Posts filed under “Focus on FontStructors”
This is a guest post from Ata Syed AKA thalamic and minimum, the sixth in a series continuing the “Focus on Fontstructors” tradition of interviews with members of FontStruct’s design community. Ata has been FontStructing since 2008.
0 Point (Introduction)
Technically speaking, a point has no dimension. However, in layman’s terms, a point is a dot; the smallest visible thing.
In his book, “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry”, Neil deGrasse Tyson begins by imagining the origin of the universe. The infinitesimally small point of all energy —that was about to become the universe— explodes and, in a microsecond (i.e., a millionth of a or 0.000001 second), it had expanded to a size larger than our solar system. In that brief span of time, or perhaps even before, all the rules of physics that there ever will be came into being because space, time, and physical particles had been generated and something had to govern them. The rules of physics were written in the language of mathematics. Try if you must, but there is no getting away from physics or mathematics. Of course, both physics and mathematics are human constructs developed to understand the universe. While understanding the universe is slightly beyond the scope of this article, the love of knowledge and use of mathematics and geometry, as you shall see, are not.
Calm, meticulous, and erudite are the fundamental qualities of the sixth FontStructor that we focus on in this Gridfolk 2021 series: Tibor Lantos (Frodo7). Let’s see how.
Neo-Tokyo, background: Quasiperiodic Tiling
1 Line (Background)
A line is a continuously connected series of points. While lines have no beginning or end, what we think of a line is actually a line-segment — some specific portion of a line. Since a point has no dimension, a straight line is one-dimensional, which is to say it only extends in one direction. A line can be curved as well, in which case it occupies two dimensions.
Tibor was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1963. Though he was away for many years while working in England and France, he has returned to live in Hungary again. He is a medical doctor by training and used to teach anatomy and histology at the Semmelweis University Medical School. His field of research was in neuroscience. Currently, he works as a physician and provides emergency care for people in a small town and the nearby villages. He works long hours. In his own words, “I like what I’m doing. I like my little patients (kids, toddlers, babies); I like my elderly patients. It feels good to know I can help them; I can make a difference in their life. In many cases, they simply would not survive without timely medical intervention.” Beyond FontStruct, Tibor has a presence on Twitter, where he follows only a few topics: typeface design, pixel art, watches, and Bitcoin. On Pinterest, he has boards and pins reflecting a larger gamut of his interests. On Tumblr, he shows samples of his original works.
Regarding fonts, this is how Tibor describes himself: “I’m an amateur typeface designer. I have no formal education in typeface design or graphic design. I learned everything from Computer Arts magazines, books, online tutorials, blogs, and YouTube videos. Online courses helped me to take my skills (with Glyphs) to the next level.
I’ve been designing letters since 2003. My early fonting endeavors were met with puzzlement, misunderstanding, and ridicule. Creating fonts was definitely not cool in the eyes of muggles. It didn’t matter; my enthusiasm remained steady. For inspiration, I took long walks in the forest and listened to old albums of Emerson Lake and Palmer. The rich music lifted my spirit.
Being an amateur designer has several advantages. I create letters out of love and passion. My career, my income doesn’t depend on my creative output. I don’t care about money, fame, and success. I can freely experiment with ideas. I can afford to make mistakes or fail completely. It’s part of my learning process. I keep learning new things at every turn. In the course of the first five years, I spent well over 10,000 hours with FontStruct, pushing bricks, making fonts every day.”
Eomer (quote from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, 1979)
2 Angle & Circle (FontStruct)
Place a perfectly vertical line-segment somewhere and anchor the bottom end. Revolve the line-segment at the pivot. Some revolution change between the initial and final revolved state is called the angle between the two. When the line-segment is revolved so much that the starting angle is also the ending angle, the shape the non-pivoted end of the line-segment traces is called a circle. The line-segment is now the radius of this circle. Placing 359 line-segments at equal angles from the pivot point will divide the circle into 360 pie wedges. The change in revolution from one straight edge of the wedge to the other is termed 1 degree. There are 360 degrees in a circle. A perfect circle is one in which the distance from the center point (the pivot) to the outer edge is same at every angle.
Tibor has been an active member of the FontStruct community since May 2009. He has shared 150+ meticulously created fonts and has made 2400 encouraging comments. Regarding how often he visits fontstruct.com, he says, “FontStruct is always open in my browser. I check a few times a day what’s going on even if I’m not building anything. I like the tool, the FontStructor software, and I like the community around the site. The FontStruct community was very supportive of my learning process. The ‘older’ members were very kind and patient. I am grateful to them.”
French Defence: chess dingbats.
When asked if he admires any other FontStructors, he replied, “Let me answer this without giving a particular list of names. I really don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. However, my Favorites [on FontStruct] are open to the public if someone is interested who’s works I valued the most. I closely follow other members’ activities and collect their best works (as permitted). These are extraordinary men and women, a few of them are professional artists. They create elegant typefaces effortlessly with new techniques the way I simply couldn’t do. Super intelligent, insightful people from different cultural backgrounds who taught me a lot. Exchanging ideas, opinions with them is always a delight.”
3 Triangle (Making fonts)
Connect any one end of any two line-segments to a single point at any two different angles. Connect the unconnected ends of the two line-segments with a third line-segment. The resulting shape is called a triangle. It is the simplest shape with distinct sides that contains an area.
What compels you to create fonts?
In the beginning, I thought making fonts was a quiet and peaceful hobby like writing poems, playing the guitar, painting, gardening, or angling. You find a way to express yourself, you don’t disturb others, and the whole world should leave you alone. Years later I realized that creating fonts was way more important. We are akin to fashion designers. We’ve been dressing up the same Latin letters for more than five centuries to exert influence on the reader. The straight lines, fine curves, tension, and balance convey a second layer of information on top of the literal one. It could be about anything: playfulness, joy, abundance, simplicity, strength, sophistication, elegance, sheer efficiency, or decay. We design costumes for the letters to make a visual impact.
Describe for us your general font-making process behind a shared font?
It starts with an idea, an early concept. I am deeply immersed in today’s turbulent culture. I see a lot of typography every day. Sometimes I see an interesting typeface, a logo, or just a single letter that makes me pause. I start thinking about whether I could make it better, turn it into something different, or build a whole character set around it. At this early stage, I make decisions about the scope and purpose of the project: who are the potential users, and what may be the function of the new font. I often make sketches on square paper or graph paper. Drawing by hand forces my brain to think differently. I can’t really explain why, but it feels different from working on a computer screen. It is this important phase when the overall size and proportions are determined.
The next stage, prototyping, takes place in the FontStructor. Usually, I start with the lower case, and with the most challenging letter: ‘s’. If I can’t fit a double curve into the given x-height I have to rework the whole concept. I build the basic character set and test it with text samples. I modify, squeeze, prune the letters until they work nicely together.
A good typeface is more than the collection of its characters. The letters, numbers, punctuation marks, and spaces have to work in concert so as to render the text legible and aesthetically pleasing. The printed text has an internal rhythm, it breathes, it has balance and symmetry. And this is the ultimate reason I keep making fonts: to find beauty, harmony, and balance in my letters.
I work slowly. Usually, it takes weeks or months to complete a project. I’m a perfectionist. Some fonts are never finished; I revisit them time and time again, and make small improvements. In case I can’t find a good design solution, I shelve the project for years. Later with a fresh look, and with help of new Fontstruct features, I can work out the problems easily. I don’t work under the influence of some sort of creative frenzy. Creativity is not a constant flow of ideas for me. It has ups and downs. I try to use the good periods the best I can, and just wait out the doldrums.
When I use the FontStructor, I try to keep things simple. I don’t attempt to make faux Bézier curves using a series of tricks and bespoke bricks. No. I’d rather build something coarse and rugged, using simple geometry, and take advantage of FontStruct’s real strength. Letters with polygonal contours have a rustic feel: they appear as being chiseled out of solid rock. (On the other hand, I admire those who are able to make sublime curves with FontStruct.)
The last stage is production. The final assembly, kerning, etc. takes place in Glyphs. I still have a lot to learn about this application, but I enjoy the ease I can add OpenType features, or handle diacritical marks with. Glyphs is a very powerful tool with lots of scripts, plug-ins to cater to all aspects of type design.
Esgaroth: a heavy slab serif.
While making a font, what frustrations do you face and how do you overcome them?
In the early days of Fontstruct, I faced technical problems on a daily basis. While working on large fontstructions, the system was sluggish, it often froze. My computer screen didn’t have enough horizontal and vertical space; I had to do a lot of scrolling so as to move around parts. A few times I lost my entire work due to some glitch. I was not happy, but it was part of the challenge. Those days are long gone. Rob Meek has done an excellent job by constantly upgrading and extending the program. The transition from Flash/ActionScript to HTML5 was very smooth. People don’t talk about it, yet it was a major achievement. And the new features are superb. Nowadays, I feel limitless; building a font feels like flying on wings.
4 Square (Portfolio)
Draw a line-segment from the very top of a perfect circle to the very bottom. Similarly, draw another line-segment on the same circle from the very left point to the very right. Both of these line-segments will intersect at the center of the circle, which will be divided into four pieces. Rotate the circle exactly 45 degrees. Leave the line-segments and remove the circle. Connect the open ends of the overlapping line-segments with new line-segments on the top, bottom, left, and the right end points. The resulting shape is called a square. The angle between any two connected edges is always 90 degrees and the length of each side is equal to any other.
If you had to categorize your fonts, what would they be?
My fonts tend to fall into a few categories: regular fonts, stencil fonts, pixel fonts, display fonts based on fractal patterns and geometric properties (e.g. isometric or other perspectives), other fonts (patterns, dingbats, chess). In terms of scripts, I focus on the Latin alphabet, where I feel at home. I also create Cyrillic sets when it seems practical. I’m very fond of Cyrillic letters and the cultural heritage they represent.
Stencil fonts are stunning, especially the heavy ones. They display brute force, masculinity, and utter disregard of classical propriety. (As we all know, typeface design is about tradition and rule-breaking at the same time.) When I create one, I try to reflect these qualities. I imagine my stencils sprayed over heavy machinery, large wooden containers, or rugged concrete walls.
Thorin Stencil (quote from Heartbreak Ridge, 1986)
I’m also a pixel font enthusiast. Pixels are still relevant, especially in the retro gaming world. What would we do without nostalgia? Last year during the pandemic I experimented with pixel fonts. I set out to learn more about symmetry, proportions, rhythm, and harmony in typography. Pixel fonts are ideal subjects for such experiments: they are simple, easy to create, and easy to test. You can modify them quickly by adding or subtracting single pixels, make slightly different versions, and see how they work with the sample text. I ended up with 20+ similar-looking fonts, not tremendously original ones, I should say, but all of them performed well in the faculty of balance and harmony. The humble pixel creations taught me a lot about the inner workings of typefaces, big and small.
Enlighten us with your source of inspiration.
I get plenty of inspiration (and solace) from nature. Geometry and chaos (fractal symmetry) are constant sources of my new ideas. Several works of mine are based on simple polygons, isometric projection, or optical illusions. I also designed a series of display fonts based on fractal patterns. Some color versions of these are still under construction in my digital workshop.
Needless to say, classic and contemporary typefaces have a great influence on my works (Atomic Media, Büro Destruct, Device, Emigre, Identical, T-26, Typotheque, to name a few). This brings us to the topic of originality. I’m not afraid of borrowing ideas from others. It’s part of the creative process. No artist works in a vacuum. We are all influenced by previous creative ideas, stimulated by the design community. Truly groundbreaking designs are rare.
The renaissance masters copied the works of antiquity. That’s how they learned sculpture, painting, and architecture. They’ve improved on classic Greek and Roman art by adding new knowledge of anatomy, perspective, and engineering (among other things). The history of type design tells a similar story. The first typefaces were designed to mimic the handwriting of scribes, carrying the long tradition of penmanship into the age of movable type. Likewise, Helvetica (a.k.a. Neue Haas Grotesk) did not come out of thin air. There was a line of sans serifs leading to it, each one bringing barely perceptible, small changes. Today the whole sans serif arena is so crowded and so competitive, even an expert has trouble distinguishing the countless nearly identical typefaces. The term original design means very little indeed from this perspective. Thus, we should embrace the cross-pollination of ideas, remix and reuse them, and add our own creative bits to move forward. (Nota bene, I was talking about creative ideas, not wholesale copying of finished works and releasing them under your name. That’s called rip-off. It has nothing to do with creativity.)
Mirkwood 3rd Iteration (unpublished). A pixel font showing self-similarity.
3 Dimension (Creativity)
Because humans possess intelligence and occupy a multi-dimension existence, dimensionality is not difficult to understand. Stand somewhere and extend your arms away from your body at shoulder height. The left-right extension of the arms is one dimension and is usually called the x-axis. The vertical aspect of you up and down is considered the y-axis. Perpendicular (a 90-degree angle) to this, looking straight ahead, the line of sight is termed the z-axis. If you consider your stomach as the origin of this dimensional space, every point to the left of this origin is the negative x-axis and positive to the right side; every point above this origin is positive y-axis and below as negative y-axis; every point in front of this imaginary point of origin is the positive z-axis and behind as negative z-axis;. This gives four quadrants in the positive y-axis and four in the negative y-axis for a total of eight octants. All shapes and forms imaginable (!) can be fit into and be represented in any combinations of these octants.
Sierpinski Black Initials: a font based on the Sierpiński triangle.
How does the current technology affect your creative output?
Technology is liberating. It has given me fantastic tools in my hands. I remember the time before we had computers, digital cameras, and laser printers. It was a great deal to put together a manuscript with photos and illustrations for (scientific) publication. I spent hours in the darkroom with a professional photographer to get my pictures right. Simple illustrations, diagrams were drawn by hand on tracing paper with black ink and technical pen. After the typewriter, selecting fonts, using bold and Italic, printing text at different sizes was a huge leap forward. When Photoshop 2.5 arrived in the early nineties, it came in a box with more than two dozen floppies for installation. Accessing information on the internet (before the Web was invented) was cumbersome and tedious.
Things have changed dramatically. Today I am infinitely more powerful and capable than kings were before the modern age. We have access to all information anytime, anywhere in the world for the first time in history. Modern software tools help me to write an essay, edit images and video, compose music, or design a typeface. Yes, we can create our own typefaces; that was unheard of just fifty years ago. Well, I could even start my own YouTube channel if I want to. I don’t have to go to university to learn new skills. All the knowledge, detailed tutorials are available online. The digital age is full of good news: everything is getting faster, better, and cheaper. Awesome. I am thrilled to live in this crucial period of time.
What are your thoughts on the popularization of typeface design?
Typography is still the dominant form of visual communication. Once belonged exclusively to professionals (punchcutters, printers, designers), today font creation is very popular among amateurs. One would rightfully ask: is it fitting to give all power to the masses? Allow them to mess with the sacred art of letters? Could any good come out of the democratization of type design? My answer is a big yes. After all, that’s exactly what FontStruct is about: it’s a simple tool that runs in the browser and brings the wonder of making fonts close to everybody. No previous training or experience is required. The learning curve is gentle. FontStructing is fun.
Not all FontStructions are masterpieces. The vast majority have plenty of room for improvement. Still, there was no harm done by creating less than perfect fonts. They may serve as stepping stones towards prowess, or as bad examples. At the same time, there are true gems among them. For those gems, it was already worth it (opening up typeface design). There are many examples in history when fresh ideas and change came from outside of the circle of professionals. Creativity could certainly flourish ‘unspoiled’ by education, doctrine, and tradition; unaffected by the rigidity of thought.
Could you explain the purpose and process of font samples?
Yes. Samples are very good to promote my new fonts. In a simple case, I make screenshots from the preview window. On special occasions, I take my time and create demo posters. This involves brainstorming, making pencil sketches, and using professional software (Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, or lately Affinity Designer).
Is your creative output more artistic or commercial? Why?
