The Menil Collection Dedication, Typographie, The Morphology of Human Blood Cells, and The John and Dominique deMenil Collection

The Menil Collection Dedication
Dominique de Menil
June 4, 1987
Program designed by Don Quintance
Public Address Design
Opening Night Gala Menu included

The Menil Collection celebrated it’s thirtieth anniversary in 2017. Thirty years of making art accessible to all and fostering personal encounters with works of art. It’s a beloved respite in a city where, putting it nicely, beauty is hard to come by. It transformed the cultural landscape of Houston in a remarkable way and, for us at least, made this city a place worth living. The museum embodies its founders, John and Dominique de Menil, from the architecture to the art.

Tucked away in a glass case at the Rice Village location of Half Price Books was this program for The Menil Collection’s dedication in 1987. In retrospect, the fact that we debated this purchase seems odd—it was such a lucky find, and a relevant and interesting artifact to us. While we couldn’t have been at the opening of the museum ourselves, it’s fun flipping through the program and imaging the day’s festivities. William Middleton describes it in his recent publication about the de Menils:

The day before, thundershowers had swept through town, flooding streams, sweeping cars off roads, and throwing funnel clouds out over Galveston Bay. But the two thousand invited guests were not deterred by a touch of weather. At 5:00 p.m., just in time for the local news, all eyes were fixed on the new museum. “The event is grabbing the attention of the art world and getting word out that Houston has more to offer than cowboy hats and pickup trucks,” announced one local reporter.

“The New York Times says the collection could make Houston a center for the visual arts,” suggested a newsman. “That’s a switch—just a few years ago, that newspaper said that Houston had a few nice buildings but they were surrounded by 2,000 gas stations.

As Dominique de Menil stepped to the lectern at the entrance of her new museum, surrounded by the blocks of modest bungalows that she and her husband had bought over the years, all painted the same shade of soft gray, she was determined to focus on what really mattered. “Artists are economically useless and yet they are indispensable,” she said with conviction. “A political regime where artists are persecuted is stifling, unbearable…We need painters, poets, musicians, filmmakers, philosophers, dancers, and saints.” And at a moment when she might have been expected to make a case for patronage, she went the other way. It was a small but significant sleight of hand. “The gifted artists are the great benefactors of the world,” Dominique announced. “Life flows from their souls, from their heart, from their fingers. They invite us to celebrate life and to meditate on the mystery of the world, on the mystery of God. Artists constantly open new horizons and challenge our way of looking at things. They bring us back to the essential.” —Excerpt from Double Vision: The Unerring Eye of Art World Avatars Dominique and John de Menil by William Middleton

Further Reading

The High Society Love Story Behind Dominique and John De Menil’s Legendary Art Collection
By William Middleton

Double Vision, The Unerring Eye of Art World Avatars Dominique and John de Menil
By William Middleton

A Modern Patronage: The De Menil Gifts to American and European Museums
By Marcia Brennan and Alfred Pacquement

Art and Activism: Projects of John and Dominique de Menil
By Laureen Schipsi and Josef Helfenstein

Sacred Modern: Faith, Activism, and Aesthetics in the Menil Collection
By Pamela G. Smart

 

Typographie: A Manual of Design
Emil Ruder
1967, 1st Edition
Printed by Zollikofer & Co. AG, St.Gall
Bound by R. Weber AG, Heiden
Published by Arthur Niggli Ltd., Teufen AR

Words by Steven Shultz

“Typography has one plain duty before it and that is to convey information in writing. No argument or consideration can absolve typography from this duty. A printed work which cannot be read becomes a product without purpose.”―Emil Ruder, Typographie

Emil Ruder was born in Zürich, Switzerland in 1914. When he was 15 he began a four-year typesetters apprenticeship and in his late twenties attended the Zurich School of Arts and Crafts. In 1942 at age 28 he began teaching typography and in the ‘50s gained renown as a leading voice in the International Typographic Style movement. In 1967, after twenty-five years of teaching and just 3 years before his death, he would compile his magnum opus, Typographie: A Manual for Design. It is the accumulation of a lifetime of knowledge — summarizing Ruder’s ideas, methods, and approach to typographic design and education.

