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Mar 02


Posted by robert in winken de worde , whimsical , upper case , Typesetters , Typefounders , Typefaces , Type , slogans , Roman legion , robert lovejoy , printers flowers , Poliphilus , Meaningful art , lower case , letter cutter , keyboard , idea painting , graphically strong image , dissing , Buying paintings , Buying art , bold painting , Blado , Benjamin Franklin , Art I like , 26 metal soldiers

The hero of our story is an upright, Roman soldier named Poliphilus. Sadly, his first marriage ended in tragedy; his wife lost without trace. Alas, with no companion to share his life, he was a very lonely figure, indeed.  Time (and Roman legions) march on, of course, and a new partner appeared on the scene: the pretty-faced Blado. The two would find greater expression together, than either one alone. Do you know these two characters? A new army of people, via computers and the dictatorial-sounding, “word processing programs”,  now have access to, what was once, the esoteric province of graphic designers, typographers and printers.  You may have guessed that I am talking about type styles; some, like Poliphilus and its italic version, Blado, have curious names.  To explain the story I began with, Poliphilus is in fact a typeface of roman style. Its original italic was abandoned when the Monotype Corporation (an English type-founder) re-cut a new italic version. Blado was the result of the re-design, which Monotype considered a more suitable match. 

I imagine poor Poliphilus pining occasionally for his previous (but equally, once printed, right-leaning) love.

The names of fonts or typefaces are myriad (actually Myriad is the name of one). Many names commemorate the early type designers (Baskerville and Cochin are examples) It seems a pity that you would choose Modern 20 or Sans 7 when naming your font, when Braggadocio, Albertina or Scherzo exist as inspiring examples. Recent ones such as Raincheck and Laserbeam are better!  Each to their own, I guess.

To make type you need a letter cutter. He was the obsessive craftsman who could engrave a master typeface, letter by letter, on the ends of small pieces of steel. The smallest type cut was about an eighth of an inch (4pt) and the largest about an inch (72pt).  Boxwood was chosen for even larger letters. When it came to immortality, letter cutters fared less well than the designers; many craftsmen may well have become blind from such exacting work. 

Everyone sits together at the family table, whether you are big or little. It’s the same with type, since every size of inked letter has to hit the paper at the same time.  Frustratingly, those heights varied with the whim of each foundry.  At some point (I hope you are getting these puns) it was decided that some standard was required.  “Good idea”, everyone said. Now I suggest that if you want to determine a common standard, the best way is not to divide 35 by 83. But such was the wisdom in those days, and, with a few other calculations, the letterpress printers and founders arrived at metal type with a height of 0.918 inches. Bravo, everyone cheered, a Standard had been achieved. (At 23.33, the measurement doesn’t even translate, sensibly into millimeters.)

Currently we have a practical, but dull, number system (6pt 12pt 48pt etc). When type was made of something physical, the font sizes had evocative names such as minikin, pica, excelsior, paragon or brevier. Sadly, the reasons for the names have faded from memory, along with the names of paper sizes such as “crown” and “atlas”.  (My favorite is “double elephant.” What an image!) “Foolscap” survives, though.  Gone the same way is terminology like “make-ready” which means adjusting the height of worn type with tiny pieces of paper.

Think of the writings of Benjamin Franklin, and you’ll realize what romantic types printers were. As you all learn in school, inky-fingered Mr. Franklin started his working life as a printer, and was later able to indulge in politics on the proceeds. And I further my case (more puns!) by telling you that the little ornaments, which once decorated the pages of books and publications, are known as “printers’ flowers.” The imaginative printer would adorn his work with a bouquet picked from the “garden” growing in his case of type.

When setting type, the compositor would place the tray or type case of small letters at the bottom of his sloping bench with the capitals positioned above - upper case and lower case!  An apprentice’s task was to disassemble, and redistribute the used type back into the relevant cases. That was known as “dissing”. Many print shops used to line the banks of the Thames river in London, England, and, so the story goes, lazy apprentices, instead of “dissing”, would tip the type in the Thames. (Don’t drink the water!)

Today, newly emancipated by the genius of the computer, is the lucky typographer who once had to count every word in a manuscript before deciding which font, in which size, best fit the space available; a tedious, but necessary process.  But made redundant by the same technology, is the poor compositor. He was the mechanic who placed every letter, one by one into a composing stick before transferring the backwards and upside down words into metal frames or “formes”. That profession is now lost to history, along with intricate beds of letters, heavy cases of type, and lead poisoning.  Those that could, cheered!