This question implies that artistic and commercial qualities are the opposite, or mutually exclusive. I think they usually go very well together. For centuries almost all works of art were commissioned and paid for: paintings, sculptures, great buildings, compositions of music, and literary works. The most important patron was the Church, followed by kings and rulers, members of the aristocracy, and wealthy citizens. We have only to add the large and small corporations to the list, so as to describe the present situation.
My whole portfolio is ‘artistic’. I’m yet to sell my first font. I never really had time to develop and refine my works to the level of professional typefaces. This is about to change when I retire. I’ve already made preparations to work full time on my fonts. A selection will go on sale next year on MyFonts.com.
Selling my fonts is important for one reason. It is the ultimate test of quality if people actually buy my work. I don’t really depend on that income. Yet, giving away them for free seems to be wrong. People don’t appreciate things that are free. Those works have virtually zero value.
Hommage à Escher, asterisks (*). The sample is rendered on the Poincaré hyperbolic disk.
2 Geometry (& Mathematics)
Geometry is the branch of mathematics that deals with points and lines, shapes and forms, angles and dimensions. It describes the rules governing their existence and interaction. It can be used to depict simple visualization or bewildering complexity without ever breaking even a single rule. It has the potential to describe the entire universe.
Your fonts usually are geometrically precise. What kind of mathematics/geometry education and training have you had?
Well, I had a very good math teacher in secondary school. I was very lucky to be a student in one of the best grammar schools in my country. It was a boarding school for boys only, and our teachers were Franciscan monks. We also had a math club there on Sundays. Our teachers planted the seeds of love for mathematics, physics, literature, history, and art in our young fertile brains. We were told many times: the only proper relationship with science was love.
Have you continued to learn more about mathematics since your formal education ended? If yes, how?
Yes. My university years started straight after the Rubik’s cube frenzy. It was a vibrant period of math puzzles and popular science. I read all the math and physics-related articles in Scientific American and several popular mathematics books (by Ian Steward, Martin Gardner, and others). I’ve learned a few missing chapters of math on my own: graph theory, polytopes, tilings. I designed a series of 3D puzzles too. Later I learned about chaos theory and fractals; later still about hyperbolic geometry. I’m not a mathematician, nor a geometer. My understanding of math is at the level of amateur enthusiasts. I consider mathematics to be the rulebook behind the beauty of nature. When I see a broccoli or cauliflower, I see the fractal symmetry in them. In the case of fresh salad, I consider the hyperbolic geometry of the green curvy leaves.
How did you visualize and work out the intricacies of the fractal fonts you have designed?
Fractals have the strange property of self-similarity: the same pattern is repeated at an ever-smaller scale. I work out the small details by trial and error. I also make pencil drawings. In the end, everything looks nice and tidy. Nobody can see the experimentation and false starts behind the scenes. I still have a fractal font with missing parts waiting to be finished. Because that particular pattern was so complex, I used Illustrator to make ‘sketches’ and experiment with them.
Sierpinski Chromatic: a color font based on an isometric fractal pattern.
Speaking of patterns, why do you think we find them pleasing and soothing?
A few months ago I saw a collection of art nouveau wallpaper designs of William Morris, and asked the same question myself. There must be something special, mesmerizing about patterns that people want to line their entire home with them. Patterns are based on some sort of symmetry and repetition. There are many patterns in nature that can be described using simple mathematical formulas, ratios, or a sequence of numbers (e.g. Fibonacci). Our brain has evolved to deal with all sorts of patterns. There are specialized neuronal networks for processing visual, auditory, tactile, kinetic, and other stimuli. Pattern recognition is a fundamental task of the cerebral cortex. Our very survival depends on it. It seems that we are hard-wired for natural patterns. We tend to find them pleasing or harmonious if they show mathematical proportions.
The best way to illustrate this is with music theory. Musical tones comprise a fundamental (frequency) and overtone series/harmonic series. The frequency of harmonics are integer multiples – 2×, 3×, 4×, … – of a tone’s fundamental. The harmonics are pure sine waves; they have no overtones. A scale is a set of musical notes ordered by fundamental frequency or pitch. The interval between two notes can be measured by the ratio of their frequencies. In the case of an octave, it is 2:1; that means, if one note has a frequency of 220 Hz, the note one octave above is at 440 Hz. Likewise, other intervals commonly used in Western music can be described by simple ratios of small integers: 3:2 (perfect fifth), 4:3 (perfect fourth), 5:4 ( major third), etc. It seems, what notes we find pleasing, and what notes go well together have been determined before us, before music and human culture were established, by the rules of nature. When we listen to music our brain just doing math.
You have also created fonts that are optical illusionary in nature. It seems to me your insight into how the brain works helps you create those. Tell us a bit about them.
Well, it’s tempting to give a retrospective explanation like that, but the reality is a lot more simple. I was captivated by some twentieth century op-art works. Is it possible, I wondered, to use the same optical tricks for making display fonts? After experimenting with the most promising effects in FontStruct, I created the first version of Optill. The optical illusion worked, but the font left much to be desired. Today I have its fourth version, called Slanted Type. Other sorts of optical illusions include isometric shapes with impossible geometry or double perspective – inspired by the works of M.C. Escher. It’s fascinating as our brain flip-flops between the two perspectives and tries to make sense of it. I also designed an op-art font based on the artworks of Victor Vasarely, using arrays of squares and rhombi (see Vasarely Squares). Op-art fonts, if carefully crafted, can make an exquisite visual punch.
Elendil Inverse (unpublished version of Elendil).
1 Algebra (Future)
While it gives people anxiety when algebra is mentioned, it is a branch of mathematics that helps in figuring out something unknown based on some other known things. Basic familiarity with algebra is the first step in uncovering the hidden.
Are there any changes you wish to see happen at fontstruct.com and in the FontStructor?
Only minor things. I’d like to see the Menu hierarchy flattened, so as to get easy access to deeply buried functions, such as Nudge Up, Rotate Right, etc.; Kerning: the same settings to be automatically applied to all accented versions of the letter; Layers: copy and paste between layers, duplicate layers. Most of the things I wished for have been already implemented.
Do you have any advice for the people just starting out in typeface design?
Yes. If you are new to font design, there are a few points to consider. We are not about making fancy stand-alone glyphs, but to devise legible smooth text. (Except for logotype, of course.) Our focus should always be on the reader. After creating the character set, your job is only half done. To make the characters work together takes the same amount of work, if not more. Please, test your new font in the preview window with different text samples. Don’t forget to set the space – the only invisible character – properly. Take your time and modify your letters until the text flows naturally. Use gimmicks in moderation. And don’t give up if your font is not an instant hit. Keep working, keep learning.
At some distant future, what would you like to be remembered for?
I have no illusions about the future. After three generations nobody will remember that I ever existed. This is how it goes. The memory span of humans is notoriously short. Besides, I’m not very important. After only four decades very few remember who Max Miedinger was. (He designed Helvetica.) Our memory will be buried by mountains of new information. In the 25th century, Fontstruct may be an obscure research project of digital archeology. Loss of information is all but ensured in thermodynamics.
The same applies to our precious type designs. Fonts are – like the latest fashion – ephemeral creations. As the world changes faster and faster, their lifespan becomes even shorter. There is nothing we can do about it. We have to accept transience. (If you can’t, you’d better start building your pyramid, now.) Thinking about the future and you realize everything changes so swiftly. Already, there are programs or plug-ins for fully automated kerning. That’s a great relief and a time saver for many designers. With variable fonts, we are able to generate a desired weight in an instant. Previously, it took years to develop a series of weights for a typeface. Artificial intelligence and machine learning could take over typeface design in the coming decades. Digital fonts are basically software. Every step of font creation can be easily automated and done faster and better by computers. Machine learning will surpass human designers, and it will be cheaper too. Perhaps, we are the last generation of natural human designers. It sounds scary.
I’m sorry for not giving a cheerful, uplifting answer. Sadly, I’m totally devoid of positive bias. However, (according to Martin J. Rees, British cosmologist) being pessimistic about the future is no reason to be gloomy.
Voxelstorm Regular 03
That might be too far flung. Where do you see yourself in the next year? Next five years?
I am to retire early at the end of this year. I have enough savings and investments to afford a comfortable life without waiting for the state pension. I’d like to travel more, eat local food, do silly walks, and learn new languages. I plan to finish a couple of books I never had time for. There will be more time for creating new fonts, of course. I’m going to experiment with color/layer fonts and learn more about variable fonts. Learning Python is also on my list. Finally, I’d like to return to an old pastime, linocut: improve my skills, and make a lot of nice prints.
Those are certainly admirable goals. Have fun achieving them, Tibor.
Elbereth (letter O; unfinished work).
∞ Understanding (Postscript)
There are five levels of understanding (of anything): Simple, Complicated, Complex, Chaos, and Disarray. At Simple level, almost no conscious thought is required to understand it. Complicated information requires some active thought to comprehend. Complex stimulus needs deep and careful consideration to grasp its meaning. Chaos requires the perspective of distance to see the pattern that make up the whole. Disarray provides no discernable information and is beyond human comprehension.
If you take the time to look at Tibor’s shared FontStructions carefully, it will become clear very quickly that his portfolio of work embodies the qualities of good fonts he has described in this interview. The legibility of the glyphs, the evenness of the gray of a block of text, the sprinkling of uniqueness, etc. This aligns well with what Frederic Goudy said: “When a type design is good it is not because each individual letter of the alphabet is perfect in form, but because there is a feeling of harmony and unbroken rhythm that runs through the whole design, each letter kin to every other and to all.” We would all do well in designing typefaces if we are cognizant of this.
Thanks once more Ata and Tibor!
This is a guest post from Ata Syed AKA thalamic and minimum, the fifth in a summer series, continuing the “Focus on Fontstructors” tradition of interviews with members of FontStruct’s designer community. Ata has been FontStructing since 2008.
Zhalgas Kassymkulov—better known as architaraz around FontStruct—is a freelance graphic designer and lives in Almaty, Kazakhstan with his wife and two children. He has multiple qualification as a Chemical Engineer (2004 – Kazakh British Technical University), Chinese Language (2005 – Beijing Foreign Studies University), and Architecture (2011 – Shanghai Tongji University).
AT Esrever by architaraz
Organically speaking, design has always existed. What? Yes! What isn’t designed by intention is designed by incident. There’s no getting around it. We’ll get into what this means a little further on. To start with, it is sufficient to know that the entire process of getting an output right has a minimum of these steps: Ideate, Design, Create, Evaluate. Let’s see how these steps relate to architaraz.
What is your daily life like?
“Routine :-) With kids it’s just a little different.”
What kind of music do you listen to you? How often? Why?
“Electronic/House/Trance (e.g., ASOT). Regularly. I like hearing synthesized sounds. And when you’re working you really need that extra energy that comes from listening to music.”
Apart from making fonts, what other creative/artistic things do you practice?
Do you enjoy your work? Is it your ideal choice for work? If not, what would you like to be doing for earning a living?
“Yes, I enjoy my work. It’s an ideal choice for work because I don’t have a boss yelling at me to do things for him/her. I work for myself now, make my own decisions, and take full responsibility for my actions.”
What inspires you? How do the things that inspire you make it into your creative output?
“Minimalism, precision/accuracy, and geometry are things that inspire me so if you can see it in my works then that could be considered as an [inspired] output.”
KD Anniversary X by architaraz
What do you dream of becoming?
“I dream of becoming someone like Paul Rand, Saul Bass or Rob Janoff.”
Have you already achieved it?
Is recognition important to you?
“I will be lying if I say no. :-) For me recognition is like justice. It would be just (justice) to be recognized. But, one has to truly deserve it.”
What are some of the most significant aspects of your life these days?
“Family. I have two children (boys) who are not babies anymore (five and eight years old), so it’s all about them now. Kindergarten, school, courses, etc.
Work. I switched to freelance design in 2018 and I am still freelancing. Due to obvious reasons it’s remote work, work from home, etc., but I like it. It seems I finally have time to start some projects, e.g., a YouTube channel.
Reconnecting with friends. I went to China after graduation, got my bachelor’s degree in architecture there and worked in different jobs from sales manager to designer. Now that I am back in my homeland—Kazakhstan—I am reconnecting with friends and relatives.”
AT Ribbon by architaraz
I was reading the Kazakhstan article on Wikipedia. It seems that there has been a lot of Russian influence on your country in the past century. So, I’m guessing one of the five languages you speak is Russian. What are the other four?
“Kazakh, English, Chinese, Turkish.”
Which is the most interesting? Which is the most different?
“Well as a designer, I guess it’s Chinese because every letter comes from a drawing. Every character. And because it is not like any other language—no alphabet—so you kinda have to memorize every existing word.”
Ever think of doing a Chinese font? I know it is quite a challenge. At least with Japanese you can just do the hiragana and katakana and be reasonably done.
“Yes, I’d really like to design one, specifically because it’s one hell of a challenge.”
What does it mean to ‘design’ something? Surprisingly, a clear, precise, and universal definition of design does not exist. What? How can that be? Don’t know how, but it so be. If you look up the meaning of the word ‘love’, you will find something—and it will be correct as well—but it won’t be definitive. Someone else may choose to define ‘love’ some other way which may also be correct. Similarly, ‘design’ can be defined a number of different ways. I choose to define ‘design’ as the process of finding a solution to a problem, provided—at a minimum—it fulfills its purpose, satisfies the target market/audience, and stays within the imposed, implied, or assumed limitations.
Design, being the process, is over once a solution is realized. The output can said to be designed, but never the design itself. Since nothing can be accomplished without some process, therefore nothing does not go through design. Furthermore, the trifecta of purpose + target market/audience + limitations cannot be bypassed. What is design, then? Everything.
Two Interesting thing to realize are: 1. A problem is not an insurmountable obstacle, rather merely something that hasn’t been solved so far. 2. The use of the word finding. To find something, it first must exist. Finding a solution implies that the solution already exists even if the problem has not yet been identified. Therefore, everything is solvable.
Architecture seems the most directly connected degree to your profession. What made you work as a graphic designer?
“Well, that’s life, you know. Most people I know are not working by their university degree. The second year of studying architecture, I worked on a small book for a friend of mine and that’s when I think something clicked. Just before graduation I was an intern at an architectural firm in Shanghai, China, but I found that it was boring to work on a software I have already been working for the previous two years, so I just chose to learn something new, like Photoshop and Illustrator. And I loved it. Only later I learned that it was connected to a different major called Graphic Design. But then after graduation I worked as a sales manager using my language skills (I speak five languages) for something like six years for different companies and different industries. It was during this time when I started FontStructing. Afterwards, I did work as a senior graphic designer for a home décor company—it was only for six months—but it was enough to understand what it was all about.”
Going through your fonts, I noticed that they are always very few bricks tall, like a challenge you create for yourself to do the most stylistically consistent font with as few bricks as possible? Which comes first for you, the idea of a font or experimentation to see what other font can be created with the available bricks?
“I use few bricks for different reasons, but I guess it’s just fun, and I enjoy it. I don’t think I would enjoy using Bezier curves. I almost never think of a font letter shapes beforehand; all shapes come from experimenting. There are rare cases when, for example, I take J of Juventus FC and build a font out of it (available on dafont) but all other font shapes are a result of experimentation. FontStructor is a great tool for experiments.”
AT Extrema by architaraz
It seems creating fonts is your fun graphic designing activity. I was going through the logos you have on your website. They did not seem like results of experimentation. Tell us about how you got to be a logo designer.
“Sometime in 2018, after working mainly as a sales manager, [I reached] a turning point in my life where I decided to (or had to) say no to having a salary and say no to having a boss who would tell me what to do. I was on my own then. I decided to pursue a (freelance) design career. Did I have much experience? No, but the fonts I created in FontStruct were a sign to me that I had at least something. I also made some simple logos for my friends, where one of them was actually a font. I just sent the font file to him and told him to install it and type out their company name because those were the only letters that font had and it was of course a vector, so why not?
