Monotype, the inventor of “hot metal” type — a method for punching out type from metal bands for letterpress printing — was founded in 1887. The company, like typography itself, has gone through many phases. Today it’s in the business of fonts: designing and licensing them through its Monotype, Linotype, ITC, Ascender and Bitstream libraries, and developing technologies and tools for onscreen rendering and digital output.
Earlier this month, Monotype teamed up with Lippincott, the international corporate and brand identity firm, to produce Pencil to Pixel, a one-week popup exhibit of artifacts representing more than 100 years of typeface design. Held at Tribeca Skyline Studio off Manhattan’s Canal Street, the free exhibit attracted 3,400 visitors, a mix of students and professionals, some who came from all over the U.S. and Europe, according to James Fooks-Bale, Monotype’s London-based director of marketing.
The exhibit was divided into two sections: “Pencil” on one side of the space, which included original drawings for hot-metal typefaces, and “Pixel” on the other, featuring the first bitmap type designs through current digital applications.
The displays included rare drawings by Eric Gill, creator of Gill Sans; hand-cut films for the Neue Helvetica typeface family; production drawings for Times New Roman commissioned for The Times of London; and photos, publications, and metal and film master art by designers including Herb Lubalin, Tony DiSpigna and Ed Benguiat.
“Many designers are familiar with the font pull-down menus in Adobe software but aren’t aware of the artistry and precision required to develop those typefaces. This was an opportunity to see the hand of the author,” said Fooks-Bale.
The design of the space itself was all about type. “Our design consisted only of black and white letters applied to the floors, walls and ceilings,” noted Rodney Abbot, senior partner at Lippincott. “It was a free-form, almost jazz-inspired approach to designing the exhibit—no graphic devices, no color, only type. We relied on the typefaces themselves to build energy and excitement as visitors exited the elevator, looped around the corridors, and entered the space.”
If the exhibit ran from May 3 to 9, why am I posting this today? I was most fascinated by the photographer who was working there during my visit, Albert Vecerka of Esto, the esteemed architectural photography company, which was commissioned by Lippincott. Rather than post my amateur shots, I waited nearly a month for these images to be released by Esto’s post-production team (even as I assured them that on-screen at 72 dpi, the level of detail they were finessing wouldn’t matter). Not to them. Founded by the late Ezra Stoller, Esto represents Vecerka, responsible for all the images in the post, and six other architectural photographers, and maintains a searchable stock picture archive of more than 100,000 images of the built environment.
And what would any exhibit be without a shop… with T-shirts, mugs and tote bags?
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