Saturday, March 31, 2007

First proof of concept

This is the first sample of my new font, based on the sculptures made by Van den Eijnde for the main Post Office in Utrecht (see my post from March 8). The font was actually used in a "Japanese way", meaning the texts run from top to bottom. Not yet having produced a font file this is too difficult to do, so I just put some letters on a normal line. There are still some quirks in the font that have to be eliminated, but I didn't want to keep the preview from you too long. As always, comments are welcome!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Art in concrete

Question: Am I willing to drive several miles into the wilderness just to look at some letters? Answer: yes, especially when those letters were poured in concrete in the 1920's. The text is a bit faded, but it is still decipherable. If you know that the words for "radio" and "station" are exactly the same in Dutch and in English, you'll have absolutely no problem reading the name of the building.
In between the words are two figurines, the left one with distinct oriental features, the one on the right with caucasian looks. The face in between symbolises the Aether, the medium in which radio waves travel. The artwork can be found above the entrance to the main building of the Kootwijk radio station which was built to have a wireless communication with the colonies at the other side of the earth. Before 1923 the communication went through cables but in the 1st world war these were sabotaged and eavesdropped on. The Dutch government decided that a wireless solution was necessary. The result was a huge building made from reinforced concrete, so to speak in the middle of the desert. Actually it was a heather landscape, and it still is, as you can see on the second picture.

I do not plan to make these characters into a font, I just wanted to show them to you.

Dutch characters

My language, Dutch, has a few specific characters, not found in any other language. Besides that we use the diacritics in a peculiar manner. Not to change the sound of a vowel (like the Umlaut in German), but to indicate a specifiek pronunciation. For instance, the word zoëven (so avon) is pronounced differently than zoeven (soofin). A typeface should have these letters with two dots above them, in order to produce texts in Dutch.
Another character that we cherish is the ligature i-j, that over the years has become a character of its own. Some fonts do have this ligature, such as Ancestory SF that I used to produce the word Lijst (Dutch for list). It is not a good idea to simulate this ij by placing two dots on an ypsilon (ÿ), the difference is just too great.

And finally the long f, the earstwhile symbol for our national currency the Guilder. It used to be called Florin, hence the letter f. This symbol is not used very much any more, but it survives in the heading of Het Financieele Dagblad, the biggest financial newspaper in The Netherlands. On the image (top) a copy of the FD's heading on their website. For more information in Dutch about fonts, typefaces and their use, you may consult Alexander Overdiep's website.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


I guess someone has got some explaining to do, and it isn't me. What happened? I contacted the sales rep of the Rotterdam Cruise Terminal, to get some more info on the typeface of their logo. During the telephone conversation I got the following answers: "The typeface was especially designed for the Terminal, and therefore it is not commercially available. The font does not have a name and no, the lettering has never been used before". Case closed, you may think? Until yours truly mentioned the 1929 and 1931 travel brochures, designed by Machteld den Hertog... For which there was no reply. There could be some copyright issues here, because whoever designed the original letters is probably not "dead for 70 years" as the law states. When you are making big money (as I suspect) selling fonts you should abide by the law.
Anyhow, I won't touch this typeface. I decided not to recreate this particular font, which should give me more time to complete the Mokum GGD and Mokum Neude (a new one, derived from the statues in the Main Post Office in Utrecht).

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

An unexpected find

Sometimes my work takes me to strange places, like the Cruise Terminal in Rotterdam. This was the place where large ocean liners used to dock and let passengers ashore. The building now functions as a conference center. The owners have decorated the exterior as well as the interior with a font that bears a vague resemblance to the lettering that was used in Amsterdam around 1920, 1930. This Rotterdam typeface is a bit less sophisticated and I'm still trying to find out if it is an existing font or something that was especially designed fot the Terminal. I'll let you know what the outcome of this small investigation is. I added an extra picture, this one from the side of the building, where the text is placed in a box. This feature is also present on the windows on the ground floor. Even the plates in the restaurant have a boxed-in text, this one is a bit rounded to fit into the curves of the porcelain.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Mirror images, almost

This week I went to the main Post Office in the city of Utrecht. This building was erected between 1918 and 1924, architect J. Crouwel. Inside there are a lot of statues, made by Hendrik Albertus van den Eijnde. At the very first glance I knew these letters were screaming to be transformed into a typeface. This will be done.
The sculptor Van der Eijnde also was involved in the Scheepvaarthuis (the office of the combined shipping companies) in Amsterdam. On the picture the similarities are striking. On the left is the statue representing the Indian Ocean (Indische Oceaan in Dutch) which is located next to the entrance in Amsterdam. On the right the statue representing Asia (Azie in Dutch) located in the grand hall of the Post Office in Utrecht. The letters on the right will be the ones I'll tackle first. They are bolder than bold, so to speak, and I see a lot of possibilities there.