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• • • • • • on letters, words, books and graphic design • • • • • •

Fontstructing in the seventies Rob Ligtelijn

spotvogels

I found this book in a charity shop some time ago. The choice of colour, the bold, clear approach and the letterforms make it an iconographic example of seventies design. The lettering could have been designed in FontStruct, but the book is definitely too old for that. It looks like some sixties modular type I have seen before, maybe influenced by bauhaus typography. Searching on the web and in my specimen books didn’t bring up a match, so I decided to ask the designer of the book cover. If I was able to trace him…

The colophon mentioned no year of publication, but a postcard and a pocket calendar I found inside the book, suggested it was bought before 1975. And it did credit the cover design to one Rob Ligtelijn. Some googling led to the Facebook profile of a mister Ligtelijn who had been studying graphic design in Utrecht, the Netherlands. The first reply to my inquiry came from Chicago: Rob was traveling but had checked his e-mail on his iPhone. And he did remember the title of the book. Viva communication technology!

Two weeks later, Rob being back in Utrecht, this was his story.

“It sure was a surprise to be remembered about something I made that long ago! This must be from the early seventies. In those days I often started designing a cover from a typographic angle, especially when the content or title were hard to capture in one image. Occasionally I drew my own letters by hand – never a complete alphabet, just the ones I needed – and for every new job I started a new design.

This manual approach is obvious in the ‘spotvogels’ cover: the vertical line inside the letters has the same width all over. In a font it would have followed the type size. That would have made the image less calm and even.

What you have here is only the hard cover. The dust jacket is missing. I remember it had the text on the same spot, but there was a shadow, dropping 45 degrees to the bottom left, which sort of lifted the title up.

The drawing was done with a ruler and compasses, using pen and ink. Later we had those Rotring pens that prefered to leak when the job was almost finished. After that I used cutting film. Red transparent Letraset film was pasted onto paper. Those paper sheets had a millimetre pattern, printed in light blue ink that was invisible to the repro camera. Working on a light table, I applied close fitting colour fields – like the drop shadow I mentioned before –  to the back of the paper in mirror view. This way, occasional shrinking by moisture or heat was equal on both ‘plates’. Mirroring was no problem when handling originals on the camera.

Finaly I discovered masking film, made by Ulano. A clear transparent film, strong and dimensionally stable, with a red top coating that was easy to cut and peal off. At last easy correcting was possible! Wonderful material, albeit overhauled by new technologies.

I realize now I kept no work from that period. From book design my career shifted to art direction, over editorial work into publishing. The last years before retiring, I conceived magazines for different editors; the editorial concept or formula if you like. All related jobs, but I left the actual designing a long time ago. These questions and reading Spinsels make my hands itch again, though…”

Keep us posted, Rob, and thanks.

Harper Lee – Spaar de Spotvogels (To kill a Mockingbird)
Amsterdam Boek -Miljoenenreeks 1
Cover: Rob Ligtelijn

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Filed under: book design, , ,

5 Responses

  1. John says:

    Wow! Great find and some serious sleuth work tracking down the original cover artist. Thanks for posting.

    – afrojet.

  2. Em says:

    It’s amazing how an accidental purchase hides such an interesting story behind. Very, very interesting.

  3. A Hufen says:

    What a wonderful find – Ligtelijn’s creativity is legendary. Perhaps his next Chicago visit will bring additional additional stories.

  4. Fascinating post – good on you for following that up!

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