This presentation was designed for my lecture at Northern Illinois University School of Art, in 2011, about my Hemingway type design and its process.
‘Hemingway Pro’ is the result of a personal project started in September 2002 after a holiday visit to the town of Otranto in the South of Italy. It was a time when I had to come up with a substantial idea for my master thesis and I had ‘that’ book on the shelf calling me to be read: it was the prize winning novel “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Miller Hemingway. After a leisurely walk, sitting by a dock in the gulf of Otranto, I happened to lay my eyes on a hand-drawn upper case ‘B’ painted inside the stern of a little fisherman’s boat. It was just beautiful, a sharp ‘B’ with the right part of the letter having the shape of two sails in full wind, the stem being the mast.
After that view, I knew I had to read the book by Hemingway and the time proved to be right. I found the structure of the novel suitable for a sort of semantic translation into the high-contrast world of black and white letterforms and words.
In his discussion of the prose style of “The Old Man and the Sea” in “Twentieth Century Interpretations of the Old Man and the Sea,” Malcolm Cowley notes that Hemingway “uses the oldest and shortest words, the simplest constructions, but gives them a new value.”
I wanted my typeface to relate to the content, to carry the meaning of sharpness and harshness, and at the same time to show a stiff and a soft quality – the same qualities in which the nature of the sea is apparently revealed in Hemingway’s novel, a book that indeed speaks about the fairness of nature.
During the process of embedding a sailboat symbol into the uppercase letters, I pursued a philosophical method held dear by the writer, the theory of omitting as much as possible from his stories and relying on the sensibility of the reader, who was trusted to imagine that which was omitted. “We could say that a large part of typography is far removed from literature, but typography is to literature as musical performance is to composition.” I found fascinating the possibility of compressing the prose to achieve the intensity.
In a 1958 interview in “The Paris Review,” Hemingway described this style of writing in the following terms: «I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows. Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg. It is the part that doesn’t show. If a writer omits something because he does not know it then there is a hole in the story.»
I intended to use this idea as if it was an idiosyncratic relation between the uppercase and lowercase letters, and within those having large counters.
Contrary to normal practice, I started to draw uppercase letters first, using a calligraphic automatic-pen, on a very rigid grid. This grid relates to the proportions of the Roman Capital letter. The orientation of the symbols is compatible with the western reading model.
Consequently, I developed the lowercase letters and numbers; my dog, who was then 13 years old, was assisting me as well. The influences on the lowercase were mostly Neville Brody’s Industria Solid and Michael Gills’ Charlotte Sans typefaces.
By the time I presented the thesis at Polytechnic of Milan in July 2004, assisted by Prof. Giangiorgio Fuga, I developed a basic yet complete set, with italics and relative kerning. In late July 2004 I received a letter from Prof. Hermann Zapf to whom I sent a copy of my thesis book. Prof. Zapf wrote: “My personal feeling for your typeface design called ‘Hemingway’ would be that the characters are too smooth for a personality so powerful and rough as Hemingway was in all his life. Also much too elegant for him. As a specialist in bookfaces I think within a text of type your type is too narrow in the distance between each character which reduces the readability.”
In July 2005, at ITF, Inc., in Philadelphia, USA, I designed a new set of uppercase letters with the expert help of Steve Jackaman. The new caps turned out to be less decorative and more useful than the originals, without diminishing the overall idea behind the typeface. A lot of editing was done on all glyphs, maximizing and optimizing consistency and metrics.
In January 2007 an article on my Hemingway New Style was published on the issue no. 1034 of the Italian magazine “Graphicus,” including a small specimen set in an updated version of the font, as it was in production at Steve Jackaman’s digital foundry.
To conclude, this font is not a bookface; in a conservative view of text type, it is impossible to see this as anything except display type. Still, it has something very experimental in it, at small body size as well. In the words of Jan Tschichold, “both nature and technology teach us that ‘form’ is not independent, but grows out of function (purpose), out of materials used (organic or technical), and out of the ways in which they are used.”
The typeface was awarded and selected for the UK “Creative Review Type Annual 2011” within the Display category.
Here is a specimen:
The fonts at MyFonts.com: