Don Hosek - Past reading - Art & Design

Mostly type-related books here, although my reading does venture into other areas as well. I'm well-known on the net as a typographic authority, although my type-related reading is rather rusty these days.

What I've been read in the past - Art & Design
Excavation by Wendy C. Ortiz
[Finished 10 July 2015] I’m declaring a behind on my reviews amnesty for a while.

Eric Gill by Fiona McCarthy
[Finished 18 May 2015] Aside from the revelations about the sexuality, which seemed more prurient than anything else, there was little to make this biography noteworthy. At times, the narrative seemed rather choppy with people suddenly appearing from nowhere with no warning. I had hoped for a bit more about Gill’s relationship with Stanley Morison and Beatrice Warde, but they were almost relegated to little more than passing mentions.

Rudolf Koch: Letterer, Type Designer, Teacher by Gerald Cinamon
[Finished 2 December 2014] My big complaint: Not enough illustrations and insufficient connections with the illustrations and the text.

The Life and Works of Eric Gill by Cecil Gill, Beatrice Warde and David Kindersley
[Finished 16 November 2014] A close and personal look at Gill’s life and works. Beatrice Warde’s contribution is by far the best of the lot, and it feels at times like there’s a lot of responding to unspoken rumors (many of which were doubtless fleshed out in Fiona McCarthy’s Gill biography).

Introducing Screen Printing by Anthony Kinsey
[Finished 30 September 2014] A practical classroom-oriented introduction to screen printing. Kinsey encourages those who would begin to attempt screen printing to experiment with technique and to make their own tools and supplies insofar as practical.

Five Hundred Years of Printing by S. H. Steinberg, revised by John Trevitt
[Finished 21 June 2013] A wonderfully readable account, not just of printing but also of publishing and to a lesser extent book design. At times Steinberg’s text frustrates because he fails to provide illustrations of some of the typefaces or designs that he describes, but overall it was a fun read. John Trevitt’s updates in the body of the text are cleanly done and noticeable only because of the occasional reference to events beyond Steinberg’s death. Sadly the final chapter added by Trevitt doesn’t measure up to the rest of the book. There are a number of careless errors (“Adobe’s Apple-Macintosh,” being the most glaring of these) and an occasional misunderstanding of the state of the art of printing at the time of the update.

Looking Closer 2 edited by Michael Bierut, William Drenttel, Steven Heller and D. K. Holland
[Finished 26 December 2012] Compiled at a period of crossroads in graphic design, with the profession under assault from various directions: the rise of grunge typography and the assault on communication from the deconstructionist design community; the advent of desktop publishing, putting the tools of graphic design into the hands of the laity for the first time, as well as requiring the professional designer to deal with a greater portion of the production life cycle than had perviously been the case; and the rise of the internet and electronic publishing, inventions that were still not fully understood and that still had the possibility of being stillborn for decades to come. Looking back the decade and a half at what the concerns were, it’s fascinating to read these essays, knowing what was to come, that graphic design as a profession would become commoditized with graphic design scoring higher than English as a major bad for your career, that grunge typography, already on the decline when this anthology was compiled, would become irrelevant with the dawn of the new millennium, the aesthetic superseded by the German neo-modernist school of design, driven, to a large extent by the pixel-based restrictions of the internet and e-book publishing, arenas where good design has yet to have made a full impact, in some cases as a result of technological limitations beyond the power of the publisher to control. But even given its historical nature, this is an essay worth reading, if only for the discussion of questions that can be understood to still have relevancy.

Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell by Charles Simic
[Finished 12 December 2012] An interesting book, a sort of reproduction of Cornell’s artistic project as a collection of one page quotations, essays and prose poems.

Basic Typography by H. F. Lock
[Finished 29 September 2012] An oddly planned book, there’s a strange mix of the specific and the general in frequently impractical ways. Especially interesting is that this book was published a year into the second world war when paper shortages were the norm in England. How this book ended up being published at all is a bit of a mystery.