Type founders are now computer-aided designers with marketing departments — a long way from those who supplied the descendants of the early printers, Gutenberg, Caxton and, the aptly but improbably, named, Winken de Worde.

The computer has liberated type from its physical body of an alloy of lead, antimony and tin.  Lines of letters can now run outside their prisons.  Words can bend and stretch without the straight jacket.  They can overlap and fraternize.  Letters can be made to soar and sizes changed at will. Designers can at last make type run and jump in the sun!  Every letter of even the longest word can be a different size or typestyle, although I wouldn’t recommend it.

So, when you go to the default setting of 12pt Times New Roman, be grateful, and consider the sweat (and swearing) that used to be involved in getting those 26 metal soldiers to line up and march in step.



Jan 30


Posted by robert in strong viewpoint , slogans , sanity reigns , robert lovejoy , political art , plea for peace , peace slogans , myblog , Meaningful art , irenicon , genius , cultural evolution , Buying paintings , Buying art , bold painting , Artists , Art I like , acrylic painting

Sequester your skepticism; the man before you is young and stylish; slender and clean-shaven! You have asked for his expert help. Let’s pretend!

Ladies and Gentlemen, please have a seat. My name is Selwyn Cash.  Welcome to the Madison Avenue offices of  “S/P/G” — “Slick, Pitch and Getrich”.  Congratulations, you have chosen the biggest name in advertising to plan your campaign. We fight in your corner to give customers what you want! It’s our “battle cry”. Your message will conquer the masses like an invading army.  The victor always gets the spoils!

Our best creative minds were under siege in the Hilton Hotel for days, weeks, with only room service for comfort. With that kind of sacrifice, they could concentrate solely on the plan of attack.  No, please don’t weep for the battle-scarred; they enlisted for this offensive.  We always spill blood for a cause we believe in.  We will blow you away!

Members of the “Plea for Peace Committee”, did you notice that everything I said, has combat or military references?  Of course you did, you’re bright people! I chose that set of comparisons to make you squirm. Are you wriggling?

This is what confronts us, what we fight against. See what I mean? Even in everyday language, we hit upon these analogies.

We must replace them: persuade the pugnacious; convince the violent.

Instead, let’s meet people half way, talk it out, ask questions, mediate, reflect; understand the other point of view, have a meeting of minds; converse, listen, make friends, make peace; consider the other side, step back; accentuate the positive; open a dialogue, open doors, open your heart; share ideas, share bread; celebrate difference, promote harmony, co-exist, compromise; have some fellow feeling, have some give and take, hold out a hand. Show mercy, shake hands, live and let live, love one another.

To demonstrate the ideas we have in mind, we’ll now show you some slogans: views to amuse, views to use. This new writing on the wall is no mindless graffiti, but distillations to intoxicate the air.

Firstly, co-opt the language and you will prevail. Be bold; don’t be sold! Fly the flag for peace; that’s the real Standard. Stand by your conscience.







Secondly, understand this important “contest for hearts and minds”.  You can embarrass: “Why did you start another war, Daddy?” How many lives does it take to change a regime? Render the moral-less, speechless.






Thirdly, be positive! Ploughshares feed better than war shares! Stand shoulder to shoulder and hold your heads high; let the backward see the beacon.






Lastly, expose the war promoters as old fashioned, outdated, un-cool: no-one wears spats anymore, no-one wears a crinoline. Prove their misguided opinions passe. Make the warmongers smell like fishmongers!








War destroys us all. Death is the living end: disablement a living death. “The fortune of war, let me explain, is a wooden leg not a golden chain”.  Keep these phrases flying until the circling hawks plummet.  Repeat them out loud; repeat them to yourself; repeat them to death. Educate the ignorant; enlighten the blinkered. Shine a light in the dark and illuminate the truth. Tell your friends; tell your neighbors; tell your children.

Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve given you our best shot!  Did anything strike you?  Have we hit our target?

Creativity is our secret weapon! Bring it on and never say



Dec 19


Posted by robert in whimsical art , whimsical , Von Janko keyboard , Typewriter , strong viewpoint , Stephen Foster , sarasota artists , sarasota art , sanity reigns , robert lovejoy , political painting , political art , Pencils , myblog , Meaningful art , local art , keyboard , Irving Berlin , interfaces , insanity file , idea painting , graphically strong image , graphic painting , genius , G B Shaw , Dvorak keyboard , dunderhead , cultural evolution , Buying paintings , Buying art , bold paintings , bold painting , bold image , Artists , Art I like , animal painting , acrylic painting

We all have to tolerate a kind of messy “cultural evolution”, which sometimes produces less than ideal results. Without being presented with possible alternatives, we end up with "the way the world is"! This collection of examples, which might be termed “interfaces”, occasionally presents some alternatives to consider: the way the world could be! The following is a ramble through a selection that I have tripped over, or bumped into, along my ever- winding road.

