Art Break Wednesday: Gotta Love Gutenberg


Typography – ahhh, I even love the sound of the word, and the way it looks in print.  Last year I bought a couple-few books on type to add to my bookshelves and to my wee bit of knowledge about this fascinating subject.

Gutenberg to OPENTYPE cover 2013 05 29

One I’m enjoying working my way through is From Gutenberg to OPENTYPE – An Illustrated History of Type from the Earliest Letterforms to the Latest Digital Fonts by Robin Dodd (Hartley & Marks, 2006).  The author is a London design consultant and lecturer specializing in design history and typographic theory.  Full of lively illustrations and examples, it’s an approachable, fun treatment of a big subject.

In researching a poem I’m working on, I found it necessary to revisit Mr. Gutenberg.

Johannes Gutenberg was born around or before 1400 in the German town of Mainz, where he died in 1468.  Between 1440 and 1450, he produced the first-known book printed from movable metal types.  Claims have been made that other inventors in other countries beat him to it, but it’s generally accepted that Gutenberg’s books were the first made this way.

operating the printing press

Gutenberg’s achievement was to invent a system of mass production, enabling books to be produced in greater numbers and more economically,” Dodd writes.  “His invention played a fundamental role in the development of the modern world, and was the single most important factor in the spread of knowledge and the move toward universal literacy in the West.”

Gutenberg Bible Library of Congress

His masterpiece was his Bible (completed around 1455), in the Latin “Vulgate” translation, embodying two 42-line columns on each page.  Called The Mazarin Bible, its 1200-some pages were printed in two volumes. Dodd writes that about 180 copies were printed, and about 48 survive.

I didn’t realize that Gutenberg sought to imitate the handwritten nature of original manuscripts.

His typeface was based on Textura, the formal script of northern Germany,” Dodd writes.  “Research suggests that to imitate the inconsistencies and abbreviations that appear in a handwritten manuscript, Gutenberg must have cast at least 300 characters in order to provide slight variations of letterform throughout the text.”

Fascinating, no? And somehow it makes me admire the process all the more.

The Library of Congress website says of our special guest today: “Gutenberg’s invention of the mechanical printing press made it possible for the accumulated knowledge of the human race to become the common property of every person who knew how to read—an immense forward step in the emancipation of the human mind.”

As you go about your day and come across the printed word, give a little nod of thanks to our old friend Gutenberg.  It would be impossible to imagine our modern world without him.


Art Break Wednesday: Just My Type

typewriting manual woodstock typewriter

My wonderful friend and author Kim Siegelson left this intriguing note on my artsyletters Facebook page last month:  “I found the coolest addition to your artsyletters set up today.”  Curiousity was killing this cat!  You see, in addition to sharing the writing life, Kim is the one I’ve turned to in past months for Etsy advice.  She has a lively vintage Etsy shop (two actually), and I love seeing what new items show up in Perfect Patina.  On my author blog in November, I shared another special gift she found for me and my appreciation for our vintage hunting adventures.

We finally met up at our SCBWI Southern Breeze Springmingle in Atlanta this past weekend, and Kim gave me my new surprise.  (Drumroll….)

typewriting manualThe Complete Second Edition of  20th Century Typewriting          

by D. D. Lessenberry and E. A. Jevon, published by South-Western Publishing Company in 1933.

I love typewriting manuals!  I have a couple others I’ve picked up in antique shops, but what makes this one stand out are the amazing illustrations of typewriters inside. (I couldn’t find a credit for these.)  Here are some more samples:

typewriter manual interior 1typewriting manual interior 2

Aren’t these great?







At art shows, one thing I’ve loved to offer is my old Underwood typewriter available for attendees to try out.  Especially kids – most have never used one before!  I make them type enough of a line to hear the magic bell…

Jessica and Wyatt try out my old typewriter, as my daughter and “assistant shopkeeper” Morgan looks on.

One of the first products I wanted to offer in my new art business last fall was some typewriter notecardstypewriter card RHB

This image was drawn with pen and ink (and some colored pencil and other media worked in as well) on paper I had painted to suggest a parchment effect.


In the mixed media department, I was delighted to find on Etsy a dealer from Great Britain who had parts from an old Remington typewriter for sale.  I’ve used these in a few pieces, and still have some left for future projects.  This collage I made and sold on Etsy incorporated some of these metal parts, my own typewriter image above, a vintage flash card, some vintage metal letters, and a line of exercises from another old typewriting manual that reads:

You typewriter - write it on your heart RHB

Write it on your heart that every day is the very best day in the year.”

I was delighted when a customer purchased this collage with the following note:

My husband is a “collector” of typewriters and we both love to live with our hearts so I cannot imagine anything much more appropriate for him than this framed piece.

Even more delighted when she kindly sent me a follow-up note as well:

Just wanted to tell you how much my husband LOVES the framed artwork and note cards. He opened it today and it is now placed happily on our piano. We can hardly believe how perfect the message and collage of unique items come together to match our lives.

Let me tell you, words like that fill my own heart and soul. I’ve been blessed to realize that beyond making items to sell, starting an art business has given me connections I treasure.  These might be the happy thought that my work has made someone else smile, or the special knowledge that a friend would pick up a vintage typewriter manual with dynamic black illustrations of old typewriters, and she would think of me!

Thank you, Kim.

Anyone else have fond memories of clacking away on a heavy metal typewriter (or those sleek electric ones that slid into the market)?  Do tell!