Tag Archives: Ron Carpenter

From the Point of View of a Trainee – Damien Collot

In our final post in the series, Damien Collot talks about what it was like to be a trainee font developer at Dalton Maag.

Damien during his training

Damien during his training

“I think the best way to learn typeface design is to start with calligraphy and drawing or painting, because with this method you keep the relationship between the hand and the eye, which is very important when designing a typeface. I was very happy that Dalton Maag’s training worked this way too. With calligraphy, you can quickly understand the relationship between the letters and structure. When you’re working on a digital typeface with hundreds of letters, it’s good to be able to understand the underlying spirit of the letter.

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Calligraphy practice

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Letter painting

“When I came to design my own typeface, I decided to do an incised, text typeface for books. I’ve tried to keep many of the features from calligraphy in it. I did a lot of research and chose what I think is the more exciting and challenging design, because I wanted to use it to get more experience. I’d like to see it in use in a book collection, although it could be quite nice if used for titling.

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Typeface in development

“It was great to have Ron Carpenter as my teacher and I am sad to have left the training team. He is always in motion. He is always ready for suggestions and discussions. With him I have had the time to think about my work, find solutions and see for myself what is wrong and what is good. If he has an idea, then he can explain exactly what he thinks, which is important when teaching.

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Ron working with Damien

“I have learnt how to improve my work, both in the very tiny details, and then in the complex typeface family conception. I think the most important things have been that I’ve learnt a lot of technical processes. I wasn’t familiar with the technical skills before. I now have a good idea of how typeface design works in the professional context, and I’m feeling more confident.”

From the Point of View of a Trainee – Mary Faber

This is the third of a series of articles giving an insight into the training process for new type designers at Dalton Maag. This time we’re talking to one of our new recruits, Mary Faber, about her experience.

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Mary working with FontLab

“While I have countless pen and pencil sketches of letterforms, before my training I had never practised any calligraphy or gouache letterforms, so both these processes were very new to me. The first learning exercise was calligraphy, and that helped me to learn about the stress and formation of letterforms, and about the logic behind serifs and their application.

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A sample of Mary’s calligraphy

“The next stage, the painting of letterforms using gouache, was challenging – particularly being, admittedly, something of a perfectionist. The main learning for me here was seeing how letterforms that need to work at smaller sizes are designed large – essentially the painting was this process in reverse.

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Letterforms drawn in ink and then annotated

“My design concept began as sketches in numerous styles, heading toward a rounded grotesque form. The defining feature of my design would be the inclusion of ball-terminals in the typeface – ball terminals are nothing new, but adding them to a sans serif is unique. Generally the ball terminal is accompanied by serifs, and often slab serifs. This being the case, it has proved quite a challenge to amalgamate two opposing ideas in one design, as usually the weight a ball terminal creates is balanced by the weight of serifs elsewhere.

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Mary works on her font design.

“I value every part of the training process immensely. While I enjoyed the calligraphy and painting, and those did refine my eye, the most beneficial for me has been learning FontLab thoroughly.

“But certainly it was an invaluable experience being under the marvellous guidance of Ron Carpenter. Ron’s vast experience and knowledge might seem intimidating, but his patient, diplomatic, supremely constructive criticism has helped me to begin to see what he sees, increasingly attuning my eye to the most subtle of subtleties.”

Mary practising her calligraphy:

Mary’s ink letter forms, drawn by hand:

Mary’s typeface in development:

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A Career in Type Design

Ron passing on his knowledge to Damien

Ron passing on his knowledge to Damien

Dalton Maag has recently begun a new training programme for its new recruits, presided over by Ron Carpenter, and this is the second of a series of articles giving an insight into the process.

Ron has a wealth of knowledge about font design, with over twenty years of experience in the business. This made him the perfect man to teach our new recruits about font design. We talked to him about how he came to be a font designer and his early days in font design.

“I got into type design rather by accident. In hindsight it may have had something to do with being left handed, and the effect this had on my writing style – even writing on a horizontal line is a challenge most left-handers will recognise! As a young lad in the late 1950s and early 60s the writing of birthday and Christmas present thank-you letters was a much hated chore and I would end up writing numerous drafts before I was satisfied with the results. The content was probably quite poor, but it had to look right. In retrospect I suppose I was aware that writing style revealed something about yourself and should be treated with care. It was many years later that I met up with the same issues in type design and its connection with branding.

“A fascination with maps lead to my first job – in cartography. The company provided large scale maps based on aerial photography for local authorities and civil engineers. Converting these photographs to readable maps required a fair degree of accuracy – so I guess I was developing an eye for detail. When the company moved to Northern Ireland I decided not to follow, so ended up answering an advertisement for a draughtsman at Monotype’s Type Drawing Office in nearby Salfords. Note the word draughtsman, not designer.

“Much of the work carried out in my early years there consisted of creating new glyphs (called specials) requested by clients to augment existing fonts, so we got to work with many different type styles, which again in hindsight was a good experience.

“Letterpress was still in use at that time (1968 onwards) and optical scaling was the norm, so the re-interpretation of font families for use at specific sizes was an important part of day to day design work, requiring accuracy of interpretation more than creativity. Some new designs were being developed, but these were mostly adaptations (to the Monotype system) of existing designs, or were commissioned from specialist type designers working outside of the industry – José Mendoza’s beautiful artwork for Photina springs to mind.

