POTATO SANS / POTATO SERIF : Dispatch from Matt Livengood’s Typography Class!

Posted on May 2nd, 2010 by Command Save

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Q: Why on Earth would you be asked to bring a sharp kitchen knife to your typography class? 

A: Without that sharp knife, you can't carve potato? Obviously. Duh. 

Earlier this Spring, my typography students engaged in the very, very serious art of creating block prints from potatoes. We began the term with some reading and discussion of historic typographic technologies: moveable type, letterpress, etc. But in order to put into action the things we were examining, I thought it would be good for the class to get their hands dirty (read: starchy) by making their own blocks of typography for printing. 

Certainly, carving letters out of a potato isn't quite the same as what the old masters used to do; potatoes are drastically different than steel blocks and lead slugs. But the basic concept is the same: you want to produce a raised letterform on the flat surface of a block that can be inked and then used for printing that letterform on paper. What the class did with their potatoes required skill and patience, yes, but after spending a good deal of time and attention on their potato print blocks, I wondered aloud, "Can you imagine doing this same carving of letterforms in steel for, say, a letter of type measuring 6 points?" (We were working in 180 pt. type.) I think we could all agree that such an activity was