Weeks 3 & 4:Typography–The Thing and the Making of the Thing


Taking the 5 books we chose from the previous week, we were to comment on the aesthetic and practical considerations of our choices. After writing a short piece about each of the five, we selected one as our overall choice.

51kmofq9wvl-_sx330_bo1204203200_I chose The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin. The book recounts the Great Blizzard of 1888, which swept across the Plains just as children were heading home from school. The morning of the storm had been unseasonably warm and many children did not wear coats, boots, hats, or mittens to school that day. This fine non-fiction book gives a wealth of background information and first hand accounts of this tragic event. The designer, along with the author, eases us into the story.

The design elements of this book are consistent on a micro and macro level.  For the sample text, I used the opening chapter. The heading is in small caps. The chapter title, Deaprtures and Arrivals, is large and italicized; there is an urgency to the italics. To begin the chapter, there is an ornament where a drop cap would be placed. The angle of the ornament matches the path of the storm, pointing from northwest to southeast. The typeface is fairly heavy, serif, but also conveys a sense of space typical of the Great Plains. These ornaments, doubled, are also incorporated as section breaks.

The book, a trade paperback with an elaborate cutaway cover, is a very nice package. The Children’s Blizzard, though a rather grim slice of history, is a very attractive book with an evocative title. The design elements do not detract in any way and enhance the telling of the story.

The text and design felt the most integrated in this book. There is a sense of direction and progression in both text and design. The ornamentation is both attractive and relevant. In an age where much of design is an attempt to make objects disappear into their function, this book partners design and function as equals. The experience of reading is enriched by the balance.

You can see The Children’s Blizzard here, using Amazon’s Look Inside! feature.

Our next assignment will explore typography and typefaces in more detail. Typography is an ancient art. If you look it up in the dictionary, you’ll find that it is both the appearance, style, or arrangement of words on a page and the act of creating the page. It is the thing and the making of the thing both. The immediate image that comes to mind is Escher’s drawing of the hands drawing the hands.

In the assignment we will use a double page spread from The House of Yorke and conduct a font test. Each student will select five different five typefaces, render the text in those typefaces, and print the samples. When we meet after winter break next week, we will create a gallery of our samples and select a typeface for the book. (We may select several typefaces and use different ones for the body of the book, headings, and other material.)

To get a sense of what a font test is like, visit TypeTester, where you can plug in sample text and select three typefaces to compare how they look. TypeTester has more than 2200 typefaces available.

I chose classic, old-style readable book typefaces like Palatino and Zapf Elliptical, both designed by the legendary typographer, Hermann Zapf. Palatino was Zapf’s first popular typeface and was based on his own calligraphy. There is a delightful video of Zapf demonstrating calligraphic technique:

Zapf Elliptical was developed by Zapf for Bitstream, one of the first foundries devoted to making digital fonts. Zapf also designed Optima, which was used to inscribe the names on the Vietnam Memorial.

photo: Evan Bench, Vietnam Memorial


Editing the copy of The House of Yorke is well underway.  The “Comma Team” has been giving it a close read and offering suggestions, from the large questions: should we expand the introductory material to include more background, to fact checking footnotes, and pointing out typos.  We have been working with a Google doc, which has made the task difficult at times. The ms has more than 500 pages but the Google doc has no chapter or section breaks.  For my own sanity, I finally started bookmarking the chapters and the contents to help with moving around in the document. There have been some weird formatting things going on in the document as well. Some of the footnotes have adopted a 36 point space after the paragraph. Footnotes do not have the “select all” function, so each one will have to be edited separately.  Also, a chunk of text went missing.  Fortunately, this is not the only copy of the ms.

When the editing is complete, the ms will go back to the editorial committee which will accept or reject our suggestions. Once this phase of the process is complete, The House of Yorke will move to the typography and art units.

Week 2: Typefaces, Balance, & Reading


This week we explored fonts and typefaces. We of coursed joked about using Comic Sans and Papyrus then got down to business. Prof. Bernie shared some pages from early printed manuscripts and the class began learning the history and vocabulary of type organized around the two main spacing elements, leading and kerning.

Our assignment this week was to pick 5 books and copy a double page spread with the beginning of a new chapter. We were to examine and comment on the effect of the type,  ornaments, placement, and other items.

Picking five books proved to be agonizing. There are thousands of books in my home. Since grade school when I did my duty to keep Scholastic in business, I have been a collector (read that hoarder) of books. And a borrower of books as well. I also have a full deck of library cards, from every place I have lived and many places I have visited, because you never know, I might want to go back some day and visit my old friends waiting there on the shelves.

I also worked in a couple of bookstores, ostensibly for extra income, though in reality it turned out to be an easy way to maintain my habit. The bookseller’s discount puts expensive books within reach and the books you might pass up all of a sudden fit in your budget. And I wasn’t confined to what was on the shelves; I could always special order books, opening up a whole world of the written word, at my fingertips. I could own every book.

A few years ago, I shared my experience of walking into my first big library, at Boston University, with my partner and fellow poet Michael Brown. I related that feeling of awe at the sheer number of books on countless shelves on several floors reaching up and up and that awful-wonderful-agoraphobic moment of thinking, how will I ever read all of these?