So, starting as a freelancer I had to start earning money and font design was not an option because let’s face it, my fonts are no Proxima Nova. That’s when I took a shot at logos. Why logos? Because I kept seeing people sharing some letter logos they made for clients on Instagram and I thought that not only can I make those type of letters, I can also make the whole alphabet, if need be.
I came across 99designs.com and decided to participate in a logo contest. Fate was on my side I guess, and I won it. I took it as a sign. It’s still a very good platform, I am branded as a Top Level designer there and I visit it from time to time to see if I see something that interests me. To the reader: If you’re talented, experienced, and have a unique style, you should go for it. No doubt you’ll succeed there.
Some logos by architaraz
In 2019, I discovered logoground.com. I was sceptic about this platform at first because it didn’t seem like a good idea to share a unique unsold logo for everybody to see. Then I learned about copyright and how we can protect ourselves. Especially now that most social media platforms and hosting providers honor DMCA and help you protect your work if it gets stolen. Technology is constantly evolving and platforms like Yandex are really helpful when it comes to finding copyright infringements. It’s been two years and I am now branded as a Platinum Designer there, making sales both on and off site. It’s better than contest websites, if you see something you like just buy it. Simple as that. It’s just that there are so many ideas in my (or any other designer’s head) and it’s just hard to find someone who I could sell it to. Platforms like LogoGround help you do that. Just like I use FontStruct to get the idea out there.”
This is nice. It’s encouraging to those who will read it. Now can you talk about how you come up with the idea for a logo, what steps you take to get it to final stage, etc.? The designing aspect of it.
“With the logos, it’s almost always idea first in my head and then the design process. At first I would have an idea and then go straight to some digital creation platform. With time I started drawing because you can’t always simply imagine visual ideas. So, if it’s an iconic logo idea, I go straight to digital. If it’s a monogram, I brainstorm (explore) with pen and paper. The digital version almost always doesn’t look like the sketch.
AT Archaus.2 by architaraz
I love grids and most of my logos use some sort of a grid. Isometric grid is my favorite though. [Adobe] Illustrator is my choice of software for logo design. There are cases when I used SketchUp or Dimension for some 3D logos, but mostly it’s just Illustrator. Some ideas come to me when I’m outside looking at the surroundings. I think you can always come up with some sort of idea this way. Sometimes I surf the internet and see something and I get inspired by it. Now and then I look at logos other designers have created and this also generates ideas. For example, I randomly look at Logo Modernism book’s pages and get an idea for myself. I created a whole new YouTube series where I try to teach others how to draw a certain shape in an interesting way.” I think I need to watch that.
Can you please tell me more about the usage of grid in your design work?
“While studying architecture we didn’t use grids much, in AutoCAD and SketchUp or 3dsMax; you draw things pretty much in the air. I started using them regularly after [getting acclimated with] FontStruct. Grid is modularity and modularity is something that I apparently love. Once you get used to it, it is hard to let it go. In most cases, grid is enabled in my Illustrator (128px with 4 subdivisions). There are other grids like golden ratio, but I don’t use it ’cause I think it’s overrated. My current favorite grid is isometric grid because I like how the three axes have the same length and you can draw a 3D design immediately even if the perspective is not true. And it’s a perfect grid for logo design too. On Instagram, I draw famous logos that use isometry so as to show people to not get obsessed with golden ratio. I couldn’t find a sketchbook with isometric grid (they’re all either blank, dots, or squares) so had to custom order it at a nearby printshop.” I think I want that too.
Custom isometric grid notebook by architaraz
You mentioned Paul Rand and Saul Bass as someone you want to emulate. What it is about their work that is so inspirational to you?
“I guess simplicity. I like how shapes are simplified to their limits and still communicate a lot of things. These designers created many famous logos and for a reason. When it comes to fonts, there are just too many designers to mention, but off the top of my head I would mention Othmar Motter. Tom Hultgren’s Traffic is still one of my favs, and whoever designed the US Army Stencil typeface is a genius.
I like how Paul Rand told Steve Jobs that he will create only one logo version for his company, and that was it. You like it, you take it. Don’t like it? Go find someone else. In my experience, clients always want to see some alternative versions. Milton Glaser’s I♥NY logo and his Glaser Stencil font are some other favorites. I love how he created NY’s logo as a present for the city which says a lot about him. In fact, I don’t know, but something about stencil fonts gets to me. Even the first FontStruction I made was called Sliced. It’s a bad logo but it was stencil. And many more of my fonts are stencils. I can’t explain why, but I love that style.”
AT Baktera by architaraz
I get what you mean by being enamored by stencil fonts. I like them too. Probably something to do with the first introduction to fonts as a child and getting those cheap plastic sheets with letters cutout of them, which had to be stencil by necessity.
“Exactly! Maybe that’s how we were introduced to letter drawings.”
The Army stencil font is quite the definitive example of Form Follows Function. Are you a believer of the Bauhaus ideology?
“Well, I wouldn’t say a believer. I believe what Milton Glaser said: Art is whatever. Though I love that Bauhaus font.”
Bauhaus was more of a design school than art though.
“Well, I didn’t study Bauhaus that deep. We had it in my architecture classes, but it was something like 13 years ago :-) All I remember is there was this DVD of six disks about Bauhaus and architecture and I prepared sort of a small essay for which the teacher praised me. It’s just a big topic to discuss. Though anyone who can design a font like Bauhaus can consider himself a success, that I am sure of. It’s flawless.
Right now I don’t try to do what others have already done. I’m just discovering my own style. It may be with the fonts or with the logos. It’s a very hard thing to achieve—something unique—and there is still a long way ahead of me. What I really need to do is FINISH my fonts. :-) Currently they’re all like demos. Except for the ones I published commercially. Those ones I consider to be finished—a period [full stop] at the end of a sentence. Surely, font design is about perfection and no font can ever be finished, but I take that into account and stop at some point. I have to.”
So what would you say that your creative output is more artistic or commercial? Why?
“I think it’s more commercial because artist for me is like being Da Vinci. I’m a designer.”
As are you. A designer is someone who carries out a process with thought and intention while a non-designer’s intent is merely getting to the output, whatever that may be. Design happens in both situations. Who then is a designer? You and I. Him and her and them. Everyone is a designer. Anyone who pays heed to purpose, limitations and the person or group of people the output will affect—among other variables—is a designer.
Of course, we all design different things. Being a teacher, I design classes, courses, curriculum; being a graphic designer, I design fonts, posters, books, etc.; being alive and having weird dietary constraints, I design food; etc. As do you. Perhaps not courses, but maybe cars or curbs or cakes or camouflage or convenience or continuation or…. If a process is involved, design is taking place. And since we are all doing something with active thought and getting-the-correct-output intention—which can be said to the definition of ‘designing’—we are all designer of something or other.
Why do you create fonts?
“This is a hard question that I don’t think I fully know the answer to. I guess I just love it, love the process of it and I could stare at the result indefinitely. Also, at this point certainly not for commercial reasons. I remember how I first got interested in typography – in my 2nd term at the university studying architecture I was commissioned to create a small book for students that mostly involved working with typography. That was when I had my first spark. In my last year at the university, while an intern in a local architecture firm, I put my focus not on architecture but on some other stuff. I then learned that other stuff had a name…and it was called graphic design. :-)”
AT Tugan by architaraz
What is your general font making process? What causes you to deviate from this process?
“The process keeps changing but it almost always starts from FontStruct. Before I switched to MacOS, I would redraw my FontStruct font in Font Creator Pro, either directly or with the help of Adobe Illustrator. After I switched to MacOS I would still take my font from FontStruct but this time I would use Glyphs. There are, of course, cases when I would create a font directly in Glyphs. For some reason I never sketch fonts by hand—it’s always a digital process for me. I wouldn’t use additional software, but FontStruct still needs additional features if one wants to create a professional font.”
Once you start creating a font, what keeps you going?
“Modularity. I think I can see a letter in any shape and I just develop other letters from it. And I want them to be geometric and not have many (better none) optical corrections because I don’t want my fonts to be used in text – they’re meant to be for display and for short words only.”
While making a font, what frustrations do you face and how do you overcome them?
“I want to stay true to modularity. Not finding consistencies is what frustrates me or maybe it’s that perfectionist syndrome. When it happens, I take a little time off. After that I come back and try to make a deal with modularity. I call that deal a compromise and try to control the urge for perfection that exists in every graphic designer.”
Why do you continue to make fonts?
“Not sure. Maybe ’cause it’s fun or maybe ’cause ideas keep coming and I just have to let them out. But once again, at this point, certainly not for commercial reasons. Hope it changes someday.”
How did you discover FontStruct?
“I remember asking my friend Kuanysh who is an IT geek if he knew how one can create a font. He suggested FontStruct. I don’t remember now why I needed to create a font then especially when I was working as a sales manager for a plastic pipes company. I’m just glad I did.”
How long have you been FontStructing?
“Since 2011 but I did take some time off due to…well, life. :-)”
How often do you visit fontstruct.com?
“There were times when I visited it every hour; there were times when I didn’t visit it for weeks. My activity there aren’t constant, but it is always in the back of my head.”
What keeps you coming back to FontStruct?
“The community. Internet is so cruel, but FontStruct is something else.”
Laffa by architaraz
Are there any changes you wish to see happen at fontstruct.com and in the FontStructor?
“Oh, there are many. :-) The ability to sell a font directly through the website; basic OpenType features; composite letters so that if we change a letter all its variants change automatically; kerning groups; customizable bricks; and many more. These are just to give you an idea. But, FontStruct has already come a long way and has many great features (e.g., color fonts now). It’s awesome and I truly believe in its future.”
Whether intentional or incidental, design will happen. Incidental design may even provide a perfectly reasonable output. What it lacks is the ability to eliminate the possibility of getting it wrong. Not that intentional design cannot also result in a fiasco. It can. The chances are lower though. Designing is a game of percentage of time you can be sure of creating the correct solution.
Do you admire any other FontStructors? Who and why?
“Of course! When my friend suggested this website, I went through it and one designer’s works caught my eye—it was Elmoyenique. You can say it was he who inspired me. There are plenty of others I admire including four, will.i.ૐ, thalamic, funk_king, geneus1, and Frodo7 to name a few. Why? Because their works are awesome. ;-)
However, specifically as a thank you to Elmoyenique, I approached him and I proposed that we create a commercial font together. I would take one of his fonts and edit it in Glyphs and make it suitable for commercial release. The font was finished but well life gets in the way, and we never got it published. It’s nothing great, but I liked the idea that we could do it. It’s his font Ziberia. It’s not over yet though. I have a surprise waiting for him.”
I’m sure Elmoyenique will be please to read this. Is there anything you wish to say that I haven’t asked?
“My website is a little outdated but my Instagram is most definitely up-to-date. I am constantly updating it and creating various stuff because I want to share my experience. Also, on my YouTube channel, I share logo design techniques. More font related content will be added to YouTube too (hopefully). It’s just that font design is much more complex and time consuming than logo design. ;-)”
OK, last three question: Where do you see yourself in the next year? Next five years? Next ten years?
I hope things will be little different for me next year because some projects of mine need time but are near completion. Next 5 to 10 years? That’s hard to say because 2020 showed us that we’re [all] vulnerable.
True. Vulnerabilities notwithstanding, be well, everyone. Take care.
Thank you once more, Ata and Zhalgas!
This is a guest post from Ata Syed AKA thalamic and minimum, the fourth in a summer series, continuing the “Focus on Fontstructors” tradition of interviews with members of FontStruct’s designer community. Ata has been FontStructing since 2008.
Imagine this interview is a painting. This painting. The result is the combination of the base layer with details layer on top. While both the layers are meaningful on their own, the experience of viewing them together as a single entity is greater than the sum of its parts.
The painting above is created by the artist Paul Bokslag—better known as four around FontStruct—and he will be the focus in this four-th interview of the Gridfolk 2021 series.
Connectivity and On The Dot by four. Illustration by Paul Bokslag.
Read on to find out how an artist’s mind works.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where you live and work? What kind of training do you have? What do you do in everyday life beyond FontStructing?
I was born and raised in the Netherlands and moved to Ireland more than twenty years ago, after having studied in Leiden. I am a visual artist and designer and for many years I worked in an arts centre that I co-founded. In my job as a tutor and facilitator, I taught drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture, and photography to inclusive groups of students and I was a facilitator in a supported studio. I am passionate about the creative process and love sharing that with others. I also worked for a children’s arts and health charity and currently I am juggling my time as a freelancer between my own arts practice, graphic design, giving workshops, mentoring and exhibition installs. When not at work, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, making things with my hands, reading, playing games, canoeing, and going for long walks in the hills.
For a good few years, I had a healthy obsession with cutting paper. Starting with small, framed pieces, these grew into large scale space filling installations. I did not see the connection with type design until I accidentally used one of my fonts for an exhibition poster and realised that it is all visually related. More recently I have rediscovered the joy of painting and working on murals. I am interested in positive and negative space, and it plays a role in a lot of my work, both two- and three-dimensional.
“An Exhibition of Papercuts” poster by Paul Bokslag
How did you become interested in type and typography? What was your first experience of font design?
I have designed a lot of publications, brochures, flyers, signs, posters, and logos, using Adobe software and I was always interested in the visual aspect of letters, but I never had a formal training in graphic design.
How did you start out on FontStruct?
I came across FontStruct by chance, when looking for a particular font. I was immediately impressed by the work in the gallery and wondered if I would ever be able to build something similar. It took a while before I started playing and experimenting with the tool myself, but then I quickly got hooked.
If you had to choose two (or three) of your own FontStructions as favorites, which would they be and why?
Most of my FontStructions are self-initiated projects. One of the exceptions is The Pattern Exchange, which was commissioned as the display typeface for a curated group exhibition of the same name in Temple Bar Gallery in Dublin in 2015. Each glyph is a permutated version of a pattern, made up of a limited number of geometric shapes. Although I love to have the freedom to develop free work, it was wonderful to see one of my creations in use: printed on the programme cover and in vinyl on the gallery windows. The font can still be downloaded for free from the gallery website.
Some of my fonts have also appeared in Typodarium, IDN v26n3 and Edo Smitshuijzen’s Mashrabiya fonts and it is still very exciting to see my work in print.
The FontStruct competitions are both a challenge and an opportunity to explore new avenues and to experiment with concepts. Counter Culture was developed as an entry for the reverse competition in 2017. The design is based around the idea of representing letters as three-dimensional negative space in a two-dimensional medium. The angle in the letters makes it possible to create words as a continuous wall.
Counter Culture by four
What other work on FontStruct do you especially admire and why?
From the start I admired the fonts of some of the early adopters: elmoyenique’s aesthetic, that I feel a strong connection with; beate’s unique and beautiful approach to FontStructing; Frodo7’s possible and impossible 3D work; the theatrical quality of geneus1’s fonts; the fascinating experiments of thalamic and William Leverette; the perfection of fonts by architaraz and Yautja and the hard work of the Video Game Font Preservation Society. They were later joined by others who also developed their unique styles and visual language. Their support and advice have been very valuable over the years.
What are the aspects of FontStruct that make it appealing to you?
Although I have never met other site users in person, I have experienced FontStruct as a very supportive and inspiring creative community.
As a tool, FontStruct is accessible, intuitive, and self-explanatory. You can start using it from scratch and learn about its more complex possibilities and the larger world of type design as you go along. FontStruct instantly makes it possible to quickly compare two versions of a glyph side by side and to look at them as part of the larger family of glyphs. The preview window is an excellent way to quickly get a feeling for the rhythm of a variety of glyph combinations. Changing glyphs by cutting and pasting parts of other glyphs, rotating and flipping sections, it is all at the click of a mouse button.
