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Nulla dies sin linea. No day without a line

Leszek Bielski

Bona Nova is a revival project of Bona typeface designed in 1971 by the author of polish banknotes – Andrzej Heidrich. Besides giving the project a digital font form the aim was to expand the base character set: preparation of small caps, designing the alternative glyphs and multiple opentype features.

Working together with the author, Mateusz Machalski designed two new text versions: regular and bold – to give the family a form of a classic script triad. Complete family is distributed under a free license. It is accompanied by three display versions and three contour versions under the name of Bona Sforza. Take a look at the interview with Andrzej Heidrich, which was done by Leszek Bielski and Mateusz Machalski. 

MM: I always believed that typography is closer to music than graphic design – we have rhythm, trail, composition, and time which makes the letter work. Which music do you like to listen to?

AH:I like classical music the most – Bach and Haydn. And, for instance, I am not very fond of Mozart.


MM: Bach could be easily named mathematician among composers. With his work everything is logical and consistent. Is the music that you enjoy reflecting your design work?

AH: Yes, in Bach’s compositions everything is built from top to bottom, with utmost consistency. Every detail is designed and is a result of the former. I sense great coherence in this music. It gives a sense of harmony which occurs also in good design. Definitely Bach gets to me the most and I feel his music deeply.

MM: Do you have your favourite part of the design process?

AH: I know that some people like the sketching stage, other the part of perfecting the details. I, on the other hand, always thought of design as a whole and enjoyed each stage. Regarding the creative process itself – first a good idea has to exist, then comes the drawing. I started with drawing on translucent paper and then transferred it to a decent Italian bristol paper. I painted the whole thing afterwards. I bought a set of paintbrushes in Italy. Exquisite – I still keep one of them unopened to this day. While painting I put the paint with the tip of the brush dot after dot – a meticulous job (laugh).

Review and correction of "Bona Nova" by Mateusz Machalski & Andrzej Heidrich. Photo: Leszek Bielski Review and correction of "Bona Nova" by Mateusz Machalski & Andrzej Heidrich. Photo: Leszek Bielski

LB: I apologize (laugh) crazy wild…

AH: My design process was different from the way most of my colleagues worked. I always envied for instance Stanny or Wilkoń. They were able to work spontaneously. They grabbed a paintbrush and worked as painters like to say alla prima. I was never able to be this way. I even tried it at some point, but I ended up discarding all that work (laugh). Apparently I am of different construction.


MM: Where did you find the knowledge of how the letters should be drawn? Type design is taught with utmost respect at the art academies nowadays on various courses. How did it work during your student time?

AH: My typographic career, if you can call it that way (laugh), started at the graphic school located on Konwiktorska street in Warsaw during the occupation time. I finished my primary school and had to attend secondary school afterwards. There were no normal secondary schools – just so-called craft schools. You could have chosen either a trade school or carpentry. I happened to live in Żoliborz district close to Konwiktorska street. And so, I chose the graphic arts secondary school. I passed the exams, even though I had never anything to do with this domain. I didn’t really know what polygraphy is.

Work on bold version, "Bona Nova" by Mateusz Machalski. Photo: Mateusz Machalski Work on bold version, "Bona Nova" by Mateusz Machalski. Photo: Mateusz Machalski

LB: And it all ended up with more than 60 years of work (laugh)…

AH: The head of the school was Bolesław Penciak, graphic arts – including lettering – was taught by Aleksander Sołtan. He told us how to properly trace the letters, what kind of light it should have – all the basics. But most of all he taught us the printing techniques. We had to get familiar with all the stages of the process: starting with the typesetting room, typographic machinery with lithography at the end. Everybody had to learn both about the machine and how to operate it. This knowledge proved itself very useful during my time at the publishing house. As a graphic artist with little experience in machine operation I was not a complete “newbie” so to say. I also studied lithography, that unfortunately was not of much use later on. But I knew how to polish the stones smoothly or roughly. Then the revolution begun in the print industry and the stones remained only in the graphic arts.

MM: Could you tell us more about one of your teachers? LB: It was in fact Adam Półtawski.

AH: Yes, Półtawski taught us as well and he led the typesetting studio. He was a delightful elderly man. But definitely tough and demanding of honest work. He never let go. Well, just a good teacher all in all… You would typeset a page of text and he took a pencil and found with it: “Oh! Here is a channel, here is a wrong word division, this has to be eliminated”. I have fond memories of him. I definitely learnt a lot of precision and care for detail from him.

MM: Did Półtawski also teach typography and how to draw lettershapes?

