Tag Archives: graphic design

Who owns what you create?

I’d like to zoom ahead a few centuries for just a minute. Last post was about the brilliant type designer Francesco Griffo and how ownership of his creative output was taken away by the Venetian Senate. Naturally, he was bitter. Griffo did everything right: he worked hard to become skilled; he discovered what his customers wanted and delivered it; what he created was in short supply so he should have been able to command a respectable price for it. But Griffo couldn’t make a buck from his own type designs because his ownership of them was taken away.

Let me put in a plug here for the Graphic Artists’ Guild. In the late 1970s GAG lobbied the United States Congress to enact law that made everything an artist creates the sole property of that artist, unless the artist transfers ownership to somebody else through a contract. You can see how huge that was. Before 1978, an artist protected his creations by applying for a copyright or else a patent through the Patent Office. It cost you money to establish ownership of your own stuff. Now your creativity belongs to you from the moment you create it. Anybody else trying to claim it needs to show a contract you signed. No contract means the artist owns it. If you wonder why I’m unapologetically pro-America, this is one of the reasons. In the USA an artist’s intellectual property is protected by the law of the land.

I sought out my pal Fred Carlson’s (Fred was GAG’s president 1991-1993) input on this. Here’s what he added—

I always like to note that the US Constitution itself protects the intellectual property of its citizens, acknowledging the USA as the worldwide leader in copyright assignment to benefit creators—even Jefferson (who invented quite a few items in his lifetime!) saw the need for this:

US Constitution, Article 1 Section 8, clause 8 (in the whole article describing the creation of Congress)

“Section. 8. The Congress shall have the power to…”
Clause 8 “…promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;”

This recognized the positive impact of assigning ownership to inventors, writers, artists, who could then exploit the work for the profitable and regular distribution through the economy of their valuable intellectual property.
It created such things as Patent offices, copyright offices, etc. For a lot of the modern world these concepts dating to 1787 are still unknown and often disrespected.—Fred

https://www.wilsongunn.com/history/history_patents.html
https://graphicartistsguild.org/
https://graphicartistsguild.org/the-code-of-fair-practice-for-the-graphic-communications-industry/
https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution-transcript
https://carlsonstudio.com/

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Francesco Griffo

Francesco Griffo

Manutius got type-design-superstar Francesco Griffo to cut type for his lowercase/minuscule Greek letters. Greek minuscules had been developed by the monks in those old scriptoria to save some space on the page. Griffo redesigned them as italics so they would take even less space. He did the same for Hebrew and Roman lowercase. When you look at the examples in the links below, you’ll see that the capital letters are still in their old form—only the lowercase letters are italic.

A page of the polyglot Bible. Looks like only the Greek got lowercase italics. Why are there blank spaces at the top-left of columns 2 & 3 but top-right of the first column? http://www.griffoggl.com/en/biografia/

I give some links below here and yesterday’s post to Griffo’s beautiful work. One of my favs is the polyglot Bible: 3 columns on every page in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. The guy was cutting those tiny letters in steel by hand and they’re perfect. Really, go look. Griffo’s designs for italic type are beautiful—and they’re useful. Italics take less space on a page, so books can be smaller and less expensive. Manutius was selling a ton of books thanks to Griffo’s italics. Here’s the ugly part: Manutius didn’t want any other publisher to have Griffo’s italic type. In 1502 Manutius went to the Senate of the Venetian Republic who granted him a 10-year protection—only Manutius could use Griffo’s italic type designs. I’m not talking about the physical metal type—I mean the design, the creative idea, the ‘intellectual property.’ So Griffo didn’t own his italics anymore, because he couldn’t sell them to anyone else. He should have been able to make a fortune from them, but Manutius owned ‘em. Welcome to the 1500s graphic design business, Francesco. Disappointed and disgusted, Griffo left Venice soon after that.

http://www.griffoggl.com/en/biografia/
http://www.griffoggl.com/en/corsivi/

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Aldus Manutius

Aldus Manutius

The brains behind all this innovation was one guy: Aldo Manutio, or Aldus Manutius in Latin. Latin & Greek weren’t completely abandoned by the early book publishers. Manutius was a scholar who spoke several languages and made it his mission to use his printing press to publish some beautiful editions of the classics (Hebrew, Greek & Latin lit)—while keeping his books affordable enough that the college crowd could afford them.