I love working on a small grid using 2×2 filters. This allows for the use of all curved bricks at a maximum relative size. Features that the amazing Rob Meek has added over the years, such as stacking and the option to make your own composite bricks using up to 16 existing bricks, have hugely increased the possibilities of working on a small scale. In 2×2 filters every brick now occupies four gridcells, the bottom left is its anchorpoint. The other three cells become potential anchorpoints for other bricks that will overlap the original brick by a quarter or a half. The surrounding cells also become anchorpoints for bricks that can be nudged to overlap or fill spaces. Zephram created some tutorials that explain it all much better than I ever could.
The bricks themselves are often the starting point of new projects and they can dictate in which direction a font develops. I enjoy being immersed in the flow of that process: the frustration when I just can’t find the solution for one or two glyphs that refuse to become part of the bigger picture and the joyful and satisfying moment when things start falling into place. Sometimes that requires taking a bit of distance. Returning to a font in progress after weeks or even months can give a new perspective. Often a font develops in such a way that in the end I need to change the very glyph that started it all off and sometimes I can’t resist stripping down a font to its essentials.
Oluna by four
Creating a modular font is trying to find a language that is consistent throughout all the glyphs. The challenge is to use variations of certain glyphs and combinations of elements and to repeat shapes and angles without it becoming to rigid. That occasionally requires consciously breaking a typographic rule or breaking the FontStruct grid itself and some FontStructors apply this very successfully.
Sometimes, working on a FontStruction becomes a visual warmup exercise that can feed into other art projects. Even brick shapes and the grid itself have found their way into other media.
If you could add or improve one thing on FontStruct, what would it be?
I think there is scope for a FontStruct foundry, through which the best and most complete FontStructions could be sold.
I also like the idea of a one-day online symposium on modular font design, with workshops and presentations. It could be a nice way to meet and collaborate with and to learn from other FontStructors and others in the field.
Ever wondered why a picture is worth a thousand words? If that is true, would paintings be worth ten thousand words then? The answer is symbolic condensation™. Not the convert-gas-into-liquid condensation, but of the meaning ‘make more concentrated using symbols and symbolism’. What is a symbol then? It is a representation of a physical thing or an idea. The letters of a language script are all symbols, each standing for a particular sound (or sounds in some cases, depending on the context). Look at the letter symbol B and try not to think of it as the letter ‘bee’ despite it being just some shape. It is next to impossible. The power of symbols is unrestrained.
Symbolic condensation is the reason a picture is worth a thousand words because it contains imagery that can stand for more than what is depicted. Furthermore, combinations of different symbols in close proximity to another can concentrate the information even more. It takes a thousand words to unpack all the information stored in pictures. Artistic paintings take this concept to the next level by using only symbols to convey vast amount of meaning as concisely as possible. They have to be worth ten thousand words at a minimum.
The following conversation took place on WhatsApp over 8 hours—edited for spelling, grammar, clarity, and privacy. Some words are spelled two different ways depending on who was using it.
How complicated life is, right? Just getting time to WhatsApp now requires coordination.
Amazing though that we can communicate from different parts of the world…
True. In the US, in early 90s, AT&T had these future prediction ads with the tag line ‘You will’. One of them was about video calls. It sounded so futuristic then. Now they are a few years old already.
I was going through all your published fonts and the thing that struck me the most was the sheer variety of the works you have produced on those teeny tiny grids. Mind-blowing. Please tell me about your font making process.
OK, I suppose I am always interested in trying new things, taking things a step further all the time keeps the process interesting. A small idea can grow into a full font, but fonts often develop organically. I try not to hold on to predetermined ideas, but to stay open-minded about how a font evolves. Not every project becomes a full font, sometimes it doesn’t go beyond the exploration phase, but that is fine.
From A to B by four
So, it starts and end with the FontStructor?
Occasionally I will do some quick sketches on paper, but a lot of the time it starts with moving some bricks around to see what happens. A few times I have taken files into Glyphs to refine them, but most of the time that isn’t necessary.
I do draw letters that never make it to FontStruct, simply because the medium doesn’t suit them.
The limitations of FontStruct are also its strength. In painting, working with a limited palette can help to make your work more harmonious. The same goes for fontstruct: working with a limited set of bricks adds to the consistency of the font. Working with solid brick shapes also helps to quickly get an understanding of positive and negative space.
Why do you create fonts?
I create fonts because I enjoy the making process and it feeds my creative energy.
How much time do you spend experimenting?
I go through phases in which I have more time to work with FontStruct and there are periods in which I am busy with other things and just check the livestream every couple of days.
Experimenting time varies. Sometimes the first letter dictates the form of a lot of the other glyphs. Other fonts go through different stages before they find their final form and changing one character may mean having to change all of them.
I’ve had that happen to me a few times. You kinda don’t want to redo everything but also want to go with the better option.
Looking at your fonts, I know you have been in that same situation more than once.
How did you get into art?
As a child I really enjoyed drawing and painting, playing with materials, building and making things. That never really changed.
Phoenix Park by four
Were you ever a struggling artist? The struggles, the frustrations, the rewards, etc.
I am lucky to live in a place that has a vibrant and supportive arts community, so there was always acceptance; recognition comes over time. I suppose I was struggling with the work itself more when I was younger. I am more confident now because I have learned to trust the process. I know that if I give that my time and full commitment, things will come together. It is exciting to be selected for an exhibition or commission, but that doesn’t last forever. The reward that remains lies in the enjoyment of that process. It also means there doesn’t always have to be a product or an outcome.
Well, going through your stuff, I notice how intricate it is. It certainly takes a lot of commitment to do such detailed work. Papercutting art, for example. I’ve used x-acto knife to do paper cuttings, but that leaves my finger and thumb numb. Once that numbness lasted for several day. I thought I had done permanent damage.
A lot of my work is labour-intensive and I enjoy that part of it. Working with an x-acto knife has become easier over time, but coming back to it after a longer break, it can still make my fingers numb.
One frustrating part of working as a visual artist is receiving rejection letters after spending hours or days writing proposals.
But isn’t that true for any field?
Yes, that happens in a lot of jobs and in hindsight it has often been a good way of organising my thoughts.
What are your thoughts and opinions about failure?
Looking at my papercuts, people often ask if I never make mistakes. I do make mistakes, but they become part of the piece.
That’s the mark of an artist.
People also comment that I must have a lot of patience to do this work, but it actually works the other way round: it gives me a lot of peace to spend time at the table cutting paper.
What is your art making process? Do you have music playing while doing it? What’s your studio like? I imagine your work—or even your home—to be very pristine and organized.
My studio is a little strawbale house that was built by friends. There is a lot of work stored in it and it is a bit of a mess at the moment, I am not a very tidy person.
Paul Bokslag’s studio (outside)
The process depends on the medium or the project. Some have to be planned out more than others.
Sometimes I listen to podcasts or music while working, other times I prefer the silence.
Paul Bokslag’s studio (inside)
Awesome. Your studio looks very much like a studio. But not what I imagined.
I am so grateful for that space. I just noticed the FontStruct poster in the photo.
Oh yeah look at that. How cool!
Can you work on the floor? I mean, does your body allow it? Because I can’t.
Yes, to work on larger pieces, I need to sit on the floor. I use a camping mat to keep it comfortable. The studio is too small for that though, so it means looking for space elsewhere.
What does it mean to be an artist to you?
As a visual person I am very aware of and interested in what I see around me, both in nature and the manmade environment. I really notice it if I haven’t been in the studio for a while. Making is important to me and keeps me healthy. A few years ago, through work, I learned about the five creative habits of mind: inquisitive, collaborative, persistent, disciplined, and imaginative. It really sums it up for me: being curious, working with others, seeing a project through, improving skills, and working with intuition. Creativity isn’t just about art though; it also applies to a lot of other areas in life.
What kind of books do you read?
Literature, artbooks, travel books and some psychology.
What are some of your favorite books?
Some books I enjoyed reading recently: Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell, On Looking by Alexandra Horowitz, The Salt Path by Rainor Winn.
Any fiction novels?
The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien, Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami.
The recent events in Afghanistan made me think of a book for young people that a local animation company adapted for a film: The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis.
Sorry, got lost in the bookshelves for a while.
Velodrome by four
I noticed one shelf of all yellow spines in your studio picture. National Geographic magazines?
Yes, that’s something I have been reading back to front for years every month. Someone gave me a subscription years ago and I have continued it ever since.
What kind of music do you listen to?
Two weeks ago, I went to my first outdoor concert in a long time: Here’s an artist I want to share with you…MOXIE.
What is your day like in general? Are you nocturnal or diurnal?
I need eight hours of sleep and get up reasonably early. The day very much depends on what projects I’m working on. And then there are always plenty of chores around the house.
Chores never end. You only tell yourself these are all the chores that exist at any given time…and ignore the rest.
Which reminds me, I should check the washing machine. Again.
:-) I always enjoy knowing other people also do mundane stuff that I have to do, like ironing. Makes me feel less weird.
Lots of mundane stuff here…
Ask anyone if they know what love is and most likely they will say yes instantaneously. Ask them to describe what love is and watch most falter in giving a clear answer. Some things are just too difficult to describe in words. This is not because the answer is not known but because as highly developed our languages are, they are not developed enough to convey esoteric information symbolically. In addition, there is further complication of trying to convey subjective understanding through a language that is not equipped to handle it. In fact, if it was at all possible, the brilliant writers and linguists over the centuries would have come up with it already.
Art is like that. It is too subjective and symbolic to be readily described in words. Its meaning is well understood though. We know something is art when we experience it. We can feel and understand its meaning (or at least a meaning) intrinsically, but cannot put it into words. What is more interesting to realize is that universal understanding of what art is is less important than realizing that there is a universal need for art. To be able to connect with something on a symbolic level that resonates within us is an innate need. In short, we cannot do without art.
Your art is mostly abstract. Why do you choose to do such art? And so brilliant too. I think making abstract art people can connect with is way harder than organic art.
Thanks, I do some representational work as well, but there is so much more for me to explore in the world of abstraction.
How do you come up with ideas for your art?
I could discover something in a painting and explore that a bit further in the next one. Some projects have a specific brief.
Painting by Paul Bokslag
OK, this is your painting from your website. The smallest and the simplest I saw. Tell me about how you created it. How did you decide the colors?
OK, this is a small work on deep edge canvas. The painting wraps around the edge. The first layer are three vertical bands of acrylic paint: purple, turquoise, and blue. The second layer are lines drawn with an acrylic marker. Posca is a popular brand. I use Molotow because they are refillable and have a better choice of colours. Here I used green, red, and orange . You can work with masking tape to mark the edge of the bands.
I select colours intuitively as I go along.
Mural by Paul Bokslag
Then there is this brilliant thing. It’s so modular yet so organic. I love it. How did you plan it? I can’t believe it was organically done. It’s like a multi-layer FontStruction.
This had to be planned out as a small sketch on paper, but I actually deviated from it when I applied the second layer. Sometimes on location things work out different from a sketch.
How long did it take?
This took a good two weeks to complete.
Is it paint or tape?
I used acrylic paint markers again, with a much wider tip. I made some templates using board, garden sticks and duct tape. They act as guides rather than a ruler, so the lines still have that hand drawn imperfect quality to them. There is a video on the internet in which you can see how it is done.
It is still strange to see myself on video and hear my voice…with Dutch accent…talking about creativity and process again.
This project was a wonderful opportunity that gave a huge boost to my practice.
You deserve it, for sure.
Have you ever thought about doing art with letters?
Yes, I can’t wait to do a big lettering mural. I was thinking about it when I made Offstruct RGB, the colour pixel font.
Is there one coming up?
No, no lettering mural coming up unfortunately. I am mentoring a group of young people who were asked to do a mural next month though, so I’ll probably end up with a brush in my hands as well.
Offstruct RGB by four
The diversity of representing different scripts in consistent style, yet distinct from other styles, yet still recognizable as the same original script is a constant source of amazement and enjoyment for some. It is no wonder typefaces—specifically display typefaces—are so fascinating. They are design for sure, but they also soothe the soul. You can call them art as well.
I must say, Paul…this has been a most interesting conversation. Thank you for hanging out with me on WhatsApp today.
I really enjoyed it too, Ata! It certainly was the longest WhatsApp marathon ever. Now back to the laundry…
Thanks to Rob Meek for conducting the important Base Layer part of this interview.
Thank you once more, Ata and Paul!
This is a guest post from Ata Syed AKA thalamic and minimum, the third in a summer series, continuing the “Focus on Fontstructors” tradition of interviews with members of FontStruct’s designer community. Ata has been FontStructing since 2008.
In the pursuit of perfection there are no winners—the universe doesn’t allow it. It is an unattainable myth. Does that mean it is best not to seek it? This bears further exploration. Read on to find out why this odd intro makes sense.
The Fontstructor we focus on this third time around in the series “Gridfolk 2021” is the highly selective and consistently focused C. Jorgensen, better known around FontStruct as time.peace.
blueberry by time.peace
The global reach of FontStruct is undeniable. For example, this article was written in Pakistan; related to a website based in Germany; housed on some server who knows where—might as well be Antarctica; about a person (time.peace) from USA who currently lives in South Korea. Whew! And this is just one instance. FontStruct has users from all over the world [more on that in another interview down the road].
Regarding educational background, time.peace has a “BA in Hutchins, multiple subject teaching credential, TESOL teaching certification and TEFL teaching certification”. This explains why they live in S. Korea, where they are “currently working…as an English teacher.” What kind, I asked? “Definitely an energetic teacher. In the classroom I do my best to match energy with the students.” However, they further explained that “the teaching style at the moment is something not too unlike a wild-mouse roller coaster. It’s energetic, fun and just a little chaotic. Despite the chaotic energetic nature, there are clear boundaries and expectations. If those are broken in someway, things need to stop so they can be fixed. Similar to the wild mouse, this way of teaching is something that isn’t for everyone, but it’s something that’ll continue to be signed up for on behalf of myself. At this point in life, still being relatively young (only graduating a couple years ago) it seems important to use that energy while it’s still there.” Sounds like quite the commitment; the whole wrapped in an aura of perfection. If time.peace is so demanding of themselves, what do they expect of the students? “One major expectation is that students can be as imaginative as they want. Students should know that there’s nothing wrong with thinking outside the box. If the essay prompt is about their ideal vacation spot, they should have to option to write honestly about whatever that may be. They could write about time traveling to ancient Egypt, or exploring magic castles or just a relaxing time at home, it’s up to their imaginations. These ideas step outside the normal expectations of an ideal vacation spot but students should know that they have the creative freedom to write about whatever the prompt leads them to.” Gazing back into the haze of time, was being a teacher what they dreamed of becoming? “The goal from university was to become a teacher and that box has been checked off the list. All that’s left is to see what else the universe has to offer and explore whatever that may be.”
anubis by time.peace
It’s flashback backstory time. “Growing up in Generation Z, with parents who were both teachers, there was a strong connection made with books, specifically Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. Both offered such interesting worlds that they grabbed hold of the imagination. Old radio programs and jazz were played on cassette tapes which led to an odd childhood when compared to that of classmates. It was a cozy style though, the idea of being wrapped up in a book while some old, all-but-forgotten comedian tells jokes on a radio in the other room. It really did make for a bizarre mix of the vintage and modern. It’s that mix that led to the interest in swing punk and electro swing music. Coincidentally, the era of music and radio programs being listened to were not too far removed from the Art Deco era.”
In the story of getting to know time.peace, we’ve just learned of a key driving-force that impacts their life. After that build-up, if you were listening to a contemporary song, you would expect the drop to occur right about now. But no, here comes the bridge.