“Pencilled sketches were made onto cartridge paper using customised rotating drawing boards and, to ensure permanence and clarity, these were finished off using french curves, also custom made. Production processes from drawing, pattern, punch, matrix and type, required drawings which were back-to-front. An ascender to descender height of 10 inches (about 25 cm) was required and all drawing was carried out in outline, so the system was not intended for the creative aspects of type design, but as a means to copy or modify existing designs. It took several weeks to create letterpress prints, so the proofing and checking process was, by modern standards, extremely slow – and costly.

“Later developments into phototypesetting and eventually digital laser composing machines freed us from some of the constraints of the old system and smaller film positives provided a more designer friendly basis for creativity – we could even work with characters facing the right direction! It opened up opportunities to create new designs which I was quite keen to do. My favoured method of working in that pre-digital period was to sketch onto tracing film; modifications and refinements could be made by flipping the drawing over and sketching onto the back surface – a kind of early mask layer! These drawings could then be reduced on a photocopier before cutting out individual letters which could be arranged and rearranged into useful test words. For a more realistic representation these letters were inked in using a fine mapping pen for the outline, and felt-tip pen for the rest, with a minifying glass providing a further reduction in viewing size. It was a liberating period – after years of reproducing and modifying existing designs I could explore and experiment with new ideas.

“Of course, digital print and display screen technologies changed everything but whatever means are used to produce and display fonts, the issues remain largely the same. Designing type is about texture as well as form. It’s easy with high resolution screens to become seduced by the elegance of the larger letter forms we work with during the design process, without necessarily considering the textural effect resulting from their use at smaller reading sizes. I like to imagine working ‘at size’, as punch-cutters from the past would have done, dealing directly with minute detail. There seems to be a conflict in type design between the freedom necessary to be creative and the discipline to eventually execute things precisely. It’s part art and it’s part architecture.”

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Ron, always learning, takes part in a cyrillic font design workshop.

An Introduction to Type Design at Dalton Maag

Dalton Maag has recently begun a training programme for its new recruits, and this is the first of a series of articles giving an insight into the process.

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Ron giving Damien some advice

Presiding over the training is one of the longest serving members of Dalton Maag, Ron Carpenter. We asked him about how exactly you take a new recruit and turn them into a type designer.

“We start with calligraphy, which underpins much of what we do as type designers. They spend a couple of weeks on this – not necessarily to produce perfect examples, but to gain a better understanding of the relationship between type and some of its origins.

“What we perceive as ‘normal’ is based on our exposure to type forms over many years, so our relationship with type through reading will vary from person to person. It makes sense to go back to calligraphy and type history to have a better understanding of why the letters of the alphabet are like they are. It helps to demystify the design process. The modulation, stresses and oblique angles found in many typefaces can be traced back to calligraphic principles.

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Cosimo working on his calligraphy

Rafael's calligraphy work

Rafael’s calligraphy work

“The second phase consists of painting letters. 24pt samples from each of the major type classifications are provided and these have to be reproduced to an x-height of around 75mm (about 3 inches) using brushes and black and white gouache. This is quite an intensive process requiring a minute attention to detail, and is designed to enhance visual sensitivity – training the eye to see what is there, at a relatively small size, and making the necessary decisions to recreate the same thing at a much larger, working size. In much the same way our designers here work in FontLab, but this process is a more direct way, without the constraints of Bezier outline manipulation. It’s about making calculations on proportion, weight, position; shape etc. based on visual judgement rather than measuring – a skill that goes to the heart of type design. The principle features and characteristics of different type styles can also be examined during this phase.

“Our designers have to assess a design according to the minute detail, often at small point sizes, so it’s important to know how to manipulate the actual size when working at a larger drawing size.

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Dirty brushes

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An example of painting characters

“Depending on previous experience, they then spend time familiarising themselves with the design aspects of FontLab and begin to discuss creating a concept for a new design of their own choosing. This is preferably something that could be a useful addition to our Type Library here at Dalton Maag. It’s quite a big step, but gives them an opportunity to express themselves, whilst gaining knowledge in the more formal aspects of type design and the use of FontLab.

“They need to justify the new concept and consider its viability; does the concept work? Does it make sense? Does it fulfil a role? How would you market and sell this typeface?

“We try to steer them away from the personal or quirky display styles and towards something which is more commercially viable. So I’m looking for something that fulfils a particular role, whether it’s functional for a particular print or screen environment or something with a fresh personality that may not have been tried before. The new concept is expanded to include caps, lowercase, figures and basic punctuation followed by the planning and execution of a range of weights or, for a Text font, a matching italic.

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Mary working hard on her project

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Matt’s project in progress

“They then spend some time with our Font Reliability department so they gain some insights into Quality Assurance and the technical aspects of type design so we can minimise those issues which lead to difficulties when a font is engineered. They also spend time hinting so that they appreciate some of the practical issues concerning the screen rendering of their new design concept.

“Throughout the training process, each recruit keeps a log of what they’re doing from day to day so we can monitor progress to see if the program needs to be expanded or amended. It has to be said that, even with this initial training completed, there is still much to learn, but at this stage the trainees can move into a production team to continue the process.”