Typographie has influenced graphic designers and typographers the world over for decades. It has been published in nine languages and is now in its seventh edition, a testament to its continued relevance. Like Josef Albers’s Interaction of Color (1963) it is a masterwork in art education. Through the lens of typography the most universal of design principles are brought into focus — function, form, proportion, color, rhythm, point, line, surface are beautifully unpacked.

Reading Typographie was a reminder of the things I learned in my first years of art school that I’ve somehow forgotten. A profound experience that catapulted me back to my formative years as a designer — when making an interesting composition was challenge enough.

Despite its relevance, it is unmistakably the product of a bygone era. Ruder `writes, “The craft of the typographer, like any other, necessarily reflects the times. The age gives him the means with which to satisfy the needs the age creates.” That said, he was concerned about the amount of information competing for our attention and felt that good design had become something taken for granted. He was critical of the excess of superfluous typefaces available — typefaces the present age made possible. What would He think about the ease with which we make and publish work in 2018?

The Morphology of Human Blood Cells
L.W. Diggs, M.A., M.D., Dorothy Sturm, Ann Bell, B.A.
1957, 2nd Edition
Published by W.B. Saunders Company

Intending to become a book designer, Dorothy Sturm set off to take courses in New York at the age of nineteen. She had an interest in biology, and once visited the laboratory of Dr. Florence Sabin, who was studying the role of the body’s white blood cells in tuberculosis infections at the Rockefeller Institution. Sturm observed her own blood cells through Dr. Sabin’s specially developed microscope, and her curiosity grew. She was fascinated by what the microscope revealed, and took courses in biology to learn more. This passion for the microcosmic world and her talent as an illustrator led her to become a prominent medical illustrator. While it seems she later moved on from this field, she remained an advocate of the relationship between art and science saying, “Art and science naturally go together. Both are investigative endeavors aimed at trying to understand the universe.”

By the 1950’s she started experimenting with paper collage. Her curiosity led her in many directions, and she experimented freely and unrestrictedly with many different mediums (enamel, glass, metal, and found objects). Her work blurred the lines between art and crafts when the distinctions between the two were rigid. She devised her own techniques, developed her own style, and quickly gained recognition.

My personal encounter with Sturm’s work was in the pages of The Morphology of Human Blood Cells, like many Hematology students. Her illustrations, now accompanied by photomicrographs in the book’s seventh edition, are still vital. While a lot of my reference materials from school were packed away after graduation, this one remained at hand for many years. It has since been replaced on our shelves with the 1957 second edition of the text, and it serves more as a work of art.

References

the Archives, “Undergraduates Investigate the Work of Artist Dorothy Sturm: Reflections on Research,” Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, 13-Jul-2015. [Online]. Available: https://www.aaa.si.edu/blog/2015/07/undergraduates-investigate-the-work-of-artist-dorothy-sturm-reflections-on-research. [Accessed: 04-Jan-2018]

“Dorothy Sturm,” The Enamel Arts Foundation – Collection. [Online]. Available: http://www.enamelarts.org/index.php?collection&action=view_artist&artist_id=57. [Accessed: 04-Jan-2018]

“Dorothy Sturm,” Self-portrait with dog by Constantin Brancusi on artnet. [Online]. Available: http://www.artnet.com/artists/dorothy-sturm/biography. [Accessed: 05-Jan-2018]

“Master Metalsmith Dorothy Sturm – Ganoksin Jewelry Making Community,” Ganoksin. [Online]. Available: https://www.ganoksin.com/article/master-metalsmith-dorothy-sturm/. [Accessed: 05-Jan-2018]

University of Tennessee Health Science Center, “UTHSC Health Sciences Library,” Go to UTHSC Health Sciences Library. [Online]. Available: https://library.uthsc.edu/history/dorothysturmexhibit/. [Accessed: 04-Jan-2018]

The John and Dominique deMenil Collection
Forward by Robert Goldwater
1962
Designed by William and Caroline Harris
Printed by Manhattan Art Press, Inc.

