With a passion for the printed editorial object, the form of text and its visual presentation has been one of my main preoccupations since the beginning of my practice as a Graphic Designer. I developed this interest during my studies at the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts de Lyon where I graduated in 2011 with a Bachelor’s degree in visual expression. Since then, my use of it in the design of books has grown constantly, as much in terms of page layout as in the choice of typefaces. Though I had acquired a number of empirical notions, it became obvious to me that I needed to deepen my practice of type design, which drove me to join the Atelier national de recherche typographique in October 2016 in order to develop the Immortel project, centered around a number of questions: starting from the principle that a text is seen before it is read, how can the form of the letters serve the words? How can one visually re-transcribe a content, not only in terms of page layout? How can a typeface embody a text?
Questions around the form of Italics also emerged from this project, for the purposes of envisaging a number of different Italics according to their different editorial roles. This led to a much broader consideration: how can one rethink the architecture of a type family, and what connections can be established between the fonts? The creation of variants, in the outline of the letter as opposed to its skeleton, has replaced the creation of different weight, allowing one to attribute editorial roles to each variant rather than imagining that a large range of weight is necessary, while not necessarily questioning their status.
Upon my arrival at the anrt, my interest was drawn towards the revival, a practice that consists mainly of adapting ancient typefaces for use with new technologies. My curiosity gradually shifted focus, placing the practice of revival to one side, as it appeared that the history of typography is, logically, constituted of successive adaptations of ancient typographical models to newer methods of composition and printing.
“Usually the best method of designing has been to improve on an existing model by bettering it at a point in time; a perfect table or chair or book has to be very well bred.” 1
Furthermore, the idea of reviving ancient typefaces seemed to me to be inappropriate for this project as this would have led me to look at forms that had already been produced as being dead and buried. The digital homage 2 or the cover version 3 are concepts that I quite agree with, as with them, it seems possible to think with history, to say something about ancient forms, to question them, to appropriate them and transpose them into a contemporary environment with current tools and technologies.
The visual documentation that I consulted during this research project consisted of works that reprint facsimiles of type specimens, but also originals printed in the 16th century. While consulting the latter, I was struck by the density of the texts and their blackness, caused by debossing 4, that provides the text and the page with an extremely powerful, almost magical tactile and visual quality. The expression “black art” that Robin Kinross used to speak about the beginnings of Western printing 5 resonated in my head in light of the indescribable sensations felt while consulting these works. Their overwhelming organicity was as much a visual as an emotional shock, and one that I was not expecting. Here, the concept of the “materiality of the text” took on all of its meaning.
Nonetheless, I did not wish to visually reproduce or recreate this debossing in the typeface design of this project, but rather to nourish my research with this organicity and this materiality of the text that was linked to the specific parameters of printing at that time: an excess of ink; punches that broke at the moment of printing, the unevenness of the print quality, the texture and grain of the paper…
According to John Downer’s different definitions of revival, this project falls into the category of homages: “Loosely based on historical styles and/or specific models, usually with admiration and respect for the obvious merits of the antecedents—but with more artistic freedom to deviate from the originals and to add personal touches; taking liberties normally not taken with straight revivals.” 6
Visible and legible
“Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it.” 7
Speaking of his twin practice as both magazine publisher and publisher of typefaces, Peter Biľak said that his work consists mainly of telling stories through articles while making a parallel with type design. 8 It is not simply a matter of designing beautiful letters with beautiful curves, but of telling a story with these designed forms, of proposing a second reading. The painter William Turner once replied to an artist who sought in vain to paint a traditional motif: “(…) do you not know yet, at your age, that you ought to paint your impressions?” 9 This is what interests me: designing the letters of my impressions. Designing the letters of my readings. Designing typefaces not only to serve the text, to be looked at first, then to be read, but also to give the text the form that I have in mind. The theory of the editorial statement, developed by Emmanuël Souchier, perfectly describes this idea. The author explains that the organization of elements on a page is a statement which is just as important as the content that it composes because “the ‘second text’ whose signifier is not made up constituted of words from the language, but rather from the materiality of the medium and the writing, the organization of the text, its composition, in short, every aspect of its material existence.” 10
The everyday, the art of banality, the “pictures of nothing” of Lawrence Gowing when speaking of Turner 11 has also been of great interest to me for many years now. How to represent a thing, a thinking, a concept; using basic elements and only by playing with tiny variations, avoiding ostentation, all while discovering specific forms in a second reading? How to inject unicity into the banal, into the traditional, starting from the idea that the form of the letters, to be legible to the greatest number, must respect a certain frame, a certain general architecture, which Adrian Frutiger partly shows with the layering of typefaces that he has designed.
