Gridfolk: Interview with Aeolien
Focus on FontStructors | Ata Syed | March 9th, 2022
This is a guest post from Ata Syed AKA thalamic and minimum. Ata has been FontStructing since 2008.
For the ninth (and the last) interview in this series, the FontStructor on focus is Aeolien. I shall refrain from saying anything else here except go make yourself a cup of tea (or a beverage of your choice), sit back, relax, and read…because you guys are in for a treat.
Romeao Basel by Aeolien
Tell us your background. Where were you born? Where do you live? What qualification(s) do you have? What do you do? (You can wax poetic if you like)
I was born in Germany, eldest child of a mother who liked to create decorative and useful things, and a father who worked in court until he had to take over his dad’s engineering and manufacturing business. So, I grew up learning about sorting and counting items produced in the family’s factory and later working on the shop floor, and building less functional more decorative structures with a metal construction set. This was great for my kindergarten years as other kids knew usual kids’ games which I didn’t, so we all learned from each other. This development was much to the chagrin of the supervisors who apparently complained to my parents about me being too often in the book corner with technical looking books probably aimed at older boys’ interests, rarely joining dress-up games designed for girls, and for preferring construction toys and train sets. *lol, liberated feminism would have been frowned upon had it been known then* I also learned knitting when I was 4, made paper and card clothes for my doll, constructing her a sitting/dining room inside a huge (for the eyes of a 4-year old) cardboard box for which I built and decorated cardboard furniture and made paper-mâché and plasticine and fabric objects. At the same time, learning letters and numbers and their meaning came easily to me as I liked those shapes and their decorative aspects were perfect for decorating my doll’s house and our dining room with friezes of letter and number shapes.
After a physical accident, these manual activities became an essential part of my physical therapy. Having enjoyed creative thinking and doing for 7 years, I managed to focus on the pleasure of these activities, to push discomfort more into the background which helped me to learn how to overcome frustrating limitations more effectively; finding solutions when an activity was difficult because movements or enabling equipment were lacking, etc. This led me to realise that this new me is like the old one but interested to find workable solutions to problems.
Before the accident I had wanted to become a plastic surgeon — a choice based on wanting to ease the distress and pain I heard discussed and saw during visits of my dad’s friend and his family, people for whom the war (?) continued on a different level. I could see how this man’s life could be less painful, stressful, and lonely with less disfigurement and I planned to help him and all those I saw in a similar situation.
After my accident I also discovered how cruel people can be with someone who has a visible disability. My limitations showed me that I needed a less physical job, but I didn’t want to give up the part of my dream about helping people suffering from this kind of discrimination. I decided to become a teacher and obtained a place at a grammar school. The art lessons were liberating. We all were on the same level of discovery and each work was important to everybody. Art was and is a great leveler, allowing people to expand their minds and stretch boundaries while learning to be open-minded and respectful. I decided to teach art subjects as this kind of self-expression needs intellectual, practical, and emotional tools which are learned and applied more easily and pleasantly in relaxing entertaining art lessons.
Jardin by Aeolien
I started my teacher training at the Ruhruniversität in Dortmund (Rob Meek gave an interview there once). There I met a visionary art student during a student exchange with Liverpool university, married this student of art education, and gave up studies in Germany as their diploma would not have been accepted in the UK. We moved to the UK and I restarted my studies there, which I had to give up just before the end of the course as I was unable to find part-time jobs allowing me to finance increasing course contents, required equipment and materials, travelling to training and teaching locations, and contributing to our living expenses. After operations (surgeries) to reduce my disability, I decided to find a job, save some money, and finance the family we were starting, until my husband could take over.
I became the supervisor of a sheltered printing workshop (ohh the memories!). There I was engaged in preparing and listening to inks and feeling their texture, darkroom work, designing and illustrating booklets and stationery, cleaning up and doing small repairs. Every day had inspiring contacts with the trainees who developed work and social skills at their own speed for their future. Later I opened a shop selling art and craft supplies, gave talks and demonstrations, ran workshops to teach people the use of products and tools.
