Sunday, April 8, 2018

Frank Worsley plate from Character Traits

The idea for Character Traits took root while reading The Europeans by Henry James in 2011. As I read the book I found myself copying out a surprisingly long list of descriptions of the novel’s characters. For some time afterward I toyed with the idea of making a lettering book in which I designed unique lettering for each of James’ descriptions. Eventually I put the idea in the back of my mind and went on to other things. Then in 2013, I was struck in quick succession by a few different descriptions of human character traits, most poignantly one by Frank Worsley, the Captain of Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition: “The rapidity with which one can change one’s ideas…and accommodate ourselves to a state of barbarism is wonderful.” Suddenly, the lettering book idea came back to me, but with an added depth. Rather than a specimen of lettering inspired by Henry James’ insightful humor, I began to imagine a book in which the texts reflected a broader picture of the human experience, touching on some of the darker (and/or comedic) realities of the human condition. I began gathering texts in notebooks as I came across them. 

For Worsley's text I wanted lettering that progressively changed from more to less familiar, skirting the edge of illegibility but not quite getting there. Below are two early sketches of the plate, as well as the finished print from both the standard (one color) and deluxe (two colors) editions of Character Traits.