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Erotica: Award-Winning Spencerian Script

Ever since OpenType sparked an explosion in script typefaces, I’ve been waiting for someone to design a credible Spencerian script style font. Maximiliano Sproviero, a young Argentinean in his mid-20s, has done just that with the perfectly named Erotica from Lián Types. The font family has already won an award from the Type Directors Club, which is where I encountered it—and him—earlier this year.

Maximiliano Sproviero, Erotica Designer Sproviero is poised to challenge Alejandro Paul as the reigning king of scripts. This is surprising, given his previous track record. Sproviero’s earlier script types were, to be polite about it, unimpressive. Valeria Script (2008), Kalligrand (2008), Intima Script (2008), Oh Lara (2008–2009), Quijote Savage (2008–2009), and Mon Amour Script (2009) are all broad-pen influenced calligraphic scripts marked by clumsy letterforms and excessive swashes. They’re all the work of a neophyte, someone self-taught both at calligraphy and at font-making. But, beginning with Parfait (2009–2010) and continuing with Breathe (2010) and Reina (2011), Sproviero began to show some maturation. These fonts, all of them “didones” at heart, are vastly improved, though some characters are wince-inducing, sprouting over-the-top swashes in the currently popular manner. Despite the swashes they are not true scripts, though their extreme thick-and-thin features proved to be a stepping-stone for Sproviero on his path to Erotica.

Suddenly in 2013 Sproviero’s type designs took a tremendous leap in quality with the release of Live and Bird Script. Live is an elegant brush script that still has a few awkward characters but is blessedly free of useless swashes. Bird Script is even better. Inspired by the calligraphic work of Yves Leterme, it’s astonishing in its lightness and grace.

Sproviero’s sudden growth spurt can be traced to advice he received from Rob Leuschke, one of the leading designers of contemporary script fonts. Encouraged by Leuschke to attend calligraphy workshops in the United States, he studied with Julian Waters, Carl Rohrs, Yves Leterme, Denis Brown and the late Georgia Deaver—all masters of contemporary script calligraphy. Of this education he says, “I realized that if I became a really good calligrapher, I would then be a really good type designer.” He was amazed at the way these calligraphers used tools and he became eager to capture their “brilliant strokes and curves” in the computer. With Bird Scripts he succeeded.

Erotica, a Spencerian Script But neither of these scripts prepared me for seeing Erotica, a Spencerian script.

Spencerian scripts are difficult to do well. There are a handful of masters of the genre working today, nearly all of them veterans of the phototype era when Herb Lubalin made it popular. Among them are Tom Carnase, his protégé Tony Di Spigna and Ed Benguiat, all of them former Lubalin associates; Ricardo Rousselot in Spain, Jean Larcher in France, and Peter Horridge in England. Erotica owes a deep debt to several of these men, notably Carnase, Di Spigna and Rousselot. Sproviero especially cites Rousselot—who was born in Argentina in 1936—as an inspiration. “When I was looking for some designers who did similar stuff, I found Tony’s work and I was delighted. I also found Ricardo Rousselot’s work. Ricardo’s designs were the most helpful: the sometimes ‘over decorated’ swirls from his ex libris designs were triggers to me, and I started making Erotica a little more decorative for that purpose,” he says.

 What is Spencerian? It’s a misnomer as it’s not the same as Spencerian penmanship, a 19th century pointed pen commercial writing style promulgated by Platt Rogers Spencer and his heirs and colleagues. But Spencerian as coined by Tom Carnase and used by Di Spigna et al is a drawn script style based not upon Platt Rogers Spencer’s work, but on a range of pointed pen styles, especially Roundhand, the 18th century English version practiced by Charles Snell, George Shelley, Joseph Champion and John Bland that was immortalized by writing master and engraver George Bickham in The Universal Penman (1741).

Roundhand by John Bland. Detail of page from The Universal Penman (1741) by George Bickham. Courtesy of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University.

