Running with Type like Frank Viva

A page detail from Sea Change © by Frank Viva

I showed my Digital Illustration class Frank Viva‘s illustrated book, Sea Change.  The typography is wonderful. The Globe and Mail put it nicely, “With Sea Change, a graphic novel in the truest sense, author and designer Frank Viva blurs the lines between written word and illustration.”

art © Frank Viva from Sea Change

Sea Change is published by Toon Books as part of their Toon Graphics series. Toon Books has a free teacher’s lesson plan for every one of their titles. The guide to Sea Change notes  “Text can do much more than simply communicate the plot of the story. Text can be playfully designed, arranged, or organized to add another layer of visual meaning to the narrative.”

A quote from Louis CK,  art © Christian Debuque

I asked my students to be inspired by Sea Change. They were to pick an evocative line of type and weave it into an illustration. They were to make type an integral element of the image. We also considered Viva’s use of a limited palette. They could pick their personal palette of 5 colors plus black. I usually find artwork about boredom, um, boring, but I was impressed by Christian Dubuque’s moody piece, above.

Inspirational quote, art © Rafael Nunez-Castaneda
Art © Kylie O’Connor

Rafael Nunez-Castaneda, Kylie O’Connor, and Julia Taft all illustrated inspirational quotations. Rafael and Kylie didn’t limit their palettes much, but worked the type in well.

Art © by Julia Taft

Below is an image that looks like a Valentine card by Kaitlyn Reber. I should note the students are working in Adobe illustrator and Photoshop on Wacom tablets.

illustration project 2
detail of illustration © Kaitlyn Reber

Most of the students in the class are far better with digital media than I am. I hope they continue to play with typography and some are inspired more work in this manner.

Don't Push illus
Art © Jenn Prendergast

Type is a specialty of the Kutztown Communication Design curriculum. Type is not something I teach, but I have picked up some typographic knowledge by osmosis. I remember when nearly every kid’s book was done in New Century Schoolbook. If you haven’t looked a children’s book lately, there has been a revolution in type. Our students, following the likes of the great Frank Viva, are joining that revolution.

Type faces

Prof. Josh Miller asked his students to create faces from type. Some of the results were quite fine. He’s hung a selection up outside the CD print lab. I asked him if I could share a few of the best here.

Steve Jobs by Caleb Oshefsky

The class is called Intro to Digital Design II. The exercise is meant to familiarize students with type-handling in Adobe Illustrator.

George Washington (detail) by Caleb Oshefsky

Here is the assignment brief: Create 3 portraits using the Illustrator’s type tools. The first portrait will emulate line. The line can be expressive, descriptive, implied, or directional. You can use contour or gesture. The second portrait represents Shape and Form. Try using negative and positive space in this portrait. The last portrait is Value. Use pattern, emphasis, and space to help create the tones.

Elizabeth Cane’s Portrait

These were the additional ground rules:
Students could the change text to outlines and manipulate the letterform, but it still had to resemble the original letter.  They could rotate, change the leading, kerning, tracking, or change the direction of the text.

Heather Johnson
Screamer by Nick Stover

Interestingly, this week had a link in their notebook section to the work of Italian artist Frederico Pietella. He does something similar with rubber stamps, but he takes it to a level approaching obsession. See Pietella’s work at This is Colossal.

Invite to Type Book Launch

Kutztown University Prof. Denise Bosler wrote our most popular guest post, Making it as an Illustrator.  She also knows a heck of a lot about typography and wrote the new book, Mastering Type, published by How. How is hosting her webinar, a virtual book launch, for Mastering Type on Tuesday, June 19 at 3pm. It is free, just register here.

I got an advance copy of the book. It is profusely illustrated with great work from designers around the world. For me it is exciting to see the inclusion of so many fine designs by Kutztown grads. There are award-winning works by star graduates: Jason Santa MariaSean CostikRoss Moody; and Amanda Geisinger.

Award-winning Middletown Lumber logo by Sean Costik

There is also art by recent grads including Cheryl Sheeler. The image below is from Cheryl’s visual essay on a most unusual wedding present – a pair fainting goats. This image was used in the book to demonstrate how hand-lettering can be an intrinsic part of an illustration.

Artwork © 2011 Cheryl Geiger Sheeler

If you can’t make virtual book talk, well, get the book, Mastering Type: The Essential Guide to Typography for Print and Web Design. There is a free online excerpt here.

James Pannafino’s Typographic Comics: Anti-illustration?

Typographic Comic sample, courtesy James Pannafino © 2010

James Pannafino teaches graphic and interactive design at Millersville University of PA. I recall having James in my illustration class at Kutztown and he has a quirky sense of humor, – so I wasn’t sure if he was kidding about his next big idea:Typographic Comics. He must be serious, he’s lectured at Harvard! Looking at the sample above and those on his website one is reminded of the concrete poetry movement.

James defines typographic comics as “comic books that use typography in place of imagery as the primary method of storytelling. Most traditional comics are sequential art based with letters and sound effects as supporting devices. Type Comics use design principles, typographic layout, and careful page composition to create a unique narrative experience.”

James has completed a typographic comic book called Virtue and is now working on getting it published. He will expound on his typographic experiments at The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, 594 Broadway, New York City, Thursday, July 22nd, 7pm. Admission: $5, or free for MOCCA Museum members.

James has already published a more traditional book, Common College Sense: The Visual Guide to Understanding Everyday Tasks for College Students. This How-to book includes illustrations by some of his Millersville University students and is available at James has graciously offered to come speak to a KU illustration class about these projects. We hope to see him in the fall, or sooner, if we get to the MOCCA event.

By the way, checking the MOCCA website reveals there will be two amazing exhibitions on the walls the night of James Pannafino’s lecture. NeoIntegrity: Comics Edition shows comics-related works by over 200 artists; here are just five names to give an example of the diversity: Kaz, Milt Caniff, Jack Kirby, Big Daddy Roth and William Butler Yeats!  A second exhibit showcases R. Sikoryak’s most ambitious comic book project, his 2000’s “Dostoyevsky Comics,” which adapts Crime and Punishment in the style of a 1950’s golden-age Batman comic. Both exhibitions run until Aug. 29, 2010.