Just as the invention of photography did away with the need for realism in art (such as it was back then) and gave rise to the impressionism movement, similarly the end of WWI in the early part of the 20th century brought about the desire to get rid of the past and move forward. The dominant art style pre-war was Art Nouveau with its characteristic uses of stylized curves depicting nature. That had to go. What was needed was to show the future that embodied progress; to show a fast movement towards advancement; to show rebirth replete with possibilities. This was accomplished by replacing curves with straight lines, nature with geometry, asymmetry with symmetry, and—most importantly—ornate predilection with organized perfection. Although the term Art Deco didn’t really gain common acceptance until the 1960s—well beyond the end of the movement—its essence had permeated into every aspect of life. It certainly has had a profound impact on time.peace. As an aside, it should be noted here that the mid-century modernist movement was in full swing in the 60s, but that is a history lesson for another time. For now, think Art Deco.
night-lyfe by time.peace
As will become evident later, I suggested the title for this article as “The Pursuit of Perfection”. After a thoughtful pause, time.peace offered an alternative title of “West Egg, Looking East” as a “jumping off your suggestion about striving for perfection among the established FontStructors, just out of reach, while also connecting to Art Deco, and—being a bit of a former bookworm—a literary reference [as well].” Unsure what that meant, time.peace further explained, “It’s an allusion to the Great Gatsby. West Egg was where Gatsby lived, an area usually reserved for new wealth and East Egg was the area where the old money lived. Throughout the novel that East Egg idea is something that he’s reaching towards, symbolized as a green light [in the sample below].” Great Gatsby, as we know, is drenched with Art Deco imagery. Their suggested title is thoughtful and stylistically consistent. Like.
strawberry font and (inner) illustration by time.peace
Let’s talk fonts. What influences makes it into their fonts? “The big one is Art Deco, obviously. So many of its aspects are beautiful and have a multitude of ways to be incorporated in fonts.” Age undisclosed, but from the profile picture and bio above, you know time.peace is still a young person. How do they come to be influenced by an art movement a century removed from themselves? How would they describe themselves then? “The person behind time.peace is an eclectic amalgamation of Art Deco intrigue and imagination. Never afraid to fail, and always happy to better a font until it is—to quote Mary Poppins—practically perfect in every way.”
boxcar by time.peace
There’s that word perfect again. Clearly, the pursuit of perfection is strong with time.peace. What do they have to say about it? Does it have childhood roots? “Perfection wasn’t really demanded, but there was a hardworking mentality and the idea of taking pride in what you do. Perfection is something that will perpetually be out of reach, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being imperfect. There’s something to be said about loving imperfections. It’s more of a goal, an idea to work towards, using it to improve where you see fit.” Interesting. This coincides with what Vince Lombardi, the famous American football coach said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” Perhaps it is this desire to achieve excellence that is the driving force behind time.peace’s work.
With the perfection mystery solved, it brings us to this central question: Why does time.peace create fonts? “Fonts are just fun in their own bizarre little way. They are little projects that allow you to be as detail oriented and intricate as you see fit, with a ridiculous amount of endless possibilities.” So how do they go about making a font generally? Is the process always the same or do they sometime deviate from it? “The process is fairly random, tending to start with the more straight edged uppercase, then to the letters with more twists and turns, jumping around to different glyphs, often without much rhyme or reason. This process can often be thrown out the window depending on the intricacies of the font however.” And once started creating a font, what keeps them going? “Simply wanting to create an end product that is (optimistically) both visually appealing and functional.” Do they sometime get frustrated while making a font and what do they do to overcome those frustrations? “Eliminating imperfections is continually the most frustrating aspect. Many early fonts were riddled with imperfections and they are slowly but surely being fixed. It seems like the best way to overcome the frustrations is simply to be patient and keep trying new things.” It also seems that no obstacle is great enough in the pursuit of
How does FontStruct help time.peace in this regard? “There’s always been in an interest in little things. FontStruct offered that so perfectly, combining both the familiar—of small meticulously crafted projects, previously explored through those small toys growing up—with the unfamiliar new realm of typography. That unfamiliarity with typography soon became familiar and led to the want to improve and get better and emulate the established FontStructors.”
pacific voyage by time.peace
Which of their own fonts are their favorites? “blueberry, anubis, and strawberry are some of my personal favorites. For anubis, it’s a font that kind of took anything goes Art Deco mindset and mixing in science fiction, possibly to see what Martian jazz may have looked like. blueberry is a favorite due to it’s shading. It takes the same Art Deco elements and mixes them with a style that reminds me of handwritten invitations for some reason. The design is something that I’ll often use when hand-drawing posters for projects or whatnot. strawberry is a favorite for its use of the [FontStruct’s] Twenties competition idea. The uppercase measuring twenty bricks tall, the lowercase measuring five bricks tall by four bricks wide, to multiply out to twenty, and the whole font incorporates exactly twenty different glyphs, while also incorporating Art Deco themes. Also, for strawberry, I’m proud of how well it did in the competition. While it didn’t win, the little notable mention was highly prized. It is interesting to see some clear similarities between blueberry and strawberry and how those end up as favorites.”
Any favorite fonts from some other FontStructors? “Tomorrow Never Comes by four and db Soda by beate are both mindboggling intricate and beautiful. G1 Decoreus by genius1 is such a unique take on the themes of Art Deco, actually incorporating the architecture stylings into the font with a magnificent end product. dm Eiros/aliens by demonics is such an odd yet endearing design that was a favorite of their dm Eiros series. zpacekowboy eYe/FS by elmoyenique mixed two genres to perfection the idea of a cowboy on the moon is a fantastic idea encapsulated in this beautiful font.”
Are there any interesting stories you can share about some of your fonts? “paper crane is font that has a rather interesting back story. [It] was a font that had been created back in 2014, but as with many other old fonts it was riddled with imperfections and got deleted. Paper folding is something that I found back in elementary school and became a rabbit hole that was then fully tumbled down. Specifically, the paper crafts were another small thing to create. Since that discovery, several thousand tiny cranes have been folded, scattered around houses, classrooms and university libraries with the added bonus of having a handful of spare wishes, if needed. Paper Crane was also the only font to be selected as a featured FonStruction—a little badge of honor, something I thought only the established FontStructors could achieve.”
paper crane by time.peace
If you scrolled up and reread the part where time.peace talks about their students, you will realize the importance they place on imagination. Like any self-respecting person, it seems their expectations of self are no less. Looking through the fonts time.peace has shared, the Art Deco influences are clear, yet the elements of imagination and creativity are also clear. Just look at the diversity of the fonts such as astro queen vs. twisted yarn; mad hatter vs. circuit breaker—all wrapped up in excellence.
astro queen & twisted yarn by time.peace
Once all the work is done and made public, does time.peace think recognition as important? “It would be a lie to say that recognition isn’t exciting, however it is far from important. Simply being able to create something that you are happy with, regardless of who sees it, would seem to be leaps and bounds more important. Some of the fonts that flew under the radar were some favorites, but that has done little to dampen the joy their little forgotten designs bring.” Quite the definition of an artist, that is.
Anything else that time.peace would like to say? “Thanks for including me in the series, it’s quite an honor.”
The honor is ours, time.peace. FontStructors who strive for excellence deserve recognition. You fit the bill perfectly.
I thought I was done writing this article and was working on the samples, yet some nagging thought kept telling me that I have forgotten something. This is why I need to add a story here.
We live mere blocks from the beach. During the monsoon season, which is now, the wind picks up and displaces truckloads of fine, powdered, quartz-y beach sand and blows it inland. Buckets of this lands on the tiled space around our house. Daily cleanings become a necessity. About an hours worth of sweeping required. Normally I have music on headphones if I’m doing it, but not this morning. Mindless work and nothing to occupy itself, the mind wandered. Fragments of what time.peace said kept coming back to me. “emulating the established FontStructors”, “eliminating imperfections”, “meticulously crafted projects”, “improve where you see fit”, etc. Then it dawned on me what time.peace was really telling me. If we all strive towards excellence in whatever we do—and everyone does something different anyway “things can only get better” as Howard Jones said. Everywhere. In everything. We just need to take care of our little bit. How’s that not a philosophy to live by‽
Thank you for teaching me this, time.peace.
Thank you once more, Ata and time.peace!
This is a guest post from Ata Syed AKA thalamic and minimum, the second in a summer series, continuing the “Focus on Fontstructors” tradition of interviews with members of FontStruct’s designer community. Ata has been FontStructing since 2008.
Psychologists may have a definitive answer to the question, “why do we like anything?” Or not. I do not know. It goes without saying I am no psychologist. Will that prevent me from answering the question…without research? Absolutely not. Read on to find out how many ways I get that wrong. :-)
In between spouting psychological hearsay, what I hope to get right in this second interview of Gridfolk 2021 is the work, life, and times of Mr. V. Sarela, better known—to those of us who have been around FontStruct since the early days—as Yautja.
Memogo by Yautja
Born in 1989, Mr. V. Sarela hails from Raahe, Finland but calls “Oulu, Finland” home, “where I’ve lived for most of my life.” This is why it is completely easy to accept when he says, “I speak Finnish and English fluently, and a little bit of Swedish. My thoughts are half Finnish, half English. Been trying to learn Japanese lately.”
On his educational background, he explains, “In 2010, I graduated from Lybecker Institute of Crafts and Design, with a vocational qualification in audiovisual communication. That encompasses many kinds of multimedia fields, including graphic design.” As we all need to earn a living, for work, Yautja says, “I have my own small business, through which I do music production and graphic design. It’s the field that I most enjoy, but clients are scarce. Hopefully, I can also sell fonts in the future.”
Whether now or later, to sell fonts you have to make them first. Yautja discovered FontStruct.com “simply by looking for free font editors when I was itching to design my own fonts.” The need to create fonts was the driving force. Time flies and “recently I passed my ten-year anniversary, as I started in 2011!” and yet after all this time “I visit [FontStruct.com] pretty much every day.” These daily visits must mean something. So why does he keep coming back to FontStruct? “The friendly community and the wide variety of interesting fonts are very welcoming! I like to see what new designs people have come up with.” And of those friendly people, does he admire any other FontStructors? “There are many very skilled FontStructors, who have made amazing designs that either fit neatly into the grid or push the limits of what’s possible – beate for example has made many beautiful designs that I admire.” His reason for creating fonts is one that perhaps resonates with a lot of us as “making fonts is a good way to express creativity. It’s fun and relaxing. And seeing your idea take form is very rewarding.”
Rewarding and fun it must have been as creating two hundred and twenty-five fonts is no easy task. Quantity aside, his 126 Staff Picks is a testament to the quality of his work as well. 225 fonts are not a casual activity even to scroll through—imagine what it took to create, let alone visualize them! Impressive indeed.
While few of us would say they do not enjoy music, have you ever noticed how dependent any contemporary music is on the technology of the day? When you hear synth music or the saxophone in a song or the Gated Reverb audio effect which gave rise to the iconic snare drum sound, the 1980s come to mind; you think the 90s when you hear a particular kind of electronic music; hearing the Auto Tune sound effect calls to mind the music of the 2000s; etc. The examples are endless. The technology or technique used identifies the era to those who are paying attention.
Meco by Yautja
This long preamble does have a point. Going through all of Yautja’s FontStructions—all 7 pages of them—some fonts stand out as being striking in their appearance such as Chrominca (2015), or Evogativ (2017), or Meco (2013), or Siberiada (2013) to name but a few. Some have contemporary feel to them, others are retro-futuristic in appearance. Some fonts break the mold, but some fonts are distinctly FontStruct. It is the distinctly FontStruct fonts that are evocative of the technology behind them. The reason for this might be as Yautja says, “generally, when I have an idea, I just jump directly into the FontStructor, as it’s an efficient way to put my ideas down.” While we are affecting the FontStructor to do our bidding, the FontStructor is pulling its own strings. The synergy between the designer and the FontStructor is important to get the desired result. Sometimes you get what you want. Yet, “occasionally I’ll sketch something on paper, or if I have ideas for fonts that aren’t possible to make in FS, I’ll draw them in Inkscape.” It takes a skilled designer to know which tool is needed for the job at hand.
The better the tool, the more you want to engage with it. “FontStruct’s intuitive interface and ease of use makes me want to keep going.” The thought that occurs to him is, “I’ve done the letters here, might as well make the numbers now, why not the punctuation as well….” Speaking of the act of FontStructing, Yautja admits, “It’s very addictive!” I think most of us would agree.
Chromadeus by Yautja
FontStruct addiction aside, as nothing is perfect, FontStructor has its limitation too. FontStruct was specifically designed for modular, grid-based fonts. Thanks to the continuous dedication and effort of its creator—Rob Meek—it has evolved considerably since its inception, but one limitation persists, “generally regarding curves, which can be hard to get around.” As Yautja says, “I’ll keep [those limitations] in mind when I start designing, and I’ll try to keep the designs easily FontStructable.” To counter those limitations, Yautja says that “composites, nudging and 2×2 filters are the best tools for me.” Couldn’t agree more.
Speaking of limitations, a thought occurs: are limitations really a bad thing? When asked if he finds the grid-based brick setup of FontStruct limiting, he said, “No, [FontStruct] just clicked with me and seemed like an easy way to start making the kind of fonts I like. And limitations often feed creativity.” That limitations are not something to be upset by is a lesson we all need to understand…especially in design. When possibilities are infinite, making a decision can be daunting. With limited choices, the field of solutions come down to a manageable level. Output happens.
Rephyze by Yautja
Limitations notwithstanding, on what things would help improve FontStruct, Yautja thinks, “I have many ideas for the FontStructor that I’d like to see, most useful would probably be 3×3 circles. For the site itself, perhaps more ways to have active interactions, like more frequent competitions. I did help develop the unofficial forum and FontOuts!” Despite all the limitations of FontStruct, Yautja says, “I’d like to expand to other font editors, but I have yet to find one that feels as intuitive to me as FS.” Now that is an endorsement!
This brings us back to the question, “why do we like anything?” Perhaps the environment one grows up in influences it, or maybe it is genetic in nature, or our personality traits may tilt our likes towards one thing or another. When asked why he chooses to continue making fonts, Yautja says, “it’s something that I enjoy doing—I like to practice my designing skills, and it’s nice to create something that might be useful to people.” All of which makes sense, because why engage in an activity of your own volition if it is not pleasurable; and why not try and improve in ability whether theoretical or practical while you are at it; and then knowing that what you create (fonts!) is something others will use to produce yet other things is definitely a positive factor. The element of enjoyment and satisfaction are present in all three. I suspect we will see other FontStructors give similar reasons to this question.
Proma Rei by Yautja
Making fonts is not the only creative outlet for Yautja. “I have been making music for 17 years now, mostly working on a computer, but I also play keyboard and drums. Music is important to me, and I listen to a lot of different kinds. Mostly electronic, but also disco, funk, rock, metal, and soundtrack music. I have almost constantly something playing, if not out loud then in my head. It keeps me going.” Same, brother. Same. Furthermore, “I’ve been dabbling with photography, and I’ve been drawing since I was little—not much these days—but I have some ideas for comics that would be nice to actualize.” Which begs the question, which does he prefer, Marvel or DC? “Neither actually. I’m more interested in Japanese and European comics.” And of those, which aspect is more enticing, stories or the artwork? “Both are a big part. There’s a lot of variety in stories and art styles.” Speaking of his favorite artists, he says, “I really love Don Rosa’s Donald Duck comics, and Junji Ito’s horror manga.”
80s inspired illustration by Yautja
Does what we like, or even why we like it, somehow form the basis of our creative inspiration? Yautja says, “I take a lot of inspiration from the 80s and from sci-fi, in both fonts and music. It’s also apparent in my taste in fashion I guess.” And do those inspirations make it into his fonts? “My fonts and music definitely have a lot of retro-futuristic aesthetics from 80s sci-fi and such, which I love.”
