Influence of calligraphy in designing a type

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ncaleffi's picture
Joined: 8 Nov 2007 - 5:13am
Influence of calligraphy in designing a type

The preliminary remark is that I'm reading Giovanni Mardersteig's "Officina Bodoni", a great book about the work of one of the best printer of XX century.

I'm fascinated not only by his excellent typographic work but also by his interpretation of the late 1400 aldine types by Francesco Griffo, namely Griffo and Zeno (and lately Dante).

What struck me is Mardersteig attempt to differentiate his typefaces from Monotype's contemporary metal renditions of the same sources - Centaur and Bembo. Looking at the samples of Zeno and Griffo, I have the impression that these typeface, compared to Monotypes', have a stronger calligraphic quality, which makes them, apparently, not only more faithful to the originals, but much more pleasing to the eye (though this is a subjective matter, of course).

Where does this calligraphic touch comes from? Why do the shapes of Centaur and Bembo, compared to Zeno and Griffo, look more mechanical? Why do Mardersteig's types - cut by the great Charles Malin - appear so softer, gentler, as they were drawn by a human hand and not cut into punches? Do the fact that they were meant for hand composing (and not for machine composing) influence this?

And, finally, a question to every type designer: how much calligraphy influence your work when designing a type? Do you draw it by hand and then transfer it to a digital form, or do you straitghly draw it, in a software?

(Sample from Zeno courtesy of an image posted by Hrant, from Mardersteig's book; sample from Bembo from an original Monotype specimen from the Bixler press).