Typographic Sketchbooks

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday January 12, 2012

Steven Heller and Lita Talarico, co-founders of the MFA Designer as Author Program at School of Visual Arts, cast a net across the globe to gather almost 200 type designers, illustrators, and identity designers on the subject of typography sketchbooks. Last night at the New York Pubic Library they presented their findings in the form of the door-stopper-size Typography Sketchbooks (Princeton Architectural Press 2011), with five of its contributors on hand to contribute to the discussion: Travis Cain, Viktor Koen, Matt Luckhurst, and Esther K Smith + Dikko Faust (of Purgatory Pie Press).

 “Different artists use sketchbooks in widely different ways,” said Lita in her introduction, “whether noodling or doodling ideas, rehearsing, experimenting or just playing around. So the book is a typographic playground filled with personal narratives—tales about type and form and creative development.”


Sketchbook pages by two of last night's presenters, left: Travis Cain; right: Matt Luckhurst.

 “Typography is at the heart of visual communication. Many artists obsess over it as one of the purest forms of design,” said Steve, who presented spreads from the book, done by artists from Brooklyn to Beirut. He noted that in many cases, perfection is not the issue and that much creative work originates in detritus. That notion is perfectly realized by Pedro Inoue of Sao Paulo, Brazil who wrote, “Most of the time I collect things [in the sketchbooks]—memories, thoughts, dreams I’m afraid to forget—illegible letterforms that I scribble half asleep in the middle of the night.” Then on the screen appeared photographs of letterforms Inoue created by arranging discarded bottles and cans, that just might have began life as a concept sketch for “the suicidal mustard jar” film that he recently produced.

Pascal Zoghbi, designer of new Arabic fonts, corporate identities and print publications in Beirut, Lebanon, wrote, “I always start a project by sketching and experimenting with different design alternatives until I am satisfied with a strong idea. Then I move to the computer and develop the final design.” Like many of the designers featured in the book, Zoghbi feels that “sketching has the humanistic, hand-drawn spirit that can be lost when the final is digitized. Personally, I value the sketches more than the final outcome.”

Viktor Koen, who teaches in the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay Department at SVA, took the podium and talked about the sketchbook culture that became a powerful organizing tool for him, starting in his college days in Tel Aviv, Israel. His sketches and finals couldn’t be more different, he said. “My sketching is a mixture of stick figures, hieroglyphics, esoteric doodling, and coffee stains—rarely understood by man or beast. The end result (and strength) of my published work is communication and visual impact.”

Brazilian designer Celina Carvalho uses the sketchbook to jump-start her assignments. “When I haven’t had any ideas yet, sometimes I find it hard to begin designing directly on the computer. With the sketchbook I can simply scribble with no concerns. I draw whatever comes to mind, even if it has nothing to do with what I need to achieve. And this leads me to the beginning of my ideas.”

George Bates, an illustrator living in Brooklyn, uses his sketchbooks to answer questions about process and aesthetics, noting that “the books represent a place with no parameters yet they also define what the parameters are. They emanate from a restless experimentation and curiosity with image-making, space, ideas and plasticity. I do love that how a random or specific word or text that has been collaged, drawn, painted or scratched into a page can manipulate and directly change the meaning of an image, and that page as an experience.”

Typography Sketchbooks (Princeton Architectural Press 2011), covers just about every nuance of visual communication from just about every possible approach to type design, from the highly controlled sketches of Matthew Carter (Cambridge, MA) to the free-wheeling headline sketches of Andy Smith (London, UK) to the sublimely beautiful photographic alphabets of Bob Aufuldish (San Anselmo, UK). It’s a must for musing and inspiration for visual narrators. And it includes URLs for the contributors.



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