<< Previous | Next >>
My early experience with typography goes way back to grade
school. I designed my own type-style that I used in official documents
for my fourth grade class. Classmates had to sign an
agreement (or else!). So, for example, if you were the target of an errant
spitball or two, you
were bound by oath not to tell on anyone. Ironically, the ones who had
spitballs on the floor around their desk would be the ones who always
trouble. But the kids always seemed to honor their oath. The fact that
the document was done in my "calligraphy" helped
to ensure that it would be considered “official, legal and binding.”
As mentioned in a previous blog, I started drawing at an early age. I was inspired by a popular artist, Ed
“Big Daddy” Roth,
who ran ads featuring his hot-rod drawings in car magazines.
I was further
inspired by the great "big-block"
muscle cars -- Road Runners, GTOs, Super Bee's,
Chargers, Challengers, 426 Hemi 'cudas, Dusters, Old's 442s, Camaro
Mustang Cobra GTs, Trans Ams, etc. My interest was also
aroused by the fact that my friend’s father (two doors down) was Buster Couch -- the Chief Starter for the National Hot Rod Association
(NHRA). He and his wife Ann loved the neighborhood kids; often taking us horseback riding, to the movies, and the drag strip.
Plus, in addition to being into model building and slot-car
racing (and flying downhill in homemade go-carts), I was even further
inspired by happenings in my neighborhood. I lived near the crest
of a very steep hill on a street
between my grade school and high school. When I wasn't waking the dead
playing my drums or playing pick-up football, basketball or baseball
games, I would be having a blast (along with my beautiful and beloved German Shepherd, "Napoleon") watching “smoke city.” After
school (with police lookouts bearing walkie talkies) the kids would line
up in their "tricked-out" muscle cars… pour bleach all over
the fat rear
tires… rev the engine while letting the car roll backwards… “dump” the
clutch and “burn out." The smell of burned rubber and layers
would permeate the scene. Some would go to second gear before the
car would start moving forward… a few could “get rubber” in all four
gears. What more could a little kid want? Life was good.
A few years later, another friend who lived down the street, asked to borrow my
notebook of car drawings to show his dad. I reluctantly agreed. His
father recognized my world-class artistic genius and I found
working nights, weekends and summers in the art department of his
My digs included a large, hydraulically
table equipped with T-Squares, triangles, X-Acto knives, non-photo blue
pencils and a hot wax machine
for "paste-up." There was
also a dark room and a very cool "process camera"
built into the wall of the darkroom. As a 10th grade creative
professional, I learned to mix chemicals, shoot mechanicals and
photos, develop film negatives in a tray (line, half-tones and color
separations), "strip" negatives and burn plates for press.
I was drawn to the typesetting equipment like a tick to a dog’s ear. There were
three types of typesetting machines at my disposal... two were “hot
type” machines -- a couple of Mergenthaler Linotype machines and a Ludlow. There was also a “cold type” machine -- the Phototypositor. Although the hot-type equipment we had was quite obsolete, I am extremely grateful that I had
the opportunity to experience it. I am more grateful that I was never burned by the hot molten
lead. I’ve heard horror stories.
As the “apprentice” I got to fill the molds
lead and hang the hardened “pigs” on the machines. To change fonts,
you would insert heavy type font “magazines” into the slots at the top
rear of the Linotype machine. There were separate magazines for each
point size. They
contained the matrices (“mats") -- each of which contained one
character which was engraved into the side.
As you hit the key on the keyboard a mat would fall
into place. There
were also spacing bands that would fall down when the space-bar was
pressed. Ingeniously, they were tapered so that they would fill the
line out for justified columns. Each mat also had its
character printed on it so that the operator could read the line before
the lever that would send it to the mold where the hot lead would be
few seconds later, while the operator was typing the next line, a
fall out in a tray beside the previous one and the lead "pig" would be
lowered slightly into the melting pot. When the tray was filled, the
slugs would be placed into "galleys" and into the proofing press. Thin lead strips would be placed between the lines to adjust
the line spacing (leading). After the slug was cast, a long "elevator"
arm would lift
the entire line of type up and to the rear of the machine where a
would turn... sending them back to their correct slot in the
magazine. Gravity would do the rest. The proofs would be waxed, cut and pasted on
the "pasteup" or “mechanical" by the resident world-class artistic genius talent.
The other "hot type" machine was the Ludlow.
It was a "hand set" machine used for type
headlines. The "cold type" Phototypositor was also for headlines -- letters were visually selected and spaced.
It was a predecessor of photographic computer typesetting equipment
that I have used throughout my advertising career -- culminating with
the Compugraphic adVantage page makeup system. It was a gazillion
dollar behemoth with a color coded template/legend and a corded stylus
-- networked to satellite Compugraphic typesetters and a large
processor for outputting phototype galleys. In spite of its
sophistication and high price (and the capability for the operator to
trace visuals for positioning), it was not "WYSIWYG." The operator still had to insert arcane codes to specify fonts, point size, leading, kerning, margins, etc.
Advertising agency copywriters or art directors would "spec" type (using type reference books and copyfitting techniques) and
send out to thriving type shops such as "Swift Tom's" here in Atlanta. The phototype proofs were delivered by courier.
Type shops and Compugraphic typesetting systems eventually gave way to the first "desktop publishing" software offerings (Ventura Publisher (my
personal preference at the time) and Pagemaker). This lead to
phototypesetting (e.g. Linotronic) service bureaus which produced
phototype galleys from client supplied files. Service bureaus were
eventually made extinct by "direct to plate" imaging equipment. These
days, *.pdf files are simply emailed directly to the printer.
While technology is ever-changing, design fundamentals and principles remain constant.
So my next blog will focus on the more "timeless" principles of
typography... and I'll try to offer some useful tips and resources..
<< Previous | Next >>