Free Hand: New Typography Sketchbooks – review


Written By: Steven Heller & Lita Talarico

Published by Thames & Hudson ISBN: 978-0-500-519253

Review by Andy Robert Davies

There is something strangely hypnotising about a sketchbook spread of hand drawn letterforms. The repetition of shape as the designer searches for the perfect form produces a pattern on the page that is pleasing to the eye. This book is packed with imagery such as this along with the opinions from those responsible for its creation, providing an insight to the design process of innovative typography from around the globe.

Books of this nature are an edited view of a sketchbook, the ‘highlights’ of the creative struggle, so there is always a danger that a novice or an impressionable student might assume that every page in their sketchbook should be perfect, a neat work of art that is flawless. Therefore it is pleasing to see that this book features a wide range of approaches to using a sketchbook and drawing to generate initial visuals. There are many examples of superbly skilful drawing and design, but there are also pages that are collages of paper scraps roughly taped together, where it is clear that the creator has wrestled with the idea and composition for some time.

All the sketchbooks have been photographed with great sensitivity and the book is designed with the care and balance it deserves, giving most of the spread over to the photograph with a supporting comment from the sketchbook’s owner. The highlights for me include Dan Reisinger’s characters with numbers for faces, Bill Moran’s ‘Letterbugs’ and the colourful calligraphy sketches of the Indian Type Foundry.

Typography obsessives will be drawn to this book and rightly so. This book predominantly features Designers (including Varoom magazine’s designer, James Lunn), but there are several Illustrators included here which should appease illustration fans or students of the subject. Even without the inclusion of Illustrators, this book would be very useful to anyone aiming to work within a field that requires an appreciation of design, colour and the use of drawing to achieve this. A friend (and very talented Illustrator) once told me that if you can manage to draw convincing letterforms, then you will be able to draw anything. That seems like a good mantra to have when working in the realm of text and image.

6th April 2018

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