Linear Typography

Ljubljana, 1998

Fig. 1: Composition, 1998

What makes a letter and a word? This is an oft—repeated story, but I simply cannot avoid it. It all depends on the acknowledgement of and respect for the forms among and within letters. White forms make the background, whereas the black forms make the shapes. The background makes the shapes and vice versa. If I change one of them, I also change the other. This is a play between white and black.


I know three types of writing in terms of their origin: handwriting, lettering (collage, assemblage) and typography.

By handwriting I mean writing letters with a part of one’s body and drawing a significant part of a letter in a single stroke. Whole letters and whole words can be made in a single stroke. In doing this, I do not use only pencil and paper. I can write by hand with a brush on a stone or with a stick in sand. Therefore I write as I create letters with my body.

Handwriting is not typography! Letters written by hand can be used only while I am writing. I cannot create a stock of individual letters and compose them into words later on. Therefore, as I write letters by hand, I simultaneously compose them into words.

Lettering (collage, assemblage) is one step further. I use ready—made letters for writing. Lettering usually entails writing with letters cut out from newspapers. But lettering is also large neon signs on the facades of houses and letters carved on tombstones. These letters are usually more complicated: I cannot carve the entire shape of a letter in a single stroke. If it could be scratched in a single stroke, it would be handwriting.

Another difference between handwriting and lettering is that handwriting does not allow corrections, whereas when doing lettering I can change my mind and change what I have written. To a lay observer, the procedure of lettering (collage) may seem very similar to typography, because the individual letters resemble printed ones. But this is not so. Lettering is everything that can be done with »Letraset«. It is true that letters glued by skilful hands may seem typographically arranged, but spaces and alignments are defined manually; this is what defines lettering. Therefore, lettering lies somewhere between handwriting and typography.

In typography the composition of a word and the making of a letter is mechanical. This is true even for the simplest example of typography, where metal types are set manually. The background of the letters and the (metal) spaces are standard and are the same in every word, column and page. The size and position of used elements (when printed) are precisely defined. As is evident from the word »defined«, data can be given to somebody else who can then repeat the entire process somewhere else. This is due to a measure system that can be either mechanical or conventional (such as Didot). Therefore, mechanical production and system are properties of typography that cannot be achieved with handwriting and lettering.

Typographical material (simply stated although incorrectly, fonts) can be like anything else. There are no rules. It is impossible to distinguish typographical material according to form, use or treatment. It has always been different from other types of letters in that it is intended for reproduction and that the selection of a font defines how letters make up words: the process of typesetting is prefabricated.

Typography is also the process of taking »raw material« of a text and preparing it for printing or electronic distribution. Typography already incorporates composition: its place is between the text and different kinds of codification and design. If a writer records a personal experience for an unknown, faraway audience, the typographer’s task is to accelerate transmission.

Handwriting, lettering and typography have hardly anything in common: all three procedures employ signs/letters. Each of them gives a characteristic appearance to the final product and the only limit is human perception. Writing (by hand) and creating a collage (lettering) are limited also by the artist’s skills.

Yet the three procedures are not completely separated. The more skilful I am, the more exceptions I find.

In my work, the width of the basic element — the line — is defined by the selection of the writing utensil and its special, non—typical use. Therefore it is prefabrication. The relationship between lines — the inner structure of a plane or block — is defined with a hatching device. This therefore involves mechanical treatment. The shape and size of planes and the relationships between them are defined by using the format. In this case, it is the square root of two and the quadrature. And if I add the two, I deal with linear typography.

Fig. 2: Composition, 1998