Manutius built a reputation for accurate translations. He was a meticulous editor. And though his books were produced inexpensively, they are gorgeous to look at. Either he or a designer on his payroll composed pages using classic mathematical proportions that Pythagorus, the ancient Greek mathematician, dreamed up (more about that soon). Scholarly writers/translators started coming to Manutius because they knew they could trust him with their work.

The dolphin & anchor image is Manutius’ colophon, or printer’s mark.

Here are links so you can looks at these books:

https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/renaissance-reformation/early-renaissance1/venice-early-ren/a/aldo-manuzio-aldus-manutius-inventor-of-the-modern-book
https://rarebooks.library.nd.edu/exhibits/durand/italian/manutio.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aldus_Manutius
For only $8,800 clams you can own a first edition from the Aldine Press: https://www.raptisrarebooks.com/product-tag/aldine-press-first-edition/

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…And we pass the savings on to you, our customer

The story so far: books were shooting out of the printing presses; they cost way less than hand-written manuscripts; they’re written in vernacular languages (that everybody spoke) rather than Latin (that hardly anybody spoke); the presses were located in Venice, Italy where people were making fat stacks of lire by trading with Asia and could afford fripperies like books.


Even so, merchants weren’t about to blow a month of profits on a thirty-nine-pound 14” by 17” three-volume copy of Dante’s Commedia even if it were cheaper than a manuscript. Beside costing a fortune, who’d want to lug it around?

Press sheet, folio, quarto, octavo.

So the Venetian printers came up with new ways to make books less expensive and more portable. First, they made books smaller so they’d need less paper. They folded a press sheet once (folio), twice (quarto), and again (octavo) until they got small, easy-to-carry pocket-sized books. Next, they made type skinnier so more words would fit on a page—it was called italic. Skinnier type means fewer pages/less paper. What else? You know how paperback books are cheaper than hardcover books? How about no-cover books? Venetian printers sold you a book as a package of loose leaves! There were book binders who would sew them up into a codex if you liked.

I’m kidding! This is just a joke! It’s likely these leaves were F&Gs—’folded & gathered’ into 16-page signatures. https://www.printindustry.com/Newsletters/Newsletter-194.aspx

http://gallery.lib.umn.edu/exhibits/show/celebratingvenice/printing

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Most Serene!

Okay, maybe not so serene. I did this image a while back for a Pittsburgh Public Theater production of an old commedia dell’arte play.

Venice, Italy was the place to be if you were in the printing business in the late 1400s—like Silicon Valley, California is today for the software industry. I was looking for reasons why everybody moved there, like religious persecution or something, but it looks like printers were attracted to Venice rather than driven there. Who can blame them? She’s an enchanting city. The locals call her la Serenissima—the Most Serene. Since the Middle Ages Venice had been a powerful trading port with her own navy. Venice was the western end of that network of overland and sea routes known as the Silk Road. Trade goods and wealth from all over Europe were exchanged for trade goods and wealth from all over Asia. All that bustling trade produced a rich merchant class with extra soldi to spend on luxury items, like books.

Italian Word of the Day: Soldi (money)

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Nicolas Jenson

Nicolas Jenson

The mechanized printing press and movable type were such radically different new technologies that printers had to soothe and reassure their customers by making their books’ text look like old-fashioned calligraphy. The metal letters mimicked the way letters are created by a pen or brush. It would take a bit of time before a typefounder said, “Oh, the heck with it” and finally designed a typeface that was meant to be printed on a printing press. No more phony hey-this-looks-like-it-just-rolled-out-of-the-scriptorium fancy-pants calligraphy.

That happened in ad 1470 and the type designer was Nicolas Jenson (zhen-SŌN). He was a Frenchman living in Italy.

Here’s a site with his beautiful type designs. You can download the typeface and there’s even a box where you can keystroke in your name or a phrase and see what it looks like a la Jenson. https://www.dafont.com/1470jenson.font

You can get Jenson’s font from these guys, too. Image credit: https://fontmeme.com/fonts/1470-jenson-font/

Jenson’s type design is inspired by old Roman majuscules for the capital letters. His lowercase letters are sorta-kinda inspired by uncial minuscules (notice Jenson’s lowercase u doesn’t look like a v). We’ll be calling capital letters ‘uppercase’ and little letters ‘lowercase’ now because that’s where they are kept in a job drawer.

