Reviving Caslon
by William Berkson

Part 1: the snare of authenticity

How much should a revival of a typeface look like the original? Well, just as with performing an old song—an analogy Matthew Carter has made—there is something you have to like in the original in order want to revive it. And you can’t depart from the original too much, or you lose the charm of the old song that appealed to you in the first place. But if it is too much like the old versions, it might be stale and dated, irrelevant. So what do you keep and what do you change? And change in what way? That’s the challenge every revivalist faces.

In the process of working on my own revival of Caslon—Williams Caslon—I came to two conclusions about revivals generally. First, the pursuit of authenticity is a snare and a trap. Don’t go there. Second, particularly if it’s an old typeface, it’s going to be harder than you imagined, and you can lose your way in the process. So you’d better start with a very clear goal for your revival, and stick to it.


A series of typographic experiments as part of my visual research to find a graphic language suitable for a cook book aimed at men who can't cook/won't cook. Although the end result will be a black and white newspaper, these colourful and playful experiments look at the different characters inherent in the numerals of different typefaces - especially interesting when the forms can not be read as words. From top to bottom: Bureau Grotesque, Bureau Grotesque, Akzidenz Grotesk Buch Stencil, DIN Schablonierschrift and DIN with DIN Alternate.

Spaghetti Bolognese

A poster that explores the graphic language for the cover of a book that I made about Spaghetti Bolognese. The book grew from an idea that I had to make a purely visual cook book about pork pies. After realising that pork pies were not something that were generally cooked at home, I decided that spaghetti bolognese was a much better idea as this was a dish that most people had heard of, could cook and whose authenticity was in dispute with many recipe variations. I used Google to collect many images of spaghetti bolognese, editing them down to 30 distinct images with the idea that this visual overload would - or could - act as a 'recipe'.

The cover was a challenge. I wanted the cover to be quite different from the content: because the images together represented an idea of spaghetti bolognese - a kind of visual recipe, to have one image of spaghetti bolognese on the cover would prioritise that version of the dish. I initially worked on a typographic version, using Georgia and Bureau Grotesque; in this context, using images that were found on the internet, Georgia, as a system font, designed for the web, seemed a perfect match. I had wanted to use Bureau Grotesque for some time and thought that it would combine well with Georgia for this project. I wasn't totally happy: I felt that the wobbly quirks of Bureau Grotesque needed a more elegant match. After some experimentation, and initially working on the interior text pages I found that Caslon was surprisingly pleasing with Bureau Grotesque (the text pages are an account of the tricks of food photography and a recipe for the perfect spaghetti bolognese - so not a totally visual book as I had originally planned).

From here I worked up the idea of the Italian flag - a hackneyed idea, possibly, but one that hinted at the inauthentic internationality of spaghetti bolognese. As a way of moving away from a flat image, I tried layering photographs under the colours of the flag eventually settling on a found image of a fork twirling spaghetti. Because the images inside the book are all full colour, I made the image grayscale so that it became more like an illustration and less in competition with the images inside which, for me, exist in a different space and carry a different meaning.

For the poster version above, I added another recipe for 'perfect' spaghetti bolognese, different from the one in the book, on what would have been the back cover of the book (the image wraps around with red on the front, white on the spine and green on the back). I like the way that the design feels slightly out of time, like something from an analogue past, which I think works well as a foil to the digital roots of the images.

Guilty Pleasures

A taster for a book that I have just sent to print. Guilty Pleasures is an assemblage of 40 found images of pork pies, one of my guilty pleasures. The book itself is also a guilty pleasure, an indulgence on my part as I thought it would be fun (and interesting) to make a book that was purely visual, as a parallel to my purely typographic cook book, How to Cook/What to Eat. Inevitably, typography won over and I sandwiched the pork pies with a text about the history of pork pies by Alan Davidson with a recipe for pork pies by Nigel Slater.

As a way of thinking about and investigating the graphic language for my final project, a cook book for men who can't cook/won't cook, I decided to juxtapose Adobe Caslon with Cooper Black, a typeface I have used before (in small amounts) and have been eager to use again.

Cooper Black is a heavy, old style serif typeface that was designed, in 1921, by Oswald Bruce Cooper. It has loads of character and, as well as feeling essentially masculine, it perfectly expresses the cheeky, guilty pleasures of a pork pie. Cooper Black has been used in lots of memorable contexts: the title sequence of Dad's Army; the EasyJet logo; the cover of David Bowie's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album; and more recently, by Oxfam in their Be Humankind campaign.

Caslon is a number of serif typeface designed by the Englishman William Caslon I (1692–1766). Adobe Caslon was designed by Carol Twombly in 1990 and is based on specimen pages printed between 1734 and 1770. Because I wanted to contrast the chunky cheekiness of Cooper Black with a more refined and formal typeface, Adobe Caslon was perfect as it includes refinements such as small caps, ligatures, fractions and oldstyle numerals. Caslon has an interesting character, it is very pleasing to the eye with good readability but it also has a nice quirkiness, a playfulness, that is somehow amplified by juxtaposing it with Cooper Black. Although Caslon was based on Dutch letterforms, it feels very British, perfect for a book about pork pies.

