Type@Cooper - Vernacular Lettering

Vernacular Lettering


with John Downer




Sat., Nov. 19 – Sun., Nov. 20, 2016
10:00AM – 5:00PM
location: On campus

Vernacular lettering can provide spirited inspiration for type, but learning how to distinguish the usable from the unusable elements is an important prerequisite. We will look carefully at key differences between lettering and typography, considering both formal and informal traits.

Students will be shown examples of painted lettering, drawn lettering, and cutout lettering from the realm of signage. Students are also urged to bring images of vernacular lettering they have photographed or found.

John will show workshop students how to interpret the "charming" naïveté they perceive in home made letters or nonprofessional painted signage, and then demonstrate how to draw from their impressions any stuff that's worth saving. That stuff, which we call "raw material," can be readily applied either in type design & graphic design if it is utilized with discretion.


    Required Materials

  • Pencil, kneadable eraser, black ballpoint pen
  • ITOYA Doubleheader calligraphy felt pen (black)
  • Prismacolor Premiere Brush Marker (black)
  • Small plastic triangle, or a plastic ruler
  • Photocopies/prints of "found lettering"
  • Smart phone or digital camera


Registration will open September 7th


Register online…


Instructor: John Downer

Vernacular Lettering
Mr. Downer has been a journeyman sign painter since 1973, a freelance typeface designer since 1983, and a crusader for designers’ rights his entire adult life in the lettering game. He has written about type and type history for various publications, and he is widely known as a perceptive type critic. His typefaces have been published by Bitstream, Font Bureau, Emigre, House Industries, and Design Lab. Stylistically, his designs refer to various eras of history and means of letterform production: 19th- and 20th-century American sign painting and show card writing; 19th- and 20th-century American chromolithography and wood type; 18th-century European book types; 15th- and 16th-century Chancery cursive writing styles; 15th- and 16th-century Venetian printing; and 2nd-century Imperial Roman epigraphy.



Venue