In writing about the Art of New Guinea exhibition catalog, we came across several interesting publications at Fondren Library including this one titled the John and Dominique de Menil Collection. It was published to accompany an exhibition at New York’s Museum of Primitive Art in 1962, some 25 years before their collection would get a more permanent home at the museum here in Houston.

The Museum of Indigenous Art, as it was originally known, was founded by Aldrich Rockefeller and held in a townhouse that adjoined his childhood home that sat across the MOMA. For almost two decades the museum housed Rockefeller’s ethnographic arts and held many landmark exhibitions at the hand of the museum’s director Robert Goldwater—this one included.

“It is always a privilege for a museum to show an excellent private collection. There is the possibility of enjoying works only rarely seen, and a chance to glimpse—and to speculate on—the cohesive mixture of taste and personality that transforms a gathering of objects into a realized collection. The quality and diversity of the John and Dominique de Menil collection ensure a wonderful opportunity to indulge these pleasures.

But a museum also feels some slight constraint in putting a private collection on public view: how to take it from its natural surroundings without altering its character? It is curious and paradoxical that works of art which have come so far from their original homes and the uses of their original intentions should, once gathered together, somehow belong together. Yet this is what constitutes a good collection, and it is the museum’s task to do its best to conserve the flavor despite the unaccustomed surroundings.”—Richard Goldwater, excerpt from The John and Dominique de Menil Collection.

The bulk of the catalog is devoted to photographs of the collection itself. Our favorite was a full bleed black and white spread of a pair of masks from the Gabon Owgowe River in Mpongwe, Zambia. Their catalog description is succinct, noting only that they were made of soft wood, and white paint, as well as their dimensions 13 and 14 inches, respectively. I photocopied the page a few times with no clear purpose in mind, and tucked them away. Remembering an exhibition of African masks from West and Central Africa at the Menil, I looked back at photographs from our visit. I was hoping to spot the pair of Zambian masks, but had no luck. However, this large colorful mask (pictured below) from Ghana did make an appearance in both.

We later found a place for the photocopy in a series of three over our hutch. I did feel a twinge of uneasiness using the work without permission, but perhaps that is a different, deeper conversation best saved for another day. I found a copy of the catalog online for purchase, second hand, and it eased my conscious for the time being.

Motivator aside, it’s nice to have another publication concerning the de Menils in our collection. As Houstonians, our interest in them is connected to the affection we feel for our city. Hopefully over the years our collection will grow, and we will continue to learn more about them.


Series of three.

The Menil Collection Exhibition of African masks from West and Central Africa.

 

Observed Microscopically—Microphotomicrographs

 

Observed Microscopically began the summer of twenty fourteen with Microphotomicrographs, and has become the moniker for all my artwork, microscopic or not. Simply put, microphotomicrographs are 35mm slides under a microscope. The name comes from the combination of two words: Microphotographs, which are photos on a microscopic scale (microfilm), and photomicrographs which are photos taken through a microscope.

Making the rounds at one of our local art supply shops, I came across a medical binder full of MRI and x-ray slides. It was a bit tedious to look through, but it went right into my purchase pile. Next to the binder was a bin of thousands of miscellaneous slides, and looking through it seemed like an impossible task. After holding a few up to the light, I settled on adding just one of those to my purchases that day. Little did I know, that one photograph would become the catalyst for this project and exactly what I needed to begin Observed Microscopically.