Bookbinding: Its Background and Technique by Edith Diehl
[Finished 13 August 2012] A decent workmanlike book. Not quite sufficient for self-education, but a good supplement to learning the craft in a studio situation. Diehl assumes some familiarity with tools and materials which the reader may not have, a fact complicated by the change in tools and materials available since the book was written. The history section which composes the first half of this volume has a handful of errors in it, which are a bit of a negative.

A Millenium of the Book: Production, Design and Illustration in Manuscript and Print, 900–1900 edited by Robin Myers and Michael Harris
[Finished 27 July 2012] A collection of essays on the history of books looking at a variety of topics from the origins and development of the Aldine italic to the progress of bookbinding as it transitioned from a luxury to a commodity. This is the sort of wide-ranging book which seems more a library purchase than a part of an individual’s library (my copy was sent as a review copy from the publisher and languished on my shelves for nearly two decades before I finally read it). There are some great bits of academic historical research here, but little to really grab the casual reader.

Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures by Robert K. Wittman with John Shiffman
[Finished 24 March 2012] After reading Michael Capuzzo’s book on the Vidocq Society, I was expecting this to be similarly poorly written. Surprisingly, my expectations were not fulfilled. There’s some similarity in the books using genre conventions with the narrative starting with a teaser chapter before going back in time to fill in the background and bring things back to the present, but here we have something very well written, providing a compelling narrative, a fascinating protagonist and while some of Wittman’s hobbyhorses are very much on display here, they don’t distract, instead they inform the narrative.

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg
[Finished 8 January 2012] Can you really say that you’ve ever “finished” reading this book? This is as much a sourcebook, a launching pad for flights of fancy as it is anything else.

Stanley Morison by Nicolas Barker
[Finished 24 November 2010] A re-read. Again, I find myself fascinated by the parallels in thought between Morison and myself. How many Marxist Catholic typophiles can there be, even given the span of time in which typography, Marxism and the Catholic church have coexisted? But re-reading it, knowing more of his relationship with Beatrice Warde enabled me to read between the lines to find some traces of that particular situation. It did remind me of how much of my typographic memory has evaporated over the years, as I tried to recall the details of the various typefaces discussed in the text.

The Cathedral of St Vitus by Ivo Hlobil
[Finished 19 September 2010] A slim volume sold at the bookstore of the Prague Castle. Of great assistance in researching details for my novel.

Lettering, Designing, Illustrating, Cartooning by International Library of Technology
[Finished 31 May 2010] A fascinating book, less because of its nominal content than for the glimpse it gives of vocational training and cultural attitudes near the beginning of the twentieth century.

The Victorian Illustrated Book edited by Richard Maxwell
[Finished 15 September 2009] A collection of essays on the illustrated book. It was a bit illuminating (so to speak), since I hadn’t really considered the technological advances that allowed the advent of the illustrated book in the beginning of the nineteenth century or the cultural changes that resulted in the banishment of illustration from serious literature. Some of the articles were a bit over-jargoned, a failing too common in humanities writing, and there were occasional factual errors (e.g., a misidentification of the Kelmscott Chaucer type as Golden), but overall it was an interesting read, something that I’m happy to have added to my reading experience.

Books from North River Press by Paul McPharlin
[Finished 27 April 2008] A curious volume. As near as I can tell from its contents, North River Press was a vanity publisher struggling for respectability. It’s not clear if the publishing company by the same name is connected, which would indicate that they managed to make the move from vanity publisher to actual publisher (although that is not clear from the current publisher’s information). The book, is reasonably well printed, albeit hurt by being set with linotype. The bulk of the book are sample pages from books published by the press, designs with little distinction in most cases. More interesting, I found, were the introductory sections which served as both advertisement and apologia for the press.

