author: Vukan Ćirić

translation into English: Vesna Janković

A story behind typography

My father Ćira [1] liked to work alone. Data on what he did exist only in notes he wrote in his books. He was so concentrated on visual language that everything he wrote about his typefaces is brief and insufficient for an objective study. I have written this text as a story about creative impulses which are behind designing typefaces as something I can offer based on analogies with what Ćira spoke and did.

Ćira was in love with letters. For him they were the purest graphic and purest communication. When it is taken into account that a typeface is element of all graphic shapes he dealt with, I believe it will not be exaggeration if I say that it had some special, almost mystical significance for him.

Besides, Cyrillic had additional aura of personal identity, for he thought that as the Serbs were are stamped with that script and that we should present ourselves with it.

For the time being I selected examples of complete author's faces [2] which Ćira named and selected no matter whether they were made as parts of someone's graphical identity, as research or product of inspiration. Each of named faces could be understood as final form of similar types he drew [3] for diversified purposes.

, Latin, 1955

I do not know if this face was already initiated or completed that year when Rastko was born and when he decided to call it by the name of his first born son.

It is versal typeface made in only one weight. I think it was devised as light, almost linear and it was a part of his character. Construction of the face is simple relation between identical horizontal rectangles. The stems are strictly horizontal and vertical hiding in themselves fine proportion of bowls and sharp angles which make the impression of animation. Some letters have variants. The face is wide and open.

Vukan, Latin, 1960

The same as the first one, this face is also a dedication. I have already mentioned that time immediately after my birth was recorded as the date of its creation

Such kind of face we would call in our home “cut” It means it was made under the influence of relief print classic technique or that it is suitable for such use. In fact typography was, in this case, enriched by Cyrillic experience he had in letters he cut for his bibliography editions. Relatively thin stems make the structure of parallel lines, cut slopes for contrast and rhythm and hardly observable serifs give optical firmness at the end.

Galerija Grafički kolektiv, Cyrillic, 1962 (Graphic Collective Gallery)

In time of this face creation Grafički kolektiv (Graphic Collective) was very important place for graphic and artistic life as a whole.

Ćira always had an explanation why he was doing something in that particular way, and not in some other. The explanation can go like this:

First, he wanted to make association to the script (and graphic) roots in Serbia and that is Cyrillic found in manuscripts: titles of the medieval manuscripts, specific rhythm of the letters and their smart accommodating. It could have been a way to position the Gallery as a place continuing tradition of graphic art in Serbia .

The second reason might have been his wish to show that in graphic each person is represented by its individuality, i.e. that Gallery is a place gathering the authors because of which he decided to select a face reflecting so much its own author.

The typeface was made so to engage emptiness in diverse combinations of letters. Although decorative in character, it is reduced and somehow solemn in that animation.

This was the first Ćira's face transformed in computer font thus becoming available to unofficial market permanently hungry for Cyrillic. Even one bakery stole part of the Gallery identity and made itself a logo of very similar type. Ćira would admire this comparison of graphic and our daily bread.

(my name) Cyrillic, 1962 (Triptych)

Another “cut” face, but this time really taken from the sample made in linocut. It was without name so I gave it one according to the title of bibliographic edition from which it was taken. It has all characteristics of the face ideal for linocut. Besides it has characteristic strokes, rhythm of the uneven thickness of the stems, play of letters in regard to the linear system, all those beautiful and unexpected forms which are provided by the graphic and only by it. When it is taken from the context in which it was created this face becomes original typographic specimen.

Akademija, Cyrillic, 1966 (Academy)

This face was made as worthy accompaniment for the symbol of the University and Academy. It was designed so that it can be used equally well on the paper, metal plates, seals, plaques and everything else Academy may need, for it was such an important institution for him. He used similar faces in many other works, predominantly on book covers and charters when it was necessary for the letters to contribute to the seriousness and solemn tone.

Although one may think it is ordinary serif face, it contains Ćira's specific typographic handwriting. The shapes are almost geometrically reduced thus providing decorative effect, legibility and possibility to be transferred in all materials. The characteristics of well worked out and well conceived face, designed to be used without problems and to remain as teaching example of usability.

, Latin, 1966/67/68

It was designed for pedagogical purposes made to be used as example for lectures at the Faculty of Applied Arts on graphic identity. Bol is a small place on the island Bra č which is very important for the history of our family. As Ćira himself wrote, the theme and the title were made as “expression of delight” towards the place and its inhabitants.