I am not seeking originality at any cost, but rather originality in its common, traditional form, in the spark of the everyday. “If your everyday life seems to be unworthy subject matter, do not complain to life. Complain to yourself. Lament that you are not poet enough to call up its wealth. For the creative artist there is no poverty—nothing is insignificant or unimportant.” 12 Type designer Matthew Carter wrote: “I hear arguments about whether it is right to revive old types from the past in a day and age when originality is à la mode. For me, that is a boring debate—it has been going on since the 1550s for one thing, and, for another, I find it damn difficult to draw the line between renovation and innovation in many typefaces, including my own. I can more easily draw a line between tradition being used as a fertilizer, on the one hand, and nostalgia, on the other.” 13 The creation of a work 14—whatever its nature and whatever its destination—must come from an internal, personal, intimate need rather than a desire to be original. Author Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926), responding to Franz Kappus in Letters to a young poet on the necessity of the creative act, advised him to probe deep within himself rather than to be guided by outside needs: “You are looking outward and, above all else, that you must not do now; no one can advise and help you, no one. There is only one way: Go within. Search for the cause, find the impetus that binds you to write. Put it to this test: Does it stretch out its roots in the deepest place of your heart? Can you avow that you would die if you were forbidden to write?” 15
The Canadian typographer, publisher and poet Robert Bringhurst writes: “A good typographer (…) seeks to shed light on the text, to generate insight and energy, by setting every text in a face and form in which it actually belongs.” 16 My editorial design practice stands on the side of embodied typography, with each new project becoming the subject of a precise analysis so that the typographic choice is consistent with the content, as much for its form as its history. The principal idea of this research project was to render visible, almost palpable; the impression of reading a text by considering the typefaces as a double mediating element of reading: both visible and legible.
Architecture of the family
Uses and functions of the Italic
Originally, the Italic was created to save space. It’s set width is narrower when compared to the Roman, without causing any reduction in legibility, and is used for setting long texts, thus functioning like an autonomous font, as can be seen with the Italic of Francesco Griffo engraved for Alde Manuce between 1499 and 1501, for the composition of Martialis. Its role rapidly shifted to become nothing more than an accompaniment, a font used to distinguish foreign words from the main language of the text, notably in the first Latin to French dictionary published by Robert Estienne in 1539 17—where French is set in Italic and Latin in Roman, but also to distinguish the titles of the works cited and to include a second discourse. The composition of a type family now passes through this Roman/Italic pairing.
The notion of Type Family
“Yet each style must adhere to common principles governing the consistency of the type family.” 18
Outside of the connection maintained by Roman and Italic characters designed to function together (characters of the same size, the same color but with different texture), the notion of type family appeared for the first time in the writings of Pierre-Simon Fournier in 1742 in his book Modèles des caractères de l’imprimerie. He gathered a number of characters with the same structure and the same design but with a varying x-heights. 19
The first variations in size appeared halfway through the 19th century, but it was only in the 20th century that thicker versions were designed based on lighter weights.
In 1932, with Jan Van Krimpen’s Romulus, a new variation of the type family appeared, comprised of fonts with serifs and sans serifs that were designed to work together. 20
Up until that point, it had been commonly accepted that there is, within the same family, a Roman/Italic couple, varying x-heights, variations in sizes and variations in letter terminals, most often in a serif/sans serif pairing.
In general, most typefaces have an Italic that oscillates between 10° and 23°. One can see that as the slope of an Italic is not subjected to precise rules, many questions must be answered in the face of this typographic creation. Why not take advantage of these different possibilities rather than having to choose only one slope? It could be interesting to have two Italics for one Roman, with each one responding to the historical and contemporary roles that it has been attributed: one Italic for composing a long text; another for emphasis.
But similar to how few type families have multiple Italics with different slopes, few families contain Romans that possess variations in their design on the same scale and with similar types of construction (two variants with serifs for example).
How can one nourish openings in the architecture of a type family? Instead of having variants that come from the same design (like optical sizes), why not design a family with variants in the actual design itself? These different variants could function together not within a logic of hierarchization of information as it is usual practice, but for the composition of different typologies of information; when setting a text in a number of different languages for example. This research project proposes a first response to these questions.
