down two fairly different roads looking for a good one, and neither (that is, neither "a" number 5 or number 10) matches my reference models or my other letters too well. #10 is getting towards there, though. I finally, through pure-line sketching, stumbled on how to get the bowl more flat and angular, and at the same time not look like total shit. The character as a whole may be a bit too narrow now, however. #5 is pretty much crap as far as my goals are concerned, but I'm fond of it as a standalone letter.
I'm astonished how much subtlety there is in "ordinary" roman letterforms. Doing more decorative/sketchy/crazy fonts is fun, but this is a fascinating challenge, worlds harder already than anything I've tried before typographically.
Slavkappen was my biggest previous attempt at being "serious" and trying to make something really aesthetically tight, but I didn't take departure from any particular reference face as a failing. Also I don't see blackletter day-in day-out, so if it's not quite right, I wouldn't notice anyway.
Nelf was vaguely like the sort of revival I'm attempting now; constructed almost as if I had found 16th-century printed samples of tom7's Hockey is Lif all rough and rugged on handmade paper and wanted to reconstruct the "ideal" forms expressed therein. Except for some reason it didn't seem so maddeningly hard. I guess monotone sans-serifs give you much less wiggle room --- I just had to eyeball the width and the general shape of things, and at least the resulting font would hang together reasonably well. The bare concept of contrast in roman fonts --- never mind serifs and all the thickness and bracketing choices that come with them --- is a source of enormous subtlety and difficulty, especially the diagonal stress of the aldine-era forms.