Video Font System by Yautja
Looking at the artwork for Yautja’s albums on Bandcamp and the stuff on his Behance page, a lot of it seems to have a clear 80s influence, even though he did not live through that era. Speaking of what attracts him to that aesthetic style, he says, “A lot of 80s stuff was still around when I was a kid, so it’s partly nostalgia. I used plenty of cassette tapes, VHS, and floppy disks, and I watched many 80s movies. I started to listen to more 80s music and just fell in love with the style. Things were still analog, and not digitally perfect. The recent outrun/retrowave scene has further fueled the interest.” On an unrelated-yet-related note, we have probably all wondered if “Yautja” means anything…to which he says, “It is the name of the Predator* alien species.” The consistent thematic continuation is certainly an inspirational quality.
*Predator, the movie, 1987
Album covers of Starast by Yautja
Speaking of personal preferences, which of his own fonts does he like the most, he said, “Looking at my favorites of my own fonts: Modern Vision is one of the earliest ones I made, a revival of an older font that hasn’t been digitized. The first versions were pretty bad, but after updates it’s become one I’m proud of. Same with Future Earth—both were inspired by The Terminator, one of my favorite movies. I became kinda obsessed with the typography used in it, and I started researching those typefaces, which haven’t been properly digitized. That fueled my interest in making my own fonts. Other favorite fonts include Karakteristika, Rephyze, and Stratus, which are just designs that I really like.”
Karakteristika by Yautja
Others have liked his fonts too. Going through his own fonts, is he amazed at all that he has accomplished? “Yeah, I’m surprised how much I’ve actually done, and I’m glad they’ve been received well. And there are even more unpublished ones. I guess when I discovered FS it opened-up new possibilities for creative expression that I hadn’t even considered before.” Favorites aside, does he now find some of his own fonts that haven’t stood the test of time? “There are some that aren’t as good as they could be, especially older ones. I’ve updated some, hidden some, and left some just as a product of their time. I don’t really hate any. Some would need to be redesigned outside FS to get to their full potential.”
Of all Yautja’s work, the one that stands out the most for me is the album art font he created for his X.O.X. album. Speaking of the creative idea behind it, he said, “Yes, that one is pretty different since it’s not really a font. Originally it was inspired by an earlier illustration I had made just for fun, using a font called Recognition. I took that idea further and made the cover with that. Originally the album was released under the name Van Saarland, with a custom logo, but I renamed my music project to Starast and updated the cover with a logo based on my font Kiova Captura.” He was kind enough to provide the animation below which illustrates the layers of glyphs it took to create the final artwork. What’s most remarkable is the vision it took to imagine what each glyph should be like and what function it will play in the final output. Incredible achievement indeed.
The intricate process of creating the album cover of X.O.X. by Starast, originally published under the name Van Saarland by Yautja
Having discovered his music in 2013, his track Fractal Flow became an instant favorite of mine and I’ve listened to it at least a couple of hundred times. Upon learning this, Yautja said, “Thanks for listening. I didn’t really think much of that track, it’s funny how an artist and the audience often like different aspects of their work.” This brings up another related curiosity: Sometimes, the fonts I work really hard on and think I’ve done a good job on…generally gets ignored, and some fonts that I do out of boredom without much effort, people like a lot. Why is that, Yautja? “Yeah, that happens. But it’s good to know that anything you make can find its audience,” which is a comforting thought. “If you build it, they will come”* sorta thing.
*from the movie Field of Dreams, 1989
Speaking of building, does Yautja create samples for his FontStructions and what is that process like? “I make samples sometimes, if I have an idea or if it’s something I specifically want to show off. Generally, I like to keep to a square shape and try to fit text in a pleasing way, maybe add some simple shapes or illustrations. I have a bunch of color combinations that I like to use, mostly retro inspired.”
The word “retro” has a built-in element of the present. Any time of now has the added benefit of updated, improved, and new technology. Does this enhancement affect his creative output? “Technology is definitely important to what I do. I couldn’t live without it. I’m glad we have what we have now. But you can still do much with just pen and paper. [As for music] I use FL Studio as my main DAW [Digital Audio Workstation software], which I’ve been using since 2005. Occasionally I use Garageband for additional work. I also have a few hardware synths, which are fun to play with, but mostly I’m using software as it’s just faster to get the work done. I can do pretty much what I want with what I have now, though I’d like to use more guitars in my tracks. I don’t play guitar, which is the biggest limitation—I’ve been getting by with virtual guitars, but they’re not as good. Putting down ideas is fast but making them into complete tracks is harder and can take years. I have hundreds of unfinished tracks that I’m not sure what to do with. For fonts, it’s just FontStruct and Inkscape for now. Creating fonts by hand without precise digital tools would have at least annoyed the perfectionist in me, and would have been much more time-consuming. I like the freedom of creating vector shapes with Inkscape, but I still have to figure out how to make them into proper fonts.” Technology wins. Though that idea brings up this point of technology being mere tools. What we do with them is—still—user/craftsman/artist dependent. Intelligence is yet a human domain.
Tech Noir by Yautja
Of his three creative outlets of font making, music making, and graphic designing, which does he enjoy the most? “I enjoy making fonts and music equally much. Font design is easier and could be more suited to make as a job, if I had to choose one.” Making fonts for commercial use will require a more full-featured font creation software such as Glyphs or FontLab Studio. Has he experimented with them? “I’d like to make fonts outside of FontStruct, but I’ve yet to find a font editor that suits my workflow as well as FS. I’ve briefly tried a few free ones (on Windows), but they just don’t seem as intuitive, and would take some getting used to.” What about collaborating with someone to make fonts commercially? “Haven’t really thought about that, I think making fonts is well suited for solitary work, but I would be happy to try collaborating with someone.”
Font making is certainly a solitary work. I am, but does he think most FontStructors are introverts? “Same here. Don’t know if most people are, but I guess this sort of work suits introverts well.” Introverts are fine on their own most of the time, but even they need some social interactions. Should there be a fs WhatsApp group (or something similar) for occasional interactions? “That could be nice if people are interested. You could ask the other people you’re interviewing.” I suppose I just did. :-) Any name suggestion for this hypothetical group?
Regarding naming things, how does Yautja decides what to call his fonts? “I actually find naming the fonts the hardest part of the process, or the most time consuming. A lot of good names are already taken so you have to get creative. I keep a list of interesting words and names that I’ve come across or come up with and look at that for inspiration. Most of the names end up being something pretty unique, they almost make up their own language now. That has actually gotten me more interested in languages,” thereby learning Japanese, for instance. そうですね. So, is creating song titles easier than naming fonts? “Song names are easier, as they can have a wider variety and I already have a list of several ready to use names that I want to use, and it’s not as bad if they’re already taken.”
Speaking of song, what music does he currently listen to? Top three songs from his current playlist? “[How about] three songs that have influenced my font names: Edouard Artemiev’s La mort du héros (from Siberiade, which I named a font after), Ladytron’s High Rise, and Cerrone’s Supernature.” Not to forget Front Line Assembly’s Modus Operandi.
Waltraud by Yautja
Answering where he sees himself in the future, Yautja says, “Hopefully doing the same things as now, but as a full-time job.” And for the things he created, does he want to be recognized for them? “I don’t care to be famous, but I’d like for my works (my music and fonts) to be remembered.”
There’s that word ‘like’ again. As a final speculation to the question, “why do we like anything?”, let’s let Yautja have the last word. “My philosophy in life is that no matter what you do, there are people who like it and people who don’t.” So, it seems I have been asking the wrong question all along. Maybe it doesn’t matter why or how we have acquired our likes. What matters is what they are. There is no point in debating why we like anything as long as we are aware of what they are…and pursue the ethical ones. Progress will happen. Well done, Yautja. Carry on!
Yautja can be contacted through his website, Vignette Studio for music production or graphic design needs.
Thank you once more, Ata!
This is a guest post from Ata Syed AKA thalamic and minimum, the first of a summer series continuing the “Focus on Fontstructors” tradition of interviews with members of FontStruct’s designer community. Ata has been FontStructing since 2008.
We kick off this series with a highly prolific, eminently humble, consistently creative, and all-around nice guy: Antonio J. Morata, better known to all of us as elmoyenique.
ztefan eYe/FS by Elmoyenique
Elmoyenique has been with FontStruct since September 2009. Time has done what it does best, which is to say it has passed in a twinkling when you reflect upon its passage, yet it has been 12 years that elmoyenique has been making FontStructions. In those intervening 141 months, Elmo has published THREE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-NINE FontStructions which is an incredible achievement by any standard. It would still be impressive if that were all. Of those 329 FontStructions, 196 are “staff picks”, which is to say they are “worthy of special mention” for either excelling in typeface design or using the FontStructor to do some brick magic not commonly seen. Yet, Elmoyenique has remained as humble as he has always been. “I still consider myself a simple learner” he writes, attributing his success to “perseverance rather than skill”. If only perseverance was all that it took. If you made a Venn diagram, the center-intersection of which says ‘Done’, there would be at least three circles involved: Resources, Effort, and Skills. To get anything done requires all three. To do something artistic such as creating typefaces, on a platform such as FontStruct, you need a ton of skills. What Elmo has done is an unparalleled achievement, surpassed by none other. We admire his great work at FontStruct but respect his humble nature even more.
züricher eYe/FS by Elmoyenique
12 years, 300+ fonts, 40,000+ glyphs must have taken him a long time, so it is natural to wonder: Why put in so much effort? The answer is to be found on his own profile page. He says that he has held a variety of professional positions, most of them creative in nature, yet “I always come back to draw letters”. His first steps towords becoming a typeface designer were with “calligraphy with ink and pen; then journal headers and lettering for posters made with a ruler” and “Rotring” pens. His subsequent foray into digital font design began with Aldus FreeHand. Elmo describes his discovery of FontStruct as “like Charlie holding the Golden Ticket in his hands.”
zong4U eYe/FS by Elmoyenique
Elmoyenique was born in 1968 “in wonderful Almería, in the southeast of surprising Spain, southern Europe. Interestingly, I [still] live close to where I was born.” He has “a college degree in teaching (major in mathematics), a bachelor’s in psychology, and a handful of other lower-ranking studies.” Impressive, yet again.
As if that was not enough, relating to work, Elmo says, “I am a teacher and freelance illustrator and graphic designer. At one stage in my life, I tried to orient my future exclusively within the field of graphic design. I’ve been working hard on it for more than nine years, but finally I didn’t get to live exclusively on it. I returned to teaching, and I am still here, mixing it with graphic works that bring me a different kind of joy.” When asked what his daily life is like, he said it’s “fascinating!” :-) “Teaching is living on a carousel (tiring yes, but never boring).” Furthermore, “I draw comics, I do illustrations for children’s books, I design posters, books and brochures, I write for the press about comics, I also write some science fiction and fantasy….Oh, and a few years ago I still I had time to play the saxophone in a group.” Whew!
Which brings us to the reason everyone is reading this.
Why do you create fonts?
“I started drawing letters a long time ago, during the 80’s (literally, I was a teenager). So, I began making the posters for the projections of the cinema-club of my high school, which I later continued when I entered the college [university, in US parlance]. I also started publishing other cultural posters and comics. In those years, personal computers were not as common as today and all kinds of stratagems had to be invented to obtain a good result: cut out previous texts, create them using self-adhesive letters—or in a private printing company, which was much more expensive—or basically draw all the letters by hand, with the help of some rules, a compass and little else and copying from the wonderful Letraset or Mecanorma catalogs. Now anyone can download a cool font and use it for a title or to fill in some texts on his poster or his comic, but in those years, you had to do all of that by hand, drawing letter by letter.”
zykowarfare eYe/FS by Elmoyenique
“The design has changed a lot since then, so much that those years now seem like the stone age to me. Even then, I solved many design problems for those posters by adapting the letters to the required space (it was very easy if you drew them by hand), and from there to the timid design of personal fonts there was only one step. Then I spent several years working as an art director in a famous advertising company in Madrid, and there I learned to use the first Macintosh computers that arrived in Spain (I’m talking about the early 90s). Later, my work was oriented more to posters and illustration, where I took the opportunity to frequently use the skills of creation and modification of letters that those new (at that time) computer technologies offered us.”
What is your font making process? What causes you to deviate from this process?
“My creative process is simple. I always carry a squared notebook [grid pad] with me, where I draw my ideas and things that catch my attention (in FontStruct I have eventually shown some of its pages). Many of those ideas never go beyond being simple sketches, but a large part of my typefaces emerges there. The Internet is also a great field for browsing and inspiration (but never copying).”
A sample page from Elmoyenique’s ubiquitous notebooks
“After choosing a letter design from my notebook (one I liked it because of something that I see as special), the real work begins. I usually use the FontStruct website to do it because it allows me to complete a font, display it, prepare it properly to show it to the world and download it. And it is also free (for now). Honey on flakes.
Designing a font is like entering a maze…. There are multiple tasks to do: create the glyphs for each of the uppercase and lowercase characters, create the numbers, expression signs and diacritics, special glyphs for languages other than English (Ñ, Ç, ß, etc.) and all those with accentuation. We must also take care of the separation between words and the slow and careful process of kerning (separation between pairs of letters).
But it is a neat maze. Just like when you want to get out of a real maze (you shouldn’t separate a hand from the wall, always the same wall), here some tricks allow you to get out. The one I usually choose is to start with capital letters. I always think of three basic shapes for letters that help me draw them: rectangle, circle, and triangle. The rectangle usually works for me for H, I, E, F, L, T, N and M; the circle for O, Q, C and G; the triangle helps with V, A, W, X, K, and Z; if you join rectangle and circle, you get the basis for B, D, P, U, J and S; and if you put all three together you get R. The above also applies to numbers.”
zoundbro eYe/FS by Elmoyenique
“Then, for the design of the lowercase letters I follow similar steps: rectangle, circle, and triangle. Combining these letters, we get others (j, h, b, d, p, q, k, y, f). For the end, the best are left: a, g and s; these are so special that many times they are the ones that give the typography the authentic personality. When I get to this point, I can usually already see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Despite everything said above, there are also times when a single letter is the one that gives me the idea for a whole typeface and developing it completely from there becomes a fascinating and very creative process.
The choice of name is usually left for last. All my fonts start with z, the simple reason is that my first fonts started like this, and I also like how that letter sounds. I always make sure that none of my fonts has a name similar to another that already exists, to avoid confusion with copyright and in search engines. Oh, and to top it off, the font is rounded off by making an image that is cool and striking— yes, I have used the most diverse methods for this: from photographing handmade designs to image editing and design programs, through screenshots and manual coloring—which reveals the best of the font, and publishing it to be enjoyed by friends who see it in FontStruct and the rest of the world. Et voilá!”
What keeps you going in making a font?
“I have created some of my fonts out of simple necessity, to be used immediately in a certain graphic work, but they have been only a small part of the total. What really drives me to build a typeface is the ability to shape something new and beautiful, something that didn’t exist before I started making it. It’s a fantastic thing.”
zpains eYe/FS by Elmoyenique
“How do these ideas come to mind? Well, they say that love is in the air…and inspiration too, I assure you. ‘May inspiration find you working,’ said the great Pablo Picasso. Everyday objects, store signs, magazines, shadows on the ground, the internet, the range of possibilities is almost infinite. The suggestions are there, you just have to go out and find them. Then comes the screening process. I discard 80% of the ideas that I draw in my notebooks, and of that remaining 20% only a third or fourth part will end up being a fairly viable font. I have dozens of notebooks to corroborate it. [Wouldn’t we love to see those!] The reasons for these discards are very varied (for example, there may be glyphs that resist entering within the general style of the font, or other times that cannot be done in FontStruct as I had drawn them, or they may also be too similar to an existing font, which I usually dislike if it is not searched on purpose…). But I do not want to stop pointing out here the curious feeling that sometimes occurs within me and that I find very striking and fascinating—and this has happened on a good handful of occasions—when I have returned to work years later old ideas because FontStruct has just implemented tools that were not available when I created the font in question. Those continuous advances on the website never fail to impress me.”
While making a font, what frustrations do you face and how do you overcome them?
