Earlier this year, as an exhibitor at the PAGES book and book-art weekend at the Tetley in Leeds, I attended a presentation by graphic designer Frazer Muggeridge about the implementation of retro technologies as drivers of contemporary design. He referred in passing to an obscure but striking lettering system from the inter-war period. I e-mailed him later for further information and he kindly directed me to the “Wrico Lettering Guide”; patented in 1926 and widely marketed by 1950’s by THE WOOD-REGAN INSTRUMENT CO. INC. of NEW YORK. https://www.si.edu/object/nmah_905331
I trawled the internet, contemplating a purchase, but incomplete boxes from USA cost upward of £60 as they are now considered collectable. Besides, I wanted flexibility of scale so that I could apply a system to my larger scale paintings. A set of rules and templates to transfer shapes on to A4 sheets would be of little use to me.
My idea was to create my own variation based on the shapes of the negative spaces to create characters by inference. The importance of ‘negative space’ -the shapes of the gaps or voids created between two or more corporeal elements, is one of the fundamental [and more interesting] principles of abstract art and design. Emphasis on these empty spaces would produce latent characters; hidden in clear sight, a notion close to any illusionist’s heart.
I wanted to create a font using American typewriter bold as a foundation. Why choose this? I am of an age when my educational theses, my mailed letters and later the scripts and running schedules I worked to professionally, were all typed; either by manual or electronic mechanical typewriters. It is still, to me, the most beautiful and evocative of fonts; even though in its current derivation, it is no longer a slab serif.*
Enclosed voids or closed counters provide specific identities for the following lower case letters: a e g o
Open counters could indicate the presence of: c h k m n s u v w y Some of these gave a particularly striking arrowhead pointing in different directions.
However, to separate b d p and q from each other, I would need to provide further information; some element of ‘positivity’. Terminals, or finials [font nomenclature varies depending on source] are a visually satisfying characteristic of American Typewriter, those comma-like flourishes at the ends of some letters. These I decided to incorporate. to differentiate ascenders and descenders. They also gave me r with its finial, referred to endearingly as an ‘ear’. If terminals could be applied, I could combine a dot to identify j and this could also give me i and a full stop. An exclamation mark? Add a positive ‘cap’, fading out from the top line. This could also identify l.
If I introduced such a fade-out I could see a way of identifying t and x. Fading effects pose a difficulty on a font. They run counter to the central concept of legibility through contrast and solidity. But this is a ‘code’ designed by an artist, a painter whose trade specialises in blending, grazing across and nuancing surfaces. My application would be through means transmitted by pen, pencil and brush. My motivation is to add another element to my visual armoury. Consequently, I decided to use the negative space around the point where the t crossbar cuts across the stem. This created four right-angled triangles pointing to a central point on the mean line and fading out to the edges of a square.
x is created in the same way, but rotated 45 degrees on the character line.
z could be created in the same way [though not having yet used this letter, I am tempted to use a simple solid diagonal stroke simply on the grounds that it is so visually powerful].
The first example was posted online on December 9th 2017, using Facebook as a sounding board.
After a day eliciting no responses, I was pleased that viewers began to engage with this visual puzzle…
The font will be applied to a forthcoming suite of drawings and paintings with a working title: “Landscapes of Betrayal”
*a slab serif (also called mechanistic, square serif, antique or Egyptian) typeface is a type of serif typeface characterized by thick, block-like serifs Typewriter slab serif typefaces are named for their use in strike-on typewriting. These faces originated in monospaced format with fixed-width, meaning that every character takes up exactly the same amount of horizontal space. This feature is necessitated by the nature of the typewriter apparatus.