After an ill attempt with my phone flashlight, I tried my microscope’s light source (a childhood curiosity now used as decoration) to view the slides. It illuminated them perfectly, and the next step was obvious. I viewed the single extra slide with my microscope, and landed on a beautiful composition—a woman holding a child’s hand. You can just make out that she’s wearing a watch, but the photo is from such a distance that it’s distorted.

The grainy texture of the images is something fairly consistent when viewing the slides under the microscope. Strangely however, they look comparably different with each viewing. There’s shifting dust, the angle of the camera on the objective, the focus of the microscope, and the variance in light. Additionally, 35mm slides deteriorate over time. While film quality is a factor, exposure to excess light, heat, or moisture can quicken the pace of degradation.

Since the inception of this project, the slides I choose are purposeful. They are filled with background noise that might not have been intended or even noticed by the the photographer at the time. Blurs and mistakes in the images, and defects in the film often have the best results. While I do take an initial look at the slides, I don’t view them on a projector. This leaves the full image a mystery, and I have a fresh take when I look under the microscope. By doing this, I’m hoping to capture a new composition—creating something unique apart from the original context.

Because of this, I choose not to share the full original image. While I am dependent on the photographs for these compositions, the images that result are independent of them. I also don’t offer an explanation of the microphotomicrograph aside from the category, leaving you to decide what to take away. Of course, it’s important to note that most of the photographic slides are not of my own taking. As I get these slides from a number of places (antique stores, thrift shops, and online), I’m not purchasing slides from their creator. They’ve exchanged hands, gotten separated from their original collections, and become orphan photographs. My thanks goes to the original and unintentionally anonymous photographer, without whom I would not have the content on which I built this photo project.



An Introduction to Nematology, Helminthology, and a Look at One Parasitic Nematode Dubbed the Eye Worm

Nematodes are worms, but not the sort you’d think about upon hearing the word. Worm is a broad description given to invertebrates with soft, slender, elongated bodies. You’re quintessential worm is from the phylum Annelida—they have the familiar segmented bodies and are much larger than Nematodes. On average nematodes are 2.5mm in length. They have non-segmented bodies that are tapered at each end, and while there are free-living varieties, a good number are parasites. They are ubiquitous, and humans are grossly outnumbered by these creatures. In fact, everything on the planet is outnumbered by nematodes as they account for 80% of all the individual animals on earth.

“In short, if all the matter in the universe except the nematodes were swept away, our world would still be dimly recognizable, and if, as disembodied spirits, we could then investigate it, we should find its mountains, hills, vales, rivers, lakes, and oceans represented by a film of nematodes. The location of towns would be decipherable, since for every massing of human beings there would be a corresponding massing of certain nematodes. Trees would still stand in ghostly rows representing our streets and highways. The location of the various plants and animals would still be decipherable, and, had we sufficient knowledge, in many cases even their species could be determined by an examination of their erstwhile nematode parasites.”—Nathan Augustus Cobb in Nematodes and Their Relationships, 1915

Cobb (1859-1932) is known as the father of nematology in the United States, specifically gaining recognition for his work with the United States Department of Agriculture. He laid the foundation for nematode taxonomy, and contributed major discoveries in morphology and methodology as well. His numerous papers on the subject were complimented with thorough illustrations. Cobb himself was a gifted self-taught artist and illustrator, but his collaboration with William Chambers distinguished his work among his peers. Chambers’ art is said to have had a profound influence on the quality of illustrations throughout the world of nematology. This lead to a more organized classification identification system, furthering their study.

