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Archive for January, 2012



If you’re in Seattle in mid-February, you might want to come to one of these events to hear and meet Jean François Porchez, who is probably the most widely-known French type designer today. JFP will be giving a free talk on Wednesday, February 15 at Kane Hall at the University of Washington, as part of a week-long symposium: “Letters From France: On Designing Type.” He will also be speaking the following day at the Good Shepherd Center (4649 Sunnyside Avenue North, Seattle), with a Q&A session in both French and English. And I hope to entice him to our monthly typographers’ pub, on the second Tuesday, which will be February 14 (yes, Valentine’s Day), at the Pub at Third Place (6504 20th Avenue NE, Seattle), from 8 p.m. on; anyone interested in type is welcome. (Look for the table full of obvious typographers.) A bientôt!

[Update:] Videotape of Porchez’s talk at Kane Hall is available online. Below, a very poor snapshot of JFP (L) at the type pub, looking over sketches of a type design by Andrea Harrison (R).

Jean François Porchez & Andrea Harrison at Seattle typographers' pub



I’ve been musing about that wonderful word substrate, and contemplating its many permutations. The word has uses in biochemistry and philosophy, but the meaning that intrigues me is literal. By its etymology, a substrate is an “under-layer,” or what lies behind or underneath something. When it comes to letters, the substrate is the surface you write or print on.

The substrate gives typography its third dimension. Even when the surface is perfectly flat, it’s the surface of something. In printing, the substrate is the paper (and the occasional non-paper surfaces that people choose to print on). The substrate for digital type is the screen that it appears on, whether that screen is held in your hand or propped on your desk. (Or, indeed, mounted on the wall in your living room or a theater.)

Printing, in all its many forms, deposits ink on the paper. Type on screen is projected out of the substrate on the surface (and from there into our eyes). In e-ink and other kinds of smart paper, the letters are actually displayed inside the substrate. The substrate is the physical ground of “figure & ground.”

Essentially, type is about the nature of the substrate and how the type is rendered on that surface. In traditional printing, this is a matter of inking and presswork. On a screen (like this), this depends on resolution, and all the many tricks for making it appear finer than it really is.

Printing or display depends on the relationship between substrate and rendering. Everything else – the real heart of typography – is arranging.

[Photo: “Rock 6,” copyright Dennis Letbetter.]