What goes around, comes around…

August 3, 2011 § 2 Comments

I knew if I waited long enough photolettering would come back to life. I spent the first 20 some years of my graphics career as a typographer doing handlettering, line artwork and handsetting and photosetting headlines from 1977 to 1986 for Headliners of the Twin Cities and my company, Letterworx Inc. from 1986 until 1999.

House Industries, the well-known type foundry in Delaware, has developed an online phototypesetting service that allows the designer to pick his font, set it, customize it and buy it as vector art for a very reasonable price. This concept really brings me back to my former typesetting days. Their online service is great for designers who don’t need the entire font but just need the large impact headline. House industries has purchased and converted the entire Photolettering, Inc. library into an online font library. I wish I would have thought of that. I do know that it shows what quality and craftsmanship there was in those days of handsetting and phototypesetting type.

Designers are coveting old type specimen books looking for classic and rarely seen fonts from the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. In the late seventies I was setting headlines by cutting each character out of a contact sheet made from an original negative of an exclusive font provided to us by Headliners International. The cutout characters were then place on a blue line board that was covered with rubber cement (please, no acetone comments, I’m already on a cancer watch…). Using a tweezers and my artist eye (no snickers), I would handset the headline, kerning each character until I had assembled an entire headline. That blue line board would be photographed into a paper negative photo stat which I would touch up with a brush using black opaque. The finished negative would then be photographed again into a paper positive that was the final galley which was sent to the client along with the galleys of the body copy that was set at our partner company Dahl & Curry. By the time I left Headliners we were using phototypsetters to create most of our headlines. Still, assembly was a tedious labor intensive process but the results spoke for themselves.

When Jim Fredericks and I joined up with P&H Photocomposition and started Letterworx we used phototypesetters and all our fonts were on plastic reels. We had over 3000 fonts. It was a great time to be in the type industry. We were setting headlines and creating artwork for some of the best agencies in the Twin Cities. If you ever need to see some good examples of our Letterworx typesetting skills, get a copy of the coffee table book “The Work: 25 Years of Fallon”. My partner Jim Fredericks and I set most of those headlines (with a big nod to Bob Blewett, Fallon’s type director) in the ads featured in the book. We were very fortunate to be a great partner and vendor for Fallon in their first 25 years doing award-winning advertising. I will always be proud of that.

Don’t misunderstand me when I swoon and gush about those days. The process was very labor intensive and the toxic chemical exposure as well as the second-hand cigarette smoke from my partner Jim (3 packs a day, 2 packs of Winston’s, 1 Pack of Kool’s). I won’t even go over the process for special effects like type on a curve or the diminishing “Star Wars” effect that became popular in 1977. I’ll save that one for a later blog. I focus on the quality and uniqueness of the fonts that were exclusive and licensed by specific companies back in the 50’s and 60’s. I would rather set type on computer today but I do embrace and still think there is a place for the hand drawn design, then interpreted and put into digital form. I sure don’t miss inhaling acetone all day.

§ 2 Responses to What goes around, comes around…

  • rafe says:

    Nice post Jim. It brought back a lot of memories – not the least of which is all of the handlettering just for comping. I was taught by Eileen Bovard to letter type using a Windsor Newton Series Seven, Number Two brush…and the skills that I learned I still use and try to teach to my students..again, thanks for the memory.

    • jrfinny says:

      I’ve been thinking a lot about typography and it’s applications to contemporary design. I know the “Minneapolis Look” as it was called in the 80’s and early 90’s was larger headlines and set pretty tight compared to the looser settings and smaller heads with lots of white space of today. I am exploring going back to doing some of that hand typography. They are good memories.

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