Thursday, September 3, 2009

The first copy of Æthelwold Etc

There is nothing that compares to the melancholic exhultation of opening the first copy of a new book. Years of thought and labor that you believed were entirely your own are distilled into an object that, once bound, is no longer yours. It takes time to get acquainted with the whole thing that had previously been separate parts. As you turn the pages, you experience a mixture of déjà vu, recognition, and surprise, as if remembering something that has only just been born.

Book with Deluxe Edition Box

Deluxe Edition Box with Book, Color Diary, and Portfolio

A is for Arrangement

K is for Karissimi

O is for One

P is for Prometheus

Page spread of notes

Page spread of notes

Pages spread from color diary

Page spread from color diary

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Æthelwold Etc. Title Lettering & Inks

Title page lettering in Johann Titling and Cancellaresca Milanese capitals

29 inks for the final 7 letters of Æthelwold Etc.

Update coming soon. I am currently in the throes of finishing the printing.

Friday, July 10, 2009

R is for Rimbaud

The letter R from Æthelwold Etc.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

P is for Prometheus, F is for Fanciful

Please Note: Prometheus is spelled wrong in this proof.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Leitura Primeira of Joaquim Jozé Ventura da Silva

First Sample Setting

Throughout Æthelwold Etc. there are repeated references to the work of the pre-Victorian Portuguese writing master Joaquim Jozé Ventura da Silva. Ventura worked in that vibrant period of lettering history between the Romantic and the Industrial eras. While his immediate (Spanish) predecessors, notably Servidori and Torio de la Riva, utilized a thorough pedagogical approach, Ventura seems to have been hell bent on having fun. As such, his work, particularly his manual Regras Methódicas para le Aprender a Escrever, is suffused with an enthusiasm lacking in the work of both his elders and his contemporaries. In the Regras there is a small specimen of Typo Portuguez nestled between examples of Ventura's incomparable Bastrdinho hand and his fantastically ornamented capitals. The specimen is a sober pause in the manual's kinetic exuberance and it displays seven optical sizes of a roman alphabet from the large Parangona I to the minute Breviario Primeiro. ¶Since I first encountered Ventura's manual I have developed a kind of inexplicable lust for his lettering which I allow to play out in Æthelwold. The digital rendering of his Leitura Primeira (above) will be used in the Æthelwold I to set To Ianthe by Lord Byron at a miniscule point size.

Monday, June 1, 2009

General Unifying Theory

The 26 letters in Æthelwold Etc. are born partly of the belief that the communal form of the alphabet is as responsible for a letter's legibility as that letter's specific form. If, for instance, you were to come upon a basket weave pattern in the Duomo floor, your mind would not necessarily view it as an O even though it is circular. If you came upon the same basket weave pattern printed in a book, preceding a P and following an N, there would be no doubt that it was an O. Further, the disparity between the letter's contextual legibility and the form's alphabetic ambiguity might "open a lane"* to a fresh appraisal of our typographic assumptions. The complex relationship between the letter and it's form might also broaden our understanding of the relationships between communal responsibility and individual prerogative, free will and determinism, heredity and experience – though, admittedly, that is a leap.

*The reference is to Auden's line "And the crack in the tea-cup opens/ A lane to the land of the dead" from As I walked out one evening.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Æthelwold Etc: E, G, and U

The first 4 pages of the color diary

May 21
When I published Mediæval in Padua last year I was pretty thrilled with myself for having printed a book that had 8 colors in it. Now, only half way through the 6th of 26 letters in Æthelwold Etc. I have used 34 colors (the upper right color on the lower right sheet is opaque white). Yesterday alone I used 14 different colors to proof the E, G and U and I have the 6 color C waiting in the wings.¶I printed the first three plates of the G today, two of which are in nearly identical shades of copper. I let the ink sit in a loose packet for a week to stiffen up and the half tones came off with almost no ink gain.

The finished G

Proofs of the U (for Utopiate), E (for Euclid), and G (for Golden) and drawings in various states on my table

May 20
I am currently proofing the Æthelwold E, G and U. The U is particularly unusual because I am trying to precipitate a mild chromatic nausea without being visually offensive. Inspired by a passage from Thomas de Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater in which de Quincey first acquires opium, the U is meant to evoke Victorian signage like that which would have been used on the druggist's shop where he made his fateful purchase. The shading in the U is the actual text set in my sans serif rendition of Thomas More's Utopian alphabet.

Proof state of the U for Utopiate

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Playing with Fire

I now have 12 additional letters from Æthelwold ready, or near ready, for proofing. My current plan is to get as much drawing and file preparation done as possible before heading to Los Angeles on Friday. I will then start proofing on the following Tuesday or Wednesday. Below are some pictures of the "drawing" in process for the border of the P (P is for Prometheus).

