In This, Teapots are Like Typefaces

Since the 1970s, few fields have remained untouched by advances in computer graphics, but hardly have been affected so profoundly as typography. Many of the subtleties of letters are forgotten and ignored, especially when designers have myriad fonts to choose from, many of them illegible and over-stylized.

I endeavored to make a teapot glyph that accentuates the spirit in each font I used, but also functions legibly and seamlessly within the text. I chose the fonts after much deliberation; they reflect the statements that the text makes and represent commonly used fonts that are archetypes of their class.

Beaming with personality, Bodoni MT continues to be an extremely popular and elegant font. Adobe Jenson Pro is based on completely pen-formed letters; its imperfections and inconsistencies recall the humanist calligraphy of the Renaissance. ITC New Baskerville is elegant in its modeled balance and uprightness, showing a true break in type and handwriting. Futura is the quintessential geometric sans serif. Lucida Console has its roots in early digital typography and is used in various other software applications. Adobe Garamond Pro and other interpretations of Garamond's type are the quintessential font for setting books and titles alike.

The text itself tells a history of teapots in broad strokes, leaving it up to the viewer to make the connection to fonts. But the text is not intended to be the focus of the piece, by any means. With the x-height measuring about a quarter-inch, the scale of the letters calls for the letter shapes to be seen as abstract shapes and for the rhythms of whitespace to be much more tangible. When seen at a distance, each typeface clearly creates a different color, as it's commonly referred to, on the page. When seen close up, the citation of each font calls attention to the juxtaposition of teapots and letters and symbols. Not only do the citations give credit to the designers whose creations account for more than 99% of my piece, but they are also insights into the historical context of the letterforms.

Because of their prominent position in culture and history, not to mention their anthropomorphic nature and symbolic status, teapots have unique personalities that operate within their given form. This piece asserts that, for the same reasons, typefaces have similar personalities.

Technical Overview
All but one of the fonts in this piece were cut in metal decades or centuries before the advent of the computer. However, as typography became a digital art, each was reimagined and reconstructed using virtually the same Bézier curves and coordinate systems that made the Utah teapot ubiquitous. The one exception is a font that was created specifically for the computer, a standard monospaced screen font used in many software applications.

The fonts account for over 99 percent of the characters on the page. The remaining one percent (the teapot glyphs) were assembled in Adobe Illustrator CS2 and set in Adobe InDesign CS2. This piece utilizes many digital typographic innovations that are now automatic, namely full justification, kerning, ligatures, and other characteristics of OpenType fonts.

David Ross
Hampshire College
djr03 (at)