geotypography

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Queens.

Final Type@Cooper presentation

Final Type@Cooper presentation

Final Type@Cooper presentation

Final Type@Cooper presentation

Final Type@Cooper presentation

Final Type@Cooper presentation

I just finished a ten-week introduction to typeface design course in the Type@Cooper program, taught with great finesse by Sara Soskolne.

Stemming from my love of found lettering, vernacular, street type and place-based typography, I decided to focus on some found letterforms: the word “QUEENS,” hand-painted onto the side of a truck, parked just in front of my studio in Long Island City.

I managed to get through the design of upper and lower-case sets, the numbers and some punctuation (and an asterisk that I’m particularly fond of). It’s called Queens and here’s the PDF of tonight’s presentation. It’s still a work in progress but the personality’s there, even if many of the details remain unresolved. Queens continues the idea of place-based typography that I tried to explore with Stetson.

I struggled with it for weeks but I think it’s starting to feel like it’s from NYC, that it was born in Queens and not Manhattan or Brooklyn, that it evokes something hand-painted and not machine-drawn, that it’s approachable and of the street. Still, Queens surprised me—I never would have guessed that I would draw a fat, curvy, friendly typeface.

Learning how to use Robofont was great but this class gave me a tremendous appreciation for the massive expertise (and effort) required to design type. I feel like I barely scratched the surface—and scarily, I see how little I knew (and how ten weeks is just the beginning). Still, the slowness of the process appealed to me. Type design requires systematic thinking, obsessive attention, focus and discipline. But there’s also so much freedom, and lots of room to investigate. It was only in the last week that I discovered how fine details can expand across a system and totally change the personality of the work, and even as the class was ending, it felt like ten more doors opened.

I really have to continue with this.

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We are not interested in publishing your fonts.

Dear Paul,

The Typeboard met and reviewed your type design but unfortunately decided that we are not interested in publishing your fonts in our FontFont library. If you are working on any other type designs we would be happy to review them at our next Typeboard meeting in May. Please also state your postal adddress.

Kind regards,

Oh well, thought I’d try. The good news is that Stetson is and always will be a free download on Soulellis.com.

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Geotypography

We easily associate typefaces with a particular moment in history, or an entire era, and there’s typography that forever refers to a specific place. Gill Sans + London comes to mind, and other examples abound. Although in the case of Gill Sans, we associate it with the place because of the way it’s been applied to London, not because of where or how it was created.

And so I’m wondering about typography that comes out of a place, somehow derived from highly specific geospatial coordinates. Can a typeface be created from a corner of a room, or from a particular building? (Is geotypography a thing? It should be a thing.)

Back in 2010 I created Ding Dong, an amusing sketch for an alphabet in Venice, and I drew Divieto in Rome in 2011. In each case, something vernacular and of the place (local, casual, conversational) inspired me to create letterforms. In Venice it was the doorbells, and in Rome a particular street sign. I treat these chance finds like evidence — inspirational cues to the language and history of the place, embedded in the culture of the street. I’ve discovered that creating these alphabets is an essential part of my work in a place. The find is like a scrap, or a cell, and I grow something from it.

These alphabets tie the work to the place, and refer to my presence in the place.

So I knew I had caught something again when I photographed this photograph of a sign in a shed behind the Weymouth Historical Society in Massachusetts. I drew it out and sketched the Stetson alphabet and decided it had to be a part of the Weymouths book project (the Stetson Shoe factory was at the heart of Weymouth, MA from 1885 until 1973). Creating a working font is not my expertise, so I’ve teamed up with the awesome Thomas Jockin and we are now collaborating on Stetson (one of his sketches, above).

I’ll use it for Weymouths and then make the OpenType font available for free download.

I love this idea of geotypography, and in this case I want to go further and call it geohistorical typography. Perhaps this opposes the Modernist idea of “timeless” design (think of Helvetica and the ability to associate it with anything, anywhere). Stetson is of a highly specific dual-spatiotemporal moment — it locates itself within the original photograph (late-nineteenth century New England), and more importantly, in the shed — with me, on January 11, 2012. From this grows something new.

Stay tuned.