Robin Rendle
• San Francisco, California

Exquisite kestrels disappear

Lewis Mcguffie, the designer of Columba, wrote this piece about designing with scale in mind:

Something will always be in the shadows, or even behind a hill, we may be colour-blind, or a thing may simply be too small to see (the list is endless). To put it another way — things change depending on how big they are.

[…] The design of type requires a knowledge of scale. But with the concession that a typeface will need to be used in a multitude of environments and is effectively a software tool. However, type as illustration does not have to make this concession. An overly ornate letter will likely go no further than the 1080 × 1080 Instagram post it was lovingly crafted for. The letters composing the text you are reading now, is a thing. The other is an illustration, a picture of thing.

There’s something about this piece that I love—the discipline(?) of it. There’s a plodding gentle stroll feeling at work here in the writing; talking about painting and type design and seeing the world, without getting too lofty about it.

Lewis writes about the 15th century Dutch painter Jan van Eyck and how he added such phenomenal detail to his paintings that no-one would ever notice:

He was able to depict in the series of painted panels for St Bavo’s seventy-five identifiable tree, plant and flower species, a large variety of known birds species (as distant silhouettes in the sky), and clouds so detailed they can be recognised as stratus, altocumulus, cirrocumulus and cirrus. However, the Ghent Altarpiece is 3.5 metres in height and hangs well above eye level. Van Eyck’s method of minute veristic realism — which led him to paint birds so detailed that their species is identifiable by silhouette alone — meant that these animals were rendered so small that to the cathedral-going viewer they were imperceivable. Would a cathedral-goer see those tiny details by candle light even sat in the first row of the pews? Hung over the dim altar as they were, Van Eyck’s kestrels would always disappear.