Years later, across the pond Robert Thomson Leiper (1881-1969) was referred to as the father of modern helminthology. Helminthologists, like Leiper, focus on the study of parasitic worms spanning a variety of phyla, including Nematoda. Leiper was devoted to his work, and his scientific attainments fell into two categories—taxonomy and life cycles. The journey to modern helminthology was filled with expeditions to the tropics, though not confined to them. The conditions for these explorers were less than ideal. They were filled with mosquitos, flies and, ticks—vectors of many horrible diseases, and of course the inevitable dysentery. However, Leiper’s discoveries disentangled many important taxonomic puzzles including the vector of the filarial worm Loa loa. His blunderbuss methodology for solving this mystery involved letting various insects feed on an infected patient. He’d then grind up the insect and inspect it for the worm’s early microscopic form. A deer fly common to the area of Calabar turned out to be the culprit. He was able to repeat the experiment, but due a seasonal shortage of the fly he had to abort his study. It was confirmed a decade later by a husband and wife duo (Connal) who detailed the development of the larvae within the fly.

The diurnal deerfly Chrysops silacea, Chrysops dimidiata, and consequently L. loa, are indigenous to rainforests in parts of Western and Central Africa. There have been documented cases of Loiasis with serious symptoms, but often patients experience only minor discomforts. Itchy swellings that came to be named for the region they were first documented in, Calabar, can come and go. The most dramatic and alarming clinical manifestation of Loiasis happens when the adult worm wriggles under the skin or across the eye. The first documented account of the worm was published in 1770 by a French surgeon named Mongin:

“Saw a worm which seemed to crawl superficially on the eye, but when I tried to catch it with forceps, I realized that it was between the conjunctiva and the cornea. When it approached the transparent cornea, the pains became more severe…it was one and a half inches long, the width of a violin string, and dark colored.”

Diagnosis is simple when such obvious outward symptoms present themselves, but that’s not always the case. Blood collection and examination is a practical procedure for the identification of L. loa’s microfilariae, the early larval form present in human stages of development. However these microfilariae have a diurnal periodicity, so sample collection must be completed between 10 AM and 2 PM to detect them.

Another complication arises in treatment. There is an overlap in the habitat of L. loa and another parasitic worm Onchocerca volvulus. This parasite causes a more serious disease than Loiasis, known as Onchocerciasis or River Blindness—the second most common cause of infectious blindness. The good news is that there is a drug called Ivermectin that can eliminate it. The complication I mentioned? It can prove deadly if the patient has a co-infection of Loiasis. In these cases, it is crucial to investigate the levels of L. loa microfilariae in the patient. Due to this, in L. loa endemic areas, mass drug administration (MDA) programs have been suspended leaving the local population at risk for River Blindness.

A rapid and point-of-care solution is needed to re-establish the MDA program for onchocerciasis. The current methodology is not practical for field settings, and the output is too low. A research team lead by UC Berkley engineers have recently developed a phone-based video microscope that can automatically quantify L. loa microfilariae. This eliminates the need for slide examination by trained technicians, other time-intensive methods, and cumbersome equipment. They have completed a pilot study of the Cellscope Loa with great success—getting the same results on the phone as with the current gold standard of diagnosis. According the researchers, this “Test and not Treat” Cellscope Loa strategy is “an extremely promising and practical approach to the safe implementation of large-scale treatment for Loaisis and onchocerciasis in L. loa co-endemic areas.”




Loa loa endemic areas (light gray).

Life-cycle of Loa loa. Chrysops fly bites the human host and third stage L. loa enter, and mature into adults (A) within about one year. Adult worms (left/female, right/male) live for about 4 to 12 years. Worms mate, eggs mature within the female (B) and produce microfilariae (C) which circulate in the blood stream, and are then picked up by another fly. The microfilarie shed their sheath (D) and enter fat bodies within the fly. They mature into sausage-like forms (E), and then into infective third stage larvae (F). These larvae migrate into the fly’s proboscis and are deposited into another human host when they take a blood meal. Repeat.


Photograph of microfilariae (630X).

Resources

American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Abstract Book. Vol. 95. N.p.: n.p., 2016. ASTMH. Web. Abstract No. 1115, Cell Scope-Loa, Sebastien Pion, et al. Web.

Cobb, Nathan Augustus. Nematodes and their relationships. Washington: G.P.O., 1915. Print.