Over many years, like some lunatic who picks up old bus tickets, or who pockets used cigarette packs, I have been collecting cultural oddities that I feel could do with some improvement. As they sporadically appear, I stow them in a big fat file: “The Insanity File”! As you tramp the road with me, you will get a better idea of what I mean by these “interfaces”. When considering how they are used, I have in mind, the average user: ME! I am not thinking of the expert, who may well have spent even more years, (than this compendium took to assemble), lessening the interference the various interfaces cause, between what we wish to achieve, and how to accomplish it.

I’ll start with language, which is a mental interface. It is the device or method I use to express my thoughts, and the filter by which I understand your thoughts. We can all cite some ridiculous examples of language, but to give a mundane one: why don’t all plurals in English work just by adding an ‘s’ to the singular form?  Studying the history of a language (its etymology) will provide answers.  And how about how words are spelled?  Same answer!

Bernard Shaw’s assertion that “if we don’t spell the way we speak, we will soon be speaking the way we spell” may eventually come true. I think that he may have forgotten the role accents play in determining speech, since the same spelling can and is, sounded in different ways, leading to more confusion. In British English, B-U-O-Y is pronounced BOY, not BOOEE. Bernard Shaw was able to demonstrate that the word, FISH, could be spelled as G-H-O-T-I… ‘GH’ from ‘rouGH’, ‘O’ from ‘wOmen’, and ‘TI’ from ‘staTIon’.   What fun there is to be had at the expense of these idiosyncrasies!

Jumping from the mental to the physical, here’s a different interface. The spade that Irishman, Bernard Shaw, might have used when digging his potatoes, is a very practical object. It has a heart-shaped, pointed metal blade, and a long wooden handle that tapers outwards towards the top.  The sharp point penetrates the soil easily, just as any wedge-shaped object does.  The widening of the handle prevents sweaty hands from sliding off the end.  An English spade, on the other hand (or is that in the other hand) has a square-ended blade.  It has a triangular termination for one hand on the end of a short wooden handle. It is not much use for digging, and is more like a gentleman’s toy in comparison. It comes into its own when leaned on in order to discuss the weather. This implement stands up nicely against a shed wall, which is where it should remain.  The English spade is, in appearance, a well-developed, refined tool, but is nothing, in actual use, compared with its Irish rival.

A writer may or may not need a spade, but if a pen is not mighty enough, they might choose a typewriter as their weapon. The typewriter or computer keyboard is a prime example of an interface urgently needing reform.  You would have thought that the common word ‘THE’ would be quicker to type than the less common ‘TOP’.  It isn’t, and the reason for the problem is historic.  Typists could type faster than the primitive mechanism of the time would allow.  The keyboard layout was devised to slow them down.  With the advent of the electronic keyboard you would think that all that expediency could be behind us.  It is like trying to swim with rocks strapped to your legs, but the manufacturers and we, press and press and press blindly on.  There is a solution to this problem.  My ‘Insanity File’ has a page or two on the Dvorak keyboard, which has far more logical layout.  Commonly used letters are grouped under the index fingers, the less common under the middle finger and so on to the least adept pinky.  Surprisingly, most computers actually have the Dvorak layout built into the operating system. Maybe the keyboard manufacturers never noticed!

This leads me on to piano keyboards.  What a ridiculous set up!  Popular composer, Irving Berlin’s talent was in composing, not playing. Since he could only reliably play in the key of “F sharp” (using just the black notes) Mr. Berlin needed a specially adapted keyboard, which would transpose from that key to any other. He could have chosen to play in the key of “C” all the time, by just hitting the white keys. If not in “C”, he would have been all at sea! And why wasn’t “A” chosen to sit so well on the white notes, instead of the third letter in the alphabet? (Not that the letter names really matter!) Perhaps you can tell me.

There is a clever example of a piano keyboard that does allow one to play easily, in any key.  Learn the layout for playing in C major, and, as if by magic, by shifting just your starting position, all the correct notes fall under your fingers in the same way for playing in C, D, A flat or whatever.  That keyboard is known as the Von Janko.  It has other, almost inadvertent, properties that elaborate the possibilities of the piano.  It is a total rethink, rather than a mere adaptation. Brilliant!  It is used in a modified form on continental chromatic accordion keyboards.  Sadly, It seems that pianists have spent far too many hours practicing the difficult keys and developing their finger skills over years in unbelievably ways, to change to the Von Janko.  We are impressed by their displays of dexterity, but could impress ourselves with our untapped talent, if we had access to such a keyboard. There is an old example of this keyboard at songwriter Stephen Foster’s old home.