Introduction to Immortel
Immortel is conceptually inspired by the Hippocratic theory of humors that explains the state of human beings through the presence of one of the four principal fluids: phlegm, yellow bile, blood and black bile. Each fluid represents a temperament:
- phlegm represents a phlegmatic temperament, absence of vigor, slow;
- yellow bile represents a choleric and proud temperament;
- blood represents a sanguine temperament, warm and jovial, extraverted;
- black bile provokes despair, melancholy.
According to this theory, every human being is composed of an equal amount of all of these fluids. The presence of a greater amount of one or another of these fluids leads to the associated temperament or humor.
In practice, this conceptual program leads to the design of four variants that make up the Immortel family. Each one has been designed after a humor and attempts to represent its characteristics:
- Immortel Infra is associated with a phlegmatic temperament;
- Immortel Colera with a choleric temperament;
- Immortel Vena with a sanguine temperament;
- Immortel Acedia with melancholy.
This collection is considered like a human being that can take on different forms or temperaments, following the greater or lesser presence of one of the fluids. Each variant can be substituted for another without any repercussions on the bulkiness of the text, because the metric system—set width of characters, x-height, height of the capitals, values of the ascenders and descenders—is the same for all of the variants. These metric values act as a structural link between the variants and organize the architecture of this family.
Typographically, each variant is inspired by the work of type designers, following the course of history:
- Immortel Infra finds its source in the work of Robert Granjon, a typeface engraver from the 16th century;
- Immortel Colera in the work of Jean Jannon, an engraver from the 17th century;
- Immortel Vena is influenced by the work of Jacques-François Rosart, an engraver from the 18th century;
- Immortel Acedia takes its inspiration from the engraving Melencolia I by Albrecht Dürer in 1514 and attempts a synthesis between two traces of a priori opposing tools, those left by the flat tip and those left by the narrow point. In this sense it is closer to a 21st century typeface.
Development of the variants
The typographical forms of the late French Renaissance, starting in the middle of the 16th century, were stabilized in relation to the Italian humanes and the beginnings of the Roman typographic letter. The calligraphic gesture was still the basis for the design of the letter but had been slightly freed from the slant of the quill: the axis is more upright, the crossbar of the “e” becomes horizontal and no longer loses this stability, the thin stroke of the junction is more flexible… The garalde, or oldstyle, as defined by the Vox-Atypi classification, has this quality of taking advantage of a manual gesture while not exacerbating its characteristics. Before the arrival of the transitionals (also called “realists”) that were followed by the extreme rationalization of the design with the didones, old style typefaces were characterized by an organic aspect which is the source of their beauty: they are sensitive and non-mechanical forms. Compared to humanes and to transitionals, with these two categories considered as passages, 21 the old style typefaces have their own identity and are not considered as being a step towards something else—even if, in the history of typography, each style of typeface can be considered as a step towards another, which could explain why many typefaces have been directly or indirectly influenced by those designed in France in the 16th century. 22
The Italics of Robert Granjon (1513–16th November 1589), foundry-man and typeface engraver among other things, are supple, lively and flowery, and his Roman typefaces attest to a certain rigor as well as displaying a maturity in the construction of forms. He was a collaborator of Claude Garamont (1499–1561) who dominated the market for Romans. Granjon designed corresponding Italics. For this reason, most of the Italics of the Garamond digital typefaces are unintentionally designed after the work of Granjon, notably the Italic of the Garamond Stempel 23 by Dr. Rudolf Wolf but also that of Jan Tschichold’s Sabon 24, both based on the specimen from the Egenolff–Berner foundry in 1592 that matched the Romans of Garamont with the Italics of Granjon.
Beginning in 1543, Granjon specialized in the engraving of Italics and became the maestro of treating curves, vitality and movement, to the point of surpassing Garamont in the creation of new graphic forms. Mathew Carter wrote: “When I look at them (speaking of Garamont’s typefaces) words such as ‘stately’, ‘calm’ and ‘dignified’ come to mind. (…) Looking at them (speaking of Granjon’s typefaces), adjectives like ‘spirited’, ‘tense’ and ‘vigorous’ come to mind.” 25 Garamont was a craftsman, Granjon an artist.
Despite the possibilities offered by the uniformization of typefaces and print techniques of the time—papers and inking that were increasingly sophisticated. Granjon tended towards self-expression and thus initiated the baroque style in type design. “If, in the history of Roman typographic characters, Garamont’s represent the sober, static, immutable beauty of the Renaissance, Granjon’s for their part display the exuberance, ostentation, magnificent assurance and technical perfection of the Baroque.” 26, a style that was later affirmed by engravers such as Christoffel van Dijck (1605–69) and then Miklós Misztótfalusi Kis (1650–1702).
