Trip the Type Fantastic

Posted inThe Daily Heller
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Even in Italy, the birthplace of Western type, it’s hard to find a great typography course … but not impossible. James Clough, who teaches in various schools in and around Milan (and at the SVARome Master’s Workshop in the summer), knows how to make typographers out of the multi-thumbed. His class at Riccardo Bauer School in Milan recently completed another in an annual series of student-driven handprinted typographic theme books. I love them. So I asked James to tell us about the books and the De Aetna workshop for SVA:


What types do you teach with most frequently?The most significant of the early Roman types was designed and cut into steel punches by Francesco Griffo and was first seen in the De Aetna, printed by Aldus Manutius in 1496. A generation later those letters were copied in Paris by Claude Garamond and today no other graphic symbols could be more ‘normal’ or more familiar to our eyes. They are, however, the most enduring of Italy’s Renaissance gifts and even Times New Roman ultimately derives from them.

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How do you teach students to draw these letters?Following a calligraphic exercise to grasp the progression of thick and thin strokes, the drawing begins. Using soft pencils with translucent paper placed on top of photocopies of the enlarged De Aetna letters, students discovered that behind “normality” there is extraordinary sensuality and beauty. After some experimentation, options were made to interpret the original letters with or without serifs. Design decisions concerning thick-thin contrast and serif treatment etc. were made to produce the final result of an aphorism. Besides attention to homogeneity of letters, care was given to letter spacing, word spacing and “leading” to produce a “typographic” image looking good in a rectangle with dimensions chosen to accommodate the aphorism.

The experience gave students a practical understanding of some of the basics behind modern type design and typography.

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What about your type booklets for the Riccardo Bauer School?These little publications are the results of work done during the evening classes in typography at the Riccardo Bauer School in Milan. Each year a theme concerning type or almost anything to do with the alphabet is decided and participants in the course make contributions to the contents in the form of personal projects, usually of a single page. The booklets are all set by hand and printed letterpress in small runs on a Heidelberg “Windmill” platen press. The course in typographic design consists of lessons in the history and theory of typography and the graphic arts together with various practical activities such as calligraphy, linocutting, bookbinding and, of course, typesetting, printing and production of polymer plates for illustrations. Excursions to printing museums and visits to historical libraries have become another feature of the course. The teachers are James Clough (history of typography), Lucio Passerini (lettering and typography), Pietro Pradella (composizione), Bruno Armada (printing) and Cristina Balbiano d’Aramengo (bookbinding). The course was originally conceived by Anna Colnaghi, and Anna Ronchi was also a teacher until 2004.

[Read about the current edition of Passerini’s project in this coming Thursday’s DH.]

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