British Food – Mark Hix

British Food
Mark Hix

Published by Quadrille, 2005 (Softback)
Creative director Helen Lewis
Art direction Vanessa Courtier
Design Ros Holder and Claire Peters
Photographer Jason Lowe
Food stylists Marx Hix and Stuart Gillies
Props stylist Jane Campsie

This is a concise book about British food and contains quintessential British recipes such as Cullen skink, Roast Rib Eye of Beef, Fish and Chips, and Spotted Dick alongside guides to British ingredients and the availability of seasonal British foods. It is written by Mark Hix, a respected chef and writer who worked at the Ivy and now runs several restaurants under his own name but the design of the book does little to establish the character of the author. On the surface, British Food ticks all the criteria for a good cook book: it is well-designed, with considered typography that aids the understanding of a recipe; it has attractive photography that serves a purpose of showing what the finished dishes look like; and it contains functional recipes that extol the virtues of British food. But, there is something missing: there is a generic feel and a blandness to the design of the book that makes it difficult to feel excited about. The design is competent and attractive but it does not amplify the idea of Britishness that is at the core of the book nor does it amplify the ‘brand’ of Mark Hix. The problem may lay in the fact that this book is part of a series: buried in the back flap of the cover is a list of other titles in the series: Smart Food, Easy Food, Easy Indian, Easy Italian etc. A quick scan of Amazon - as I finish writing this piece - reveals that the books in the series do, in fact, share a common design which may explain why the design is so bland: the design has to communicate so many disparate ideas that, by nature, it has to be nonspecific. I’m all for formatted design but, without a unifying raison d’être, a series of books is just a collection of books that all look the same.

Front Cover
The cover is a full-bleed photograph of Lancashire Hotpot: a roasted crust of sliced potatoes over a succulent lamb stew. The hotpot is photographed very close-up with a shallow depth of field: a serving spoon of the hotpot has been lifted from the serving dish close to the camera. Only the food on the serving spoon is in focus, the rest is blurred into abstraction. The dominant colours in the photograph are golden yellows and rich browns; most viewers will associate these colours with food that tastes good so the photograph communicates directly to the viewer’s sense of taste through the eyes. At the bottom edge of the image is the curve of the white baking dish which offers a contrast to the dark browns and blacks of the lamb stew and also makes for a pleasing abstract composition. The book has been laminated with a high gloss varnish with the title and author’s name unvarnished to create a contrast of textures.

The title of the book appears at the top of the page, arranged across two lines, reversed out of the photograph, in white. The author’s name appears at the foot of the page, at a smaller point size, ranged right and printed in a chestnut brown. The title and author’s name are set in Clarendon, in a mixture of bold and regular; the typeface was created in 1845, in England by Robert Besley. Although Clarendon carries connotations of Englishness - the typeface was named after the Clarendon Press in Oxford - it also has international associations: it has been used for logotypes of corporations such as Sony, Pitchfork Media, Wells Fargo and the Spanish newspaper El País.

The title is set in lowercase only; given that countries and nationalities are usually set in titlecase, this is an unconventional choice. Titles set in lowercase are visually appealing as they have connotations of informality - but they also feel childish and naive and transmit less authority than a title set correctly in titlecase or uppercase. This lack of authority could be interpreted as a lack of conviction, subtly engendering in the reader a lack of confidence in the book and its recipes. When combined with the abstraction of the cover image, the general feeling, to this reader at least, is of vagueness verging on blandness that reveals little about the contents of the book.

Inside Pages
The book measures 16 cm by 21 cm, a fairly compact size for a cook book. It is printed full colour, on a white matt coated paper with lots of body. The book has been designed with one recipe per page, usually with an accompanying photograph, although, to add variety, this format is not strictly adhered to: occasionally a photograph will occupy a double page spread with two recipes side by side on the next spread and sometimes recipes will extend over two pages. The body text and recipes have been set on a simple one column grid with equal margins on the inside, outside and top and with a deeper margin at the bottom containing page numbers and footers. The recipes have been designed with a very simple typographic hierarchy: the title, set in Clarendon, at a larger point size, is at the top of the page; the yield line, ingredients and method are set in Clarendon with bold to highlight the yield line and the numbers that show the stages of the method. Ingredients are set in two columns to save space. Page numbers and footers are set in Clarendon at the bottom of the page on the outside of the page and outside of the main column; like the title on the cover of the book, they are set in lowercase only.

Full colour photographs appear throughout the book. The photographs were taken by Jason Lowe, and concentrate on the food which is usually shot close-up, at an angle, slightly from above, with little or no background. Unlike the blurred and abstracted cover image, the majority of the shots inside the book adopt a naturalistic approach, with finished dishes that are plated up on neutral white china bowls, against white or neutral backgrounds: these are photographs that are intended to show, as clearly as possible, what the finished dishes look like as an instruction to the cook and as an incentive to cook them.

Most images are presented as full page and full bleed with occasional double page spreads. In places, a pair of smaller images are shown, side by side, fitted into the column width; these are usually accompanied by a commentary from the author that is printed in 50% black at a larger point size than the body text; these details help to create variety in the pages and break up the uniformity of the rather simple and somewhat static grid.

The book is divided into sections: British Soups, British Fish and Seafood, British Meat, etc. The section openings are marked with a full-page spread: over a photograph, that has been printed in a single tint from a limited palette of muted colours, one for each section, the title of the section is printed in black, lowercase Clarendon, ranged right with the first line aligned to the middle of the page. The following double page spread features the same full bleed photograph but, this time, in full colour. Like the image chosen for the cover, these images concentrate on details of food and are aiming for abstraction; but they don’t always succeed in their aim nor are they consistent: an image of uncooked cod is neither beautiful or engaging and the use of onions to open the section on meat is a little puzzling.




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