Designing with Letterforms

A full-day workshop with Paul Shaw

This workshop was developed thirty years ago in response to ideas found in the writings of Nicolete Gray. The goal of the workshop is to demonstrate that effective and exciting designs can be created without the use of images (photographs, drawings, illustrations, cartoons, etc.); that words and letters alone can do the job. To this end, I emphasize exploring and experimenting with nine basic approaches to looking at and working with letterforms: line, shape, negative space, pattern, rhythm, substitution, alteration, decoration, color. This is not a class for learning calligraphy or the drawing of letters. Instead, it welcomes all forms of lettermaking—calligraphy, script, cut-out letters, carved letters, drawn letters, type, etc.—as possible sources for solving design problems. Numerous examples of designing with letters taken from a broad range of historical and geographical sources are shown. Some of the people whose work I show are: Piet Zwart, Herb Lubalin, Bradbury Thompson, Hermann Zapf, Hans Schmidt, Jan van de Velde, Pentagram and Robert Indiana.

In the one-day version of the workshop we will focus solely on line, rhythm, shape and negative space. The first two topics are gestural. Line looks at the effect that different tools and surfaces have on letterforms. Rhythm focuses on the influence of movement on letterforms. The second two topics are more conceptual or mental. Shape and negative space are about making letters that form a group, yet function individually.

Materials and Schedule

  • Materials for this workshop will be provided and are included in the registration fee.
  • The workshop goes from 10:00 am–6:00 pm with a break for lunch.

About Paul Shaw

Since 1980, Paul Shaw has taught calligraphy, lettering, typography, book design, the history of graphic design, and the history of typography at a variety of New York-area universities and design schools. He teaches calligraphy and typography at Parsons School of Design, and the history of graphic design at the School of Visual Arts. He has led calligraphy workshops in the U.S. and Italy, and has lectured widely on a variety of lettering and design history topics. From 1997 to 2000 Shaw co-led the Legacy of Letters tours of Rome and Tuscany with Garrett Boge. He revived the tours in 2010 and, with the help of Alta Price, refocused them on Northern Italy. He is currently the editor of Codex.

A STA and CBPA partner event

This workshop is the first in a series of collaborative workshops co-sponsored by the Society of Typographic Arts and the Center for Book and Paper Arts. The short classes in this series will explore ways that graphic designers and artists can engage in new material practices.

Center for Book and Paper Arts

Header image provided by Paul Shaw to showcase the type of lettering covered in the workshop.
Lettering by Hermann Zapf.