ABC of Leather Bookbinding by Edward R. Lhotka
[Finished 17 December 2007] A delightful little book. Not quite enough to learn leather bookbinding without an instructor, but a great reference in conjunction with actual instruction. Every other page is an illustration. Definitely worth finding a copy on the second-hand market.

A Smile in the Mind by Beryl McAlhone and David Stuart
[Finished 12 June 2007] A large number of design books tend to be large collections of pictures with little or no commentary. Since designers are often not particularly verbal people, this isn’t too surprising, but it also shouuldn’t be surprising when such a book ends up being used as a source of rip-offs “inspiration” by lesser designers whose work ends up looking suspiciously like the exemplars put forth in the picture collection.

This book, which treats the concept of “wit” in design manages to strike a decent balance between pictures and words. Yes, a large section of the book is a garden-variety picture collection, but the first part is an interesting essay on just what constitutes wit in the world of design (although it is perilously under-illustrated!). The last section, similarly, is a collection of interviews with designers on the topic of “how I got the idea.” Of course, designers being the non-verbal bunch that they are, this is often a bit hit or miss, with the misses outweighing the hits (although it was nice to see at least one designer open with a forthright, “beats me!”).

The examples, not surprisingly, given the nationalities of the co-authors, are overwhelmingly British, and one co-author’s design firm is perhaps a bit over-represented in its pages, but there’s also a good collection of historical examplars as well. In all, the end product is one of the better design book which I’ve encountered.

(And as an aside, it occurs to me that this is a review I could never have allowed myself to run on the pages of Serif, and it also strikes at the heart of the problem with that magazine, in that it tended to want to focus on words rather than pictures.)

Prague 1900: Poetry and Ecstasy edited by Edwin Becker, Roman Prahl and Peter Wittlich
[Finished 8 June 2007] So I’m writing a novel set in Prague in 1900 and I’m thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if there was a book about Prague in 1900.

Then I find this book.

It’s not exactly what I was looking for, with its focus primarily on the arts of the period, but there were a few historical photos and paintings worth the price of admission (which was free since I found this book at the library), and I was able to get a bit more of the cultural zeitgeist than I had previously, which is always good. And I have the names of some artistic figures whose lives and work may reveal a bit more of what I’m attempting to learn.

Language, Culture, Type: International Type Design in the Age of Unicode edited by John D. Berry
[Finished 25 May 2006] An intriguing volume from 2002. The first part is a collection of essays lead off by Robert Bringhurst and consisting of a mix of history, philosophy, practical type design and occasional self-promotion. The second half is a collection of the winning selections from the bukva:raz! international type competition.

Of the essays, some are outstanding, some have at least some interest and a few are of nearly no merit.

The type specimens are full page showings of the character set with a sample setting on the facing page, the kind of generosity in exposition one wishes would be seen more often in type specimens. The bottom of these facing pages include a short biography of the designer and a blurb about the background of the typeface.

An Animated Alphabet by Marie Angel
[Finished 5 May 2005] A collection of alphabet-based miniature paintings of animals. Some interesting choices along the way (Z is not for Zebra). A beautiful little book, with the illustrations reproduced here for the first time in color (an earlier edition of the book was black and white).

The lettering is also exquisite, demonstrating the wide-ranging talent of Angel

Looking Closer 3: Classic Writings on Graphic Design edited by Michael Bierut, Jessica Helfand, Steven Heller and Rick Poynor
[Finished 9 August 2004] I picked up a couple volumes in the Looking Closer series a few years ago when I was contemplating seeing if I might synthesize something resembling a critical theory around graphic design. I started reading this book back then, but apparently it fell behind a desk half-read or somesuch as I found it, with a bookmark about halfway through while unpacking after my latest move. I don’t really remember too much of the earliest portion of the book, but the later essays were rather interesting. Perhaps I may return to that project at some point in the future.

