2007 Fall Fonts Festival
The Design Center / Typography Department / 13th Annual Fall Fonts Festival /  

Lessons in Type & lettering

...from by-gone eras

There are many, many important lessons to be learned by the study of commercial art between the 1850s and 1950s. These were the days of the commercial artist who was almost always both artist and graphic designer. Stunning pieces of art were created for something as mundane as a label for a crate of fruit -- where today, those works of art are practically nonexistent.

Label art for fruits and vegetables

My father founded his business in 1959 -- a fresh fruit and vegetable distributor. As a kid I worked at the plant unloading railroad cars of fresh fruits and produce from points all over the country. I remember loving the label art on crates coming in from Florida, Georgia, Texas, California, New Mexico and Oregon. I remember even looking forward to the foreman ordering me back to the rail siding to help off load a new shipment. I knew there would be unique and exciting labels on those cartons. My favorite was "Leg High" -- one label I've not seen in any of the books. As I tended toward artistic talents through middle and high school, I often tried to emulate that great art.

Styles would range from simplistic lettering against striking art (Quail) or slightly clean bending, outlining and colorizing (Pelican) to lavish bending, shading, stroking, shadowing and all manner of illumination! Those were the days when commercial artists would get paid 50-cents an hour and could afford to take several days to a week producing an artistic label.

illustration merged with lettering and type for striking results

Each grower was different, with a different label -- each would feature spectacular art and equally appropriate typography. Well, in those days it was called lettering because most was created by hand. Each geographic area of the country would have its own flavor, even though most of the art was coming out of California. Each would attempt to carve its own niche, hooking into historic or regional looks. Yet others would strike out and investigate new directions from stylistically clean (ECO) to comical (piggy) to secular, like the "Lily Chocolate" label's decidedly "Pennsylvania Dutch" look. Yet -- being produced on the west coast, the artist couldn't help purveying a bit of the San Francisco look too! (Boudin)

Label graphics and art for all products

But produce labels weren't the only to be lavishly designed and illustrated. As the industrial age matured, literally thousands of products were being brought to the shelves of markets -- and super markets -- all competing for the consumer's attention. While in today's world the level of art is not the same for crating and boxing bulk product -- the consumer never sees that -- consumer goods at point-of-purchase has become a fierce battle for eyes! Unlike the golden days of crate labels and posters when works of art cost several hundreds to produce -- today, such art costs several hundreds of thousands.

When Art merges with Commercialism

That's what is so exciting about labels and packaging -- there are so many great lessons to be learned:
* Always design your type or lettering to reinforce the imagery.
* Select type styles or lettering styles that portray the message of the image
* Always build the color palette to either complement or contrast
* DO NOT COPY -- but also, don't be afraid to utilize the styles and flavors as starting points, or as inspirational reference works to create your own masterpieces.

Low cost reference materials

The Publishers' Warehouse Loading Dock is featuring a line of low-cost references showing thousands of labels, vintage ads, and 'golden era' posters. Just click on the Clip Art section and go to "Pictorials" ...where you can download page samples from the Dover Pictorial Archive. I've loved these books for years, and if you're just simply out of ideas -- spend a while thumbing through any of these very inexpensive books for a raw, creative shot in the arm... Dover Pictorial Archives presents an entire education in type, and lettering
* Full-Color Fruit Crate Labels CD-ROM and Book
* Full-Color Vintage Advertising Illustrations CD-ROM and Book
* Vintage Labels and Posters CD-ROM and Book
* Full-Color Old-Time Label Art CD-ROM and Book
* Old-Time Travel Posters and Luggage Labels CD-ROM and Book
* Treasury of Greeting Card Designs CD-ROM and Book

You can purchase ALL of these for less than a couple of Photoshop books! And, you'll learn a lot more! Don't forget, you can download samples from all of these, as well as dozens of other valuable art reference books in the Clip Art department of the Publishers' Warehouse. I'll give you the keys to the loading dock at the bottom of my Editor's Column !

Take advantage, and expand your creative awareness!

... and thanks for reading!

Fred Showker
Fred Showker, Editor / Publisher of DTG Magazine

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