Kerris by Aeolien
Then we moved to France to help our family on their farm. At first, I had problems adjusting to a very different lifestyle. Nights were filled with sounds I hadn’t heard since my childhood at the edges of Sauerland forests, and after years of living next to a busy road that didn’t rest, I had to relearn seeing real star-lit darkness. My lack of useful French was a barrier. Work was physical which put me at a disadvantage as did not understanding problems with our animals, field work and machinery. I missed our family’s relaxed weekend activities, visiting other family members, familiar sounds. Thankless customers and unpredictable weather increased the stress. But after I had adjusted, I discovered perfect bliss: enjoying a more sustainable natural lifestyle as well as saving a lot of money by not owning the usual numerous—and not always essential—refined, luxurious, wasteful products we took for granted. Great village communities; friendly support and contacts; being with interesting knowledgeable people, meeting no prejudices; clean air and environment; real food grown in the garden and on every windowsill and surface close to the windows; animals in stables and meadows that trusted us; being as eco-responsible as we always thought necessary for Gaia and thus for all humans/animals/plants/water/air. What a precious time for each other is in life, appreciating the time available for hobbies like painting, sculpture, printing, weaving, sewing, and using their products to supplement income.
In short, a dream I didn’t know I had came true in this new social and natural environment. I’m happy that we’re still here, still enjoying this life and the people, even though we’re no longer professional farmers and our families live abroad.
As I had learned French at school (of which I had retained only basic words and grammar *blushing at this admission* resulting in the most important job interview of my life being conducted mostly in English and German) I found employment in a day activity and training centre for adults with quite severe intellectual, social, and occasionally physical, impairments. My own disability gave me the advantage to understand the depth of the problems the participants and their families faced which enabled me to find many personalised solutions. I was employed to help people develop through creative activities: to improve manual and social skills, to gain respect from others and be respectful, to develop self-confidence and pride in who they were, of what they achieved. Most of them, and their families too, had spent their lives in the shadow—similar to what my father’s friend and his family had experienced—and what my own family discovered when they heard about bullies at my school and on the walk there and back home. But this time I could make a difference for the people in my groups and their families.
I did get a diploma in the end, in France; not as a teacher but as state-registered medical-psychological educator in the social-educational sector. I discovered that reducing anger and frustration through art and other creative activities worked for everybody (even my colleagues occasionally joined with their groups when group behaviour became unstable). Helping to exteriorise feelings they couldn’t talk about, creative activities relaxed people and disarmed risky situations. Over the years most had learned that when stressed they could retreat into an unoccupied art room, work through their crisis with items they chose until they felt ready to re-join their group.
Architechdoor by Aeolien
I used what I had learned as an art student and future teacher, to build pride in who they were, to show that each person has something special and beautiful to share with others, to give self-confidence in their abilities. Without teaching literacy (that wasn’t my brief) people learned to recognise their own name—often even when written small—and sometimes when I used different lettering styles. I drew unadorned simple outline letters of a person’s name on card which they coloured in according to their wishes. They discovered the aspect of I’m a beautiful person after having decorated the letters of their name, which I cut out, with items they chose from our feel-and-dream treasure chest filled with a vast collection of decorative smaller materials and objects. The name is the person and a beautiful name (in this case a cut-out decorated set of letters) shows a beautiful person.
As our staff office had a computer, and my family had computers, I had a large collection of font styles on cassettes, large floppy disks and later diskettes (Remember them? They made a strange click and sliding sound when the computer’s reader opened the protective metal cover on the housing) and I used many different fonts not for distributing information but as decorative elements for art and other (creative) activities.
After an accident due to an unstable crutch, I had to retire from the work I loved long before I had expected to take my artistic interests and creative work to the next level in my retirement.
To help me deal with this drastic change in circumstances I wanted to do something creative that could express my current situation and interests, new experiences. I remembered the importance of the decorated letter/name work to build people’s self-confidence and pride to be as they are. Thus, I returned to my computer font collections and made A4 size lists to look like posters or drawings, arranging items linked to daily changing aspects of my life, things that pleased or worried me, to assemble into an area of shading that created an interesting, attractive image containing things I was grateful for and things I had to deal with. But I soon tired of these computer fonts which didn’t really look like they had a link with what I wanted to express or were relevant.
