Shapes for Sounds (cowhouse) (2008)
Shapes for Sounds (cowhouse) (2008)
Casebound, paper over boards, illustrated doublures with foldouts, sewn book block, endbands. H250 x W225 mm. 176 pages. Acquired from KP Enterprise, 13 September 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Timothy Donaldson’s Shapes for Sounds (cowhouse) gives the word infographics an amusing twist. Here the alphabet, which began in pictographs, winds up in an alpha-pictographic form of representation: twenty-six double-page spreads and thirty-seven appendices mapping almost all of the alphabet’s vast terrain. A tour de force of design (the main text is even set in a typeface of the author’s making, and the double-sided foldouts integrated with the endpapers are sheer showmanship), the book can almost be forgiven for missing out the ampersand.
Calligrapher, typographer, performer, letterworker (as he calls himself) and artist, Donaldson could rightly call Shapes for Sounds (cowhouse) an artist’s book if he wanted. Among the alphabet reference works in the Books On Books Collection (and those consulted elsewhere), it has these claims to singularity in addition to its artistry.
- A: It uses a blueprint to create a broad and deep infographic of each letter’s historical development, features and representation in a variety of post-type systems (sonogram, sign language, maritime flags, semaphore, punch card, barcodes, dot matrix, segment display, OCR, ASCII, Unicode, HTML, Braille, prison tap code, etc.).
- B: It demonstrates the interrelated historical developments of the majuscule and miniscule letterforms.
- C: It makes a principled exploration of how the shapes of letters might have taken different forms from those they have today.
The text in the first third of the book presents discursively what the twenty-six infographics present in particular for each letter and also whet the reader’s appetite for the additional detail in the thirty-seven appendices, which delve deeper into such topics as the phonemehead (the author’s cartoon for illustrating per letter the positions of our sound-making apparatus), ductus (the order and direction of strokes for making a letter), Trajan’s column, the Ugaritic alphabet and more (including an explanation of cowhouse).
Being a tour de force of design, Shapes for Sound (cowhouse) might appeal mostly to students of design and typography, but students of the history of writing, linguistics, communications and book design in particular would be amiss to overlook it. As a reference work that enriches enjoyment of works of book art such as Lanore Cady’s Houses & Letters, Cari Ferraro’s The First Writing, Abe Kuipers’ Letters or Cathryn Miller’s L is for Lettering, it plays a valuable role in the alphabet-related subset of the Books On Books Collection.
“Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.
“Lanore Cady“. 16 December 2022. Books On Books Collection. Artist’s book.
“Lyn Davies“. 7 August 2022. Books On Books Collection. Reference and fine print.
“Cari Ferraro“. 1 February 2023. Books On Books Collection. Artist’s book.
“Rudyard Kipling and Chloë Cheese“. 15 February 2023. Books On Books Collection. Illustrated children’s book.
“Abe Kuipers“. 15 February 2023. Books On Books Collection. Artist’s book.
“Cathryn Miller“. 1 September 2019. Books On Books Collection. Artist’s book.
“Don Robb and Anne Smith“. Books On Books Collection. Illustrated children’s book. [In progress]
“James Rumford. 21 November 2022. Books On Books Collection. Illustrated children’s book.
“Tiphaine Samoyault“. Books On Books Collection. Illustrated children’s book. [In progress]
“Ben Shahn“. 20 July 2022. Books On Books Collection. Artist’s book.
“Tommy Thompson“. 21 August 2022. Books On Books Collection. Reference.
Catich, Edward M. 1948. A Theory of Development and Lineage for the Roman Alphabet. Davenport Iowa: St. Ambrose College. Donaldson’s Appendix 10 is useful in conjunction with this.
Hodgson, Jane. 30 September 2011. “Timothy Donaldson – a site specific text installation at Devon Guild“. Accessed 30 September 2022.