December 3, 2013

Playing With Type

For the Love of Wood Type

Author: Lara McCormick

I have been fortunate enough to have many talented people in my life who've influenced the way I look at, practice, and teach design. The inspiration I gained from one of my instructors at the School of Visual Arts, Gail Anderson, fuels the way I teach type. Gail taught me to appreciate typefaces beyond the set of six I had restricted myself to using. I had no experience with letterpress at the time, and when she exposed our class to it, I fell in love. Particularly the large chunky specimens.

Fast forward five years. When I spotted an old Pearl Press at the college I teach I couldn't wait to get it up and running. I also discovered a set of type drawers in a closet, full of lead an wood alphabets. With some help from a friend, I got the press up and running, but during my practice demo, a crucial part broke in half. The letterpress lesson I had planned was going to be part of my first week of typography class, and with the semester starting in a week I needed an alternate plan. I racked my brain for a way to get my students to appreciate the letterpress type I knew they would fall in love with.

Some of the digitized wooden type I discovered in my files.

Then I remembered some files Gail had shared with my class years back. Wood type alphabets scanned and traced in Illustrator! I felt like I had struck gold as I collected and distributed the files to my students. The project: make a type driven poster using digitized wooden specimens.

Design: Ashley DuPont

Design: Nicole Gregory

Design: Abbie Ireland

First response was that it took too long to place each letter as an image. I showed them the broken Pearl Press and had them handle the trays of type. Something clicked when they fondled the specimens, and they started to appreciate what I was teaching them. Some students incorporated wood type into projects they were doing in other classes.

Design: Miriam Blias

Later in the semester I did get the opportunity to take them to a working press to make posters using the real thing. But for a starter project, this got them to really appreciate the ease that digital fonts provide when typesetting today.

Thanks to the folks at Bow & Arrow Press for showing us the real deal! Suzie Barros works the Vandercook.

Lara McCormick is the author of Playing with Type: 50 Graphic Experiments for Exploring the Creative Impact of Typographic Design Principles, now available from Rockport Press. She has taught at the School of Visual Arts and PRATT and is currently the chair of graphic design at the New Hampshire Institute of Art.