Re: Chromatic font research

From: Wm Seán Glen (
Date: Wed Jun 26 2002 - 22:41:48 EDT

I, myself, am fascinated with this thread. I concur with Peter. Our system of characters grew out of a di-chromatic world. Every phase in the history of writing was affected by the tools at hand and was dated by it. The word for scribe in hieroglyphics is a pen and (two colour) ink horn. We wouldn't recognise it today until someone pointed it out. Cuneiform has the distinctive wedge shape because of the specific specie of plant used. Serifs came about through experimentation because carving in stone tended to crack unless it was done that way. Something about relieving the stresses in the material, I think. The indent for paragraphs came about from books being printed and leaving room for an illustrator to add the versals, decorated initials. I've read about font designers having to accommodate the differences in the type of press. Letterpress left a visible dent in the paper that added to the "colour" or total ratio of black to white of the text area. If the same exact font were chosen for web offset printing, the ratio would be off. I'm sure Michael could elaborate on the design of fonts for electronic media.

My point is this. There is a cultural inertia to use a modern technology to accommodate an earlier form. I've heard it described as "instant ivy". "Ye olde shoppe" on the High Street. Unicode bowed to some of that pressure by including heritage characters like dingbats. The purpose of defining character glyphs is the goal. Leave the artistic expression of those glyphs to the font designers. There has always been the urge to embellish the text with a bit of colour, but that's what it is, an artistic embellishment. As soon as it's legislated, artists will try to do it differently just to be different.

P.S. Petra Sancta was a Jesuit who devised a shorthand called "tricking" of recording heraldic shields in black and white. The demand for such books outstripped the ability to paint them in. It was later adapted to other things with a limited palette like vexillology, the study of flags.

P.P.S. The design of heraldry and of flags grew out of the need to be seen on a battlefield or at sea. This dictated the use of bold, easily recognisable colours and patterns. The embellishments people employed in their armorial achievement soon grew so cluttered as to render it unrecognisable.

Wm Seán Glen

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