Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Elements of Typograhic Style

Within a short time after completing my formal education and entering my profession, I became rather painfully aware that my training in the art and craft of typography had been sorely lacking in many respects. There is an incredibly rich history and a fascinating set of accepted principles and rules which govern typography, the skillful use of letterforms and typeset matter which is a very important sub-discipline of graphic design. These were practically occult to me early in my career. I had some vague sense that they were floating around out there and that others were aware of them and made good use of them, but they were as yet undiscovered by me. After I languished for a couple of years or so in this state, a helpful co-worker (eternal thanks, Jade!) recommended this book. My well-worn paperback first edition copy of Bringhurst’s respected manual still sits within easy reach on my shelf and I refer to it – sometimes out of necessity and sometimes out of sheer delight – on probably a weekly basis, at least. I would say that its contribution to my career has been inestimable, though I have by no means begun to exhaust the vast store of knowledge on the subject and am always captivated to learn more.

There are those who will assert that rules have nothing whatever to do with aesthetic enterprises, to which I say Hogwash! Of course I will grant that the rules have to be employed with a rather loose grip and a free hand, especially when it comes to aesthetics. But even one intent upon bending or breaking the rules (which is appropriate and even obligatory from time to time) must understand them thoroughly if it is to be done with thoughtfulness and effectiveness. (This is true, incidentally, with respect to literature, poetry, music and any other art form as much as it is within the visual arts.)

For all its value, Bringhurst’s book is not without its flaws. In my opinion, these have more to do with what is left unsaid than what is said. (Some of the reviews on, while overwhelmingly positive, do highlight this fact. I would particularly Amen! virtually every critique offered by Erik Fleischer.) Hopefully the author can address these in a future edition. That said, I would consider this a must-have book for every graphic designer and a handsome edition to the library of anyone who has even a casual interest in typography.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden…and the Lord God took the man, and put him in the Garden of Eden to dress and keep it.
Genesis 2: 8a-15 (AV)

As we continue to explore man’s lordly role as established by God at the creation, we need to consider three very important aspects of that role which are highlighted in the Genesis narrative: dressing, keeping and (as we shall see later) naming.

First let us turn our attention to the concept of dressing, as the Authorized Version renders the first of man’s two assigned duties. Renderings of other translations include tend (NKJV), work (NIV, ESV, HCSB), and cultivate (NASB). The original Hebrew word indicates labor, husbandry (a somewhat archaic English term for cultivation), service and most interestingly, the idea of compulsion, as in to compel someone or something else to work. Taking all of this together, we get the general picture: Adam (Man, which is the literal meaning of the Hebrew name) is given the task of maintaining the garden. One would presume this to include the garden and everything in it: plants, rocks, soil, streams, beasts and, of course, himself and (later) his wife. And we have to almost pinch ourselves into remembering once again (I will be calling attention to this frequently when dealing with the first two chapters of Genesis) that all of this is in the context of an unspoiled, pre-Fall creation. This leads to some fascinating ruminations.

First we have the very concept of work. Work in and of itself is not a product of or a penalty imposed on account of the Fall. The Fall would drastically alter the nature of man’s work, primarily by ratcheting up its intensity while subjecting it to constant frustration rather than continual blessing, but the pattern of six days of labor and one of rest is established right from the beginning.

Secondly, consider this: God didn’t cause a wild and untamed jungle (or a rainforest, even) to grow up in Eden; he planted a garden in Eden. A garden is something which must be maintained, pruned and cultivated. The soil needs to be worked to maintain ideal growing conditions. The hedges needed trimming from time to time. A tree’s natural and God-given glory might be further enhanced by observing the tree as it continues to grow, perhaps selectively lopping off a few limbs here and there, and perhaps re-training some that remained. The fruit needed gathering.

It is virtually tantamount to gospel truth in the modern world that concepts such as pure, pristine and unspoiled are necessarily equated with untamed, unrefined and untouched by the hand of man, but in the Bible it is not so. When man interacts with nature, exercises his influence upon it, and works thoughtful change upon it and throughout it, he is not thereby necessarily or merely by definition meddling or interfering; he is doing so at the express appointment of God. Note that I said the change wrought should be thoughtful (and even that is not to say that even any duly considered change is necessarily for the best, at least not in a Fallen world), and as noted in the previous post, it should be performed with an ultimate end in mind which is replenishing and nurturing for the earth. Those important qualifications duly noted however, it must be reiterated that man alters his environment with the blessing of Almighty God.

God in the beginning created everything good, and yet, the world still had much which God intended to be made even better through the careful stewardship of man. The original creation was indeed glorious, and yet, God intended it to ascend, through man’s agency, from glory to even greater glory. I believe that, had the Fall never happened, we would still have much that we treasure even in our now corrupted universe. Landscaped vistas. Sculpted shrubbery. Terraced embankments. Wisteria laden arbors. Flagstone walkways and courtyards. Rose-entwined trellises (sans thorns, of course). Ivy-clad brick walls. Bonsai trees.