The Cicéro typeface by Granjon (or Gros Cicéro) engraved in 1569, with its strong x-height that bucked conventions of the time, influenced Dutch typefaces, and would provide inspiration for William Caslon. 27 On the other hand, this same Cicéro had an influence on the Plantin 28 that itself would provide the basis for the Times New Roman. 29 Closer to us, the Tiempos 30 and the Stanley 31 were influenced respectively by the Plantin and the Times New Roman. They are thus indirectly linked to Granjon’s Cicéro. Indeed, the Galliard 32 is a design based on the Cicéro and the Double Pica Roman by Granjon, and the Lyon 33 is a contemporary consideration of the work of Granjon. One could then consider the work of Robert Granjon, and the Gros Cicéro typeface in particular, as the source of a considerable swath of the history of typography.
The Plantin, Galliard and Lyon typefaces, all three successors to Granjon’s Gros Cicéro, provided a solid body of typography to analyze, and allowed me to define a very specific direction for the design of Immortel Infra.
Plantin by Frank Hinman Pierpont and Fritz Stelzer, directly based on Granjon’s Cicéro, was designed and then engraved for the Monotype company for mass production. Plantin possesses a number of particularities, notably its density. Designed in 1913, at a time when print techniques and paper had improved and when, logically, the ink penetrated the paper less, it became possible to have thicker typefaces than before. Indeed, the relationship between the ascenders, descenders and the x-height is quite weak, allowing for thinner leading and thus a certain density on the page.
Apart from its density, one of Plantin’s characteristics is the form of its lowercase a, whose design is based on a letter not engraved by Granjon.
Galliard by Matthew Carter and Mike Parker, designed in 1978 for phototypesetting, was intended for setting running text. According to Carter, the Roman is based on Gros Cicéro 34, but designed as a reinterpretation of Granjon’s style rather than a faithful copy. The Italic of the Galliard is based on Ascendonica Cursive by Granjon. 35 The Roman and Italic of Granjon’s Ascendonica (or Double Pica, 20 points according to Carter, 22 points according to Daniel Berkeley Updike 36) were the only typefaces designed to function together in a relationship that we are now used to seeing between a Roman and an Italic: characters with the same size, the same color but with different textures. By basing his Italic on a 20 point size (whatever the source of the Roman may have been), the Roman inevitably had to be adapted to have the same contrast. And so Galliard is highly contrasted, which makes it pleasant to use for titles, but in my view makes it difficult to envisage using it for an immersive reading experience with a block of running text (between 8 and 14 points).
Kai Bernau’s Lyon, designed in 2006 for the Type & Media department of the kabk and commercialized in 2009 by Commercial Type, is not directly connected to a specific typeface by Granjon, it is rather a particular way of looking at his work. Bernau wanted to synthesize Granjon’s approach through sober and contemporary forms. So sober that they become very smooth and effaced, something that Bernau assumed and that is also assumed in the specimen, where one can read that: “Its elegant looks are matched with an intelligent, anonymous nature…” and even “Lyon (…) is paired with a certain Times-like unobtrusiveness in text sizes.”
The first variant of the Immortel family, Immortel 37 Infra 38—what you’re reading now—, is a dense old style that includes glyphs that are thinner, or on the contrary blacker, than the lower case letters. With a design based on the previously mentioned Cicéro by Granjon, it is conceptually linked to the text L’Infra-ordinaire by Georges Perec 39, which deals with things that are conventional, banal, ordinary, so anchored in everyday life that they end up being forgotten and ignored.
The term inframince (infrathin), invented by Marcel Duchamp between 1935 and 1945, that he defined as the art of the imperceptible, the subtle gap or shift and the infinitesimal difference, was also a source of conceptual inspiration. One of the formulas that perfectly represents what we are talking about was written by Marcel Duchamp in note 12: “Inframince separation between the noise of detonation of a rifle (very close) and the appearance of the mark of the bullet on the target (maximum distance of 3 to 4 meters – Fairground shooting).” 40 The inframince is the infinitesimal space between two moments that are so close in time that they seem to be a priori stuck together. The inframince is the moment when a subtle, almost invisible element escapes the view of human beings. It is the difference between two elements that are ostensibly identical.
Taking the work of Robert Granjon and the typography of the 16th century as a starting point allows me to speak about the materiality of the letter: the lead. By linking the typeface to contemporary concepts (infra-ordinary, inframince), it is a question of the materiality of the text, namely the first visual encounter with a block of text before one begins to read it.
