‘Typography means more than bringing order to the passing on of information; it implies elevating to the sublime the mould in which the process of passing on is cast.’
Frank E. Blokland (Leiden, 1959) studied Graphic and Typographic design at the Royal Academy of Art (kabk) in The Hague from 1978 until 1983. As a student of the renowned Gerrit Noordzij (1931–2022), he founded the workgroup Letters], of which many nowadays well-known Dutch type designers became members. May 2022, the Type Directors Club (tdc) asked Frank to write a personal in memory of Noordzij for the 43rd edition of their annual report.
During the eighties, Blokland designed the lettering of a number of monuments, among which the Homomonument next to the Westerkerk in Amsterdam.
During that period he worked together with the famous sculptor Frans de Wit on a number of monuments for the cities of Leiden and Oegstgeest.
Also around that time Blokland started to cut letters in stone.
Blokland set up the television course Calligraphy, the Art of Writing in 1989 and wrote the accompanying book, of which 16.000 copies went over the counter in the early 1990s. Further since the 1980s he has written some 150 articles on type design and font production for various graphic and design magazines, like Compres, Pers, PrintBuyer, Hamburger Satzspiegel, and Page.
During the 1990s Blokland worked closely together with the design agency
Hazelhoff de Vaal & Partners (vh&p) on a number of logo’s and mastheads.
Blokland bought his ﬁrst computer in 1983: an Acorn Electron. He programmed a simple tool to digitize, interpolate, and modify vectorized letters. It was named ‘DrawMonkey’, which is the literal translation of ‘Tekenaap’, (Dutch synonym for pantograph). In order to get output other than on screen, people had to be quite inventive at the time to connect printers, install eproms, etcetera. Although DrawMonkey functioned well in all its simplicity (see image above), Blokland realized that others were better equipped for programming than he was, as he was more adept at designing type himself. This insight formed the basis for the later long-lasting cooperation (from 1991 until 2020) with urw in Hamburg, Germany, which ultimately resulted in the advanced dtl FontMaster (fm) and FoundryMaster (fm2) tools. Today, dtl’s proprietary font tools are still developed in collaboration with the same programmers who started the work in 1991.
After years of preparation, Blokland founded the Dutch Type Library in 1990, (dtl), the iconic pioneering and proudly independent high-quality digital type foundry. It was the ﬁrst of its kind in the Low Countries.
A few years later, he initiated and supervised the development of dtl FontMaster , a set of utilities for professional font production developed jointly by dtl and the Hamburg-based company urw.
Blokland designed typefaces such as dtl Documenta, dtl Documenta Sans, dtl Haarlemmer (on the basis of drawings by Jan van Krimpen), dtl Haarlemmer Sans, and dtl Romulus (also based on drawings by Jan van Krimpen).
For about a decade the seriffed and sans versions of dtl Documenta formed the house-style fonts of Amsterdam’s famous Rijksmuseum. The typeface has been used for the signage inside and outside the museum, publications, annual reports, etcetera.
dtl Documenta has been used in Gotteslob , the new prayer and song book of the Catholic church in Germany and Austria. The 3.6 million copies (1,300 pages each) required eight tons of red ink and about 3,000 tons of lightweight paper (40 grams) to produce.
Of the 2017 edition of the Luther Bibel, typeset in dtl Documenta and dtl Caspari (designed by Gerard Daniëls), 260,000 copies were printed for the Evangelische Kirche in Germany in October 2016.
Since 2010, new street signs have been placed in the city of Haarlem, for which dtl Haarlemmer is used. The design agency Bureau Arjan Karssen selected the seriffed version for the street signs in the historic city center, and the accompanying sans serif is used on the street signs for the newer parts of the city.
When Gerrit Noordzij retired from the kabk in 1987, Blokland was the ﬁrst of the younger generation to succeed him. As a Senior Lecturer, Blokland teaches writing, letter drawing, type design, and aspects of font production at the Graphic Design department.
Since 1995 Blokland has taught at the Plantin Institute of Typography (part of the Plantin Society) under the roof of the illustrious Museum Plantin-Moretus in Antwerp, where he also became Senior Lecturer.
He has also taught as visiting professor at institutes such as Technical University of Delft, the University of Reading, and Lahti Polytechnic University.
Since 2019 Blokland is co-organizer and author of the program of the annual Typography Summer School at the University of Antwerp, which takes place under the umbrella of the university and the Plantin Institute of Typography.
In 2004–2011 Blokland designed the lettering for the newly restored stained-glass windows of the St. Peter’s Church in Leiden, the Netherlands. On YouTube a short ﬁlm (Dutch spoken) shows the restoration of the church, and the design and production of the lettering.
April 2013 Blokland designed the calligraphic lettering of H.M. Queen Beatrix’s Abdication Act. The letters on the deed, in Humanistic minuscule and italic counterpart, with all their contextual letter-variants, were written by Blokland and transferred by himself in two digital fonts: Abdicatie Regular and Abdicatie Italic using the dtl FontMaster tools. The text was then silkscreened on parchment. A short video was made for the National Archives in The Hague about the creation of the Abdication Act.
In the summer of 2016, as guest curator, Blokland organized the exhibition of Renaissance type-foundry material (in relation to digital type technology) at the historic type foundry of Museum Plantin-Moretus. He did this together with Kris Geysen, curator of printed material at the museum.
Blokland also wrote the texts for, and designed the panels on the historical type-foundry’s wall.
On 11 October 2016 at 11:15 a.m. Blokland successfully defended his PhD dissertation at Leiden University. Blokland’s research was conducted to test the hypothesis that Gutenberg and his colleagues had set up a ﬁxed standardized and even unitized system for the production of textura type, and that this system was extrapolated for the production of roman type in Renaissance Italy.
Outcomes of this research have been translated in a set of Python extensions for, for example, the Glyphs font editor, named ‘ls Cadencer’ and ‘ls Cadenculator’. The extensions were developed by type designer Lukas Schneider in cooperation with Blokland. These two tools are meant for applying auto-spacing to fonts, using an intrinsic underlying grid in roman and italic type for calculating the side-bearings. This principle and algorithm was developed by Blokland and is based on the systematization, standardization, and unitization in the Renaissance type production. The software can be used to replace optical spacing completely, or it can be applied supplemental to spacing by eye.
May 2018 the University of Split, Croatia, published Osnove oblikovanja pisma, a book on type-design fundamentals by Dr. Nikola Djurek and Blokland. On the one hand it combines elements of Blokland’s calligraphy course book from 1990 with his more recent research into the origins of the harmonics, patterns and dynamics in movable Latin type. On the other hand it contains information from Djurek’s PhD dissertation on the history of and conventions for Croatian diacritics with his ongoing research on the history of Croatian scripts (Glagolitic, Cyrillic, Latin).
Early July 2019 Wim Crouwel received the Type Directors Club (tdc) Medal 2019 from Blokland at the award-winner’s studio in Amsterdam. This informal ceremony was recorded and shown at tdc’s annual awards presentation at The Rose Auditorium of The Cooper Union in New York City on July 17.
On Saturday evening 25 June 2022, the 70th anniversary of the Plantin Society | Plantin Institute of Typography was celebrated in the breathtaking historical setting of Museum Plantin-Moretus in Antwerp. During the atmospheric event, Blokland received a Laureate Honoris Causa in recognition of his important achievements in the ﬁeld of typography in Flanders.