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Anatomy of Design by Mirko Ilic, Steven Heller

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6
Stencil writing is one of oldest methods of making ad hoc typefaces. The
rudimentary technology is accessible to all and is as simple as cutting
letterforms (however imprecisely) out of heavy paper or board, then painting
over the cutouts. The distinctive look of stencil type—the gaps between
horizontal and vertical portions of the letters—derives from adherence to a
single, overriding requirement: durability. When divided in this way, the
segments of a single letter endure longer than if the cutout were seamless.
Stencils were not originally designed as fine typography but rather served more
routine functions, that of reproducing marks, letters, words, and images in paint
or ink on rough surfaces like burlap bags or wooden barrels.
The common Stencil typeface designed by Gerry Powell (who codesigned
Stymie with Sol Hess) for American Typefounders Co. in 1939 was based on
bulbous letterforms the U.S. Army used as far back as the Civil War and that are
still favored by the military for branding numerals to names on everything from
sacks to howitzers. But even before Stencil became a popular commercial font
(and even the modernist Paul Rand used it on the cover of the distinctive 1942
catalog for the Autocar Corporation), type designers in the early twentieth century
drew inspiration from the stencil’s inherent quirks and universal familiarity. For
example, Paul Renner’s 1929 Futura Black was a stylized rectilinear stencil that
evoked a streamlined sensibility. New and novel stencil fonts have been common
throughout the twentieth century and never fall out of style. For example, Milton
Glaser’s 1970 Glaser Stencil is still frequently used today.
Stenciling is also a common means of conveying public messages,
sometimes benign but often politically charged. The practice of stenciling
politically alternative missives on sidewalks and buildings dates to the early
twentieth century, when conventional forms of printing were difficult or
expensive. But the stencil was not only a tool of rebellious causes; rather,
governments posted their official missives with this economy. In the latter part
of the century stencils were, however, more commonly used by alternative
groups and movements in urban areas where posters protesting or advocating
charged issues were more likely to be torn down. Spray painting a slogan or
image was an efficient means to hit and run. Once again, durability and
immediacy are reasons for using stencil. The spray of the spray paint has
come to symbolize social and cultural insurgence.
Nathaniel Cooper’s poster for the Heart of America Shakespeare
Festival may not be an overtly political statement, but his design draws on
the stencil’s immediacy to call attention to an annual summer festival
featuring a run of free, professionally produced outdoor performances in
Kansas City, Missouri. “Instead of simply conveying a message about an
individual play being performed,” he notes, “we felt the image and words
should go beyond to capture the essence of the annual festival. The
powerful, revolutionary-style graphic gives the piece a populist look
appropriate to the fact that it’s for the people. Therefore, everyone is
welcome to attend the performances at no charge.”
Free Will
Designer: Nathaniel Cooper
2005 Free Will, poster
d: Nathaniel Cooper c: Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, Kansas City, MO
The image and words were created for the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, Kansas
City, MO. The powerful revolutionary-style graphic gives the piece a populist look
appropriate to the fact that it's for the people.
Stencils
Stencil type
Printed pieces using stencil-art
ANATOMY OF DESIGN
1917 De Stijl
magazine cover
d:Theo van Doesburg Vilmos
Huszar
1930–40 Zero Fuselage
identification stencil
Painted on all Japanese Navy aircraft, listing
manufacturer of plane, plane’s serial number,
and date of manufacture.
1944 USA stencils
Spray-gun used with stencils to appl
y
number and star for Normandy.
1925 alphabet design for stencil lettering
a:Josef Albers
Alphabet is reduced to geometric shapes drawn
from a grid.
1941 Alphabet typeface
d:Bart van der Leck
8000 BC Cuevas Los Manos (Cave of the Hands)
rock art from Argentina
Ten-thousand-year-old art created by blowing paint
over the artist’s hands onto a surface.
2000 Out Market poster
d:Edwin Vollebergh, Petra Janssen
s:Studio Boot c:Theatre Kampen
1994 Inflatable Soule poster
d:Robynne Raye
s:Modern Dog c:Barbeau and
Rev. Bob Jones M.S.
Hand-lettering by the designer.
2001 Equipo Del Fuego ad
ad,d:Alvaro Sotomayor i:Dave Fikkert
s:Wieden & Kennedy, Amsterdam c:Nike
1985 Saga-Goryu School of Flower
Arranging poster
a:Tadanori Yokoo
c:Saga-Goryu School of Flower
Arranging, Daikakuji Temple
See Cuevas los Manos (Cave of Lost Hands).
1931
Time Machine—by H. G.
Wells
book spread
d:W. A. Dwiggins
c:Random House
Art in book created with a stencil.
Original stencil shown below.
Undated A is not for Apple
street stencil from Czech Republic
1990 Laudium Welcomes Comrade
Mandela poster
The poster welcomes Mandela for his visit
to the township Laudium, South Africa.
c1940s Djevojke U Nevoli (Girls In
Trouble) poster
a:Zvonimir Faist
Croatian poster for French movie. Because
of a small run, posters were produced with
a stencil then airbrushed.
1921 Comrade Have You Read The
Council of People’s Commissars’
Mandate
drawing
a:V. Mayakovsky
Gavpolitprosvet Window No 295.
2002 I Want You
Consumption ma
g
ad:Paul Shoebrid
g
c:Adbusters

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