This summer I indulged myself with a special class. I even get credit for it. The class is Letterpress Printing and, sure enough, we set type by hand and print it.
Today, however, was a field trip of sorts. We visited the Rare Book & Manuscript Library here at UIUC, where we were treated to a special showing of fine typographic and illustrative examples. We saw a fragment of a Gutenberg Bible as well as several pieces from history’s great printers: Aldus Manutius, Nicolas Jenson, the controversial William Morris, and the incredible Hermann Zapf.
The theme (for me) was the deliberate care given to details. Pick up a book, any book. Go on, I dare you. What kind of aesthetics went into this volume you’re holding? There’s the typeface, of course, but look at all the stuff around and between the text… yes, the space. The room for your eyes to breathe. In a book of poetry this can be especially beautiful. Imagine the page in front of you is a reverse image — a black background with a white foreground. Try to trick your eyes so that the blank spaces stand out to you. … Now bring the text back to the foreground.
Is that not beautiful?