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Capitalizing on an Old Tradition

When I first started as a self-taught newspaper/magazine designer all those many years ago, my inspiration came from illuminated manuscripts. This lead me, naturally, to initial capital letters used in 19th-century book and periodical design. I went crazy making letters that somehow illustrated the text but also stood on their own as letters or typography.

When I became art director of The New York Times Book Review, space was often at a minimum, so I’d hire wonderful illustrators to make caps. Sometimes they were copies of existing letters with decorative filigree, but my favorites were those that transformed objects into letters, like a subway train turning into an ‘S.’ Letters can be found in anything, which is the theme of Typographic Universe by Gail Anderson and me. But the initials in the publication Typographic—edited by Edward M. Gottschall, who also was an editor of U&lc—are more in the traditional illuminated genre.

I found this issue and memo (below) and realized it was a time long ago before initial caps of this kind fell out of fashion.

The 2017 PRINT RDA: Final Deadline. Enter Now!

Enter the most respected competition in graphic design—now open to both pros and students—for a chance to have your work published, win a pass to HOW Design Live, and more. 2017 Judges: Aaron Draplin / Jessica Hische / Pum Lefebure / Ellen LuptonEddie OparaPaula Scher. Student work judges: PRINT editorial & creative director Debbie Millman and PRINT editor-in-chief Zachary Petit.



Draplin image: Leah Nash. Hische: Helena Price. Lupton: Michelle Qureshi. Scher: Ian Roberts.


#DailyHeller #initialcapitalletters #StevenHeller

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PRINT (founded 1940) is where creative people gather to inspire and build design dialogue. Perpetually curious about everything design, we report on, curate and celebrate visual culture, the makers of that culture and the expression of graphic design in all its forms and mediums.  

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