After letters, numbers are yet another instance.  Speakers of Cantonese are able to manipulate 9 digits in their heads.  The best the average Westerner can do is 7.  Maybe that’s why there are so many Chinese!  Their astounding ability is due to the logic of their number system.   Number words are short and work sensibly together.  They don’t have the anomalous 11, 12, 13 to 19 that we have or the ridiculous ‘four twenties, ten, eight’ that the French have for 98. Amusing perhaps, but inconvenient in the extreme. It wouldn’t take much to jettison these aberrations.  The world didn’t end when the European Union countries changed their currencies to the Euro.  Britain’s quaint 12 pennies to a shilling and 20 shillings to a pound system was lost, eventually, to the beautifully simple system of counting in 10s.  I could talk about measuring in the even older chains, perches and scruples, but will spare your poor ears!

The world also didn’t end when the calendar we use today, was corrected in September 1752, and everyone thought they’d lost 11 days from their lives!  As far as logic goes, 360 degrees in a circle is just silly! And so is 60 seconds in a minute, 24 hours in a day, or 7 days in a week.

And do you realize that, with inches and feet, you have to remember 3 numbers for every dimension, (think of 13 and 11/16ths) instead of just one number when using millimeters. Try carrying more than 3 of those numbers along with your plank of wood, on the journey from measuring to electric saw. These things can be changed if the will is there in sufficient numbers; we just need a slight cultural shift, or a critical mass to make it happen.  What is really needed in all these examples is the cultural equivalent of the enzyme used to snip out pieces of DNA in the lab, in order to manipulate its sequence.  Get rid of the gene “for” “Dunderhead” and replace it with the one for “Genius”! If only!

A chair may be a beautiful piece of visual design, but your rear end can tell just how comfortable it is far better than your eyes.  If you always had to walk 10 miles to get to your breakfast, or swim across the river to get home every evening, you might quickly harness a horse or invent the bridge.  Fix these interfaces, and a whole herd of horses will be able to gallop over the mental arch of that elegant, golden span!

Our over-exerted brains, sore eyes, tired hands, and slack mouths will thank you, once these annoying, officious gate-keepers become truly invisible servants. 

Although I do enjoy these quirks of history it is time for me to close the folder and let some sanity reign (spelled ‘REIGN’).





Nov 02


Posted by robert in robert lovejoy , Meaningful art , Buying paintings , Buying art , Artists , Art I like

To state the obvious, art is made by artists!  It doesn’t grow on the walls of galleries or museums like some multi-colored species of moss.  However mysterious, it has to be thought of, and made by, a ‘species’ of human being!  Most good artists are dedicated to what they choose to produce.  They care.  They take time and want to sell a well-made “product”. When they choose to paint a particular subject, artists communicate their hopes or fears; longings or obsessions, or just display their, sometimes, virtuosic skill.  They want the finished piece to be worthy of your admiration.

Paintings can tell stories or knock you over with sudden insights or, if abstract, just stun you with an amazing burst of colors. Paintings might be made to draw your attention to something curious, bizarre or beautiful.  They don’t always have to mean something, but could be aiming just at visceral sensation.  After all, good movies aren’t always pretty, or easy.  A satisfying, thought-provoking film, however, generates a whole range of emotions, some hard to explain or even give a name to.

Art can give pleasure even when the subject is dark or blunt.  It can be, for example, funny, thought provoking, political, or gut wrenching, sometimes all those and more in the same painting. Each piece has its own personality and like our friends, is sometimes, opinionated, argumentative, irritating, amusing or conciliatory, as well as, perhaps, being good looking!

Own a number of paintings by different artists and you bring together all these diverse personalities, much like having friends over for dinner.  The party works even though opinions and views differ. The individuals dress differently, their styles or opinions may clash, but the common link is that you chose them, because you like them and enjoy their company.

Most of us, unfortunately, don’t have the millions now needed to buy an original painting by the famous, but impecunious, example of Van Gogh, so, I suggest an alternative: buy art from living artists.

