Purchase College, SUNY and The Cooper Union  
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Project. Type as Metaphor

Purpose. To use the elements of typography (paragraphs, phrases, words, syllables, letters, etc.) in ways that transcend the utilitarian, the literal, and the pre-packaged. To develop typographic settings for a text that give form to metaphoric implications or connotations through compositional arrangement, juxtaposition, and typographic manipulation. To exercise various modes of critical thinking, mind mapping, and formal play in an effort to find new meaning and shape for a given text.

Assignment. Find three texts from magazines/journals/books/on-line, which deal with a particular issue you care deeply about or have some concern towards. Examples of topics could be: global warming and its affects on hurricanes, the longevity of cockroaches as a species, the doctrine of pre-emptive war, race relations, violence against women, censorship, globalization, etc. These are only examples of topics. After reading all three texts related to your chosen topic, select one as your primary source, or a re-edit of the three into one. Brainstorm ideas in order to find visually metaphoric possibilities. Take a large sheet of paper, write down the main theme or topic and draw a circle around it. Then, map other words and phrases that in some way relate to the central theme (sub-themes, activities, images, physical attributes, emotional responses, other tangents to generate ideas). Form tributary lines, directionals, and new words and phrases. Develop compositions that resonate (have the feel of, suggest, evoke) a few of the themes, sub-themes and other visual/semantic references that you’ve discovered. This project will be realized entirely with type, color, texture and shape. It is divided into 4 parts:

Paragraphs / Phrases. Edit your text down to a few paragraphs with key phrases. Then create a composition, your choice of dimensions, which uses type as metaphor to visually communicate your analysis, or point(s) of view on the subject/text. Experiment with a variety of approaches and tools. Don’t assume first ideas and solutions are the best. Take chances, you can always tighten things up later. Feel free to sketch ideas and use techniques you played with in first project like photocopying, using different materials/printing techniques, as well as the computer. Solutions need not be technically complex.

Words. Next, select a series of words from your phrases. Create a second composition, continuing to manipulate type as metaphor. You should already be thinking in terms of creating a series, progression, or narrative from one composition to the next.

Syllables. Edit the words down to a series of syllables. In this composition, literal meanings have less significance. Again, experiment with type and composition, but now focus further on the expression through the letterforms themselves, as well as through their arrangement on the page.

Letters. With the last composition, focus on the letters you have selected from your above syllables — to form a final composition via type as a metaphor.

All Told. The end result will be four final compositions.

Try to not be seduced by the computer and its built-in aesthetic predilections. Focus on meaning and form. These experiments might have more “applicability” in the end than you might imagine.

Note. Warren Lehrer was first introduced to a variation of the "Type as Metaphor" project by Mike Schmidt (University of Memphis) who picked it up from Andrew Blauvelt.

Format. Open

Time. Five Weeks

Week One. Project introduced.
Week Two. Present subject, 3 texts, edited paragraphs/phrases/words of interest, initial mind-maps and sketches. Begin roughs in class for paragraphs/phrases panel. Consider format, type choices, color, texture....
Week Three. Present working comps of paragraphs/phrases and words panels (with actual type). Rework/play. Begin working on syllables and letterforms.
Week Four. Present working comps all 4 categories. Re-work, refine, tweak, production of final compositions.
Week Five. Final crit. New project introduced.


Warren Lehrer Biography to come.

Marianna Capomolla explored the theme of dyslexia. Beginning with research and first-hand experience, she worked to get beyond the stereotypical letter-flopping portrayal of dyslexia. Her panels portray: 1. parts of words that pop, rotate, split and merge, split;  2. language that bombards the senses;  3. parts of words that remain silent; 4. the loneliness and then prideful confidence of living with a disability that has many creative people have.

Jason Marconi worked with the theme of deforestation, particularly the evisceration of the rainforests. His panels: 1. reveal the process of clear-cutting which may not be visible off the road, but can be seen as you go deeper into the forest or fly over; the second panel evokes the stripping away of green as it also evokes the metaphor of the rainforest as lungs of the planet; 3. as words are chopped into syllables, so too are trees left only as stumps, and the brown earth left barren and rootless; 4. finally Jason leaves us with the a devastating image of a once teeming landscape robbed of its trees. Some trees are still standing in the distance leaving the future and cause for hope within our imagination and hands.  

Rob Dieso researched the discovery of planets detected in areas between galaxies that were formerly considered empty voids. Through typographic compositions, his panels portray: 1. the appearance of seemingly isolated stars between galaxy clusters; 2. zooming deeper into space, scientist postulate that these stray stars could be remnant debris of the big bang; 3. reaching into even deeper space, scientists detect that there may be even more stars between galaxies than within galaxies, as Rob discovers the mystery and poetry of verse inside the universe; 4. finally, traveling from one galaxy to the next, what seemed to be chaos, has great order and harmony. Unbeknownst to Rob, the class discovered within his last panel the words:  i we from mom.

Kerry DeBruce researched and explored the predicament — as an African-American woman — of what to do with her hair: straighten, perm, leave natural, braid, etc.. Using her researched text, typography, color and hair, her panels portray 1: the tension of what to do with one’s hair as it relates to personal, cultural, historical, and racial identity; 2. coming to terms with fear, expectations, and social hierarchies via acrostics and other wordplay; 3. then letting her hair go natural, coming to terms with her African roots however unruly; 4. and with the help of a Memphis Extra Bold lower case r (evocative of the African and Egyptian art that may have inspired it) she concludes her panels with a nobel, triumphant



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