So, I decided to make my own fonts. The internet took me to many sites that sold programs I couldn’t afford or programs that looked too complicated to be inviting. I then discovered sites that allowed font design online, but almost all were too rigid or too simplistic, not allowing me the flexibility I needed for the shapes I made with these image-lists of words. Trying these many sites, I finally discovered one that looked simple to use yet allowed thousands of possible shapes with which I could communicate. FontStruct entered my life and has never left.
Wow, Aeolien. What a difficult journey you’ve had through life. Your perseverance is inspirational though. I think we all need a little breather after hearing your story.
When designing fonts, what process does it take for you? Does it change from font to font?
Every font I make has a reason. Sometimes because I was asked for a special font, but usually there is an event whose feeling or nature or importance to me or my family I want to express, or there might have been an idea I need to illustrate by way of working through its impact on my or my family’s life. Sometimes I want to make a very personal present for somebody, and I’ve even made fonts based on just a few glyphs I liked (Petit Biscuit).
When my font has to have a specific structure (a font of a specific style was asked for, whether it’s for someone or to sell; or I want to take part in a FS competition) I consider the information I was given to be visible/transmitted by the font. When the font is for someone, I do some online research regarding a specific theme I might have to work to, then I sketch the letters for the well-known Handgloves which I show to the person (or client). I do many sketches to get the desired look, then I sketch the complete alphabet and numerals, to be discussed and refined when necessary. When the design is accepted I start work in the FontStructor.
Charm Spell by Aeolien
When a font is based on an event my family or I want to express I usually work directly in the FontStructor with the basic bricks collection, often redesigning lines or shapes until they fit the event or situation, as I might have just one or two trampoline glyph shapes to inspire and guide the whole font.
This same method applies to fonts that clearly or obscurely illustrate something I experienced, something that moved me. However, such a font is less refined in shape and line, more sharp, raw, and it tends to have only the necessary glyphs for English text.
Creating a font is a highly personal, even emotionally involved, process when it is for my family, friends, myself. When creating a font for someone else I’m quite objective, less attached, and the font is more neutral to suit ordinary informative text.
How does designing font help you? What frustrations do you face during the process? How do you overcome them?
Whatever the reason for creating a font, most of the time I find it relaxing to immerse myself in the arrangement of bricks, transporting an idea or feeling into a structured grid system, and to experiment with various shapes until some combine to give the right edge and surface to a glyph. Creating different glyphs, especially those whose shape can’t be copied and slightly manipulated into a new glyph, is almost like meditating, stepping outside of myself and experiencing a kind of existence of a brick, of the line I create.
Giving visible shape to an idea or feeling is quite amazing—even though such personal, even private, expression of something ethereal or esoteric leaves the creator vulnerable. I assume this is the result of working from an art rather than a utility base.
Designing fonts, whatever their style and reason, is my instant-creative-activity. I often feel an inner tension, a deep need to be creative like there is an energy that needs to get out. That’s especially noticeable when I have many things that need concentration. FontStruct being modular allows me to place and move a brick shape—watching it doesn’t add stress, assembling several usually has a calming effect—and after an hour or so I have the makings of a font. I FontStruct the stress out of my system.
Circle2Ribbon by Aeolien
But too often I have neither the time nor the environment to use a complex technique to create something that hasn’t existed before.
Setting up a weaving loom, preparing a sewing project, is time consuming. Drawing, painting, printing, paper crafts have their own challenges and need preparation and the correct environment. Often this reduces spontaneity and adds analysis which I learned first-hand can reduce a good idea to dust, even when there were precise inspiration and necessary skill.
Creating a font can be prepared quite easily using a computer and can be done at any time day or night, whether alone or in presence of people.
Occasionally I’m inspired by an image, an object (like an every-day traditional French Biscuit which suddenly becomes intriguing…), a piece of music or a memory (Emlék). I don’t often use a note pad or sketch book where a doodle or description inspire a design.
The font’s name is Hungarian, it translates as memory or souvenir or remembrance.
Gift for Aeolien’s mother by a Hungarian doctor (Emlék by NightPegasus —not shown)
This folder was made for my mother who worked in the reception offices of a soldiers’ first treatment institution and therapy hospital during the war, in the town of Eickelborn; she was being trained, supervised and encouraged to be a typist and office organiser by a Hungarian doctor who was a prisoner of war and who acted as a nursing auxiliary and a translator, apparently he actively protected her against aggressive patients and abusive superiors/administrators. My mother had problems coping with the stress of seeing and hearing the many physical and mental problems of the soldiers and observing as well as suffering herself from awful behaviour by some of the high-ranking officers who administered the hospital.