Monday, April 20, 2009

Æthelwold Etc. Utopiate

Initial Sketch for UTOPIATE

I am currently consumed by sketching, ordering, re-ordering, and re-assigning ideas, shapes, forms from one composition to another as the remaining 23 letters of Æthelwold come in to focus. I am reticent to show sketches of partial ideas but thought I'd show an early rendition of UTOPIATE from the U composition. The composition itself uses text from De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater, set in my sans serif rendition of Thomas More's Utopian alphabet, as shading for a dimensional letter form. ¶As the remaining compositions in the book come together I have been led in many unexpected directions for which the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art have been invaluable. The Met's collection of hair ornaments form the Biwat people of New Guinea, 5th century Byzantine weavings, and 16th century initial letters of Girolamo dai Libri have all presented new vantage points from which to begin or complete letters. Additionally, I have now been able to work the writing of Keats, Byron, and my beloved Coleridge in, as well as to draw a composition based on the fabulously painterly pavement designs of the Duomo in Sienna. It's all terribly exciting and exhausting.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Saucy Romans take the field

On Thursday I printed the first two pages of the Pervigilium Veneris (one each of Latin and English) in my new Cancellaresca Milanese type. Printing a bilingual text presents many challenges to the typographer, one of the most difficult of which is whether to pursue a feeling of typographic equanimity or to emphasize the differences between the two texts. In the case of the PV, the solution to this problem was aided by Bruce Whiteman's approach to the translation. Rather than producing a symmetrical syllabic rendering of the Latin, Bruce (thankfully) chose to set the English to his own music. The resulting translation is nearly twice as many lines as the original Latin. One of the pitfalls of using a Cancellaresca Corsiva type (like my Milanese) is that it tends to visually break up when freighted with too much white space. The ascenders and descenders need to be close to their own kind or they hang on the page like forlorn tendrils, disconnected and exposed. If I were to set both the Latin and the English in upper and lower case, the Latin would not hold its own on the page but be subsummed by the empty chasms separating stanzas. As a solution I chose to set the Latin in all caps and the English in upper and lower case. The Latin stakes out its territory with a horizontal epigraphic presence while the English is allowed to flow in a more vertical thread.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Cancelleresca Milanese in progress

Cancelleresca Milanese Set-Width Drawing Board

In an effort to create a more faithful rendition of Castiglioni's italic I am designing the type so that each letter has a pre-determined set width, just as it would have been designed in metal. By minimizing the number of kerning pairs the hope is to maintain the underlying rhythm of the original. The most typical – and legitimate – complaint about digital typography is that it is possessed of a blasé uniformity, an uninspiring sameness of color, angle, kerning, and alignment. Conversely, most efforts at scribal or (dreadful) hand-written typographic forms present a mere parody of rhythm, usually at the cost of legibility, grace, and flow. With this in mind, the Cancelleresca Milanese type is a study in the middle ground, an attempt to be simultaneously mindful of typographic necessity and calligraphic improvisation. ¶And then the problems begin. I am now on the third drafting of the type. When I proofed the first draft I was struck with fear at what I saw: more Roycrofter than Renaissance, more Goudy than good. Part of the difficulty arises from the fact that the first cutting of the original – the 1541 version that I am using as my model – is actually only a lowercase font that was paired with a pre-existing set of capitals. The capitals, in turn, are German rather than Italian humanist forms. It is fascinating that the printer chose to set a book about trans-and cisalpine inscriptions using a combination of trans- and cisalpine types. Fascinating and frustrating. The first casualty was the R, a letter that stands out as being so unique in the original, a relative of the early Humanist capitals of Donatello [see below]. It was one of the letters that first drew me to the face, but when I printed it I couldn't stop thinking of the New Yorker font or – I was crushed – a Roycrofter book. I can't abide that. Then the q presented a problem. The original used by Castiglioni was an upside down b with the tail, as was the fashion at the time, trailing down & to the left. To our eyes this is an impedement to the easy progression of the narrative, more of an affectation than anything else, and so it must go. As it stands now I am happy with the font but I also understand that it is an interpretation, a digital cousin of the original type.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Æthelwold Etc: Week Five, or Saucy Romans

Italic used by Giovanni Antonio Castiglioni in Milan, 1541

First sample arrangement after original

First sample setting of Capitals

Most of this past week was devoted to my talk at the Type Directors Club on Thursday and printing an invitation for my godson Coltrane's nursery school. With those tasks complete I have started trial settings of the Latin text of Pervigilium Veneris in 12 didot Romulus. For Bruce Whiteman's translation I have begun drawing a rendition of the upright Italic used by Giovanni Antonio Castiglioni from 1541. [original shown above] This is also the font that I will be using for the notes in Æthelwold Etc. 

