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.
For Principles of Typeface Design in the Type@Cooper program I’m trying to work with found lettering in Brooklyn. I started with some carved letters in Green-Wood Cemetery but didn’t like what it was turning into, so I’m doing something simpler now—inspired by this old, hand-painted RECORD & TAPE CENTER sign on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope. I’d love to turn these letterforms into a quirky sans-serif face that I’d actually use. But primarily this is to learn the basics of Robofont software and understand how to create a system of characters that work together. It’s very difficult but so far it feels like I’m addicted to drawing letters.
It all started with this tweet.
Anyone know of a ‘Duchamp’ font like this one, but better? This one is splotchy. twitter.com/soulellis/stat…
— Paul Soulellis (@soulellis) April 9, 2013
I was designing a visual identity and catalogue for Library of the Printed Web, a collection of artists’ books in a box that I’m presenting at the Venice Biennale next month. And I wanted to reference the dotted letterforms on the cover of Marcel Duchamp’s notorious 1934 Green Box, which have always intrigued me. The punch-cut letters feel both mechanical and handmade; somehow both analog and digital. They seem to float somewhere between the early 20th century and today. These are ambiguities that echo the core themes of Library of the Printed Web.
Just two-and-a-half hours later, Nina Stössinger posted this sketch.
— Nina Stössinger (@ninastoessinger) April 9, 2013
I was startled. Nina’s response was generous, and what it implied (a new font for my project) seemed too good to be true. I had expected my question to yield a link or two, or a few ideas, but not a customized typeface. More back-and-forth followed on Twitter, and then we moved to email, as Nina continued working.
It’s difficult to believe that casual correspondence on Twitter might yield something as formal and designed as a font. But as we got further into it, and as I realized that Nina was game (and dedicating serious talent to the project), I thought: of course this is happening. This is the beauty of Twitter. The best of the web. I’m engaged with a stellar community of creative people online and I’ve met many of these talented folks in person, including Nina (last summer, in Weymouth). It’s a very real community, and at times, feels like the natural extension of a private studio practice into public space. And that’s exactly what happened when Nina posted the work-in-progress to Typophile for feedback—an intense, supportive discussion suddenly developed around the font, directly impacting (and improving) the work. Openness and generosity of spirit (and vulnerability) lead to serendipitous collaboration, which leads to beautiful new work.
But without Nina’s enthusiasm and remarkable talent, none of this would have happened.
Just two weeks later, Sélavy is complete. This fully-realized, exquisite display typeface (254 glyphs), composed entirely of identical dots, was designed by Nina and based on the original 13 punched-out caps of Duchamp’s 1934 Green Box («LA MARIEE MISE A NU PAR SES CELIBATAIRES MEME»). Today, in the same spirit of generosity that created this work, we are releasing the font publicly as a free download under an SIL Open Font License. Download and enjoy! Looking forward to seeing how it’s used.
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.
Oh well, thought I’d try. The good news is that Stetson is and always will be a free download on Soulellis.com.
Perhaps while we speak, it is rising, scattered, within the confines of your empire; you can hunt for it, but only in the way I have said.
Could I reduce the Calvino quote down to one essential word? Not really. Regardless, I used one of them to create a postcard for Matthew Anderson‘s successfully-funded NYC_type project, launching soon. Empire is set in Stetson. The photograph is a view from my studio in Long Island City.
I finished the last book in the series of 12 today, so the design of Weymouths is complete. Or rather, the design of the books is complete—I still need to create the reading room experience for the installation in Weymouth, England 27 July – 12 August. The total work is starting to come into focus. After the next six proofs arrive I’ll photograph the entire set.
Spreads, round 2.
These are more final. Getting ready to send a test file to the printer on Monday (300 pages).
The thread that creates Weymouths Volume 1, The Interviews is my conversation with Jack in Weymouth, England, which references and then connects to my conversation with Jim in Weymouth, MA. But at the heart of the book is the flow of the River Wey itself, its formation lovingly detailed in the geology lesson by Jane. Jane’s section is another branch of the interviews — Jack, Jim, Jane and Geoffrey — all touching, mashing, looking at and flowing past one another. The book (and the river) bring them together.
Weymouths, the twelve volumes:
River The Interviews
Light Color Index
Erratic 40 Views of House Rock
Memory The Benches
Image The Postcards
Burial (Preservation) The Canoe Room / An Agreemt Betweene ye Inhabitants off Wamouth concerning there Land sold now to ye Towne off Wamouth, 1642
Strata Geology of Weymouth, Portland and Coast of Dorsetshire, 1884
Disambiguation The Twenty Weymouths of Wikipedia
Sea Loss of the Catherine, 1846
Ship The Coming of the Hull Company, 1923
Moon Moonfleet, J. Meade Falkner 1898
Puritan The Maypole of Merry Mount, Nathaniel Hawthorne 1837
I’m inside the book now, the first volume of Weymouths. These are very preliminary spreads—so preliminary that they’ll probably have changed when we see them next. But I’m excited to post these things in formation, before they become too precious.
These are the interviews. Jack, my guide in Weymouth, England, provides the overarching narrative. My conversation with Jack is the main thread through the book and other voices enter and exit. I’m letting the voices co-mingle. Sometimes they’re near each other, to suggest a kind of relationship. At other time I’m more forcibly mashing them up, encouraging the narrative to shift out of time and place at specific moments, to open up new spaces.
Stetson, my first font, is now available for free download under an Open Font License. That means you can use it commercially if it’s embedded in a larger product (like a book or an app), but it may not be sold on its own. So go ahead and give it a whirl—distribute it, manipulate it, make it better!
It’s a single-weight, all-caps display face so I imagine it may have limited appeal. For me, Stetson is a critical part of the Weymouths project. It comes directly out of my research, and in a way, “locates” me and the exploration within a highly specific time and place (in a shed in Weymouth, MA on January 11, 2012). It’s both of the 19th and 21st centuries, both analog and digital, vibrating between the shed, the Stetson Shoe Co. factory down the road, and the town’s ancestral heritage in Weymouth, England.
I’m now using the font in the design of the Weymouths books, and I’ll be posting design studies soon. Meanwhile, if you use Stetson and feel like sharing, send me a note—I’d love to see how it’s interpreted by others.