DT&G Magazine Editor's Column
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interviews with leading designers, artists, and authors... (continued)

Leslie Cabarga

building typographic solutions

DT&G   Those are wonderful examples.
      I've always preached that inventing lettering forms is an art reserved only for those with extensive training and skills in typography. My recommendations for beginners and non professionals in workshops has been like your Method Four (pg 157) Modifying Type -- with a bit of Method Two "Parts Department" (pg 154); to use an existing font then clipping bits and pieces of the letterforms to form new letter forms for building unique typography for logos and decorative editorial type.
      You've elegantly captured the spirit of developing unique type solutions through five methods in "Drawing Letters the Leslie Cabarga Way" -- making it look easy as pie! (I wish I had the book during my days of travelling seminars)
      However, very frequent question from readers and The Design Cafe attendees is "where do I start." The book, of course is a wonderful tutor, but may still overwhelm many beginners.
      What tips can you share for getting over that frightening first step of conjuring a totally new type solution.

Leslie:   First I want to say that, although I collect lettering books -- which often have tips on letter construction in them -- I basically learned what I know and what I imparted in my books just by observation and practice; by just doing lettering and by looking at type and lettering.

The easiest way to start is to copy what you like or use fonts you admire as springboards to jump off from. When people make horrid errors in letter construction I just wonder why they didn't refer to other fonts as they worked -- not to steal from, but to see where the thicks and thins are in roman letters, and things like that.

DT&G   So, that's why you developed the "Bad Type" font, right? (Based on the worst examples of sign painting and amateur lettering!)

Leslie:   (Laughing) Well, sort of!

DT&G   Following that... if I were using FontLab and your new book, "Learn FontLab Fast" (Which I would have to since I haven't touched a font program since Fontastic!) can you give me a little nudge on the best place to start?

Leslie:   Well, that's the point of this book. I start out by letting 5 font designers tell the readers how they start making a font and then I proceed to show how to do it in a logical order, just as many of us do it.
      But you know, none of this means anything if the student doesn't have an interest in type. If you have to ask yourself, "what should I do, what should I do?" you're probably not really very motivated. If you are self motivated--like I was at 12 when I spent a summer copying lettering I liked out of Life magazines--you don't need a nudge to get going. Wild horses probably couldn't pull you away.

DT&G   How true! Okay... so many of the decisions in developing excellent type solutions are based purely on what works and what looks good. Many of our readers may not have that well of a fine-tuned eye to recognize when there are problems in their designs.
      Can you share some easy "Dos and Don'ts" of lettering that they can watch out for?

Leslie:   Don't ever rip off a font I designed (laughter)!
      Seriously, again it's a matter of observation: checking out type and lettering that you see around you. In my books I point out various kinds of sloppy execution and bad balance and lack of consistency that contribute to bad type. I think these hints along with you going out and looking at type will eventually make you a good letterer. A lot of us keep a scrap book of printed examples that we admire; I highly recommend all graphic designers begin keeping a scrap book where they collect all sorts of samples they like, or that really seem to be successful. That way they can refer back to the scrapbook for inspiration.

DT&G   Exactly -- good advice, Leslie -- I call it my swipe book, and I've preached that same suggestion for many years!

Leslie, I see we're running short on time, can we close with a fun one: Which font (Typeface, typestyle, etc.) do you like best and why? and... Which font would you really like to see never used, ever again?

Leslie:   I like so many fonts--and like colors, there are no bad fonts, only bad contexts. I raved over Matthew Carter's Big Caslon in LFLB (he told me he wanted what I'd written as his epitaph--Wow!) and I also showed Christian Schwartz's Amplitude and then used it throughout Learn FontLab Fast. Three of my favorite fonts are my own: Kobalt Bold and Black, because they are (in my humble opinion) the most perfectly representative exampes of 30s poster lettering that have been made into fonts; and Saber, my gothic font that I think (humbly) contains some exotic letterforms that are completely without precedent. It hasn't been picked up on much yet, though.
      But there are really no bad fonts... only bad use of fonts. When you are faced with a problem that needs a typographic solution, experiment. Try different fonts and postures. Try different decorative techniques. Move the words around, look at ways to make the words speak -- make them be the message. When you hit upon the sublime solution, you'll know it. It will speak to you!

DT&G   Wonderful! And, what a great way to wrap up our chat today. Again -- Leslie, thank you so much for taking your time to delve into these questions. Now, when they come up in the The Design Cafe, or in my Typography classroom, I can simply direct them to this interview, and to your Web site FlashFonts!

Leslie:   Thank you, Fred! And folks, find a font you like, get out your pencil and tracing paper and keep on lettering!

DT&G logo fonts lettering   Folks, there you have it! Sage advice and insights from the legendary Leslie Cabarga, font designer and author of the Logo Font & Lettering Bible -- which I've instructed my "Intro to Typography" students to buy as part of the required texts for the course. And if you care about learning about fonts and lettering; or if you want to learn the art and craft of designing logos -- you should get the book too!

Now, take a look at Leslie Cabarga Fonts



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