And so there I stood in front of one of our bookshelves trying to choose 5 books. A couple of years ago, I noticed that I was reading a lot of text, mostly confined to periodicals and online sources, but not reading books, real books, with spines. I had let this pleasure go, mainly because I had gotten busy with my job, editing, writing, and living, all had conspired to push reading books for pleasure down the priority list. It didn’t stop me from buying them, because when I had time I would surely pick this up and get back to it. So there were a lot of unread books on my shelves. I made a resolution and went through the shelves then and picked 12 books, more or less at random and set myself the task of reading one book a month for a year. Well, I read the first book in three days. The next one took a couple of weeks, and so on. The stack thinned out quickly, so I had to add more. The ever evolving stack is still there, with the books I want to read next replacing the ones I just finished. The stack and a promise to myself keep me going.

5 books. Poetry books first. Then put them back—not the right design elements, and poetry books don’t usually have chapters. Next pass, a mix of fiction and non-fiction, again focused on design elements, and then I stepped back, chagrined. I had chosen five books by male authors (mea culpa, VIDA). I can do better than that. Back to the shelves. Three books by women, two by men, a good mix, if mostly non-fiction: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin, The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture by Terry O’Reilly, The Shipping News by Annie Proulx, and Shelf Life by Suzanne Strempek Shea.

Long view first: all of the books achieve a balance of text and space. They are all professionally done. The typefaces are easy to read, if a little on the decorative side for The Shipping News. The typefaces match the content. The New Jim Crow is straightforward, matching the gravity of the book. The type of Shelf Life is a bit more relaxed, The Children’s Blizzard appears to have more space, befitting this story of the Great Plains, and The Age of Persuasion looks like an advertising spread with a bold graphic chapter number dominating the page. The New Jim Crow uses no ornament. The Shipping News uses ornaments depicting seaman’s knots throughout the text. The Children’s Blizzard incorporates what look like nineteenth century printer’s ornaments in place of where a drop cap might be found to begin the chapter. Shelf Life has my favorite ornament, with the chapter numbers depicted as a line drawing of books, spine out, with chapter one having a single book, and so on. The Age of Persuasion features an enormous drop cap on the verso page, approximately equivalent to twelve lines of type in height. On the recto page is a quote, plus the large chapter number.  All of the books are black text on white except The Age of Persuasion, which settles into various tones on the grey scale, with lighter text on darker ground.

This was a good exercise, to step back from the words and look at the design of the page. Book publishers and designers often use Lorem Ipsum, Latin text (though I’ve heard it called “Greeking the text”) to fill the spaces where text goes without drawing your attention to the meaning of the words (unless you’re fluent in Latin, in which case you may enjoy reading bits from The Extremes of Good and Evil, written by Cicero in 45 BC). There are dozens of versions of mock Lorem Ipsum, but my favorite is still the basic Latin text. Visit http://www.lipsum.com/ to generate lines or paragraphs of Lorem Ipsum to use for projects. Here is what Lorem Ipsum looks like:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Nullam tristique risus non augue placerat, sed consectetur neque euismod. In tristique arcu eu neque aliquam sollicitudin. Donec ultricies dapibus lorem eget rutrum. Vestibulum eget risus nec arcu elementum placerat. Nam ligula eros, euismod vel ultricies at, porttitor vitae eros. Mauris vehicula malesuada nisi, vel facilisis justo dictum sit amet. Nullam viverra ligula eleifend sapien sagittis, vel hendrerit purus faucibus. Morbi sed porttitor nibh. Aliquam accumsan accumsan odio non elementum. Pellentesque convallis viverra lacus, vel cursus augue fringilla posuere.

It is easy to understand why this dummy text is used. Try not focusing on the text of a book like The Shipping News. “The sun hung on the rim of the sea. Its flattened rays gilded the wet stones. Combers seethed under a strip of corn-yellow sky.” In just a few short sentences, I am transported to a beach in Newfoundland where the aunt is sending Warren, the dog, off to a watery grave….


Reading the text of The House of Yorke continues. We will be dividing up into groups to begin the tasks of creating a book in the next week or two. I think I signed up for the comma team this week.

Week 1. The House of Yorke



Over the course of the Spring 2016 semester, the ART 322 Book Design & Publishing Course at the University of Maine Machias will  take a manuscript of The House of Yorke, written by Mary Agnes Tincker in 1871 and turn it into a book. The manuscript was selected and prepared by English and Creative Writing students at the university.

From the manuscript Introduction: 

The House of Yorke is an intriguing novel that blends history into fiction… Mary Agnes Tincker wrote the book in 1871 with the intent of drawing attention to the persecution of Catholics in Maine… The House of Yorke offers a rare picture of events that might otherwise have been forgotten. Though the main plot of the novel focuses on the struggles of its young, fictional heroine, Edith Yorke, the setting and side story of Father Rasle are closely based on… John Bapst, a priest who suffered at the hands of an anti-Catholic mob in Ellsworth, Maine… The book deals with issues that are still relevant today—religious intolerance and bigotry against immigrants and their ways of life.

In the coming weeks I will be part of the team working on cover layout, interior design, printing, and binding. The completed book will be a critical edition added to the Library of Early Maine Literature, an imprint of the University of Maine Press.

Founded in 2010, the Library of Early Maine Literature is a scholarly imprint of the University of Maine at Machias Press. The mission of the series is to reissue rare and important works of Maine literature written before 1900 in beautiful, high quality editions that contain full supporting materials. These materials include critical introductions as well as notes and other forms of documentation. The Library of Early Maine Literature is overseen by an Editorial Review Board and operated by the English, Creative Writing, and Book Arts Program at the University of Maine at Machias.The goal of the Press is to reissue at least one work of Maine literature every two years.

Library of Early Maine Literature
Book Arts Studio, Dorward Hall
University of Maine at Machias
116 O’Brien Avenue
Machias, ME USA  04654



You cannot open a book without learning something.