Color 02

One night in the summer of 1995 I was sitting in a playground in Brooklyn with some friends. I was on the jungle gym staring at the red swing set in front of me when I understood, on a visceral level, that red was not a primary color and that the mixing of the "primary colors" into secondary and tertiary colors was not an act of creation but one of re-assembly. That red, yellow, and blue are exhumed or extrapolated from pure light or a primal brown and that the color wheel, when inverted, becomes a more accurate chromatic centrifuge.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

One Weekend Only: Bodoni, Byron, and Bordeaux

Bodoni, Byron, and Bordeaux
March 28 & 29
The Center for Book Arts, 28 West 27th Street, 3rd floor
Join me for a weekend of connoisseurship. We will sample beautiful letter forms, romantic poetry, and delicious wine. Visit the Center for Book Arts for more details.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Æthelwold Etc: Week Four

Fourth and Final State

Third State

Second State

First Experimental State

Original Pencil Scumble for Plate #2

First Sketches of Ribbon & Textura Inglese, with Printing Notes

February 20
This week has been devoted to the Æthelwold T. With each letter it is becoming clearer that the secret to overlaying color is the preservation of luminosity. This probably sounds obvious but with four colors of ink printed on top of one another it is remarkably difficult to maintain vibrancy. For the T, I had thought that by overlaying different densities of copper glazing I would achieve the "inner light" that I was after. Instead, the resulting color was bland and lifeless (State 2). Further, the outline and right reading type was not stadning out the way I wanted them to. For the tromp l'oeil to work properly, I needed the ribbon to feel elevated from the page. In the end, I started with a ground of bright lemon yellow overprinted with a pale hot pink scumble (see below). Over these I printed two different shading plates in copper glazes and the wrong reading type in a pale bronze. Interestingly, all of these colors are roughly the same value. It is the altering of hue – rather than contrast in value – that provides the depth. When the outline and right reading type were printed in a contrasting blue-bronze the whole image stood off the page.

First and Second Plates in Final Colors

Sunday, February 15, 2009


As with static form, a static color composition is either composed of bodies at rest or forces in equilibrium. This is (now) a basic idea and any student of Albers is familiar with it: put x next to y to make it look like z. The purple in this gray draws out the yellow in that green, and they either balance each other or create a friction that, like the best asymmetrical designs, conveys the impression of a whole. So why are color combinations so difficult? Perhaps our approach to color is part of the problem. ¶From childhood we have the tertiary color wheel beaten into us as an unequivocal truth but, however enjoyable that beating might be, I have always held its fundamental proposition suspect. Nothing I have observed in nature suggests that color is an additive process. Although we are able to mix the three "primary colors" into an apparently infinite spectrum, consider approaching the color wheel from the opposite direction. Rather than viewing color as an act of primeval creation consider color as a product of Babel, that once there was a great scattering, a centrifugal propulsion from which we are still returning. When viewed from this perspective, arriving at a harmonious color combination is not a creative act occuring in a vacuum, but a re-assembling of something that was shattered and now is made whole. Consider the possibility that the only primary color is brown, and that red, yellow, and blue are extruded from it as copper ore is from the earth.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Æthelwold Etc: Week Three CODEX

This week was devoted to the CODEX book fair where I displayed the first couple of pages of Æthelwold Etc. The response was very encouraging, to the extent that five of the eight deluxe copies are now reserved. More than sales, though, the event was a remarkable gathering of people: in the same afternoon I discussed my work with Thomas Ingmire, Nicolas Barker, and Johanna Drucker. Though I had a hard time getting around to look at other people's work, the quality of what I did see was unmatched in my experience. I was surrounded by David Esslemont's calligrams, Carolee Campbell's salt-resist Sumi ink paintings, the obsessive compulsive (in the complimentary sense) works of ARC, Richard Wagener's wood engravings, Ken Botnick's ink jet/letterpress combinations, and Johannes Strugalla's phonetic typography. I came away from the fair cursing myself for not being born rich. And completely inspired.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Æthelwold Etc: Week Two

February 5
One of the more adventuresome aspects of Æthelwold Etc is that every letter form in it, including every typeface, will be designed and drawn by me. For each letter composition, there is the letter form itself (A, B, C, etc) and then a title drawn in a different lettering style. Additionally, I am designing an inline titling font for the title page (see above), an upright Italic font for the notes, and a variety of other fonts and alphabets that will appear within various compositions. So far, with only 5 finished compositions, I have designed a Greek majuscule font based on a sketch by Eric Gill for the P, a composite textura font for the T, and a sans serif rendition of Thomas More's Utopian alphabet for the Q.

