“Matthew Carter”


“Tradition is produced by the innovators who keep it alive.”

A few notes from Matthew Carter‘s “Genuine Imitations” talk at Type@Cooper tonight. What a remarkable man! The legendary Mr. Carter spoke about his approach to typographic revival, using Big Caslon, Snell Roundhand, Miller, Yale, Vincent and others as examples.

  • “My attitude to history is purely predatory.”
  • “If you want to use history, you need to know more than history.” (Speaking about technology, context, motivation, etc.)
  • On using both 18th and 19th C. versions of Caslon to design Big Caslon — “Walking the line between crudeness and blandness. A revival of a revival.”
  • “Accuracy is not the truth.” (Quoting Henri Matisse.)
  • On interpretation — “Too accurate and you end up with taxidermy.”
  • On the type specimen as a musical score — “Everyone who revives Caslon ‘performs’ it differently. Each performance is a critique of the original.”
  • On creating Vincent for Newsweek and a special “disaster face” headline version after JFK Jr.’s death —”Typography of the news follows the news.”
  • “Newsweek today looks like a magazine that wants to be a website.”
  • On typographic revival — “However large our forebears, and however puny your stance, you’re able to see further — at the very least, you have a slight advantage — when standing on the shoulders of giants. I feel a responsibility to use our technological advances to perfect what was possible in the past. The ghosts would approve — to innovate to the degree that’s possible.”
  • “Tradition is produced by the innovators who keep it alive.”
  • On web fonts — “I pray that there will be good web fonts, to take the heat off of me. Everyone’s bored with Georgia and Verdana. Will be interesting to see what happens to them.”
  • On Georgia and Verdana — “To design a typeface for a particular technology is a mistake. The technology eventually changes, and the face is ruined.”
  • On Helvetica — “I think often of Helvetica. I love it. I remember when it came, when it arrived. I think it’s great that it’s revived from time to time. I just wish it wouldn’t be used at small sizes.” (Talks about creating small-size use Bell Centennial for the AT&T phonebook.)
  • On knowing when a typeface is finished — “A poem is never finished. It’s only abandoned. If you’re persistent you can feel when it doesn’t gel. You change something, it’s not right, you change it again, and then you pick it up and you say, Hello typeface! It really is hard. You have to kiss it goodbye…but there’s a long, patient drudgery until it’s quite right. If you’re honest with yourself.”
  • Nick Sherman asks — Have you given much thought to how your own work will be revived in 10, 100 or 1,000 years? MC — “I like the feeling of continuum. I would like to pass it on, but I have no idea what aspects of my work would lend themselves to revival. Life is short and art is long — type designers tend to like the sense that their work will outlive them. I don’t really think about this but the idea of handing things down is a very sweet one!”