The Annotated Mona Lisa: A Crash Course in Art History from Prehistoric to Post-Modern by Carol Strickland, Ph.D.
[Finished 16 February 2004] A good enough overview of art history, I suppose. I was exposed to a fair amount which I was not familiar with. The work largely restricts itself to Western European and American artists and while Japanese paintings were mentioned as inspiration for the impressionists, none are shown, nor is that tradition discussed beyond brief mentions. It’s hard to fault the book for this, though because it still covers an awful lot of art history in just under 200 pages.

I found the frequent lack of illustration frustrating. There were artists mentioned without a single illustration of their work (often the artists who sounded most intriguing), or major works discussed without illustration. Other illustrations were marred by being presented in black and white rather than color.

The Form of the Book: Essays on the Morality of Good Design by Jan Tschichold
[Finished 27 July 2002] A collection of essays on book design by one of the twentieth century’s most masterful (and controversial) book designers. The time span of the essays is rather broad, and covers Tschichold’s young radical days along with his later traditionalism.

Optical Letter Spacing for New Printing Systems by David Kindersley and Lida Lopes Cardozo Kindersley
[Finished 7 July 2002] A slim paperback published hoping to get Kindersely’s ideas more “out there” into the world of typography.

A Millenium of the Book edited by Robin Myers and Michael Harris
[Finished 14 June 2002] A collection of essays on the history of the book.

Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture by Robert Venturi
[Finished 24 September 2001] The beginnings of my reading on contemporary design criticism as I started to contemplate a theory of design criticism.

Letterletter: An Inconsistent Collection of Tentative Theories That Do Not Claim Any Other Authority Than That of Common by Gerrit Noordzij
[Finished 27 May 2001] A collection of essays by Dutch type designer Gerrit Noordzij. I’ll probably publish a full review in Serif.

Paul Renner: The Art of Typography by Christopher Burke
[Finished 13 February 2000] Review pending for Serif.

The French Impressionists and their Century by Diane Kelder
[Finished 19 July 1999] A nicely illustrated examination of the development of impressionism in France.

Autobiography by Eric Gill
[Finished 25 August 1998] An odd mix of philosophy and details of Gill’s life. I’d’ve liked more philosophy, less recollection.

The ABCs of Typography by Sandra Ernst Moriarty
[Finished 7 July 1998] Another in a long line of books minimally updated for the digital era. Either don’t bother with the update, or rewrite completely. The half-way version is really quite pointless.

A Renaissance Alphabet: Il Perfetto Scrittore, Parte Secunda by Gioban Francesco Cresci with an intro by Donald M. Anderson
[Finished 20 June 1998] Cresci’s second alphabet, now available as a digital typeface from LetterPerfect, is, I think inferior to his first model alphabet.

Calligraphy by Arthur Baker
[Finished 20 June 1998] A selection of calligraphic works, meant for reproduction before the days of desktop publishing and EPS clipart. I really wish that it would have been more than just a simple display of calligraphic work, masterful as it is. I kept wondering as I looked through it, “how’d he do that?”

Type Foundries of America and their Catalogs by Maurice Annenberg with Stephen O. Saxe
[Finished 20 June 1998] A pleasantly non-academic look at typographic history.

The Life of Eric Gill by Robert Speaight
[Finished 5 June 1998] Focused largely on the religious side of Gill’s life, Speaight does not complete whitewash Gill’s sexuality, although it’s easier to catch the references if you know about Gill’s proclivities before you read the book.

Letterproeven van Nederlaandse gieterijen/Dutch typefounders' Specimens by John A. Lane and Mathieu Lommen
[Finished 27 May 1998] A pure catalog of specimens would be uncompromisingly dull. Fortunately, this goes beyond and precedes each foundry’s specimen list with a brief history. Some of it is a bit cursory, but all of it is quite scholarly, especially compared with the American counterpart I’m reading at the moment (a review of both will appear in Serif.

Trademarks of the '60s & '70s by Tyler Blik
[Finished 30 December 1997] A poorly categorized showing of trademarks and little else. They don’t even identify the designers of the marks.