Instead of the archetypal image of the starving artist, the world could be filled with well-fed artists directly reaping the benefits of their work, while they are alive. A high percentage of artists spend more of their time doing something else other than making art, in order to make ends meet.  A sad state of affairs! As we know, Van Gogh starved for his art.  “A+” for a chapter of romantic history but a decided “F” for his bank balance and stomach! There is nothing sadder or more unjust, from the artist’s point of view, than art dealers elevating the price of paintings immediately after the artist dies of starvation.

If you decide to take this advice and purchase the work of contemporary artists, it is best not to fall for the easy approach, when selecting a painting.  You may know the kind of thing – a painting that matches the décor or commemorates a favorite pet – nice and comforting, possibly, but not particularly innovative! Surprise your friends; consider buying an original by a lesser known or even an unknown painter, instead of another reproduction by an artist with a household name.  Be bold, take a chance, go for something different!  A painting should not be wallpaper, or become part of the background like Musak. Support artists and you never know, you may end up owning the next icon that defines the decade. All it takes is the courage to trust your taste and opinion.

What else is there to consider when buying a painting?  Do you remember best those kids at school who didn’t fit the mould, or the most eccentric individuals who worked with you years ago? My guess is that you do! Avoiding the safe, and by choosing the different or interesting, could lead you down undiscovered pathways — the road less traveled.

Approaches and styles of painting are, hopefully, as varied as each artist.  Art is made by individuals exploring the world in order to explain and communicate its wonders or lack of them.  Look at art, enjoy art, but definitely buy art. 

Art is an adventure!


Oct 23


Posted by robert in robert lovejoy , Pencils , Meaningful art , Art I like

We are reliably informed that pencils are made from the pencil cedar, so it was an obvious choice when deciding which tree to select in the making of pencils.
Pencils are the length they are simply because the pencil cedar is very small, and the branches are exactly 8” long. They are also dead straight and naturally contain graphite.

The “H” and “B” on pencils mean “hard” and “black”, which, in the past, lead to some controversy. The guardians of our morals decided that pencils would therefore have to go by a number system, such as Number 2, for example. I don’t really understand the controversy, I’m afraid.

In Victorian times and earlier you had to buy your pencils unsharpened. Men and, some brave women, would call out in the street “point your pencil, sir”. The best “sharps” as they were called had handfuls of well-trained squirrels to put a perfect point on your writing implement.

In about 1830, one rainy morning at 8.15,  Sir Benjamin Fanshaw invented the mechanical, steam driven pencil sharpener, patented as the “Novo Sciurus” (the New Squirrel). This naturally doomed the squirrels’ former industrious ways. Consequently, the poor animals were abandoned in huge numbers, which accounts for our, and their, present predicament.

There used to be no way of erasing a misplaced word; consider Charles Dickens interminable novels. To accomplish the shortening of Mr. Dickens writings, Queen Victoria decided to send the entire British army to India to seek out the mythical India Rubber. Unfortunately attaching the rubber to the end of a pencil took another generation, resulting in the shorter novels of Virginia Woolf, although some consider those too long, however short.


Oct 23


Posted by robert in sarasota art , robert lovejoy , Meaningful art , local art , bold painting , Art I like , art

A view from the Gripe Department: I have seen two exhibitions recently. One was of Turkmenistan jewelry, and the other of African-American quilts. In both instances the makers were described as "artists". Considering the jewelers in question worked mainly making armor, maybe "artisans" would be more appropriate. Also, most of the quilts were not that well designed or made, so "makers" or “quilters” should have been enough. I don’t really object to anyone calling themselves an artist, but museums and gallery spaces should have some better understanding of the intention of the people involved in the creative process: not everything that is chosen to hang on museum walls is necessarily made by artists, however interesting. Do museums wish to edify or just glorify? Maybe you become an "artist" once a museum or gallery decides to display your work, whatever the quality.


Oct 21

The New Baby is Born and on its Way in the World!

Posted by robert in robert lovejoy , Meaningful art , Art I like

Here is my new and improved website — thanks to Gabriel and his team. I'm so happy that I will be able to upload new pictures with relative ease right from my computer.

(Oh, yes, and let's not forget the other processes involved on the road to posting them: the weeks of painting, Miguel's professional scanning into digital form, and the nice black frames supplied by Ossi!)

My intention is to post something every week or so, in some way related to art or imagination. (Let's hope I'm not paving the broad, beaten, pleasant road with even more intentions to get me from here to the supposed Hellish end!) It might be something I've seen locally, or discovered in the wider world. It might be some piece of writing, an image or just something that amuses me. A complaint or something that has thrilled my eyes may fill the space. Occasionally, it could be a story or essay I've written.