“Legibility should be the most important thing when you doubt between unity and variety. If one letter is confused with another, it does not do its job. Pay particular attention to similarities between similar glyphs, such as I/l/1, y/g/q, S/8/5, U/V, and many other groups. When you see your font creating words you can observe (and correct) these possible dysfunctions. There are always (or at least in a very high percentage of cases) solutions to these problems, you just have to spend more time searching and finding them. Sometimes it is very frustrating, but it is the only way I trust to solve it.
On the other hand, if there are rules, they can also be broken. What will you use typography for? If it will be a display for headers or posters, you will have more freedom with those broken rules. If it is for writing text, you will need to specify the readability. And if it’s for pleasure, THERE ARE NO RULES. Despite everything, from time to time some fonts, once finished, simply do not work, and that, although it hurts our creative ego, there is no choice but to admit it.
zelemin eYe/FS by Elmoyenique
I would also like to state here that building a font like the ones I usually do, as original and complete as I can, takes a lot of time. You need 36-hour days and, since you don’t have them, you have to steal them from sleep, family or even breaks at work. Sometimes it is really complicated, but you have to try to make everything crimp and roll as smoothly as possible, without making anything squeak too much. And for this the support and understanding of the family is essential. It is not always easy, I assure you. There have been whole years in which I have barely been able to dedicate a few weeks to making letters due to unforeseen and continuous situations beyond my reach.”
Why do continue to make fonts?
“I keep creating fonts because I have so much fun and I have a great time doing it. Since I was young I have been passionate about graphic design, but that has not always given me enough money to make a living from it. And on many occasions, I have found myself drawing letters, in one way or another. It’s only been a few years since I’ve been able to take designing alphabets more seriously and I’ve been combining it with teaching and graphics in general. From all my various jobs I have learned good lessons and I think that an expert eye will be able to distinguish these features with ease when they are reflected in my fonts.”
zpells eYe/FS by Elmoyenique
“Designing a font that has not yet been created is still my next challenge. Before it was easier, but now it is increasingly difficult to find the originality and freshness that I look for in a source since there is more and more competition (well, that is also an incentive most of the time, hehehe).
I would not like to end without pointing out the great importance of the comments that I receive from colleagues through the FontStruct LiveFeed in my typographic creation process. That makes me see mistakes and appreciate successes, it brings me other points of view and solutions, it opens up paths for me. There I receive opinions from people of all ages who come from all over the world, with their different appreciations and points of view. That is usually very enriching for me. My fonts would never have been (and never will be) the same without you all. My heartfelt thanks to everyone who helps me this way. And a billion thanks to Rob Meek for the wonderful FontStruct he’s building.”
How did you discover FontStruct.com? How often do you visit FontStruct.com? What keeps you coming back to fontstruct?
“I discovered FontStruct by accident, searching the net for programs to build fonts, and I fell in love with it from the start. It was a love at first sight, which lasts until today and which I hope to keep as alive as it is now. [How often I visit fontstruct.com] depends on many variables, such as the free time available, the complexity of the font, the mood…. Obviously, I usually dedicate more time to it during weekends and holidays. [What keeps me coming back is that] FontStruct is very intuitive and easy to use, although it can be devilish when you mess with composite bricks and nudging (thanks for that, Rob, I love fighting at short distances). You can build a font in a relatively short time—always depending on the complexity of the font to be made—and then you can download, install and use it immediately. It’s fantastic!”
Do you admire any other FontStructors? Who and why?
“A lot of them. I quote the closest ones, they have all helped me a lot (also on a personal level) and I am very grateful to them for their friendship and kindness with my mistakes. The first is Frodo7 for his balance and knowledge of typography; beate is the second, for her freshness and elegance; my compañero four the third, for his creativity and styling; also the fantastic geneus1 for being artistic and novel; the enormous thalamic/minimum for his continuous originality, insight and innovation; will.i.ૐ for the unexpectedness and complexity of his fonts; architaraz for his freshness, order and cleanliness; Yautja for his simplicity and dedication; laynecom for his careful elegance and typographic knowledge…and anyone else who can teach me something, which are a lot, because I still consider myself a FontStruct apprentice.”
How does the current technology affect your creative output?
“All technological advances help a lot. The production and marketing tools we work with now have nothing to do with those used 20 years ago, they are vastly better. This on the one hand is heaven…but on the other it is hell. I’ve already lost two hard drives from my whole life jobs and one from backups. Unrecoverable. As of today, I have only 20% of the digital work I have done. Well, that could happen with paper jobs as well (a flood could ruin them), but it is much more difficult. Now I worry a lot about keeping copies of everything important, and printing and saving what I can.”
Which of your own fonts are you most proud of? Are there any interesting stories behind them?
“Which of my fonts am I most proud? It’s like asking a father which of his own children loves more. But I tend to remember first those who have been more laborious or difficult to face in their construction. Some have been especially complicated (e.g.: zigourny, zophyka, zapezipi, zugaroo, zizakurraf, zong4U, zergioleone, zharply, zykowarfare, zeamróg…), and finishing their design was a relief for me.”
zigourny eYe/FS by Elmoyenique
“Others, on the other hand, have only given me joy, such as the very used zilverstone and those chosen to appear published in the fantastic collective almanac Typodarium 2015 (there were viewed zlabyrinths, zyrens, zykedelic, zychotropic and zylone). But sometimes you look back and see those little jewels silent with bright eyes (zelemin, zoulskin, zygno, zinequal, zpheres, zilverbullet…). I really love all them.”
zilverstone eYe/FS by Elmoyenique
“Zilverstone also appeared on a double page in a fashionable Canadian magazine and was one of those chosen for the iPad application ‘Pattern Artist’, along with zapristi; zcloudy has appeared on several YouTube gaming pages; zcrapedium, zhadowlite and zfraktur have been used in posters; zendera has been the protagonist of the cover and interior texts of a book… I cannot complain of them.”
You have produced quite a few fonts that have the cowboy theme to it. What attracts you to that style?
“Actually, I don’t think I have built so many western (or Tuscan) style fonts, only 5% of the fonts that I have published in FontStruct carry that tag. The truth is that in my land we have a long relationship with the western film style. We have the only desert in Europe and hundreds of films on this subject have been filmed here (Almería appears as the 5th most filmed place in the world, according to IMDB appearances). Also, I especially like the letters with serifs.”
What inspires you? Is inspiration for creative work different than inspiration for other things in life?
“Life is the Big Idea! La joie de vivre, La Alegría de Vivir. The sun at dawn, the green of the grass (it’s not easy bein’ green! ;) ), the smile that looks at you from some eyes…. That always makes the heart move. The bad moments do not have to be looked for, they come by themselves, when they are least expected and without anyone calling them.” As Madonna said, “beauty’s where you find it.”
zpacekowboy eYe/FS by Elmoyenique
At some distant future, what would you like to be remembered for?
“Now I get quite sentimental. I would like to be remembered as a good grandson, a good son, a good brother, a good friend, a good husband, a good father, a good grandfather…. I know it is asking a lot, but I am doing everything I can. Well, if someone also remembered me for some of my graphic work, that would definitely be amazing. Better than better.”
What a beautiful sentiment. Nothing more need be said beyond this. Thank you for the insightful answers, Elmoyenique. It is a genuine pleasure to know you.
Thank you Ata!
Many years have passed since I felt remotely able to answer the question “How did they do that?” in regard to most of the finest and complex designs on FontStruct. Our community of ingenious designers, the “FontStructors”, have long been the true adepts, the rightful owners of the grid and the brick. But who are they?
In 2009 Yves Peters tried to answer this question in his excellent series of 7 interviews “Focus on FontStructors”.
A resumption of his project, eight years on, is long overdue, and today we’re making a start by talking to one of FontStruct’s exceptional stars of recent years; record winner of no less than three FontStruct competitions, hoarder of staff picks, and designer of some of FontStruct’s most extraordinary fonts: Beate Limbach …
FS: Beate, please tell us a bit about yourself. Where do you live and work? What kind of training do you have? What do you do in everyday life beyond FontStructing?
I was brought up in Giessen, Germany.
After graduating from secondary school, I studied art theory and Romance studies in Kassel, Paris and Mainz.
In 2006, I completed my degree in communications design at the University of Applied Science Mainz, studying under Professor Johannes Bergerhausen, and focusing on book design (typography) and photography.
For a little more than 10 years, I’ve been living and working as a freelance designer in Lausanne in Switzerland. Typography is a passion that has gripped me since my schooldays, and in recent years I’ve shifted my professional focus from print design to type design.
How did you become interested in type and typography? What was your first experience of font design?
– The victor’s booty from three FontStruct competitions.
My first contact with the world of type and calligraphy was at primary school where I encountered various different forms of standardised handwriting, and learnt about the transition from the old “Sütterlin” form of handwriting to the latin form in German schools. Later, I had the opportunity to take part in a calligraphic drawing course. The posters we made on this course were screen-printed and so I learned about an additional design medium which, in turn, fuelled my interest in graphic design more generally.
During my studies I had the opportunity to work on Johannes Berghausen’s “decodeunicode” project as it was still in its very early stages. The project’s aim was the researching of all the characters and alphabets included within Unicode – their histories, significance and use. It’s since developed into a wonderful online platform for pure typographic research.
FS: How did you start out on FontStruct?
– db For You and db Largo in use
In 2008, while browsing for free fonts, I stumbled upon articles about FontStruct in Smashing Magazine and I Love Typography. I was excited by the idea of being able to design typefaces in a playful way and with a minimal toolset. I also liked the fact that one had control over how to license designs.
Before FontStruct I had experience with lettering and “analogue” type design, but I’d barely come into contact with digital, type-design software. FontStruct was a way-in for me to gradually start exploring this world.
I began to work with other type-design software, both in order to refine and extend my “FontStructions”, and to develop new fonts outside FontStruct. Several of my FontStruct fonts where published in the Typodariums between 2014 and 2016 and this led to interest and customers for fonts such as db Drops, db Soda, db Como Splitt and db Bargo.
FS: If you had to choose two (or three) of your own FontStructions as favourites, which would they be and why?
That’s not easy – there are so many more than just three! But I would choose db For You (script), db Largo (heavy serif) und db Bargo Condensed (light, handwritten sans).
I designed db For You for the FontStruct “Love Competition” in 2016. My first thought on the theme was that love letters are very personal and are usually handwritten, so I decided to make a script font. To avoid the letters appearing too smooth and cute, I added a rough, irregular contour. Through small variations in the stroke-width this special ductus developed which also resembled a handwritten flow. (I’d already tried out this technique in 2013 when designing db Bargo.) The overall result is a script font which is not just suitable for the screen. It’s important to me that my fonts are also applicable in print design.
db Largo was created at the same time as db For you in 2016. db Largo combines serifs and calligraphic elements. The font isn’t completely polished but it’s little imperfections lend it a relaxed, friendly appearance and dynamic. db Largo is eminently usable for short texts or headlines.
I built db Bargo in 2013. It’s based on a condensed grotesque, and combines geometry and optimised legibility with individual aspects of a handwritten sans. db Bargo is marked by it’s simple structure and low contrast. This font is also perfect suited to headlines, typographic posters, T-shirts and other print applications.
FS: What other work on FontStruct do you especially admire and why?
Spontaneously I think of Aphoria’s fonts. I really like the relaxed style of his ideas and designs on FontStruct. His work is marked by an incredibly assured, balanced and coherent formal language. I particularily like the San Serif fonts Uptake and Obleak, as well as the Blackletter Futility.
I’m also impressed by the fonts of Frodo7, thalamic/minimum and four. I find Frodos 3D series Rohan and the slab serif Esgaroth genuinely expressive and extremely well thought-through, as are the heavy sans fs Bored and tm Blooper from thalamic. I’m fascinated by four’s outline fonts which seem unsurpassable in the richness of their variation and subtle refinement; they demonstrate how little complexity one needs in order to give a font a unique character.
FS: What are the aspects of FontStruct that make it appealing to you?
I think FontStruct is a unique web-platform for free and creative font design. I never cease to be excited by the formal richness of some FontStructions – despite the fact that, at the end of the day, they’re all just combinations and arrangements of geometrical “bricks”. And then there are the additional tools and functionality in “expert mode” which have been added over the years and which have enhanced the creative possibilities.
Using FontStruct just never gets boring. From the very beginning, my curiosity has been piqued and my ambition stoked by the challenge of exploring new approaches and formal languages in FontStruct. What continues to stimulate me is the desire to look more closely and to pay more attention to those little, inconspicuous details which give a typeface its overall character, its “polish”.
FS: If you could add or improve one thing on FontStruct, what would it be?
I think the creation of some kind of FontStruct foundry would be interesting – a forum where the best Fontstructions could be promoted or even sold. From my own experience, I think the potential and demand are there. Perhaps it would be a new incentive for everyone working creatively and constructively on FontStruct, to allow them to market their designs on the same platform on which they were created.
Thanks beate! Please explore more of beate’s work on FontStruct or visit her design studio website.
All images copyright Beate Limbach.
Interview translated from German by Rob Meek.
FontStruct would like to thank our sponsor: Creative Fabrica – your number #1 source for premium design elements.
(This article was originally published on FontShop’s “FontFeed” blog. Many thanks to MonoType for permission to reproduce this article here.)
This is the seventh in our series of mini-interviews with FontStructors; the first one since the series went monthly, now that it alternates with Foundry Focuses every other fortnight. Well, it is supposed to, because the episode is a couple of days late. In this instalment we talk to my compatriot Peter De Roy, better known on FontStruct as Typerider. This interview is a little special for me, as Peter and I go a long way back – the first time I met him in person was when I delivered FontShop goods at his home in the very early nineties. Yup, private delivery in the pre-webshop days. It’s not like we’re intimate friends, but we know each other quite well, and I’ve always kept track of his work; especially the type and graphic design magazine 96 (the successor of Druk) and the image publication UnderCover he (together with is partner Betty Reyniers) produced for FontShop BeNeLux after I’d left.
I chose to interview Peter for three reasons. First and foremost he experiments with the basic concept of FontStruct, going to the very core of FontShop’s free online modular font editor and producing type designs that achieve maximum impact with a minimum of means – see for example this gorgeous deconstructed lowercase “g”. Furthermore he documents his experiences with FontStruct on Spinsels (literally “spinnings”, figuratively “concoctions”), his private blog on letters, words, books and graphic design. While Peter’s blog started out as a personal diary of thoughts, rhyme and riddle and makings of all sorts, it pretty soon became a record of his adventures in FontStruct. Being allowed to look over the shoulder of a designer sharing his thoughts about his creations is very enlightening. And last but not least, he is a graphic design teacher who integrates FontStruct in his typography courses.
Peter De Roy (typerider)
After college Peter De Roy studied graphic arts (the “fine” arts, not graphic design ;-) at Sint-Lucas, Ghent, Belgium. In his own words, never having done a proper lithograph and being too lazy to wipe his etching plates clean, he somehow managed to do a couple of fine woodcuts though. This proved in hindsight to be of some importance – cutting light into a black printing surface has more affinity with typography than drawing lines on a white sheet. Postponing working life, he took one year of sculpting at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (KASK), which resulted in a love-hate relationship with the arts.
Since back in those years – at the tail-end of the eighties – there was little visual fun to be found in the art galeries, Peter De Roy started out as a graphic designer. Those were the early days of MTV and influential magazines like i-D and The Face that gave him the visual stimuli he was looking for. Yet nowadays graphic design often gets so conceptual he sometimes gets an itch to turn back to the arts. Weird world.
SignBox – the graphic design studio Peter De Roy runs with his partner Betty Reyniers – works mainly for clients in the cultural field and a lot for environmental government agencies, as well as education. And also in the graphic field, most notably the magazines they produced for FontShop BeNeLux. Their work is typefied by a keen sense of colour, bold and clear compositions with inventive use of images, and a lot of attention to type selection and typographic detail. Since about 12 years Peter de Roy teaches design and typography at KASK, but only recently this became his main occupation.
Squaredancing by Typerider
Do you have any prior experience with type design?