Cox, F. E. G. “History of Human Parasitology.” Clinical Microbiology Reviews. American Society for Microbiology, Oct. 2002. Web.

D’Ambrosio, Michael V. “Point-of-care quantification of blood-borne filarial parasites with a mobile phone microscope.” Science Translational Medicine 7.286 (2015): 286-90. Web.

Garnham, P. C. C. “Robert Thomson Leiper. 1881-1969.” Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 16.0 (1970): 385-404. Royal Society Publishing. Web.

Grove, David I. A history of human helminthology. Wallingford, Oxon, UK: C.A.B. International, 1990.

Harrison, Richard. “Smartphones Can Be Smart Enough To Find A Parasitic Worm.” All Things Considered. NPR, 6 May 2015. Web.

Maggenti, A.R. General nematology. New York a.o: Springer, 1981. Print.

“Parasites – Loiasis.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. N.p., 20 Jan. 2015. Web.

“Parasites – Onchocerciasis (also known as River Blindness).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. N.p., 10 Aug. 2015. Web.

Smith, D. Scott. “Loiasis.” Life Cycle and Morphology. Stanford University, n.d. Web.

Yang, Sarah. “Smartphone video microscope automates detection of parasites in blood.” Berkley News. UC Berkley, 5 May 2015. Web.

 

Ray Barbee Meets the Mattson 2

Ray Barbee Meets the Mattson 2
Galaxia Records
2007
Artwork by Geoff McFetridge
Spotify Playlist

Ray Barbee Meets The Mattson 2 is a rare creative collaboration that came into my life at just the right time. Ray Barbee first entered the public eye in the 80s as one of the first famous African-American skaterboarders. It wasn’t until 2003 when he released his home recorded debut EP, Triumphant Procession, on Galaxia Records that he gained a reputation as a musician. Now it’s hard to distinguish the musician from the skatboarder, and Barbee’s effortlessly smooth and improvisational approach to skateboarding could not be more apparent in his music.

Twin brothers Jared and Jonathan Mattson make music under the name The Mattson 2. The Southern California guitar and drum duo have a truly unique take on straight-ahead instrumental jazz. Their sound is only amplified by their innate talent and twin telepathy. Like Barbee, the Mattsons found an eager advocate in Thomas Campbell—filmmaker, artist, and co-owner of Galaxia Records. Campbell had been following and encouraging the Mattsons since they were 15. He slowly brought them into the Galaxia family, recruiting them to play art exhibition openings, movie premiers, and gigs with some of the Galaxia roster.

While recording their debut record in 2005, Introducing the Mattson 2, Campbell suggested Barbee guest on a track. Although Barbee’s part was just added to the studio recording, the collaborative potential was undeniable and the creative seed was planted. Not long after, Barbee was scheduled to play two nights at {open}, a bookstore in Long Beach. Not wanting to do the same performance twice he asked The Mattson 2 to play one of the shows with him. As expected, the rehearsal for the performance went exceedingly well and the three knew they needed to strike while the iron was hot and make a record as a proper trio. After 3 months of preperation they were ready. Ray Barbee Meets The Mattson 2

was recorded in August of 2006 at The Hangar Studios in Sacramento California, and aptly produced by Campbell. Melding the Mattson’s fluid musicianship with Barbee’s sunny guitar work, the record is a love letter to jazz and California summers.

Geoff McFetridge’s whimsical jacket artwork brings the endeavor together. McFetridge reinterprets the jazz LP cover, replacing the traditional portrait with a delightfully simple drawing of the three meeting represented by their hands holding tiny instruments.

I’ve listened to Ray Barbee Meets The Mattson 2 in headphones on the train, I’ve blasted it out of the boombox in my garage, I’ve listened to it in the car on road trips, and I’ve played it out of shitty phone speakers while cooking dinner. I haven’t listened to it the way you are supposed to listen to jazz records though. I haven’t pulled it off the record shelf, taken it out of the sleeve and put it on the turntable. This is my favorite way to enjoy music—archaic, tactile, intentional. I needed that experience with this record.