February 4
Finished the eighth and ninth (and final) plates on the A. For the outline of the cartouche I mixed a blue gray to emphasize the different oranges. It reads as the same color as the purple gray that outlines the green letter. The final color of the composition is a rich black used to print the word ARRANGEMENT in letters derived from the capitalis quadrata of Bartolomeo San Vito. Have decided that I don't have the energy to proof the T before leaving for Berkeley Saturday morning.

Æthelwold Etc Color Diary: Week Two

These are the final 5 colors for the A, all of which were used on the top cartouche. The rest of the week will be spent proofing the T and printing an initial version of the title page for CODEX.

Who/what is Æthelwold?

Æthelwold was Bishop of Winchester from 963–984. During this time, the scribe Godeman made a service book for him, known as The Benedictional of Æthelwold. The book is lavishly illuminated with an abundance of gold and the text is laid out using the Hierarchy of Scripts developed by the Carolingians: Antique Roman capitals (or a variation thereof) for titles [in this case all in gold]; an insular uncial hand for introductory matter [in this case a strikingly stylized hand notable for it's unmistakable A]; and a Carolingian miniscule for the body text. It is one of my favorite books. The manuscript is in the British Library and is available in facsimile.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Æthelwold Etc Color Diary: Week One

Æthelwold Etc will be published in both a standard and a deluxe edition. The book itself will be the same in both editions – I don't want anyone to feel that they are getting a second quality book. Instead, the deluxe will have two extras: 1) a suite of prints of all 26 letters and 2) a color diary of draw downs of all inks mixed for the book (estimated at between 100 and 150 individual colors). After three days of printing, I have mixed nine colors.

Æthelwold Etc: Week One

September 30
Editioned the first four colors of what is now a nine color A. I put the rollers through three intermediary conditioning steps to achieve the specific translucency and hue I was going for in the green. In comparison to what I printed today the proof I pulled on Monday looks muddy and indelicate. The inspiration for the coloring is the faint green in the Feliciano manuscript. It's not my intention to mimic watercolor in print – Æthelwold is very specifically a printed book – but it is important to me that some of the background light that is peculiar to watercolor be evident. For the outline, I ended up printing it in a purpley gray which, when printed alongside the green, reads convincingly as a pencil line.

September 29
Finished editioning the O. I have spent most of the last 12 years wanting to print this image. It is based on one of the startlingly centripetal pavements in the Duomo of Florence.

Monday, January 26, 2009

First Proofs from Æthelwold Etc.

I have never printed nine colors on one page. The proofing process of Æthelwold is not simply to check plates or drawings or even specific colors. It is part of a process to learn how nine colors that I have in my head actually work together – if they do – in print.

Upcoming Events

CODEX International Book Fair
February 9-11
Pauley Ballroom, UC Berkeley Campus
Come spend a few sunny days in Berkeley. I will be showing the first pages of Æthelwold Etc. as well as a selection of my books in print. Visit for more information.

Letter Forms as Content
Society of Scribes Annual Meeting 2009
February 26, 6:00 pm

at the Type Directors Club, 347 West 36th Street, Suite 603
I will be giving an illustrated talk about my work, particularly the development of proprietary lettering and type faces for my books.
$20/$15 for students. RSVP to

Bodoni, Byron, and Bordeaux
March 28 & 29
The Center for Book Arts, 28 West 27th Street, 3rd floor
Join me for a weekend of connoisseurship. We will sample beautiful letter forms, romantic poetry, and delicious wine. Visit the Center for Book Arts for more details.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inscription on the Real Alcazar in Sevilla

Click on the image above for a better view. The layout and lettering of this inscription is reminiscent of Mosan Romanesque champlevé enamel work. Compare with the great altarpiece of Nicolas of Verdun in Klosterneuburg, Austria

Monday, January 19, 2009

Works in Progress

I am currently working on three separate book projects with the expectation of completing at least two in 2009.

Æthelwold Etc.
Twenty six letters inspired by other letters, non-letters, and little bits of poetry
With accompanying notes by Russell Maret
This will be my first printed alphabetical treatise. The work will comprise twenty six letter forms, printed on recto only, each inspired by a diverse array of historical styles, literary references, and daydreams. Each composition will be printed in rich, multi-chromatic letterpress. To give an idea of the work's complexity, the A is 8 colors and will require 9 plates. The O is one of the more subtle drawings at only 5 colors.
The sources, inspirations, and thought process behind each letter will be explained in depth in an accompanying section of notes.

Pervigilium Veneris
by Tiberianus
translated by Bruce Whiteman
I received Bruce's translation last week and it is fantastic. I will begin working on the layout in February.

Swan & Hoop 2: Lettered in Lucca
by Russell Maret
The second issue of Swan & Hoop is a guide to the public lettering in the beautiful Tuscan city of Lucca. I have begun researching the essay, but Æthelwold is driving me to distraction. I hope to begin printing this autumn.