The folder was made by this doctor to thank my mother for her support of the more badly injured soldiers and for sharing food, clothing, objects, her free time and needlework trained hands, to help the soldiers and the prisoners.
The folder also was meant to remind my mother that human kindness, an open mind, willingness to listen and learn, caring for Life in general, are so easy to give and are needed to survive specially when the environment is filled with danger and negativity.
She said that she survived this awful war time, some terrifying hospital administrators, the sadness of being unable to help those in great need of support and health, because this doctor gave her the courage to keep on living …
She used the folder for her correspondence and to keep her favourite family photos and mementos, until she had to give up her house and move into a medical care home last year. I asked my siblings for this folder after my mother died, as for my mother it meant strength and survival in difficult times, build a good future on what was good in your past.
This folder reminds me of my mother, and of the person who helped her to survive.
Compared to my other creative hobbies I find creating a font gives more wide-ranging possibilities, and I can enjoy planning and creating even when I need bedrest. Features like nudging made glyph shapes possible that I have carried in my mind for ages, brick stacking and composites give fabulous effects to otherwise run-of-the-mill fonts.
Frustrations? Oh yes, I have those. Mostly they are based on the look of a font or my manipulation of the building bricks (subjective). And occasionally based on what I find to be missing practically (objective) for my comfort (I sometimes wonder if that’s a sign of impatience or lack of understanding a glyph or simple laziness)
Many if not most of my fonts have a normal structure because they were made for (slightly decorative) information or conversation texts, so there are frustrations based on being slow to find the most suitable style for my needs while maintaining one specific quirk or decorative addition; or I can’t achieve the desired look with filters even after testing ideas and inserting stacked or composite bricks. In fact I may have just two fonts that use filters: I can’t get to grips with this feature and am always dissatisfied with the outcome after investing time, thought, patience and many cups of tea.
Sometimes it’s tiring to move or remove bricks that are in the wrong place, specially if I hadn’t seen this problem before multiplying such a mis-construction. It’s a break in concentration, and if I have too many badly placed/chosen bricks I tend to stop for a day or even a month, gain distance, hopefully discovering a solution and recharging the creative batteries if my life while far from FontStruct and doing the washing-up, shopping, weaving, inventing my next dress or plastering a wall…and then I have enough distance from the frustration of seeing this bad area and I can start working on improving it (yes, I detach myself from the font to be more objective, more efficient in the search for a solution, more open to untested alternatives, less frustrated by my lack of attention).
Occasionally these new shapes, lines or areas are different in look and message from what I had started out with, and I copy them into a font my alter-ego clones to work with.
Any other frustrations are based on the program, or bricks/stacks/composites which I can’t get to look right along an edge. Or I unknowingly slipped away from my design brief which makes the font look untidy with incoherent glyph shapes – this takes a long time to correct and I don’t always have the time nor the patience to work out some alternative. Extra frustration comes along if I wanted to use the font just after making it for a special project and this developmental problem stops me using it, slowing down whatever work I should have or wanted to do.
On some occasions my frustration is based on not being able to erase a single diagonal line of wrong bricks inside an area of wanted ones. Recently I was frustrated by the 4×4 base for composites as I would have liked 5×5 squares.
Another frustration is linked to the kerning. I can kern Basic Latin and More Latin glyphs; anything on the other Latin-based bands is out of scope as I rarely have those glyphs available in the computer’s font list. To get one of those glyphs I would have to type the U+**** code which in the font preview panel (for kerning purposes) gives either nothing or a normal Latin letter.
Life and FontStructing would be easier if any kerning instruction on the Basic band could be copied with the relevant glyph(s) and attached kerning values, into another Latin-based band.
What are your thoughts on the FontStruct community?
