"Il pleut" by Guillaume Apollinaire translated through our Intertype C4

This is a good example of a project that defies working within a normally accepted set of guidelines. Our Intertype C4 linecaster is intended to significantly speed up the time required to handset a line of type. We slowed that down about 50 times.

This piece was done for a British-based publication entitled It's a Small World. The publication has been operating for more than 60 years with each participant typically producing one page (front and back) which is then bound into the perfect-bound book.

Helmut Krone, one of my favorite of the historically important art directors, once said to me, “You need to know the answer before you hear the question. Then all you have to do is massage the question to fit your answer.” I use to talk to my students about having ideas “on the shelf.” You constantly look for them. What could you do with this? How might this be applied? You get a picture in your head and then you put it on the shelf, to call down later when you need a solution. Doing the pieces that have little obvious value, because you can do so many of them and because they don’t carry much pressure, can offer important leaps in creativity in some future project. 

The poem 'Il pleut' by Guillaume Apollinaire is one of those haunting images from some design research, probably from back in college. It has been sitting on my self for decades as a strangely haunting visual image.

Every since my classical typography training in college I've always been dogged by a concern for optically letterspacing type to even out the visual space between letterforms.

This project couples those two shelf occupiers

Here is the sequence of thoughts that got me to the idea shown in the image above. All told the thought process took me something like 4 seconds. That is a serious estimate. These are the issues that weighed in during those 4 seconds.

  • I needed to print my page for "It's a Small World"
  • I was drawn to the word "small" in the book series title.
  • Periods are small
  • It would be interesting to understand how to achieve more interesting typographic options on our Intertype with manual letterspacing
  • I could just replace the letters in Apollinaire's poem with periods.

The physical process to get the image ready for printing took about 9 hours.

Here is Apollinaire's handwritten poem.


Below is the concrete poem in its final form after being produced with a typewriter.


After carefully working out the final size, this is my architectural drawing of where I needed to position each period to mark the center of each letter on the original poem.


Five periods on a line required 5 mats for our Intertype plus a variety of spacing.

To do the first line took some trial and error to arrive at the proper placement for each of the 5 periods and the spacing matrices in between them to put them into the exact position on the line.

You can see in Apollinaire's typewritten poem that the lines have an individual arrangement to each with the same general angle to the lines, but in no way exact.


In the photo above, I'm about 20 lines into the poem, slowly adjusting the spacing between the periods with various arrangements of spacing. Much of the basic spacing could be handled by using the standard ems, ens, and thin spaces available in a type magazine. Additionally, I worked with individual matrices down to as thin as a 1/2 point to get things as close as I could possibly get them.


That's all folks.

It strikes me that it would be pretty cool to do the actual poem on the Intertype and maybe even do it in handset typewriter type and just compare the results. Maybe a student was to try an afternoon diversion (though the Intertype page would take longer than an afternoon).

Next other : Rain 2