“The search for beauty must never be at the expense of legibility.” 41 As this typeface was initially intended to perform best for linear and immersive reading, it is necessary for its design to be sufficiently calm to be legible without tiring one’s eyes, while possessing a presence and color that are generally dark. Dark for two reasons. The first born of a personal interest for the blackness and density of a text, intuitively thinking that the density of a block is a way of preventing the reader’s eye from escaping the text; the second appears to be an affirmation of the first, as texts are more legible when set in darker rather than lighter typefaces. Allen Hutt writes: “[…] and while Morrison could rightly claim in 1932 that Times Roman was ‘readable… not only in a good, but in a bad light’ this is no longer true. In 1970 it is only necessary to compare the thin, grey look of TheTimes—though its news-text is uniformly 9-point—with the more colorful appearance of the Linotype Modern in the Daily Telegraph—mainly in 8 point—to perceive where greater legibility lies.” 42 Indeed, with regard to the color of a typeface Fred Smeijers also said that “a little too bold is better than a little too thin.” 43
In order to evoke Perec’s L’infra-ordinaire and Duchamp’s idea of inframince, certain glyphs are designed to be lighter or darker than the letters. Though, in the first line of the image below, the punctuation glyphs composed of dots are quite dark, the lines that follow show thinner glyphs treated in a mono-linear fashion. This allows for a number of inflections of rhythm within the paragraph. Though the letters follow a pretty classic path, the other elements (punctuation and mathematical symbols) have a particular color, which allows us to speak about, show and subtly emphasize the signs which structure a phrase. The capital letters are also slightly darker than usual in order to pursue this direction.
Observing Granjon’s work, it appears that the Italics that he engraved did not all have the same slopes, which had a considerable influence on the rhythm of text and how it was perceived. From this observation emerged the desire to design two Italics, each one intended for a precise editorial role. The first is adapted to the composition of long texts: the character is slightly slanted, has little cursivity and a decomposed ductus 44 so as not to bother the reader. The second, adapted for short texts and the emphasis of elements (foreign words, titles, notions, as is customary), is more jittery. The cursivity and slope are quite marked, the ductus is rapid and executed in a single movement.
There are logical differences in slopes, but to the extent that the Median style is an in-between, it takes advantage of the stability of the Roman and the cursivity of the Italic style. Indeed, as the Median must hold over time, certain forms and slopes are common to a number of letters, whereas the Italic takes more liberties with the strong differences in the slopes of letters. The idea behind this very marked Italic is that it can be combined both with the Roman and also with the Median, so as to create visually differences different typologies of texts within the same paragraph.
The second variant, Immortel Colera, is inspired by yellow bile which, when found in large quantities, provokes violence and anger. This variant finds its source in the work of Jean Jannon (1580–1658), a French type engraver whose work was for a long time mistaken for that of Claude Garamont. Marcellin Legrand, tasked in 1825 by the Imprimerie Nationale to renew its typefaces, was unknowingly inspired by the typefaces of Jean Jannon, mistakenly attributing them to Garamont. 45
Immortel Colera is in large part inspired by Jannon’s Gros Canon, taken from his 1621 specimen, through its sharp shapes and pronounced contrast. However because the size of this typeface corresponds to a title (36 points), the contrast was too stark for it to be used as the sole source for a running text typeface. I looked for other typefaces by Jean Jannon on which to base the design of the Immortel Colera, finding them in Florian Le Roy’s Les caractères de l’Imprimerie Nationale. 46
As this project is not a revival project in the scientific sense of the term, it appears necessary to create links between ancient typefaces and more recent ones. Among the typefaces that were inspired by those of the mannerist period, I decided to take a closer look at Vendôme, designed by François Ganeau under the direction of Roger Excoffon in 1951 for use with running text, which is intended to be a descendent of Jean Jannon’s typefaces.
This very lively character is close to the sensation that I wished to transcribe with Immortel Colera. The texture that it provokes, irregular, jittery and jerky, is due to different parameters: the quite stark contrast, the slight incline of the stems to the right in the Roman, the ever so slightly designed forms of the para-textual signs (diacritical signs, punctuation signs) and the counter forms of the a and the e that are relatively closed. It gives this strange impression of not wanting to sit still, of being in constant movement.
