Welcome to my Art Blog! I paint or draw most weekdays and sometimes finish a painting a day. I fondly call them my "Postcards from Paradise" because it's such a beautiful place the Lord made here for us.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Way It Used to Be... Not That Long Ago

I have some old typestyle books I used decades ago when I made my living doing commercial art (now known as "graphic art").

This was back in the “old days” before computers.

It’s truly amazing what can be done on the computer so quickly now: tedious and time-consuming tasks we used to do by hand…draw up layouts on paper, and do a wide variety of tasks for the camera-ready art such as rule lines, hand-set headlines, cut photo drop-out windows, paste down the set type, etc.

A few decades ago, if we needed type at the ad agency for camera ready art for ads, annual reports, etc., the copywriter typed it up on a typewriter (and hopefully it had been proofed for typos), and gave it to the delivery boy to take downtown to the typesetter’s.

The art director (or assistant) usually had specified typeface, point size, letter spacing and line spacing based on how many letters were in the typewritten copy and the space available in the layout. Layouts were drawn by hand with felt markers (and with chalks in the days before markers). 

The typesetter was usually across town (and by town I mean, a large metropolitan city). The delivery boy drove in traffic to the location to drop it off. Then the typesetter figured out how it would fit the layout by counting letters and setting copy width on his machine, and made sure that the point size was right. After that step, it was produced on slick sheets which would be pasted down for what was known as "camera-ready art". Usually the next day, the delivery boy could pick up the galleys.

During my stint as a commercial artist, it was typically phototype, but before that was around, there was moveable type... little individual metal letters which were set (backwards). And there was wooden type before that (like the old western typestyles... usually fairly big).

Going back farther to hand-set metal linotype… or wood type before that (which the ancient Chinese used)… the typesetter set the copy backwards and then it could go to press.

Think of those poor souls working away at daily newspapers setting letter by letter in the trays. And then they had to put it all away in the proper cabinet after the printing was finished. Dyslexics would probably do well in that job.

Anyway, after the long slick sheets of galleys came back from the typesetter, the layout artist had to paste the type down to create camera-ready art. Sometimes the type didn't fit, or there was a missed typo (there was no such thing as "spell check").

Now, on the computer, we can just change the size of the type and move it around ever so easily. No rubber cement involved. Back then, fixing could involve getting a section of type redone at the typesetter, or pasting in individual corrections if we happened to have duplicate galleys and could pick up a corrected word from it.

Occasionally we did hand lettering. Commercial artists did a lot more hand work overall back then for many tasks (ruling lines, cutting overlays for dropping out backgrounds on photos, etc.). Lettering can be very tedious, unless it's a brush script or calligraphic, more free type. Those could be fun.

I still have my favorite typefaces. Most of them have been around for a long time. But I remember when Friz Quadrata came out in the early 1970s. I liked it a lot back then and used it for many applications. I still like it and get nostalgic when I see it, although it was perhaps overused. It frequently dates materials to that era.

Palatino, a classic typeface, is another of my favorites, especially the Palatino Italic. It's very graceful. I'm a sucker for a pretty face. Palatino has that lovely little airy space in the P, and a nice balance. It’s like much of art… what we like in a font (we used to call it "typeface") can be quite subjective. Other personal favorites are Weiss (an old hand-set serif typeface with lovely balance), Copperplate Gothic, and Michelangelo Titling (another hand-set face with beautiful form and balance, all caps).

Typesetting is only one aspect of change in graphic art in my own lifetime. Illustration has also drastically changed in the last few decades and is not used as much these days as are photos or computer generated images.


Julie Ford Oliver said...

I enjoyed reading this. The only thing I know about type/fonts was when I was given a layout the space was already decided on the placement and size of the heading and body copy. My illustration came second because it had to accommodate those.
Love your nude in the previous post.

Diana Moses Botkin said...

Thanks, Julie. I'm glad you liked that bit. It was fun to think some about the history of type and the little bit of experience I had with it. It's an interesting field.

willowfeller said...

I so enjoyed this post, especially now that I recently finished designing and formatting my second novel. I spent countless hours researching graphics and fonts and ended up acquiring a weird fascination with fonts that I can’t shake. My family thinks I’m crazy as I’m now always analyzing the lettering of everything. You’re really speaking my language in this informative piece, Diana. Maybe I’m not so crazy after all…or maybe I’ve just found someone as crazy as me…

Love seeing your work—blessings to you and yours!

Diana Moses Botkin said...

Thank you, Willow, for dropping by to let me know you are a fellow typophile. I'm enjoying your blog, too.

mary maxam said...

Oh my...this and your latest post take me back to college and design classes. well written! you were certainly more advanced than I and it is a lost art. we recently streamed 'Design Is One: Lella & Massimo Vignelli' (netflix) and i'm quite sure you would enjoy it! Great post!

Diana Moses Botkin said...

I appreciate your comments and the recommendation, Mary. I'll have to look for that!