Crafting Type passes through San Francisco

If this time last week you were to ask me how one goes about teaching the fundamentals of type design to beginners, (and do it in three days), I’d say it can’t be done. It’s too complex of a topic. There are too many prerequisites.


So when friend and type designer Eben Sorkin raised the question of FontShop hosting one of these weekend workshops at our San Francisco office, of course I said yes; if only to make time for the two of us to catch up. I should also admit that my curiosity as to how one of these events would play out was a big motivator.


Eben walks one of the Crafting Type attendees through some examples of how a typeface’s formal characteristics serve in giving it a particular personality.

Things got off to a good start Friday morning with a sketching exercise designed to let a few letters materialize together, starting very loose, progressing toward dark, carefully delineated forms. The multiple-pass process—lightly sketching out an idea with a pencil, no contours at first, stopping and observing, adding another layer of pencil, reevaluating and making changes as necessary, building up another layer, and finally drawing and filling the contours—allowed for major and then finer adjustments and corrections to take place gradually. We followed this process all the way through a few times, each time laying out our work, making observations as a class, and adding on a few more letters.


Throughout the workshop, Eben, and two additional teachers, Vernon Adams and later Dave Crossland punctuated supervised work time with short presentations on the subjects of letter theory, capitals, modularity in design, type personality, vector drawing, diacritics, etc.. They even invited me to give one on optical correction using material I had produced for an earlier student lecture. Near the end of Friday, everyone had prepared a brief they’d pursue over the next two days.

The first printouts came on Saturday morning after font composing software was finally finished installing on everyone’s machine, and each had their own first go of it. Saturday and Sunday were spent locking in the spacing of the control characters (the ones that determine the spacing for all the rest of the glyphs) and gradually adding more, testing and getting feedback along the way. It goes without saying that no one finished their project before time ran out on Sunday evening, but of course, finishing was never the point. In my estimation, the process of getting started alone has set these students miles ahead in their understanding of how type is used and produced.

One thing notably missing from this workshop was any real mention of open font licensing or libre software, (I guess I had expected it), the focus instead remaining fully on design principles and practical techniques. Before we all left for home, we familiarized the class with the best resources for getting help with their projects, whether through online discussion or in-person events, such as TypeCon or TYPO San Francisco. Thanks to everyone who came and contributed.

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