This is a feeling that can be found in the Italics of Jannon: with the stems possessing a number of slopes, the image of the text seems excessively hectic, which provides the text with the impression of an almost palpable effervescence. 47
It seems more complex to re-transcribe this vivacity, specific to the Italic, in the Roman. This is why one finds stems and diacritical signs that lean slightly to the right in certain parts of the Roman. The serifs take advantage of the vivacity of those of the Vendôme, from the obtuse angle at the bracket, and could seem awkwardly designed once set in larger sizes, an element that adds an exaggerated and unstable impression, coherent with a choleric temperament.
As the design of this variant progressed, and in view of my sources, it appeared more coherent to me to design Immortel Colera with an optimal use of size 12 to size 20 in mind. This is why it possesses only a single Italic.
I took advantage of the sources in the work of Jannon but also a first interpretation of this work in Ganeau’s Vendôme. Immortel Colera is a synthesis of two periods of the history of typography. It is inspired by the sharp terminals and contrast of Gros Canon, and the rhythm possessed by certain details of Vendôme. Charles and Ray Eames wrote that “The details are not the details; they make the product just like the details make the architecture.” 48
The third variant, Immortel Vena, is related to the warm, outgoing and enthusiastic character caused by an excess of blood in the human body. It was difficult for me to find the right source on which to base the work, not knowing how to conceptually re-transcribe a warm and outgoing character in a typeface.
Following a period of research and doubt, I came across the work of Jacques-François Rosart (1714–77), Belgian engraver and foundry-man, and main rival of Johann Michael Fleischmann (1707–68). Rosart was the first to create a type foundry in Belgium after the end of the Spanish Netherlands, publishing only three type specimens, in 1752, 1761 and 1768.
Rosart has inspired a number of contemporary typefaces, such as the Rosart by Katharina Köhler for Camelot Typefaces, published in 2016, that proposes an interpretation of the work of Rosart while placing the minimum amount of points for the construction of each letter. More recently, The Rosart Project, 49 an initiative of the Plantin Institute of Typography led by Frank E. Blokland in Anvers, invited 5 students, with the results visible on the site of the foundry of Lukas Schneider, Revolver Type. 50 This typeface is quite close to printed sources, as well as punches and matrices.
Immortel Vena falls somewhere between these two extremes: both for its desire to create a form of accuracy between the source and the final result and also a synthesis of forms to which I had access.
Immortel Vena takes its sources from a facsimile of Rosart’s last specimen, from 1768, and takes advantage of the characteristics of the sizes of Parangon, Missel and Gros romain nº 1.
In the work of Rosart I see very fluid, very cut out forms, that are very didactic, eager for a methodological explanation of the construction of letters. To some extent, extraverted forms, that are turned towards the outside, as if willing to expose their structure and render it visible.
One of the recognizable signs of Rosart’s typefaces is found in the terminal of the ductus in letters with ascenders or descenders that possess bowls (d p) as if he wished to display the construction of the letters, which brings to mind a reminiscence of the calligraphic gesture when using a flat tip.
For me the lower case “a” evokes an extremely likable form. The circular drop is pulled downwards by its weight, the upper curve never stops turning in on itself, and the serifs are pushed towards the outside in an exaggerated fashion, notably on the uppercase “E”. These observations lead me to think that each element has been exaggerated for a better understanding of the form, for a stronger expression, to leave no room for doubt as to the typographic intention in all of its senses: legibility of forms, understanding of text, sharing content with the greatest number…
The link with a sanguine character is represented here by two principal parameters: the sequencing of the ductus and the termination of the gesture (in the form of a drop), but also in the envelope of the letters and the way that each element differs from the others, which encourages a better understanding of the form.
The general form is very round and generous, from the drops to the ductus, as if the hand had accompanied the gesture as far as possible along the line of the letters, as if it had taken the time to reinforce the characteristics of each element.
The fourth and final variant of the family, Immortel Acedia 51 emerged from the reading of a section of the thesis of philologist Constantin Zaharia, “Dürer et le nouveau symbolisme de la mélancolie”. It deals with the artwork Melencolia I by Albrecht Dürer created in 1514, whose considerable importance in the history of art provided melancholy with a totally new status. 52
Constantin Zaharia wrote in his thesis “Melancholy 53 (…) is in a state, so to speak, of super simulation, and her fixed stare is one of intellectual pursuit, as intense as it is sterile. She has suspended her work not because of indolence, but because in her eyes the work has lost all meaning.” 54 The intermediary light, the “brown”, prevents the spectator from defining the precise time of day and is not particularly related to the natural conditions of a certain time of day: “it indicates the worrying brown of the mind that can neither cast its thoughts into shadow, nor ‘bring them to light’” 55. Numerous elements of the artwork Melencolia I call to the in-between.