Letter Forms by Stanley Morison
[Finished 19 September 1997] A reprint of a Typophiles chapbook, it consists primarily of two essays by Stanley Morison, both intended to be prefatory material for larger works. Only the second esay stands on its own well. The first essay cries out for illustration but does not get the illos it so desparately needs. It’s also a work, that robbed of its original context (and perhaps even in its original context) could desperately use some editing. As a publisher friend once commented, “It’s nice working with dead authors--they never complain.”

Fine Printing in Georgia, 1950s-1990: Six Prize-Winning Private Presses by Martha Jane K. Zachert
[Finished 3 September 1997] Zachert is at her best when she is able to actually interact with the proprietors of the presses. In those accounts, we get a strong sense of the motivations and ideals that drive people into that archaism referred to as the private press. When she is unable to speak with the press’s proprietor, her accounting becomes much more sterile.

The book would have greatly benefited from more illustration, but the decision to print the volume letterpress and its short run length no doubt contributed to the failure in that department.

Deco Type: Stylish Alphabets of the '20s & '30s by Steven Heller and Louise Fili
[Finished 26 August 1997] A generally good survey of the moderne tradition in typography. The commentary runs a bit thin at times, but the illustrations are excellent.

The Fleuron 4 edited by Oliver Simon
[Finished 11 July 1997] The last of the Simon Fleurons. I don’t really remember too much of it, I’ve fallen so far behind on this record.

Elements of Typographic Style (Second Edition) by Robert Bringhurst
[Finished 2 July 1997] An updated and improved version of the already excellent first edition. Watch for the review in Serif.

Counterpunch: Making Type by Fred Smeijers
[Finished 20 May 1997] The best book out of Robin Kinross’ Hyphen Press so far. The details on physical punchmaking were a bit thinner than I would have liked, but the discussion of the philosophy of type design is the best I’ve seen so far. I’ll do a full review for Serif.

Designing Books by Jost Hochuli
[Finished 19 May 1997] A generally pretty good short book on book design. Well-illustrated with good backing commentary. Not the best thing out of Hyphen Press (see above), but quite good. I’ll do a full review for Serif.

Marks of Excellence: The Function and Variety of Trademarks by Per Mollerup
[Finished 16 May 1997] A survey of the approaches to trademark design. Many of the books of this genre tend to be little more than picture books with a weak commentary, but I found this one to be a genuinely delightful discussion of the subject. (Note: The book was retitled in its latest edition)

Fleuron 5 edited by Stanley Morison
[Finished 2 May 1997] Perhaps one of the most important editions in the seven volume run of The Fleuron, this number includes Morison’s article on an ideal italic and Beatrice Warde’s Garamond article.

Greek Letters: From Tablets to Pixels edited by Michael S. Macrakis
[Finished 23 April 1997] A delightful collection from a variety of perspectives on the questions relevant to the production of Greek typefaces. It’s interesting in that the Greek printing community is seemingly unconcerned about the production of quality Greek typefaces, leaving the task to be done largely by Western designers.

Typographers on Type edited by Ruari McLean
[Finished 16 April 1997] An excellent collection of articles on typography. Some of the essays are of only historical interest, but many are of practical use to the practicing typographer. Watch for the review in Serif.

Beware Wet Paint: Designs by Alan Fletcher edited by Jeremy Myerson
[Finished 31 March 1997] A rather fascinating look at the work of designer Alan Fletcher. There were a few illustrations that I would have liked to have seen that were left out, but otherwise, it was quite an interesting read/look.

Type Sense: Making Sense of Type on the Computer by Susan G. Wheeler and Gary S. Wheeler
[Finished 24 January 1997] Three words: Awful, bloody awful. The premise of the book is a good one: That in this era of increasingly common interaction with type people need to develop “type sense” much as they have common sense. The problem: All the evidence is that the two Wheelers have no type sense. The book is filled with incorrect information and headings are set in attrociously poorly spaced capitals (and not just at say, Monotype Perpetua Titling out of the box bad, we’re talking really cheap clone type without even Fontographer auto-kern level spacing corrections. Unbelievable).

