Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Letters, Words, Pictures

Classes have resumed here in our little niche of the ivory tower. I'm teaching two studio courses this fall, same as a year ago: Word & Image 1, team taught with Heather Corcoran, and Visual Worlds: Image Development for Illustrators and Cartoonists, solo. To juniors and seniors, respectively, both courses for majors in the Communication Design area.

Our first project in W & I 1 involves the use of a single alphabetic character as a prompt, to generate a suite of images and letterforms in response. This pile of stuff becomes a data set of sorts, to draw from in the development of a second stage of the project. Last year, when Professor Corcoran was on leave, I posted some examples of letterforms for students (from my admittedly illustrative point-of-view). Heather has posted an excellent set of ABCs over at her blog, Corcoran for Design.

On Heather's suggestion, we added a wrinkle to the project this time out.

In addition to letters

and pictures

we're also asking for settings of words which begin with the assigned letter.

The words open up some fun territory.

Thinking about this led me to posters. Particularly, WPA posters. About a year ago I picked up a great book documenting WPA posters. I've been meaning to post on the subject for some time, but haven't quite gotten around to it. So I dug out some of the images we scanned for a rainy day, looking for examples that seemed relevant to this discussion. At the top, a theater poster for a marionette version of the Czech play (presumably in translation) R.U.R., or Rossum's Universal Robots. Poster is probably 1943.

Then, one of a zillion WPA posters promoting national parks. The treatments of "National" and "Parks" caught my eye for present purposes.

I love this map, which acquires the status of an object and an abstraction, seemingly at once. The big rounded characters on the "travel guide" passage have an undeniable hand-lettered charm that seems to soften their art deco geometry. I'm also fond of the word "vacationist", which communicates a stronger sense of purpose, not to mention grace, than "vacationer".

The WPA posters shown above are reproduced in the book Posters for the People by Ennis Carter and Christopher DeNoon. I recommend it heartily. Meanwhile the project has acquired an online existence, including an inventory of more than 1500 WPA posters available in reproduction. I haven't explored the site--just found it while reminding myself of the book's authors--but it looks like a wonderful research tool. I'm away from my books at the moment so I don't have the caption information. I'll update this post later with as much detail as I can harvest from the book.

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