True Spencerian writing with a pointed nib. “Penmanship” page by Platt Rogers Spencer (1857) from Spencerian System of Practical Penmanship (1859). Courtesy of Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University.

Because it’s drawn instead of written, Spencerian is characterized by an extreme contrast of thick and thin strokes. Di Spigna insists that its thins need to be as thin as possible—true hairlines. Erotica has captured this simple but essential aspect of the style. Its hairlines, in the display version Erotica Big, are truly thin. And they are consistently so, unlike the thin strokes of PF Champion Pro. Even more importantly, Erotica’s curves are smooth and graceful. There is none of the awkwardness or clumsiness that I have complained about in the work of many of today’s younger hand letterers. For the most part, the font’s curves are voluptuous, sensuous and ripe. Erotica has earned its sexy moniker.

An example of Spencerian lettering. “PM Typography” title for calendar published by PM Typography (1985) by Ton Di Spigna.

Erotica is an OpenType font and thus Sproviero has taken full advantage of the glyph palette to create a slew of extra characters: alternates, swash alternates, ligatures, swashes, some decorative elements, and a few dingbats. There are three or more versions of each capital letter, varying in degree of swashiness and sometimes in form as well; and seven or more versions of each lowercase letter with most being beginning or ending swash variants—and a few being mid-word swash variants. Some of the latter are ambiguous on their own—the a could be mistaken for “a”, “q” and the” u” for a “y” for instance—and appear ripe for misuse and abuse. Fortunately, Sproviero’s sample PDFs show how they can be used properly and work effectively.

Swash a and of ligature: The a with a descending flourish can be mistaken for a q. The space between the right side of o and the stem of f in the of ligatures is too tight. It’s not  consistent with the general letterspacing of Erotica.

Sproviero’s love of excessive swashes, out of control in several of his early typefaces, is entirely appropriate for a Spencerian script font like Erotica. Not only are the letters swashed, but so too are the figures—some of them wildly so. Not all of the swashes and flourishes are well done, though. Several lowercase letters (h, k, m, n and r) have a reverse-direction swash that seems to dangle limply; and the swashes of the t and y in the ty ligature collide with one another.

Erotica is an impressive design, but it’s still the work of a young designer. That can be seen in several ill-considered or poorly drawn characters. All of the js have weak tops and all of the Xs have weak right strokes; all of the zs have Zanerian forms that seem at odds with the rest of the lowercase letters; the negative space of several of the Ms is poorly balanced with the looping right diagonal/right leg combination being too open; the o and f in of, off and oft ligatures are too close together; and several of the capital letters (mainly the Cs and Es) need more weight on some of the curves.

A E M X: The default A is weak on the right side. Erotica contains other As that are better suited to the task. The thick strokes of the default E are lighter than those of other capitals. The looping right diagonal/right vertical parts of this alternate M are too far apart. The right side of all of the Xs is weak.

j z: The treatment of the top of these letters is unusual.

These criticisms do not diminish Sproviero’s accomplishment. He has said that with Erotica, he wanted to “show that script fonts are not just ‘fantasy fonts’ or ‘informal fonts’, and that if they’re well done, they can be as difficult and interesting as text fonts.” The twenty-six year old has done just. Erotica is not only interesting but, as its name suggests, enticing, alluring and provocative.

Note: This review has focused on Erotica Big, but the family also includes Erotica Small and Erotica Inline. Erotica Small is the same as Erotica Big except that the hairlines are a little bit sturdier. But not enough that the font can be used comfortably at less than 48 pt. Essentially, Erotica Small is a traditional display face while Erotica Big is perfectly suited for large situations such as posters, outdoor advertising or simply anytime a designer wants a ginormous sexy letter. Erotica Inline is a nod to Di Spigna who often adds an inline to his Spencerian lettering. The inline has been inserted into the existing Erotica Big design. The design would have been better if Sproviero had heavied up the thick strokes first to compensate for the divided line. Erotica is available in both pro std versions at MyFonts.

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