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Yes, I’m a King Arthur geek

Okay, okay. I’m getting a little sidetracked, but I just want to show you a bit more King Arthur illustration before we get back to late mediæval literature.



Brandywine is an American creek that runs through Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania and Wilmington, Delaware. The Brandywine School was a group of illustrators who left New York City and opened studios in the wilds of eastern PA where they posed costumed models against the countryside for their paintings. Their work has a vibrancy that you can’t match if you’re crammed inside a tiny studio in the Big City. Thanks to the railroad, the Brandywine artists could ship their illustrations to their clients in NYC and still make deadlines. Howard Pyle founded the Brandywine school. He was one of those thoroughly admirable and talented types who can illustrate and also write. Pyle produced a King Arthur book that’s packed with superb black & white drawings and some boffo color paintings, too. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Story_of_King_Arthur_and_His_Knights
Get yours here: https://www.thriftbooks.com/w/the-story-of-king-arthur-and-his-knights_howard-pyle/326253/item/9289845/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwu7OIBhCsARIsALxCUaNgzrRTspXOWPTAg64ytNGCJLrrujFSVb-mE9oHNZOdm-tfhAzWHMEaAraNEALw_wcB#idiq=9289845&edition=3431357 (the blurb sez Arthur drew Excalibur from the anvil. He didn’t. He got Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake. So there.)
https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Brandywine_School



Another of my favs is N.C. Wyeth who also did Arthurian illustrations—
https://www.illustratedgallery.com/artwork/original/3923/by-nc-wyeth/
https://www.google.com/maps/place/Brandywine+Creek/@39.8839034,-75.6071849,14z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x89c6fd524d5626bf:0xd0dba77af6c98645!8m2!3d39.7320579!4d-75.5313104

Pyle’s and Wyeth’s work surely must have been at least part of the inspiration for the Sunday comic strip, Prince Valiant. How I used to drool over Hal Foster’s inkwork when I was a mere slip of a thing. https://www.fantagraphics.com/collections/prince-valiant
https://www.comicartfans.com/gallerypiece.asp?piece=1421255

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Aubrey Beardsley

Pen, brush and ink on paper, you guys.

As I never tire of reminding you, I’m an illustrator. So I have to tell you about this specially-illustrated edition of Le Morte d’Arthur that came out centuries after Malory and Caxton. It was illustrated by nineteen-year-old Aubrey Beardsley in 1893. Some of the drawings are—let’s face it—bizarre. But Beardsley had a breath-taking mastery of black & white. He would have made a swell cartoonist. Not only that, his style looks like it was designed for woodblock printing—so it feels right for his mediæval subject.

As the Enchanted Booklet tells it:

“William Morris’s Kelmscott Press produced exquisite limited editions, with elaborate woodcut ornamentation and vellum bindings.
J. M. Dent, a London publisher, wished to print a book as beautiful as Kelmscott’s publications but more affordable, targeting the middle class. He achieved this by using a new printing procedure with half-tone reproductions. But mostly he achieved his goal because he had the luck to meet a nineteen year old artist : Aubrey Beardsley.
The publisher recognized the unique powerful talent of Beardsley who was perfect in many ways including his eagerness to produce a huge amount of quality work for a small profit since he was working at the time as a clerk at an insurance agency.
That is how a wonderful book with 360 full and double-page drawings, borders, chapter headings, and ornaments of detailed illustrations, a total of over 1,000 decorations, arrived (in bookshops at) an affordable price.” https://enchantedbooklet.com/le-morte-darthur/

You can get your own copy: https://www.amazon.com/Morte-DArthur-Thomas-Malory/dp/051747977X
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aubrey_Beardsley

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Beowulf in one sentence

And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for. Yes, you lucky readers, it’s time for my patented Western-Lit-In-Only-One-Sentence ® treatment of Beowulf! Ready? Hang on to your horned helmets ‘cause here we go—

The drinking song from The Student Prince ran through my head while I drew this one, so here’s the link. Isn’t that Anne Blyth adorable, though? Mario Lanza does the singing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OI3Bcgh4Jko