Stanley Morison by Nicolas Barker
[Finished 13 December 1996] I’ve begun working on a biography of the typographic writer Beatrice Warde & decided to read Barker’s biography of Stanley Morison as an introitus to the project. It’s a very entertaining read and there are little bits of intriguing information hidden behind seemingly innocent passages as well as a frequent infuriating vagueness in some of the accounting.

Dimensional Typography by J. Abbott Miller
[Finished 28 October 1996] A slim volume (I read it between meals on a transatlantic flight) covering the idea of three-dimensional typography from the earliest shaded types to the rather extravagant computer-generated three-dimensional forms of contemporary designers. The body of the examples are printed on a translucent paper which helps to add yet another dimension to the images, presented as they are in two dimensions on paper.

Writing & Illuminating & Lettering by Edward Johnston
[Finished 26 May 1996] A classic on lettering and calligraphy. Not something that one can dip into and out of, though. It was written at a time when an author could expect his audience to patiently read the entire text before hoping to use it as a reference. Frequent identification of items by price is another odd feature of the book which makes its use a little more difficult.

Design with Type by Carl Dair
[Finished 2 May 1996] For some reason Canada seems to produce spectacular typographic writers. I’d never read this book before, but encountering it for CDN5.00 last week, I figured I may as well pick it up. Good decision. It’s a very well-written book indeed.

Fontographer: Type by Design by Stephen Moye
[Finished 20 April 1996] I’ll print a proper review in Serif.

Sefer Otiyot: The Book of Letters--A Mystical Alef-Bait by Lawrence Kushner
[Finished 14 April 1996] This is the sort of playful look at language and religion that I really enjoy, and one of the most wonderful things about the Jewish tradition since this sort of play is not a modern invention but can be found even in the early midrashim. The calligraphic content is a bit lower than one might have liked but it’s a very fun book nevertheless.

A Wood-cut Manual by J. J. Lankes
[Finished 25 January 1996] This is a great little book, with rather good information on wood engraving interspersed with philosophical and sociological reflections in the same sort of artisan-based socialism of which Gill and Morris were both proponents.

Logotype & Letterforms: Handlettered Logotypes and Typographic Considerations by Doyald Young
[Finished 24 December 1995] In an era in which the computer reigns supreme in graphic design, a book about handlettering logo types may seem a bit anachronistic, but there is much to be learnt from the work of a designer such as Young, especially in comparing specimens of typefaces from which he drew inspiration and the final result which often only slightly resembles the original type.

Alphabet and Image 1 edited by Robert Harling
[Finished 15 November 1995] A collection of the first half of the run of this postwar periodical of typography and graphic arts. The subject matter is wide-ranging, and perhaps most surprising is the selection of books reviewed which included in one instance a work on what would now be called literary theory. It is difficult to imagine a review of something by Derrida in Print.

One disappointment is that after the type review appearing in the first number, no additional type reviews appeared. The volume which I have only represents the first year of publication. If memory serves, the publication ran to eight numbers and it would certainly be nice to locate numbers 5-8 for further reading.

The Art of Typography by Martin Solomon
[Finished 1 November 1995] Really a rather poor text. I don’t recommend it. A review appears in Serif 4.

Finer Points in the Spacing & Arrangement of Type by Geoffrey Dowding
[Finished 24 September 1995] A fascinating book, despite the rather dry title. My review appears in Serif 4.

Twentieth Century Type Designers by Sebastian Carter
[Finished July 1995] As the editor of Serif, I frequently receive review copies of books. These make up a big part of my libri legendi pile next to the bed. I’ve read the original and the review will likely compare the two volumes (the new edition, incidentally is much thicker). I’ll let you read the real review in the magazine.