There are a number of sources for one off vinyl records. I recommend researching which method will work best for your needs. Our original goal was to press one copy just for us—the entire 52 minutes. This wonderful album is just too long for a single LP though. It’d have to be a double. An investment that would have to wait for the time being. Arbitrarily lobbing off a few track didn’t seem right, neither did a 4-6 track sampler. After a bit of research, we decided that a 12″ single would be the most natural choice. Two studio tracks on side A and a live recording exclusive to the Japanese CD release on side B.

The Chapel of St. Basil at the University of St. Thomas

An alluring piece of architecture, the Chapel of St. Basil is situated opposite the Doherty Library on the University of St. Thomas campus. It’s of no surprise the history of the chapel began with the deMenils, something that is true of so much in Houston. They hired Philip Johnson originally to design the campus, and years after the Academic Hall was built he designed the Chapel. One of the most intriguing qualities of the chapel is its lack of artificial light. The sun illuminates the space in a fluid way, and the experience is remarkable. We visited the chapel on several occasions to try to capture this feeling.

 

II

 

 

 

III

 

 

 

IV

 

Non-Native Typography—The Japanese Writing System

As a Westerner and a native English speaker, my appreciation of Japanese writing is purely aesthetic and superficial—as one appreciates a painter’s brushstroke, an interesting composition of shapes, or something unfamiliar. It wasn’t until I needed to design with Japanese text myself that I realized how fundamentally different the modern Japanese writing system is from my own. Of course this seems obvious in hindsight—the East is unlike the West in so many ways, why would writing be any different.

What we call Japanese writing is actually the combination and appropriation of thousands of characters from six different scripts each with its own history, function, rules, and visual weight. Because if this, the modern Japanese writing system is often considered to be the most complex contemporary written language. Primarily, Japanese writing combines Chinese logographic Kanji characters with two syllabic scripts, Hiragana and Katakana (known collectively as Kana). Borrowed from China a couple thousand years ago, Kanji characters are used to represent objects, ideas, actions, as well as many Japanese names. Hiragana is used for native Japanese words and grammatical inflections that Kanji doesn’t cover. Katakana is somewhat similar to Latin italics—it is used to write words of foreign origin, onomatopoeic sound effects, scientific/technical terms, and simply for emphasis. Additionally, the Latin alphabet, Arabic numerals, and Greek characters are utilized, each playing a supporting but vital role in the modern Japanese writing system.


The vocabulary, measurement system, and aesthetics of Japanese writing are all a carryover from the days of movable type. Characters for Japanese composition were designed to have a square character frame so they would fit nicely on uniform blocks of metal type that could be set end to end. For more than a thousand years all text was set vertically, but because of the square character profile the same Japanese characters can be set horizontally as well. Contemporary Japanese composition utilizes both text directions, horizontal type setting being a fairly recent innovation. When text is set vertically it is read from top to bottom, right to left. When text is set horizontally it is read from left to right, top to bottom. This composition is taught with guides in much the same way we learn. Similar to our lined grade school paper, Japanese students use a paper called Genkō yōshi. It helps children write and place characters within a grid of uniform boxes.

By in large, Japanese glyphs are much more complex than Latin glyphs. This translates quite understandably into high-density glyphs that are approximately 10-15% larger than their Latin counterparts. Additionally, despite shape, density, or origin, every character is made to conform to the square character frame. This means there are no capitals, no ascenders, no descenders, and no predictable starting character for words or sentences—all of which contribute to the very high legibility of the Latin alphabet. Without these aids, the different scripts themselves have to indicate the sentence structure.

The differences are countless, but most typographic principles are universal and can transcend language. Balance the space within the letterforms with the space between the letterforms—counterspaces are counterspaces afterall, despite their shape or complexity.