To show how different elements of identity may be harmonized Ćira designed simple face in accordance to the simple shapes he joined. The structure is again based on contrast of sharp and rounded forms. This time the contrast is witty and educational in an obvious manner. All negative surfaces are with sharp angles, all external ones are bowled which simultaneously produce variations within the stems. Through examples of its use the face suffers deformations and accommodates to various shapes in diverse ways.

, Cyrillic, Latin, 1969 (Maiden)

At this place the words of love and dedication are given new meaning. This exceptionally decorative face is dedicated to women towards whom he cherished more than “delight”. An idea to make face, as something predominantly utilitarian, a mean for expressing feelings.

This face simply flourishes from the need to express some unuttered affection. The face form, although looks alike script as to impression it makes, is in fact some strange uncial, structured from the symbols whose recognizable conventional shapes dissolve into disorderly expansion. The stems are designed so that they remind of strokes made by sharp pen and twist following playful spiral swirls.

, Cyrillic, 1970/72

This face was designed as a result of the first research on transforming Serbian handwritten Cyrillic into drawn-constructive letterforms.

The raw model was manuscript of the Fourth Gospel (John's Gospel) written in time of Despot Djurdje Barnkovi ć (1428/29). In a written comment Ćira particularly stressed the name of the manuscript's author, Inok from Dalša, obviously to pay respect to his colleague from the distant past.

The result of the selected variants of letterforms' analysis was a letterform of optimal proportions which with its shape reflected the manuscript spirit in set text. The study was made on the occasion of opening the new building of the National Library, Republic of Serbia, and it was exhibited for the first time in the Graphic Collective Gallery in 1972 on 99 card boards.

I think that for my father the name Ćirićica, was more than a words play and that he saw some destined similarity between our surname and name of our national script, some predestination and obligation to work on it.

Ilustrations: 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25

Vojničko, Cyrillic, 1975 (Soldier’s)

When designing this face Ćira kept on his table in his studio the book Blue Line of Life (Plava linija života) by Branko V. Radičević, a book about villages' monuments and tombstones posted along the roads.

Knowing my father, to put aside national sentiments which were very strong with him, I think he wanted to create a face which would be monument for the monuments. A face that will carry in itself poetry and values we forgot and before which other can bow.

His patriotism, if the word is not too much worn out, was touchingly authentic and always applied to something usable same as his art.

Face VMA, Latin, 1976/77

Grand and complex project made for Military Medical Academy (abbreviation in Serbian is VMA – Vojno medecinska akademija) which included entire graphic infrastructure but which unfortunately was never used. The only part of that study which remained for use is Latin typeface initially called by a codename LAVMA-1. It was designed for signs and sign-posts and was a base for logo. The idea was to make it legible and easy for application. Each individual letter was given with instruction for construction and was made of a simple geometric shapes, so that anyone could make them using only ruler and pair of compasses. The idea for sure was to make it as beautiful as possible with its primary simplicity and applicability.

, Cyrillic, Latin, 1982

The list of names of his faces consists of things that determined his life. And that list lack the name of the town which he discovered when after the war he came to it all alone to study graphics. In the Despot Stefan's words “…so when I came I found the most beautiful place, an ancient town of Belgrade, accidentally demolished and deserted…” he for sure found the expression of his own thoughts. One of his faces had to be called Beogradsko.

Maybe the idea in designing this face was to reconcile rounded and straight letters. The style harmony of this face is aimed at making straight letters accept some bowl and rounded ones acquire straight element wherever it is possible. Thus a harmony would be made even there where it looks impossible and where no one succeeded in achieving it. Although this does not look like a serious typographic analysis, it reminds me on Ćira's way of thinking, so let it be like it.

This face was used for designing the covers and title of his second book of graphic communications.

Duklja, Cyrillic, Latin, 1984

In this case the typeface makes basis of graphic identification. As a model for designing the face of Montenegrin Lexicographic Institute was a text from leader seal of Petar, Prince of Duklja. Ćira wrote that he “enlarged and systematize” the letters from the drawing which was made in time when the seal was in good condition and that he wanted to preserve the “freshness of irregularities” and that there were “several weights in each letter while their height is only optically the same”.

It seems that save for that irregularity which inspired and provocative vagueness this model could not offer many clear stylistic characteristics. But what Ćira could read from those forms is the language of their linocuts and cut symbols. Thus his personal style naturally added to all that was missing to finish the face.

