A Love Letter for You from Tony DiSpigna

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Friend, fine artist, teacher, designer and hand-letterer par excellence, Tony DiSpigna’s work is enjoying a much-deserved renaissance with the publication of a beautiful new book and a line of T-shirts with his Spencerian lettering.

Tony was born in 1943 on the scenic volcanic island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples. His family immigrated to New York in the early 1950s, settling in Brooklyn, but every summer Tony returns to Italy visit family, friends and clients. In 2007, he was honored with a one-man show in Ischia of his work, which includes typeface design, logotypes, graphic design, packaging, posters, fine art and, especially, hand-lettering.

After graduating from Pratt Institute In the late 1960s Tony began working at Lubalin, Smith, Carnase Inc. There, with Tom Carnase, he did the masterful hand-lettering and type tailoring on the typo-graphics and logos designed by Herb Lubalin and the partners Alan Peckolick and Roger Ferriter, and senior designers including Louise Fili, Mark Johnson and myself. Much of his work is on display and in the archives of the Herb Lubalin Study Center of Design and Typography at The Cooper Union.

After Herb’s death in 1981, Tony formed his own Brooklyn-based company, DiSpigna, Inc, where he has continued to design typefaces and logos and create pieces of exquisite hand-lettering, especially Spencerian script—the style of all the examples in this post. He has taught for many years at Pratt, which honored him with the Institute-wide Distinguished Professor Award.

Elegance is the hallmark of Tony’s work. He is the first to credit Herb Lubalin and Tom Carnase for the genius, craft and mentoring they provided and for the style and taste they imparted. But he also acknowledges how much he learned from books and from other resources about typography and hand-lettering in general—and about Spencerian script in particular. According to Wikipedia, Spencerian was the standard American writing style for business documents from about 1850 until the 1920s, when the typewriter came into common usage. This style of penmanship, characterized by thick and thin strokes ending with flourishes, was developed by Platt Rogers Spencer to aid in matters of business correspondence as well as elegant personal letter-writing, and it was taught widely in schools.

Today, Spencerian is almost a lost art, with few, like Tony, still practicing it. Its devoted followers include the professionals and students who attended Tony’s recent lectures and exhibition at the Type Directors Club in New York. Two weeks ago, he treated a group of fans to a step-by-step tour (above) of the exhibition.

Of course, he is most appreciated by the A-list clients who’ve commissioned custom logos and lettering, including ABC Television, Atlantic Records, Danny DeVito, Newsweek, Ogilvy & Mather, Pentagram, Sports Illustrated, Showtime—and some lucky folks for their wedding invitations and event and baby announcements.

This year, Tony started to think about retiring. That’s one reason he developed a new “income stream”—making and selling T-shirts with his work—T-shirts designers will love. And it’s also the year the masterpiece he designed, Love Letters, was published, a 160-page hardbound book with more than 120 beautifully reproduced examples of his Spencerian logos and hand-lettering.

In the opening pages, Tony explains in detail how he does it—from sketches through finished art—not on a computer, but with the time-honored tools of pencil, tracing tissue, and crow-quill pen with India ink (and white tempera paint on a tiny brush for touch-ups). Of course, he’s still in business, and if you’d like to order a custom logo, he will have it digitized and delivered to you as an AI file.

And you can order your own copy of the Love Letters book from Amazon.

But if you’d like a personally signed copy at a 25% discount, just contact Tony at spigna1@aol.com with LOVE LETTERS BOOK as the subject.

And check out the groovy and timely T-shirts for sale here.

You might think the creator of this elaborate, delicate art form would be a little delicate himself. Not on your life. He’s a little gruff, a little outspoken, even a little potty-mouthed. And de
finitely not shy when it comes to declaring what is shit and what is not. If you’re in the Midwest, find out for yourself at his next lecture: May 17, 2018, 6:00pm at The Society of Typographic Arts at the IA Collaborative, 218 S. Wabash Ave. Tickets: sta-chicago.org.

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About Ellen Shapiro Print contributing editor Ellen Shapiro is principal of Visual Language LLC in Irvington, NY. She has been designing for her whole life and writing about design for more than 20 years. Her website is visualanguage.net.View all posts by Ellen Shapiro →