The Daily Heller: Marathon Typographer Lorenzo Petrantoni

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In Italy, they say to make the best espresso, you must have the best water. I would add, to make the best typography you need the best typefaces and, arguably, the best typefaces come from Italy (i.e., the birthplace of the Roman letter). In my humble opinion, some of the most engaging typographic illustration in Italy (and the West) is created by Milan-based (where the espresso is not as good as Rome), Genoa-born Lorenzo Petrantoni—if only, but not exclusively, for his ability to cram more type in a square centimeter than a warning label or phone directory. I’ve admired his almost entirely (80%) handwork for years (at least 10) and am pleased to present some of it here today. Take it away, Lorenzo …

I am completely in awe of and entranced by your use of type and printer’s cuts in such explosive symmetrical patterns. When and why did you start working this way? And for how long have you been doing it?

I have been doing my job for almost 13 years now; I started out of passion just for the pleasure of making collages that I liked. Later it became a job, but it nevertheless remains a passion. It was born by chance, as well as the work I do.

Do you have a “name” for your marathon approach to typography?

I don’t have a name, but the technique could be summarized as “encyclopedic collages,” because they [involve] images that I find in the encyclopedias of the 1800s.

I presume you know this is an obsessive way to work. How much time is consumed by what you create?

It depends on the work. It usually takes two to three days to make an image; I don’t know if it’s an obsessive way of working, but I really like it.

How much advanced planning is necessary? Do you have a “secret” method of composition?

They are collages that I make by hand and then finalize with the computer; 80% is done by hand,
20% on the computer for the composition of the image. I have no plan beforehand; the shapes of the photocopies of the images help me choose an arrangement. I never change the images or the dimensions—they are used directly from books from the 1800s.

This style is striking on a small business card, and monumental within a grand exhibition space. How did your method evolve?

The matrix and the collage are created by hand. The second phase and the support where the image is reproduced is the most fun; it is now possible to spam everywhere and with the most advanced techniques.

Of interest to me is the contrast inherent in your work, at once old and new in a sort of critical fusion. Is this intentional or accidental?
The only contemporary elements are the photos that I insert when I have to add elements that did not exist in the past. The images and decorations are all from my various books; all from the 1800s and nothing of our century. Perhaps the peculiarity is that using only decorations and images from the 1800s, you can collaborate with contemporary brands.

Why is handwork so important in these times?

Every single element is glued by hand. The computer would give me too many possibilities to change and I would never be able to decide on the best possibilities; working by hand I have no way to change the size, color, shape, etc. I only need the computer to finalize details and add color.

Honestly: Do you live in clutter or order?

I adore order, perhaps even in a manic way, but that’s OK.