In compromise between face with serifs and sanserifs in combination of legibility and universal applicability he saw practical solution for many tasks.

Iva's typeface, Cyrillic and Latin, 1986

My brother's daughter, Iva, was the first child that joined our family of applied artists. Ćira immediately awarded himself with the title of granddad, opened the door of his studio and showed her all those games and toys from the world of the applied and other arts. Apart from the crazy games, obligatory signum and many other things Iva got many picture books which her grandpa made from time to time. The picture books contained poems, drawings, pictures and of, course letters. On one of those picture books entitled Grandpa' Stories I have found, so far, the only place where the face was used.

It is a type of face imitating relief forms. It is unusual that relief drawing with shades and base for each sign is made as engraving. Tender shades hatched with thin pen can remind of blind embossing in paper, carved stone or cast plastic. He probably had some special purpose in mind when he made it. It is quite possible he might have been inspired by plastic letters on the door of his studio, stuck at the eye level of little Iva. Her name was there bellow her grandpa's as the name of the official resident of that space.

Vukov bukvar
, Cyrillic, 1987 (Vuk's Abecedary)

All I know so far about the origin of this face is that with its name it adds consistently to the list of important things and people in Ćira's life. For him Vuk Karadžić was the symbol of all that is valuable in our nation, and with the term literate he enveloped also graphic communication and often, for example, called bad forms “illiterate”.

As to general impression this face reminds on old times book typeset, classicistic faces used for printing books in between two wars. There is something archaic, nostalgic and eternal in it. Thus old abecedaries were aimed to last in the memory and to be repeated in new light once the time for that comes. These letters are both serious and entertaining at the same time, joyful and dignified. Their purpose is to be remembered for ever and to be loved for ever. The serifs are rounded as drops, as spilt ends of the letters in pupils' notebooks. The bowls get straight from time to time and follow serious classic stems which accommodate their planes to tender serifs. This is one of rear Ćira's faces that have lower case letters. The ratio between capital and small letters, as compared to relation between grown ups and children is perhaps another game which goes with Ćira's way of thinking.

Sava's face
, Cyrillic, 1987

A couple of years before designing this face Ćira made Charter of Consecration of St. Sava Church which was written in Cyrillic of similar character. It was recorded only on reproduction of charter text for the original was built into the Church. Probably this, much more conservative face, to whose name he added description “classic Cyrillic”, was devised from it. I believe that he gave himself a task, as he often talked about it, to design a face which will oust from use the ugly, amateurish “Miroslavljevo”, by providing attractive replacement. The form is appealing to liking and needs of the same public, but the face was done with experience and knowledge of original Cyrillic and typography.

Another self-imposed task was to make lower case forms, in fact something it does not exist in the original form of Cyrillic and which is missing to make the face completely functional. Thus he made possible setting of long texts while preserving such legibility and at least basic typographic responsibility.

Cyrillic (Epitaph, my name, unknown year)

Stone-dressing face. I found it among the files with samples for composing texts. The file contained names of many dear people, not with us any more and many years of their births and deaths written in that typeface. The original of the whole face was drawn on tracing paper and it is the only form in which it exists. Ćira never classified it among his official faces but I decided to add it for it is beautiful, functional and for sure it can be used for some other purpose.

[1] I appologize for this but I really cannot call my father otherwise than as I called him since I was a child. Writing his official name would make me feel too distant and I am writing this as someone who was very close to thim. Consequently, Ćira is Miloš Ćirić.

[2] By the term author's typefaces I understand all those faces which he made as complete in the functional sense, with all symbols and punctuation. Majority of those faces were authorized and classified as separate works with the title and year of origin.

[3] He designed all his typefaces by combining construction with classic tools (pair of compasses, ruler, drawing nib…) and free style drawing. He always used dissolved black tempera, rarely Indian ink. He used white tempera for covering letters ends. Thus he acquired precise, sharp angles at the end of stems and serifs. Then he would ask some photographer to make a photo on graphic film from which he would enlarge letters on the photo paper and cut them to compose words. The composed text would have been again recorded on the graphic film and transferred to photo paper. The appearance of copying machine meant he fulfilled all his technical needs regarding typeface and design in general. Now he could enlarge and diminish anything as much as he needed and to have ready sheets of paper from which he would cut the letters and compose the words. The edges of the cut letters he would cover with correction fluid or white tempera in order not to be seen at the final copy.

We are grateful to
Swiss Cultural Programme
Serbia and Montenegro

for the support which enabled this translation.