Monday, September 29, 2008

Rare Books Collection: The Pilcrow

During our trip to Olin Library, I took notice in the detail of William Morris' book Geoffrey Chaucer, The Works. What really got my attention was the hand detail of the designs, especially the small leaves used throughout the text. Some of them had a ragged edge and others were smooth. It looked as if they were in place of a pilcrow.

I always thought of a pilcrow just as a character that you used to mark a new paragraph. In doing some research I quickly learned that its main purpose is to denote paragraphs, but also has different uses for different medias. What I focused on was that back in the middle ages before the idea of paragraphs were in place, the pilcrow was used to mark a new train of thought. (Below I have a picture of the pilcrow itself and an image containing the evolution of the pilcrow, images borrowed from Wikipedia.)

In William Morris' book design, it is very clear why he used such a design of leaves to take place of the pilcrow. Morris being the leader of the Arts and Crafts Movement , looked back to the beauty of the middle ages which used pilcrows to mark a new train of thought, but made it his own using a leaf. We learned that the Arts and Crafts movement was all about everything having detail and being beautiful, which explains why such ornate detail was designed in this book. Unfortunately, I was unable to find an explanation why Morris used a leaf design, some ragged and some smooth, to take place of the pilcrow, but knowing what Morris stood for it makes a lot of sense.

Below are some close up pictures I took of the text design incorporating the leaves for pilcrows.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Fashion with Advertising During the Victorian Era

There seems to be a huge parallel between women's fashion and advertising during the Victorian Era. It all reflects this idea of being a "proper society" when in reality there was an ugly underside due to industrialization. I love how women looked as if they were stuffed inside corsets with pounds of fabric draped over them to cover as much as there bodies as possible to seem demure. Yet at the same time their evening gowns gave a peek at their shoulders and busty cleavage. I personally think the look is very elegant and beautiful in history, but I can't imagine how hot and uncomfortable it must be to have worn so many layers of clothing. I've included some photos of women's dress I've found searching google images.

Seeing how busy the women's fashion was at the time with layers of clothing, it's obvious how culture at the time reflected upon the advertising. Advertisements weren't designed to have compositional value, but were made to get the message out as quickly as possible to the public. Whatever the message may have been, the goal was to fill up as much white space as possible with art and unmatching text. It looks so cluttered and busy with layers of color and texture. Here are some images of Victorian Era advertising I found searching google images as well.

Women's Fashion and advertising had the same basic idea behind it, having many layers of either fabric or artwork to cover as much as possible, it being on the woman's body or on the page of an ad. As time goes on I can see things becoming more simplified in not only fashion but design as well coming into its own finally, to create structure and clarity.

Michelle Elkin

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Trip to Olin Library

I found the illuminated manuscripts very interesting in a historical sense, but really after looking at a couple pages you sort of get the feel of the type treatment, and unless you know Latin, that's about as deep as it gets. I did get a better understanding of the hand craftsmanship that went into every book, which is a craft in itself. I really enjoyed looking through the Bauhaus style book from the Soviet Union, as far as I'm concerned I think that the Bauhaus movement was way ahead of its time. What I enjoyed the most, was the contemporary collection of books. My favorite book was "Codex Espangliensis: From Columbus to the Border Patrol." The authors/illustrators of this book combined art styles from the ancient Aztec cultures and mixed them with pop culture symbols from the United States. The book has a very edgy appeal, and has a definitely less then flattering social commentary upon the US. The book mixed images of Mickey Mouse with the macabre, or bloody images of Aztecs being slaughtered by European settlers with an unaffected Superman standing by. I also enjoyed "Sketchbook" by Clarence Morgan. It struck me as sort of a process book for his art projects, but was also filled with profound quotes... one stood out to me by Jean Cocteau, "Man is a cripple, By this I mean he is limited by finite dimensions that prevent him from understanding the infinite, where dimensions do not exist." Deep, and very Zen in nature. The other books that stood out were: "Believe This," a collection of vivid abstract organic doodlings that one student commented on as "depressing and [gestation-like]," and I also liked "The Word Returned" which was a series of typesets printed over and over, until the effect produced was very dark, edgy, and commentative on angelic imagery (or at least that's what I derived from it). 