People like Frodo, P2Pnut, Elmo were the first ones to carry me along on a wave of encouragement and praise for the strange things I published at the beginning when I simply enjoyed messing about with bricks and having something fun to show for the time and effort I invested. Their gentle pushing me forward with comments and advice made me want to create more, be more adventurous, get familiar with advanced functions and features. And I was, still am, surprised and impressed when one of our many experienced members sees a rule I apply inside my font according to my design brief, and can indicate where a change to a line, position of a brick or tweaking of a whole glyph might add to the impression the font gives and to the pleasure of seeing or reading the whole font, without breaking the feeling of the Whole.
Many other people, too, are willing to share knowledge, discuss problems and solutions, exchange useful information. From the “old” group I remember p2pnut who had amusing comments as well as gave gentle coaching when he thought something wouldn’t translate to successful off-set use (possibly because we had a lot of work experience and skills in common); a lot of useful information from TCWhite clarified glyphs and allowed me to add correct glyphs for African and Native American languages; Winty5 made me smile with upbeat comments and enthusiastic fonts; Goatmeal inspired some of my pixel fonts (Aelies, Gameao halb); jirivnk’s experiments with overlays in his fonts are inspiring in their complexity and invite pure decorative modular shapes (although Floraeolien is far from his controlled shapes).
Some newer members impress me with their patience, enthusiastic help and fonts. Dmitriy Sychiov (valuable advice for my Cyrillic glyphs) who adds Cyrillic support to many Latin-based fonts created by members, adheres completely to the original design brief; Echo Heo (bluemon) doesn’t shy away from unusual shapes; Greenstar967 shows tenacity and great Unicode knowledge; Zephram shares quirky designs that are occasionally the starting point for one of my more decorative fonts.
In short: FontStructors are people who like to help, encourage, and enjoy sharing technical knowledge and discoveries as much as using wild phantasy to astound. The open feed is a showcase of how a great community supports its members, personal messages tend to be informative and equally respectful of members’ personal situation, knowledge or need of advice.
I wouldn’t be as present nor as courageous with fonts and observations etc. if our community was disinterested, exclusive or unpleasant. I’m here because I feel that I have something worthwhile to contribute and that people appreciate my few contributions.
Lineabox by Aeolien
Thank you for your honesty, openness and insights. I, for one, feel richer in my outlook having gone through your interview. I am sure others will have similar responses. It is good to have you around FontStruct, Aeolien.
Thank you Jutta, and Ata, for another fascinating interview!
Again, another wonderful interview! Congratulations to both Jutta Gard (Aeolien & Night Pegasus) and Ata (Thalamic & Minimum). Though I am sad this is the final entry of the series (for now), I am heartened that so many varied and interesting people contribute to the wonderfully creative force that is the FontStruct community. Thank you for sharing this important series. :^)
– Goatmeal — March 9, 2022 #
Thank you very much, Jutta and Ata. This Gridfolk has especially touched my soul. I think there could not have been a better time to publish it. It has been a very invigorating read, although I blush at the mention of Aeolien. I agree with her in that vision of FontStruct that she defends and I cannot stop thanking all those who also wish to make FontStruct the place where we want to be every day. The illustrations are especially evocative, too. Thank you all, compañeros.
– elmoyenique — March 9, 2022 #
such a nice read! thx.
– jirinvk — March 9, 2022 #
Didn’t expect a shout-out here but I’m very grateful and pleasantly surprised! Especially since our fonts generally seem to come from very different origins (mine support many languages, yours tell a heartfelt story – but both still come from the heart and are useful in their own ways).
“I wouldn’t be as present nor as courageous with fonts and observations etc. if our community was disinterested, exclusive or unpleasant.”
Me neither Aeolien (if you’re reading this), and I remember you were one of the first commenters on my original pan-Unicode endeavor, encouraging me to continue and just generally giving nice words. :)
– Greenstar967 — March 9, 2022 #
Quite an interesting and fascinating read. Thank you for sharing such wonderful stories~
– tortoiseshell — March 9, 2022 #
What a lovely interview. Great stuff!
– redux — March 10, 2022 #
I haven’t been active on here in so long, but Aeolien was always one of the nicest people on here. Thanks for sharing your story! :)
– winty5 — March 10, 2022 #
Thanks for sharing all of this Jutta, it is great to read about your life. And thank you for this wonderful series of interviews Ata!
– four — March 11, 2022 #
What a delightful interview! I’m honored to have been some small inspiration for a few of your designs.
– zephram — March 24, 2022 #