By Peg Carmack Short
In an era when typography seems to be tending toward anarchy, and "the rules are there are no rules," must an artist live by this maxim in order to receive acclaim and popularity? Dennis Ortiz-Lopez, who for over 20 years has been designing type and hand lettering for popular titles such as Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, Self, and, says, "there is an all-American trend for the '80s and the '90s-and I think it's a bad trend-to accept almost anything. I don't think you should have to break all the rules in order to do something good."

Ortiz-Lopez favors serif fonts and legible type. "You should never have to think about what type says. You should be able to think about what it says to you," he comments. "You shouldn't have to decipher what it says, and that's the problem with a lot of modern faces today."

His early interest in type stemmed from his father who he says was a "letterer of sorts." There were always type books as his house and, while still a teenager, Ortiz-Lopez discovered his talent for doing posters. He drew his first alphabet right after high school, and his only formal training in lettering was a few courses at California State, Long Beach. However, by this time he was already an established letterer and graphic designer.

But one of those early courses taught him lettering from the typographer's point of view and some of the rules by which he still designs type. While he is an accomplished Mac user, Ortiz-Lopez sees the computer as something of a mixed blessing. Capable of accessing enormous potential, it at the same time can erode design standards. As he puts it, "It [computer] puts a great deal of technology and skill together in a piece of hardware, so that anybody, no matter how lacking in taste, can on a shoestring budget produce something very professional looking-not necessarily effective or tasteful, but professional looking." Ortiz-Lopez was himself resistant to the Mac at first, but then he realized unless he wanted to go the way of the dinosaur, he would have to give it a try. But at first he found it would take 12 hours or more to do on the Mac what he could produce by hand in an hour and a half. "A few years ago, it was a worthless tool, I couldn't do anything with it. I couldn't produce artwork with any major dynamics. Then the PostScript applications were a great deal more limited than they are today."

However, with the development of Altsys' Fontographer, he was able to begin more successfully using the Mac. Now he uses it almost exclusively. He has licensed more than 20 fonts and developed a Hebrew language keyboard that allows phonetic typesetting. Anyone who knows the sounds of the letters should be able to typeset Hebrew. It allows anyone with a word processor to set Hebrew on the Mac without the use of the special Hebrew finder. The 22 Hebrew letters and 5 final forms fit into a standard keyboard.

Ortiz-Lopez markets two Hebrew fonts. One of them, called Qumran Torah Script, is designed for use in translating the Dead Sea Scrolls and matches the script found in those texts. The second, Hebrew Graphic, is a more contemporary, angular version. They are both designed to use with Adobe Illustrator.

Much of Ortiz-Lopez' work is still developing custom fonts for magazines and other editorial clients, but he rarely produces the hand lettering and special photographic effects for which he first became famous.

Although he has gone desktop, he still cautions designers, "Don't depend on the desktop to do everything for you." He still recommends that for really high quality output, color work and complex trapping, a skilled color separator is the best choice.

Further design advice he offers is, "When it comes to type and type usage, never stretch a font beyond its boundaries. Don't modify something to the point where it looks distorted. When that happens," he warns, "the reader doesn't notice the message before he notices the oddity. You don't want the type to catch the attention of the reader's eye more than the message." His number one taboo is, "Never condense anything to the point where the verticals are thinner than the horizontals."

This doesn't mean that Ortiz-Lopez doesn't believe in special effects like type going back into space or curing around an object. He just goes back to the earlier rule, "Special effects are o.k. as long as you still retain legibility."

Maybe that's why Ortiz-Lopez is so popular with prominent editors and art directors and his magazine client list reads like a "Who's Who" of the world of magazine publishing.

In a world where many seem to have forgotten the purpose of type, it is good to know that talents like Ortiz-Lopez understand the basic rules. "There is only one purpose to type," he says. "It's there to give a message, convey a thought, project an idea; it's there to produce an image in your mind. And if you can't figure out what it says, what's the point?" .

Articles included here are copyrighted by Peg Carmack Short and may not be copied in full or part without written permission of the author.

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