Rare Books Collection

Today I visited the Washington University Olin Library to see a selection of pieces from the Rare Books Collection. I was impressed with the breadth of work available to view. Erin Davis, curator of rare books told me a bit about each piece. My favorite piece was "Song of Songs" printed by C.H. St. John Hornby with the Ashendene Press. Erin told me that there were aproximtely 40 copies of this book printed and the illustrations in each copy are different from one another. The book is small, no larger than 5" x 7", each page printed on vellum. The type is most definitely Humanistic as it was very legible and reminiscent of classical calligraphy. Each page has only one column of type, justified on both right and left. Decorative and colored drop caps are scattered throughout the pages. Towards the beginning of the book is a spread with a large illustration (shown to the above left). The detail in the illustration is amazing. The colors are very friendly but not bold or gawdy, with gold leafing used. The feel of the vellum paper is smooth and light and fits the softness of the typeface and the size of the book nicely. The book is set in "Subiaco" type as this was the trademark typeface of the Ashendene Press. A search for "Song of Songs" on Wash. U.'s library site lead me to an article regarding the acquisition of the "Bromer Booksellers" collection, this book being part of that collection. The article can be seen here. The inside cover/first page of the book holds and inscription by St. John Hornby with his initials and the date 1902. Thru the article I've just mentioned, I discovered that the book is a family copy, given by Hornby to his brother. The trip to the Rare Books collection was nice. I love books and typography and to get the opportunity to see some of the books, or books from the presses that we study in class is really great!

An excellent resource on book arts can be found thru Wash. U's site, linked here.

Washington University Library (online)
Encyclopedia Britannica (online)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Victorian Era

The most interesting aspect of the Victorian era to me was its chauventistic treatment of women. During a period of time, in which Prostitution skyrocketed to an all time high (Estimated 8,000 prostitutes in London alone), it was very prudish and hypocritical of ladies apparel. It was considered taboo to show ankle or even say the word "leg" in public, but at the same time ladies wore corsets to enhance their bust lines and excentuate their hips. They also wore a carriage under their dresses to look like they have a buttocks suitable for a Sir Mix a Lot video. One aspect I don't see feasible, is that in an era of extreme prudishness, Women in advertising were almost always depicted as nude or highly erotic (Mainly in Europe). In my opinion, it was the overbearing moral contstraints of the time that led people left desiring something more... particularly prostitutes.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Victorian Era Style

I have always enjoyed the art and design of the Victorian Era. Though the people portrayed have rosy cheeks, advertising may not be entirely truthful, and there was much degradation of formal typefaces, I still love the aesthetics of Victorian Era art and advertising. In fact, these are the qualities that I love most about Victorian imagery.

The style of the era was ornate, cluttered, feminine, flowery and heavily patterned. Advertisements showed greatly detailed illustrations and a variety of hand-drawn type. Colors were bold, and the "designers" weren't afraid to fill the page. No restrictions were in place in regards to imagery and type - The ads are truly creative. Even if there is no real concept behind most of the work, and definitely not an inch of white space in the ads, the hand lettering and detail in the illustrations capture my interest. I believe this is due to the fact that this style of "design" is almost exactly opposite of my own personal style of design.

The Victoria Era saw improvements in transportation, communication, the beginning of urbanization along with factory jobs because of the introduction of machines used to replace manual labor. This had a great impact on the success of the economy. On the other hand, the cities changes so rapidly that they became crowded and polluted and poor living conditions, child labor and poverty became common.

In the visual arts world, there were improvements in communication and printing as well as the boom of advertising. Icons such as Santa Claus and political cartoons were imagined and created. Two of the greatest images (in my opinion) that I came across in my research are found below along with links to their flickr pages. The image of Santa below is a perfect example of advertising not always being completely honest or "politically correct," but still being imaginative and entirely amusing.

I would think that the next step in design, after the Victorian Era, would be to begin standardizing type once again, tone down the imagery a bit and give the ladies and gents in the ads a bit less blush on their cheeks; an overall move towards a simpler look. However, I don't think that the fantastical imagery would disappear all at once. I would guess that it'd be slowly phased out with lessons learned from Victorian advertising that could be applied to future advertisements.


Monday, September 8, 2008

A mix of Jenson and Contemporary Blackletter

Searching through the AIGA Archives, I came across this book design that included Jenson along with a contemporary form of blackletter that really caught my eye. The 1999 book design published by Horse and Buggy Press is titled "An Elizabethan Bestiary: Retold." I was only able to borrow the image of the front cover to show the delicate balance created by the designer between the contemporary blackletter type, credited as Goudy Lombardic Capitals, and Jenson.