AH: No, his class was about designing simple prints and typesetting. However, still in my secondary school time, Półtawski was planning to design a sans typeface. It did not work out in the end, but he asked me sometimes, well not really asked, he said “Do this and that…”. He sketched and I was supposed to perfect the drawings and correct them in a way, that everything looked cohesive. Półtawski was just approaching to start working on this project. He made a variety of sketches and corrections, but the Warsaw uprising started, so the project from understandable reasons was never finished. Nothing remained of it, as it never got to the stage of casting the type.

Digitisation of Q letter, "Bona Nova" by Mateusz Machalski Digitisation of Q letter, "Bona Nova" by Mateusz Machalski

LB: Have you noticed his way of drawing or work in general?

AH: Półtawski designed and sketched on translucent paper. First, second, third sheet. When the drawing was ready you transferred it by smudging soft pencil on the back of the sheet. Afterwards you would press it through on paper with a sharp tool, a needle of some sort, and that was supposed to be the final medium. On top of that you would start pulling it out in ink. Pulling it out is a different way to say precise perfecting of the final glyphs form with a thin brush. The colours had to be designed beforehand, but that was a separate matter. Półtawski’s designs were purely typographic, so black and white. Professor asked me to help him in such drawings. This way I could learn a bit how to prepare such projects.

MM: To what extend you would say that you owe your type design skills to Półtawski?

AH: While I worked with the professor I never thought that this will ever be something I would do, that I will design scripts. I had never planned for it to happen back then. Later on, while I studied at the Academy, after finishing my secondary school on Konwiktorska, I thought that why shouldn’t I try creating something of that sort. But Bona had nothing to do with Półtawski, as at that time we were not in touch anymore. And all the technicalities related to typesetting and how to form a column I learnt at the graphic school.

MM: Półtawski was the author of the first polish banknotes – Polish Marks. While studying with him did you know that he did that?

LB: He also designed postal stamps – tiny art pieces.

AH: I did not know that. I found out about it while I started working with the Polish National Bank.

MM: Than it is just a giggle of history. LB: You learnt precision and attention to detail that are required in the type design process, not only from Półtawski, but also professor Lenart, who led the bookbinding classes… 

AH: While working on a book one needs to pay great attention to precision and that the glue does not come out! But gluing in those stripes was a horror… First you had to cut the blotting paper. Of course, there was no discussion about using a ruler or measuring tape. One had to cut at face value and glue it right away. It gave a chance to get into precise work. 

LB: It is not a task for impatient people!

MM: Or in fact it is for them to get toned down! 

LB: Did you have a wide selection of type available at school?

AH: For the time being it was pretty decent. It was a secondary school that existed even before the war so it had well equipped. We could not complain.

Metal type set of "Bona" in typesetting studio of Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. Photo: Mateusz Machalski Metal type set of "Bona" in typesetting studio of Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. Photo: Mateusz Machalski

LB: How do you reminisce your time of studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw?

AH: Wonderful! My whole pack from High School of Art in Warsaw decided to attend the same school – Jan Lebenstein, Jacek Sienicki, Marek Oberländer, and my future wife Maria Wieczorek. I really liked the time of studies. It was a different era. Today we can meet people engaged in graphic design without any obstacles, there is internet, special press. At that time, the Art Academy was this kind of window to the world – someone had gone somewhere, came back and told about what they found out on their foreign trip. I really enjoyed spending time at that place. 

LB: Was typography part of the curriculum of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw at that time?

AH: I attended the classes in Jan Marcin Szancer studio who mainly focused on illustration, so typography was important, but not the most important. The professor graded the whole project – illustration plus the letter, without judging them separately. He did not impose his way of designing, but he said that one must think about the whole project. Not the way that, let’s say, now I design the cover, and later on we shall see. It is really important while composing children’s books. There was no student who would learn solely typography or calligraphy. Every one of us had to study how to properly draw letters and adjust them so they fit a certain project on their own and getting better learning on their own mistakes.

Mr. Andrzej Heidrich watching growing collection of foreign banknotes. Photo: Mateusz Machalski Mr. Andrzej Heidrich watching growing collection of foreign banknotes. Photo: Mateusz Machalski

LB: Was there a special community formed around Szancers studio?

AH: It was not that we really stuck together, but I had a few friends. It happened that while I was already working at The Reader it happened that a few employees left the graphic studio and just the two of us remained. Jan Samuel Miklaszewski asked me: “We will not be able to make it on our own, maybe you have some friends from the Academy who would like to come and join us?”. I proposed Jan Młodożeniec, Jurek Jaworowski and Marian Stachurski, who came and worked there for a few solid years.

LB: So all of them graduated from Szancers studio?

AH: I am not sure if they did their diploma with Szancer or Henryk Tomaszewski, but all of them were my yearmates.

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