In the Spirit of John Fass and Bruce Rogers, we have been inspired to produce a product that involves an art form that not too many involved with Letterpress bother with: Border Art. If you follow the John Fass and Bruce Rogers link, you will find an amazing collection of type design and border font design, and samples of what they were able to assemble using these fonts.
We have several of these fonts, and are in process of ordering more from the foundries where we order our metal type. Many of these designs date back to the 1700s. Assembling these designs not only involve choosing an appropriate face, but also the appropriate math.
Yeah, my algebra teacher was right. Everything boils down to how things come together. We live in a universe of physical laws that follow mathematic logic. In other words, everything eventually boils down to the integration of quantities, whether in area or in volume. Setting type is no different, in many ways. The "point" and "pica" units that we use are logical, and if you choose the right sizes, symmetry can be achieved by "center justification". It's a matter selecting sizes that work with each other, and a bit of labouring over the composition stick, layering row after row of justified type, quads, and spaces.
The objective on this particular morning is to produce a Valentine card that might reflect the creativity of those incredible printers and designers of the Pre Raphaelite Movement, the Arts and Crafts artisans that worked with William Morris and Kelmscott Press, or those of the Roycrofters of East Aurora, New York. While we do not compare ourselves with Dove Press or Kelmscott Press, we do look up to them, and place them as examples to be followed. As well, John Fass, Bruce Rogers, Hammer Creek and Harbor Press.
I selected a width and type size that mathematically relate, 12 and 18pt, at a width into which both these sizes divide evently. I started with the top of the heart and worked my way down, interleaving one row of 12pt leaves with one or two rows of 18pt Fleurons. Between each row lie two 1pt. leads for "editing" purposes. Sometimes I had to lift out a line to make a correction to the line beneath: the leads facilitate this. I discovered that at any given time, I needed three lines on the 'stick', so I could keep an eye on justification and orientation.
Wow, it wasn't easy! I suppose that after a time, one gets pretty used to assembling these designs, but when you are 'on the curve', its slow going! But on the positive side, I didn't have to resort to coppers and brasses to fill gaps. Many thanks to the printers that went before, who way back when created a system whereby I might actually compute my design ahead of setting it!
After about three or four lines, I would lay the lay the lines of type on the imposing stone, stacking the layers to form the design. I might guess this is why assembled type is called a "Forme". In the above image, leads are still between some of the lines. Upon completion, the leads are pulled, the only time I every lay a Forme without leads. Leads are to a Forme what 'stretchers', or bricks laid sideways, are to a brick wall of alternating 'stretcher' and 'header' bricks. They provide strength to their assemblage, enabling the several individual pieces, bricks or metal type, to hold together. While these designs such as I am building may not use these leads in the final form, the differences in the various widths and sizes, or, the "lay" of the individual type pieces from row to row accomplish the same thing. In a Forme with words, you have to follow the count of the letters in any given word and sentence, but in symmetrical designs, you can plan your pieces, if you are careful.
This is the finished Forme, from my perspective as the compositor. Type is always laid in the stick upside down, or "nicks-up", from left to right. This is also the orientation this Forme will take in the Press, when locked into the chase and mounted on the type bed. This way, when it prints, the image is oriented right-side-up to the press operator. There is no rule to this, it's my preference.
This shot might give you a better idea of the lay-out. This is the Forme with the leads pulled from between the lines. Three border fonts are used: the 18 pt. Lilly Fleuron, the 12 pt. Leaf and the 6 pt. Maltese Cross. The Fleurons have a direction of orientation, so I split the "heart" in half, with the Fleurons facing each other.
This is a detail close-up of the top "bouts" of the heart. They are capped and 'rounded' visually with the use of the leaf and a pair of six-point maltese crosses, held in place by six-point quads. I split lines frequently to produce mild and subtle bends and angles. If you have been following this blog, you might notice that a similar paradigm was followed with the angle of the lines of type in Hannah's wedding invitation.
Here is a close-u[ of the other side of the top of the heart. If you look toward the very top of the photo, you will see an angled leaf used to taper out an 18 pt Fleuron line.
The very bottom is tipped with an inverted leaf to create a visual fine point. Regardless of the arithmetic involved, designing with borders like this ultimately relies upon the "impression" made visually, not unlike kerning. You adhere to the math too far and actually create a distorted visual that does not appear logical, no matter how well the numbers work. The bottom line always lies in the domain of visual perception, which is why this type of designing is really an "art", more than a "science". Its all part of the Art of Typography.
The next installment will be the printing of this project, our Valentine's Day Card for 2014. An entirely hand set and hand printed card designed in the centuries-old manner of the traditional printers of prior centuries, before polymer plates and Adobe Illustrator.
Happy New Year!