In Denmark King Hrothgar builds a big mead-hall it’s a big barn where his warriors can hang out and party (mead is an adult beverage) play music and listen to storytellers they’re whooping it up and making a racket at all hours which annoys Grendel who is a horrible monster who lives in the swamp near the mead-hall Grendel terrorizes the Danes every night he even kills a bunch of

them which dampens the party atmosphere none of the Danish warriors is a match for Grendel finally a young Geatish warrior named Beowulf hears about Hrothgar’s situation Beowulf sails to Denmark with 14 guys Hrothgar holds a big feast for Beowulf at the feast a little wiseacre named Unferth says maybe Beowulf isn’t up to the job the music stops Beowulf tells the crowd all about the big things

he’s done the party starts back up again but then Grendel bursts in and Beowulf fights him unarmed because he’s so strong they have a rip-roaring mortal battle and Beowulf rips Grendel’s arm off so Grendel limps back to his swampy home to die the warriors party on and eventually fall asleep but things are about to get real Grendel’s mom is a much worse monster who chews gum and kills Danish warriors and she’s all out of chewing gum she comes to Hrothgar’s party and grabs Esher who was the emcee so Beowulf says I’ll handle this and tracks Grendel’s mom to a lake where Esher’s head is bobbing in the water and he thinks this must be the place so he dives down to her underwater lair at the bottom of the lake and they have a knock-down drag-em-out fight the situation looks bad for our hero but there’s a magic sword on the knick-knack shelf Beowulf grabs it and kills her with it so now no more monsters in Denmark King Hrothgar thanks Beowulf with great heaping piles of treasure they have another big party and Beowulf heads home with his pals he gives his treasure to King Higlac who rewards Beowulf with real estate and swords now we skip ahead 50 or 60 years Higlac is dead and Beowulf is king of the Geats there’s an underground cave full of treasure that’s guarded by a dragon some stupid Geat steals a bejeweled cup from the cave while the dragon’s asleep and when the dragon wakes up he knows right away the cup’s missing so he goes on a rampage and burns everything down including Beowulf’s house so Beowulf goes to the cave to kill the dragon but he’s not so young as he used to be they have a harum-scarum fiery battle Beowulf breaks his sword and the dragon bites him on the neck Beowulf’s old pal Wiglaf comes to the rescue and stabs the dragon then Beowulf cuts the dragon in half with his knife (it doesn’t say lengthwise or crosswise) but it’s game over for Beowulf that was his last fight Wiglaf builds a giant tomb for Beowulf with lots of treasure the Geats give Beowulf a viking send-off with a big funeral pyre and bury his ashes and treasure in the tomb.

https://www.ancient-literature.com/other_beowulf.html
https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-suffolk-43045874
Here’s a movie reviewer who gets Beowulf. https://www.salon.com/2007/11/20/beowulf_2/

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Frontier poetry

Well, okay, there’d been vernacular literature before the Renaissance. Poets who lived in the far-flung fringes of the Roman Empire had been writing their stuff in their own language long before the Renaissance. It seems reasonable to figure since so few people spoke or read Latin on the frontier, Latin wasn’t the best language to go with when writing poems. The epic poem Beowulf was written in Old English/Anglo-Saxon and dates from at least ad 1000—probably earlier.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Beowulf is a warrior-hero who slays monsters. His poem is the model for many epics that followed. F’rinstance, J.R.R. Tolkien was a mediæval literature scholar who got plenty of mileage out of Beowulf for his Lord of The Rings saga.* Dungeons & Dragons, Game of Thrones—how about Dune, Star Wars, comic books and superhero movies? How To Train Your Dragon did a neat twist on the Beowulf story. Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky is a Beowulf spoof. I have a crackpot theory that Beowulf was the inspiration for Dr Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! https://johnmanders.wordpress.com/2009/11/23/youre-a-mean-one-mr-grendel/

Beowulf is a poem but it doesn’t sound like any poem we’re used to hearing. Instead of lines that rhyme with each other, poems from those days used alliteration. The Beowulf author repeated consonants, like in ‘the far-flung fringes’ from 2 paragraphs ago. I was lucky enough to hear Benjamin Bagby perform Beowulf (more alliteration!) in Pittsburgh some years back. Here’s Mr Bagby at the 92nd Street Y in NYC— https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WcIK_8f7oQ

* Tolkien wrote a translation of Beowulf—https://www.amazon.com/Beowulf-Translation-Commentary-J-R-R-Tolkien/dp/0544570308 you may also like Sir Gawain and The Green Knight https://www.amazon.com/Gawain-Green-Knight-1996-02-06-Paperback/dp/B014BGYZCC/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=the+green+knight+tolkien&qid=1626837983&s=books&sr=1-3

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