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Black on White

by Kim Krenz

“Black or white, Sir?” used to be asked by the British Railways dining-car steward, holding a pot of that foul, black liquid that passed for coffee in the bad, old days of post-War Britain. For me, the drink was made palatable only by the addition of quantities of hot milk.

What a difference in the Britain of today, linked by the Chunnel to the best restaurants in Europe! The Chunnel is a two way passage, and the quality of fine dining in London and Edinburgh today is as good as you will find anywhere. And, to me, there is nothing better after a memorable dinner than a cup of hot black coffee and a glass of good brandy.

With that introduction, let me proceed to the burden of what I want to say on the subject of “black on white”. We have a phrase in English that emphasizes the impression of clarity, authority, and correctness of a statement; “it was there in black and white”, implying that the statement, whatever it was, was to be taken seriously. There is authority in the written word, and, by and large, it is written in black on a white background.

While the writing, or script, may be of standard form, it may also play a part in what is written. The style of text can convey to the reader the feeling or emotion that the written passage is intended to produce. For instance, we use italics (an interesting word) to put emphasis into what we are writing. The italics may convey shock or surprise, or some more subtle inference, but they call attention to something out of the ordinary in the text. This can be true of text in English, but is profoundly true of text in some other languages, where the message carried by the text is reinforced by the way it is written.

The examples of Arabic and Chinese come to mind, where the writing is done with a brush, an implement that is sensitive to pressure in a way that a stylus is not. The process of writing then becomes akin to painting, the characters ranging from slender to broad, with terminals either pointed or brushy, depending on the impression the writer is attempting to make.

The text thus becomes more than a text; it becomes a painting, emphasizing by its style the message the text is conveying. It is a common thing to find black on white writings in Chinese or Arabic mounted and framed as one would a painting. The message may be just a few words, such as “All Under Heaven is One Home.” The message is simple and profound and can be reinforced by the way it is written. The writing becomes the message, as well as conveying the message.

As an example, let us look at the new logo for the Township, with which we are all familiar. “Selwyn” is derived from “Sel” or salt, and “Wynd”, a path; thus “salt-path.” The name thus bears no reference to anything specific to the Township. In the logo, however, “Sel”, the first three letters of the name, are given special prominence in stiff upright letters with weight and substance. The letters of the second part of the name, “wyn” are in a somewhat different style, slender and graceful, with the “y” actually a living thing, bursting forth in leaf. The overall impression is one of strength combined with grace. Whether this conveys the characteristics of our Township is an open question. For me, the logo is essentially effeminate; not surprising perhaps, having been designed by a woman, and chosen by a Council of four women and one man. The road signs give the impression of being self-effacing, particularly when executed in pastel colour. The addition of the words “Naturally Great” raises more questions than answers, and detracts from the impression made by the design. However, the logo, even with these defects, is an enormous improvement over what we had before.

When one considers how design can affect the message of text, it is not surprising that many thousands are spent by corporations on company emblems and logos. I have no idea how much ours cost the Township, but my guess is that it was a tidy sum.

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