Friday, October 28, 2011

Designer of the Month: William Morris

Week 4

Books always played an important role in William Morris' life. In addition to his love of literature, Morris was an accomplished author and poet with ambitions of printing his own books, with this dream finally realized in 1891, with the creation of the Kelmscott Press. As Morris explains of his decision to start a press, "I began printing books with the hope of producing some which would have a definite aim of beauty...they should be easy to read and not dazzle the eye, or trouble the intellect of the reader by eccentricity of form in the letters."[2]

Kelmscott Press, The Story of the Glittering Plain or the Land of Living Men: Title Page, 1894. Courtesy of The Illustrated Word.

With a background and love of calligraphy, it should be of no surprise to see the type that Morris designed. When one thinks of simplicity of design and ease of form, Morris is not a designer whose work comes to mind, but it's hard to dispute the beauty of the Kelmscott Press' creations. It's important to keep in mind, however, that Morris' aim was to create extraordinary works of art, even within the ordinary form of the book. In doing so, the type that he designed, with its eye to the Gothic, while not the most paired-down of fonts, did serve its purpose of readability.

 Kelmscott Press, The Works of Geoffrey newly imprinted: Title Page, 1896. Courtesy of Graphic Arts.

In the creation of the Kelmscott Press' books, other important aspects of the design process were taken into consideration as well. From his earlier attempts at printing, Morris knew that type looked at its best only if it was carefully spaced, and his insistence on matters such as tight spacing of words and decent margins had a lasting effect on later typographers.[3] Besides Morris' handsome type, however, it was the additional decorations - woodcut ornament and illustration, printing on fine handmade paper or vellum, and the use of a dense black ink, occasionally relieved by brightly colored inks - that truly elevated the Kelmscott Press' books to true works of art, particularly The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (what came to be known as the Kelmscott Chaucer), which was finished just before Morris' death in 1896.[4]

[1] Linda Parry, "Introduction: Morris - The Man, Socialism, Prose Romances and the Kelmscott Press, 1886-96," from William Morris, (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1996), 21.

[2] Ibid., 21.

[3] John Dreyfus, "The Kelmscott Press," from William Morris, ed. Linda Parry, (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1996), 312, 316.

[4] Ibid., 311.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comments - they mean the world to me!