Starting from this observation, I envisaged the design and the construction of these letters as an in-between. In the history of typography, it is easy to refer to the category of transitional typefaces of the Vox-AtypI classification. However, as Muriel Pic writes, “(the melancholic man) displays his refusal of time conventionally established through time zones (…); he is opposed to the time of history and its chronology with a ‘before’ and an ‘after’ that favors the forgetting of destruction (…).” 56
The trace of the tool seems then to represent a more accurate starting point, notably when observing Dürer’s engraving, where “the tools lying at the feet of Melancholy represent art and science. They allow one to measure, draw and polish surfaces, and also to create what imagination represents. In the state of abandon that they find themselves in, there is a kind of lack of unity and coherence, an almost total lack of meaning.” 57 A lack of coherence that seems interesting to question by attempting to reconcile, unify and harmonize two approaches to the line. Adhering to the theory of Gerrit Noordzij, how then could a typeface be created by starting with the traces left by a flat tip on one hand and the sharp point on the other?
The construction of each of the letters was the subject of a simple analysis: can the envelope of the letters be expanded and translated? If not, what approach should be favored in order to create a sense of coherence within this alphabet?
Melancholy, as it is defined by the Trésor de la Langue Française informatisé, is “one of the four humors that, according to the ancient theory of temperaments, was supposed to be located in the spleen, and generated a predisposition for sadness and hypochondria”. 58 Atrabile, or black bile, coming from the spleen, consists of a dark and thick deposit of impurities whose vapors rise up to the brain to produce dark ideas. The thickness of the letter stems represent a large quantity of “dark and thick deposit of impurities” within the body, here, not of human beings, but of the letter.
As this typeface takes advantage of two gestures, and by extension two styles from the history of typography, it was unnecessary to base the work on comparisons, as was the case with the other variants of Immortel. The forms of the Immortel Acedia are rather, a sometimes crude synthesis of old style (triangular forms) or of didones (rectangular forms).
This synthesis was also used in the Italic. Though the distribution of the masses of certain letters follows a logic of expanding construction, its rhythm is closer to an old style in its structure and the rapidity of its execution.
DNA of the Immortel type family
Most type families present one or a number of the following variations: slope (Roman/slanted), weight, optical size, set width, terminals (with serifs/ sans serifs).
One of the issues of this project is to question the traditional structure of a type family. So I asked myself where it would be possible to add cursors. As a Graphic Designer, when I use a number of typefaces in a publication I seek on one hand to associate typefaces that are different enough for the change to be visible, but at the same time I pay attention to the fact that they share certain metric values.
For example, for the design of the book Identités du transitoire 59, the texts are set in Immortel Infra and Basel Grotesk 60. Apart from the formal differences of these typefaces, they share the same x-height, which means that when they appear on the same line, or close together, I have no need to change their size for them to possess the same height and occupy the same surface, and this makes the work easier.
The matching of horizontal metric values is already present in the design of typefaces, notably in Roman/Italic pairings, or sometimes in different thicknesses of a typeface. Thus all of the variants of Immortel have the same x-height, ascenders, descenders and capitals. So it is possible to use a number of variants together that all have the same size.
But the true wealth of this collection can be found in the set width of the letters that is equivalent from one variant to another. All of the variants (Infra, Colera, Vena, Acedia) are multiplexed: 61 all of the Romans have the same set width, all of the Medians have the same set width and all of the Italics have the same set width, which means that it is possible to change the variant on the fly without modifying the bulk of the text. The work of Robert Granjon was my oldest source, and the variant Infra, linked to his work, was the logical choice for setting the metric values of the type family: the other three variants were then designed to fit into the frames of the Infra variant. This is why it was impossible to remain completely faithful to my sources, as fitting a defined form into a pre-existing frame without any possibility of modifying it is a perilous exercise akin to tightrope walking.
This system of equivalent widths from one variant to another also drove me to design grades for the Infra and Vena variants, principally intended for setting running text. This means that the two variants have slightly different thicknesses but maintain the same set width. 62
This desire to design a number of grades emerged from a wish to have a lighter or darker text color depending on the page layout and/or the sensitivity of the user. The grade 2 can also be used to compose knocked out textover a dark background. All of the fonts of the Infra and Vena variants have two grades. It is also possible to choose how black they are thanks to the technology of variable fonts, both for the purposes of responding to questions of a technical nature (a certain paper, a certain type of printing), but also of a more sensitive nature and perception of the text, without needing to design intermediary versions.