Or at least things very much like them.

More to come as we have a look at keeping.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Abba Java logos

Here’s a look at a fun little logo project recently completed for a friend. This is branding for some specialty-roasted coffee which will be sold to benefit orphans. The emphasis at this stage is on coffee grown in Africa and benefiting African orphans specifically, hence some of the early Afro-centric designs. However, the client ultimately decided to go with something a bit more versatile, to keep his options open as the business develops.

And the winner is...

Farewell Andrew Wyeth

It was announced just yesterday that celebrated American painter Andrew Wyeth has passed at the age of 91. Wyeth was indeed a fine painter, though I confess to being more an admirer of his father, N. C. Wyeth. I would love to take a trip to Delaware sometime to visit the Brandywine Museum, home to many works by the Wyeths and a good many other fine artists and illustrators.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, over every creeping that that creepeth upon the earth. And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
Genesis 1:26-28 (AV)

My goal in posts under this topical heading will be to muse upon and to explore the relationship between the arts and mankind's original calling by God to exercise dominion over the earth. In order to get to the place where we can discover various ways in which this applies to the arts specifically, it will be helpful to establish some key points and principles regarding this calling to have dominion as it exists generally.

Notice first of all that man – that is mankind, encompassing both male and female – is charged with exercising dominion upon the earth. This position of dominion or lordship is apparently the essential component of what it in fact means to be made in God’s image. When man exercises dominion over creation as God intended him to do then he is in that very capacity most accurately and fully representing God Himself to the rest of the created order.

Secondly, notice that this authority given to man includes both the earth itself and the other, lesser creatures which dwell upon it.

Notice thirdly that what is involved here has two closely related though slightly differentiated aspects which should not be confused, separated or set against one another: Man’s position as established here by God involves authority over it, which would include the implicit sanction to order it, make use of it and dispose of it as he deems most fitting (according to certain fundamental principles and within certain important parameters). At the same time, this exercise of authority is always to have the net effect of replenishing or nurturing the creation. (Many translations render the phrase in v.28 as “fill the earth”, but I like the AV's choice of “replenish” here. The Hebrew word here does literally mean “to fill”, but I think the context of Genesis indicates a filling which is qualitative as opposed to simply quantitative. In other words, man is certainly supposed to “fill up the earth” by populating it, but as he does so, he must take care to go about it in a away that enhances rather than detracts from the glory and the richness of the creation, lest his filling of the earth actually amount to an emptying of it and its resources.)

And lastly it must be remembered that all of this is established in a pre-Fall context, which provides much to ruminate upon. The Fall of course greatly marred and deteriorated this established order, particulaly man's ability to faithfully fulfill his role in it. But the trajectory of redemptive history as presented in the Bible involves a return to the Garden, a return which is made possible by the work of Christ. Since in Christ we are re-established in our role as His agents upon the earth, it is therefore imperative that we seek to more fully apprehend what that role entails – for redeemed mankind generally as well as for each of us in our individual callings – based upon a careful examination of its original authorization.


Since mankind is created in the image of God, the calling to imitate Him applies to all of us as we live our daily lives and pursue our respective vocations. We are all called to be, as it were, “God’s shadow” simply on the basis of our creation in His image.

If it is true, however, that man as man is called to imitate God, the text of Exodus 31 would seem to indicate that the artist fulfills this calling in some unique respects. The Hebrew name Bezalel literally means “in the shadow of God”. As hinted above, the name itself has certain reverberations with respect to mankind’s original calling as established in the early chapters of Genesis. Moreover, it is interesting to note that this is the first instance we find in Scripture (following Genesis chapter 2) of a man being filled with God’s Spirit. And, as is most often the case, particularly in the Old Testament, we find that this unique gift of the Spirit is given with respect to a particular calling or duty to which that individual is appointed.

Bezalel was the man assigned by God to oversee the design and construction of the tabernacle (the tent in which God's presence accompanied the Israelites in the wilderness during the period of the Exodus) and all of its furnishings and associate articles. This task encompassed a number of different crafts and artistic disciplines - virtually all of them in fact: sculpture, carpentry, wood carving, metalworking, weaving, embroidery, gem cutting, jewelry design, engraving, calligraphy, and (broadly considered) graphic design. The overall plan called for the implementation of both representational and non-representational (abstract) art. Without doubt Bezalel would have relied upon skills and canons of visual representation which had been acquired in Egypt, and yet he was also to follow a detailed pattern which had been divinely revealed through Moses. (Exodus 25:40; 26:30; 27:8) The principles of form and function are in constant interplay and (Modernist assertions to the contrary aside) it is often difficult to ascertain which is in the driver’s seat.

There are many rich truths here and in related passages which I hope to explore further in some future posts.