I found the choice of typefaces for this particular book theme fitting, especially on the cover that sets the overall tone of the content of book, which is from the 16th century. But what I find most interesting on this cover is the mixture of Jenson and the Goudy Lombardic Capitals form of blackletter. In class we discussed that blackletter was formed to be illegibile so that lower classes couldn't read it, and then Jenson was the first successful roman cut typeface design created for purpose that people would be able to read it. This cover has two typefaces that back in the 15th century might have caused controversy due to the contradicting typefaces. In my opinion, whether or not the designer did it on purpose, I think it's very well designed!

The inside spreads are handled with Jenson and Jenson italic. (You can go to the AIGA Design Archives and search jenson under book designs and find this book design to view the inside spreads.) The inside of the book contains a pen and ink drawing of a creature to compliment a poem on each spread. I personally loved the use of typography and artwork in the book. Jenson a clean, easily read type, balanced well with the intricate designs.

Michelle Elkin

Friday, September 5, 2008

IBM 2000 Annual Report

After browsing thru the AIGA Typographic Design Archives I chose the IBM 2000 Annual Report (see image on right). One reason why I think this piece is so beautiful is that the type is pure, clean and simple. The credits note that the designers used Jansen, however I’m wondering if this is a typo as the only typefaces I can find with a similar name are Janson and Jenson. In any case, I feel that it’s safe to say they may have used Adobe Jenson. Adobe Jenson was designed in 1995 by Robert Slimbach as his interpretation of Nicolas Jenson’s “first true Roman.” Jenson is classified as a humanist or old style typeface.

Following humanistic design, the layout boasts much white space. Paragraphs are broken down and sometimes even bulleted (see image 1 below), assisting your eyes in quickly scanning the type on the page. The layout is classic and reminiscent of Gutenberg’s 42-line bible. Two columns are centered on the page while type is justified on both left and right (see image 2 below). Diminuendo is used by starting off with larger typographic elements and gradually reducing in size as the viewer moves down the page (see images 3 and 4 below). The layout of the annual report is in the style of a book, telling the story of the previous year of IBM. Each “chapter” opens with a large illustration defining the theme of that chapter, much like a story book would (see image 5 below). From the images available on the AIGAs website, you can see that a strong grid is followed throughout, even when a larger image is thrown into the mix (see images 6 and 7 below).

Jenson was a great choice for the annual report because it lends itself to exceptional readability. It is a perfectly legible font with a classic feel, and allows the pages to exude a sense of lightness even when capital letters are used to create emphasis (see image 8 below).

Images of the IBM 2000 Annual Report were borrowed from the AIGA Design Archives.

Thursday, September 4, 2008


I went to under the typography forum, and found nothing besides the forum itself, which has yet to have a posting on it. I also couldn't find any images associated with Baskerville's typeface, the image included is courtesy of  I then next went to and found nothing in regards to Baskerville. So here goes my unillustrated opinion of Baskerville. Baskerville, created by John Baskerville in 1757. John Baskerville was an Englishman, in an era when the printing press was in full gear, and publications such as literature were expanding their ideas regarding printed word. I think that Baskerville is successful in its attempt to transition between the old typefaces(ie: Garamond) and the more modern typefaces(ie: Bodoni). This is the reason it is referred to as a Transitional typeface, because it bridges the old to the new. Baskerville, with it's vertical stress and greater contrast between thicks and thins, offers a more easier readability than it's predecessors. The letters are very wide for it's x-height, which are ideal proportions if the goal is increased readability. I believe that there is a humanistic quality in Baskerville, mainly due to its curvilinear serifs, which are less bracketed than the Old Style fonts, which is smoother and less gothic and dated than Garamond.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Art Nouveau

Not sure exactly what our discussion is about, so here goes. My favorite artists from the Art Nouveau are: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Aubrey Beardsley, William Bradley, and Alphonse Mucha. Overall, the period was saturated with over-stylized decorative organic line, erotic (mainly feminine) imagery, and most notably experimental type. This period seems to signify when typography really broke out of its shell and began breaking some of the pre-existing barriers that type was bound to. Almost every typeface out of the Art Nouveau period is bold, decorative(especially the serif based fonts), and typically colorful. Most of the examples in the book depicts an era when advertising first began to tap into eroticism and sensuality particularly in its usage of the female nude. I also derive that this was an era of drunken debauchery and prostitution(ie: Absinthe and "Can-Can Girls"), way to go 19th century.