With the program of the Immortel being designed for editorial use, two principal typologies of texts interested me: running text and titles. Instead of designing optical sizes by reducing the contrast and tightening the set width, slightly increasing the x-height, it seemed more interesting to me to propose variants that were adapted to text and to titling with the same base—the same frame—but with specificities inherent to each typology: discreet, robust and functional for running text; ostentatious, sharp and exacerbated for titling.
If one considers that different parallels exist between the typeface and the human body 63, Immortel could be seen as an extended incarnation of this analogy, behaving like a human being with different humors, that manifest themselves depending on the context in which they find themselves.
- Céline Hurka, Nóra Békés, Reviving Type, Rotterdam: Acute Publishing, 2019
- Collectif, Design graphique, les formes de l’histoire, Paris: B42/Centre national des arts plastiques, 2017
- Erwin Panofsky, Fritz Saxl, Raymond Klibansky, Saturn and Melancholy, Nendeln: Kraus Reprint, 1979
- Fred Smeijers, Counterpunch, making type in the sixteenth century designing typefaces now, London: Hyphen Press, 2011
- Gerard Unger, While you’re reading, New York: Mark Batty Press, 2007 [trans. Harry Lake]
- Gerard Unger, Theory of Type Design, Rotterdam: nai010, 2018
- Heidrun Osterer, Philipp Stamm, Adrian Frutiger — Typefaces. The Complete Works, Basel/Boston/Berlin: Birkhäuser, 2009
- Henri-Jean Martin, Lucien Febvre, L’apparition du livre, Paris: Albin Michel, “L’évolution de l’humanité”, 1971
- Hendrik Désiré Louis Vervliet, French Renaissance Printing Types, A Conspectus, New Castle: Oak Knoll Press, 2010
- Hendrik D. L. Vervliet, The Palaeotypography of the French Renaissance: Selected Papers on Sixteenth-century Typefaces, Volume 2, Leyde/Boston: Brill, 2008
- John Berger, Ways of seeing, London: Penguin, 2008
- John Downer, Call It What It Is, Introducing Tribute, Sacramento: Emigre, 2003
- Mathieu Lommen, Bram de Does: letterontwerper & typograaf/typographer & type designer, Amsterdam: Uitgeverij De Buitenkant Publishers, 2003
- Paul Barnes, Marian. Une collection de revivals, Paris: Ypsilon, “Bibliothèque Typographique”, 2012
- Paul McNeil, The Visual History of Type, London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd, 2017
- Robin Kinross, Modern Typography: an essay in critical history, London: Hyphen Press, 2000
- Tim Ahrens et Shoko Mugikura, Size-Specific Adjustments to Type Designs: An Investigation of the Principles Guiding the Design of Optical Sizes, Garshing: Just Another Foundry, 2014
- Emmanuël Souchier, “L’image du texte. Pour une théorie de l’énonciation éditoriale”, Les cahiers de médiologie, nº 6, 2nd semester 1998
- Emmanuël Souchier, “Quelques remarques sur le sens et la servitude de la typographie”, Cahiers GUTenberg, nº 46–47, April 2006
- Matthew Carter, “Galliard: a modern revival of the types of Robert Granjon”, Visible Language, vol. xix, nº 1, Winter 1985
- Paul Beaujon, “The ‘Garamond’ Types”, The Fleuron, A Journal of Typography, nº 5, 1926
- Robert Bringhurst, “Choosing and combining type”, Elements of typographic Style, Washington: Hartley and Marks, 1997
I would like to extend my warmest thanks to everyone who supported and accompanied this project, as well as all those who were kind enough to respond to my requests: Alice Savoie, Charles Mazé, Émilie Rigaud, Jérémie Hornus, Jérôme Knebusch, Roxane Jubert, Thomas Huot-Marchand, Atelier national de recherche typographique, Nancy; Florence Rodriguez, Bibliothèque de l’École Estienne, Paris; Jo De Baerdemaeker, Nico De Brabander, Musée Plantin-Moretus, Anvers; Pierre-Antoine Lebel, Musée de l’imprimerie et de la communication graphique, Lyon; Kai Bernau, Paul Barnes, Radim Peško, Thierry Chancogne; André Baldinger, Hervé Aracil, Peter Biľak; Alexis Faudot, Damien Gautier, Emma Marichal, Florence Roller, Matthieu Cortat, Rémi Forte, Rosalie Wagner, 205tf; David Březina, Éloïsa Pérez, Montasser Drissi, Roxane Gataud, Thomas Leblond.
This project received research/artistic production support from the Centre national des arts plastiques in 2018.