There was nothing really, however I have been fascinated with type since long. One of the first things I read when starting with design were the writings of Gerrit Noordzij – which I keep rereading. And working for FontShop made me look at type from up close. Teaching typography is a new challenge: I gathered a lot of knowledge over the years, but it was never very well structured, not like in a school book or study program.
How and when did you discover FontStruct?
I discovered FontStruct very early through some students who were playing with it, even before the official release I think. And in the summer of 2008 I had the occasion to dabble into it myself. It proved to be very addictive. I use it less now, but it has become a part of the typography course.
Bop Closer by Typerider, the fat, dense cousin of Bop Carré, a black but rather happy font.
How exactly do you integrate FontStruct in this typography course?
Very early and without too much background. When we start talking about letterforms – the subject of typeface classification – students need a basic vocabulary to be able to discuss and differentiate fonts: terms like contrast, harmony, legibility, readability, and word shapes. When building an alphabet in FontStruct, they immediately are confronted with those things. The only rule I set is the maximum grid size, which you guessed is pretty limited. An x-height of maximum 5 blocks for instance. Novice typographers are mostly charmed by individual letterforms and often overdesigned sans serifs. In building a modular font they soon find out the limited possibilities of geometry and the need for contrast even in seemingly linear fonts. The inner logic within a series of letters that need to form different words becomes apparent from the start. Beautiful single glyphs must often be sacrificed to function within the whole. Talking about all that before a class is one thing, having students experience it works much better. And to agree with a reaction from Erik Spiekermann in the early days of FontStruct: it will show them how refined and complex a ‘real’ font is.
Does the FontStruct effect really work? Does building glyphs in FontStruct help the students realise what designing a “real” typeface must be like?
I think it still is too early to really measure the effect – last year was a trial year and we are giving typography more weight in the curriculum this year. But I am convinced it opens their eyes. They may not realise the full complexity of type design, but they definitely acknowledge it is a meticulous and complex job. Our programme is a graphic design course, not a type design course, so not every student focuses on type to the same degree. What FontStruct magically does is break down the barriers surrounding the once sacral and hermetic world of type design. It is immediate, playful and fun. There is no stage fright. This creates an open-minded and spontaneous working attitude.
Atomic Scissors by Typerider, a heavy duty cut-out font with caps only, some alt characters under the lowercase keys, and robots under the number keys.
Whereas there is a tendency amongst many FontStructors to gradually make the grid smaller, you on the other hand construct fonts with as few bricks as possible. What is the concept behind your minimal approach?
For me there is no other way, really. I was always drawn to art that doesn’t hide its origins nor the tools it is made with, but makes them a vital part of its expression. Apart from the subject or the composition, painting also means applying paint on a canvas using a brush. Saxophone playing is also about breathing. And FontStructing is about bricks. That’s what makes it unique.
I feel that by zooming out – using more and more bricks to build the characters – one tends to imitate “classic” typography. That poses two problems. First refining detail in FontStruct means camouflaging the tool. Yet it will never be perfect, since adding pixels is not the same as drawing a curve. Letters are not outlines but black surfaces countered by white surfaces. I wrote on my blog that lettering has more affinity with sculpting than with drawing.
The second problem is letter spacing. The tool is far too limited too resolve that. To me that is not a problem though. I don’t see FontStruct as a font editor, but as a modular font editor. That makes all the difference. Every form of expression implicitly defines its own set of rules. As long as these rules are recognised, they are not perceived as limitations, but come as a natural part of the work. Even a non-educated public feels that the result “works”. For the record: this is my personal view and method, however I do not claim succeeding in it. On the other hand, when you work this way the result is of less important than the actual process.
Of course, besides this “conceptual” explanation there are my personal preferences and approach. I work better within a pre-set environment. Give me a few sticks or bricks and I will try to make something out of it. Yet give me a white sheet and a pencil and I will spend the rest of the day dreaming about what I should draw. I work in dialectics: the more limitations the bolder the results (and the more likely I will have to do a step backwards eventually ;-).
Tyrone by Typerider, a bold, over the top caps font with ornaments built using the infamous brick stacking hack.
How does your approach influence the way you use the actual shapes of the different bricks?
Being a typophile of the Dutch school – an avid reader of Gerrit Noordzij and an early user of Fred Smeijers‘ FF Quadraat – I wanted to bend the blocks into something more organic. I used the rounded and chipped blocks to give a certain movement to the letterforms, often using the mirror-block of what would seem “logical“ to create an extra effect that – dare I say this – is reminiscent of calligraphy. If I learned something from using FontStruct, it is the importance of irregularities in a font. Text type is a lot about rhythm and coherence in style, but if you polish it too much it becomes dull code and dies. Don’t try to theorise what shapes should be logical; simply see if it works. Trust your eyes. I can recommend spending more time testing words in the preview pane over building letterforms.
In your designs Bop, Carpetknife, Peghole, Atomic Scissors, and Tyrone you take FontStruct to the extreme. Most FontStructors construct the different parts of the characters – stems, arms, legs, etc. – with multiple bricks. You however use the specific shape of one single brick as an integral part of the anatomy of a character, building fonts on an insanely limited grid. Don’t you make your own life extremely difficult?
Ah Yves, but this is not life, it is play! It is the same thing again – keep the framework simple. Furthermore I am lazy. I get bored with stacking bricks very soon. So, less work and more thinking. And don’t overrate the thinking. Lots of it is trial and error. Seeing it as play gives me a lot of freedom. That doesn’t mean I do not value the time I spend on FontStruct. I can take play very serious, I just don’t mind the outcome. Most of the FontStructions you mentioned are almost unusable, but they are of some achievement within the game. Tyrone is a good example of what I mean: a tour de force considering the limits in which it was made, but a farce in the world outside FontStruct. That’s why I subtitled it “a font with more balls than brains”.
Peghole by Typerider, a design on a small grid (3 brick x-height) using only three different bricks and their rotation or mirror images: square, quarter circle and the “chopped” squares.
Peghole and Peghole Wide
Beer label designed with an adapted version of Peghole: characters hanging from the top instead of resting on the baseline, and a customised J.
I have the impression most FontStruct users construct fonts to use themselves or to be used by others. Why build – in your own words – “unusable” FontStructions?
That is a difficult one. I have different answers here, the wittiest one being: to get my 15 minutes of fame on The FontFeed! (laughs)
Closer to the truth, true play needs no justification, nor does it need to be utilitarian; it exists for its own sake. Play is in essence an anarchist act of being.
And a bit more related to your question: when I said “unusable” I actually meant “not very usable”, and maybe “not usable for others than myself”. I never started working on a FontStruction with a practical need or application in mind. Although I did do an adaptation of Peghole to design a beer label. I can see some occasional use for BopCloser, and I will probably do something with Safehouse myself. But honestly I don’t think Tyrone will ever appear in print anywhere.
If there is anything to gain, it might be some insight in what fonts are – or what fonts are not. We are flirting with the limits of typography here. I think FontStruct can teach you more about certain issues and problems in type design than actually teach you to design type. The way I approach it, I guess there is a limit to where the tool can take me (or I can take the tool).
2 Block Round by Typerider
Insider by Typerider
Hammerhead by Typerider
Quarterback by Typerider
In his quest for ever smaller grids Peter tried some experimental fonts. As he says himself: “(…) ended up with mucho experiment and little font”.
So if you can approach FontStructing as a purely cerebral activity, an exploration of the boundaries of typography, how in your opinion does it compare to what Neville Brody’s experimental typography posterzine Fuse did more than a decade ago? Can it play a similar role?
It can, if used that way of course. But there is a fundamental difference. Fuse was a publication platform to which respectable designers contributed work they made with the tool of their trade. Within the scope of modular type design FontStruct allows anyone to contribute. It is a very democratic tool and platform in one.
There are a number of users that would like to see FontStruct evolve into a fullblown sophisticated font editor; which is diametrically opposed to your minimal approach. What do you think?
To meet such wishes, the program would have to leave its brick-based premises. That is messing with the genes. I’m afraid this would turn a unique modular tool into a poor man’s FontLab. If a FontStructor feels the need to go beyond what FontStruct does, maybe he or she should step over to a vector font editor. I deliberately did not say step up. These are different worlds; a new game with new rules. Checkers ain’t chess.
My advise – don’t see FontStruct as a surrogate for something else, but enjoy it for what it is: a clever creative tool that feels very natural to use. And it is free. So sit down, log in and make your move. Play!
Safehouse and Kraakhaas by Typerider, a minimal stencil font and its dirty counterpart.
(This article was originally published on FontShop’s “FontFeed” blog. Many thanks to MonoType for permission to reproduce this article here.)
This is the sixth in our series of mini-interviews with FontStructors
. In this instalment we talk to Tobias Sommer, better known on FontStruct
. Now you have to realise that I am contacting most FontStructors to be interviewed blindly. See, I work from a list called “Top FontStructors” on the internal message board for FontShop projects. Originally it only had the alias, URL
, and a short description for all the potential interviewees each. For example Geneus
is simply listed as “geneus1 – the master of complex, themed FontStructions”, and Funk_King
as “funk_king – purely prolific and versatile work”. You would expect from any self-respecting journalist to at least check first who is the person he will contact, but hey, whoever said I take myself seriously? This is why I was surprised (and amused) to find out that – when I sent a request for an interview to Shasta on Monday July 20th – I actually had contacted the very same Tobias Summer who had commented on the Em42 interview just the day before. It was particularly funny that he ended his comment with: ”(…) A very well-deserved article! They’re doing a great job picking out top FontStructors so far.”
without him or me knowing he would receive an invitation himself the very next day. How’s that for a coincidence?
Tobias Sommer (shasta)
Tobias Sommer was born 23 years ago in St. Gallen, a small, quiet town in the east of Switzerland. Growing up drawing and scrawling a lot, he went through high school, discovered his interests for graphic design, photography, languages, music, politics, history, literature, snowboarding, mountain biking, geography, creative writing and whatnot, and of course ended up not having a clue what the heck to choose of all these things to do professionally. Thankfully many of them “fell away due to lack of talent” (as he says so himself), and so he ended up having to choose between design or languages/politics/history. Tobias then started studying Interaction Design at Zurich University of Arts, stopped after a year and switched to International Affairs in Geneva. And that’s where he is now: studying and enjoying life in Geneva.
Tobias randomly ran into FontStruct on some web design award site, one or two weeks after it was released.
Punched Out and Punched Out Fill by Shasta
You started on Fontstruct very early after the launch. What were your first impressions?
Well, we fell in love at first sight. We’ve been a happy couple ever since. Of course we have our ups and downs at times, but it’s looking pretty good. :)
It was by the way very impressive to notice how many FontStructors and FontStructions were already there when I first got on the site. I only realised how young the site actually was when they posted the “21 Days” post (The First Three Weeks) on the blog. Someone had done some good PR there!
You did one year of Interaction Design, but did you have any actual experience with graphic or type design?
I think I’m one of the few regular FontStructors who don’t make a living with anything related to graphic design, typography, or other creative stuff. As a regular student, the only connection points to the design world in my professional life are the eye cancer provoking PowerPoint presentations of our professors.
Great Depression by Shasta
Still I can’t deny having a past with design. First of all, my whole family’s pretty fond of design and visual arts in general. As I mentioned, I myself started studying design, but switched to International Affairs after one year. That year at the University of Arts certainly was a big step ahead for my design skills, but it also made me realise that keeping design just as a hobby along the way might be enough. And that works great so far.
Type design on the other hand was pretty new to me. I had always been very interested in the subject, right from my very first attempts with graphic design (drawing pixel logos for my own imaginary brand in Microsoft Paint at the age of 12… Yee-hah!). Yet my sporadic and desperate attempts to find appropriate software to put my ideas into practice always found a sudden and bitter end, either at the price of the program or the size of its manual. So discovering FontStruct was pure bliss, and the starting point of my type design “career”.
Cupra by Shasta
You mention the “eye cancer provoking PowerPoint presentations of our professors”. Do you remember when you started noticing such things? As I know the feeling, I was wondering inhowfar it distracts you from the actual content being presented, and how compelled you sometimes might feel to redesign the damn things? :)
(Laughs) Good question. I’m not sure when exactly I started noticing how bad some things are designed, but I guess the progressive sensitisation to this phenomenon is a key aspect in every designer’s development. It probably starts when as a child you realise for the first time that your black T-shirt adorned with dolphins jumping over orange Caribbean sunsets might not be the most beautiful thing in the world, and ends when you want to throw books at professors for using Times News Roman on their slides again. OK, it probably doesn’t end there, but you know what I mean. For me this moment was quite certainly the most intense after coming from Art University. There everything is sleek and beautiful and you get booed for not having your titles perfectly aligned on your presentations, whereas at normal university most people only care about content, and not a second about form. Those were pretty painful moments for my retina. Especially when they force you to use typefaces that make you shiver just so they can compare the length of your essay to others. :)
Anyway, you mentioned the distracting aspect of bad design. The main problem is that poor design often goes hand in hand with poor structure. I think I could even live with Comic Sans and rainbow backgrounds, as long as the content was consistently structured. But when they randomly use five different typefaces and seven different layout concepts within one single presentation, it becomes practically impossible to understand the structure and the hierarchy of the content. This causes hours of additional work for every student, whereas a redesign and a good structure of these presentations would probably take the same amount of time for one person only. I usually do redesigns whenever I get the raw PowerPoint files from professors, and always insist on doing the collect-and-harmonise job when we have to do group assignments. Self-flagellation in the service of aesthetics…
Disparador by Shasta
Which of your friends and/or co-students know you now design type, and what was their reaction when they found out?
There’s only a few of them who know I do that, and even fewer who are actually interested in it. I think the most common reactions are that they call me a freak or a nerd, tell me the exams are getting pretty close or ask if this is why I have these dark circles around my eyes. (laughs) But well, I can live with the fact that typography is a pretty specific hobby that you don’t share with every second person in the world.
How aware do you think they are of typography and fonts?
Most of my co-students are either completely uninterested in the subject, or their interest goes as far as to replace the standard fonts with things like Papyrus in their essays, and then I often think they’d be better off with no interest in typography at all.
I’ve recently started exposing some of my FontStructions on Facebook, to reach some of my more design-interested friends, but there too the feedback is pretty lean. That’s by the way one of the slightly bitter things about FontStructing in my opinion: it mostly seems to rotate around itself and the amazing, but relatively small active community on the site. If you don’t have any means to show your work to a greater audience (like a well-frequented blog or online portfolio), you’ll have to live with that.
Teatral and Teatral Stencil by Shasta
Talking about that relatively small active community, what are your thoughts on the voting system as opposed to the Top Picks selected by the FontStruct Staff?
Phew… Obviously the voting system as well as the Top Pick system have been subject to a lot of discussions recently. I understand why people are sometimes unhappy with any of the two systems. If you publish a font you’ve been working on for several hours or even days and then it either gets random 1’s or doesn’t get the pink badge even when you think it’d deserve it, it can be very frustrating and painful to see your work flushed away into oblivion among the 8,000 something mostly mediocre FontStructions. I myself have in my opinion a few pretty solid designs that somehow slipped under the eyes of the admins, and I consider myself lucky if they get downloaded ten times like this, whereas the same typeface with a Top Pick would easily get twenty times as much.
Still I’ve recently come to the conclusion that the current system is probably not too bad after all. In the end it’s simple, doesn’t leave the admins with an insurmountable amount of work, and even the despised font trolls somehow contribute to some justice when they downvote high-rated typefaces: they constantly refresh the ranking, always giving new designs a chance to get some fame. I’m actually more worried by the “font fairies” that give 10’s to every halfway decent font. Though this is very well-meaning and really shows the encouraging atmosphere on FontStruct, it tends to cement the upper regions of the ranking with typefaces are virtually imossible to surpass anymore, even with a true masterpiece.
But in the end all these things shouldn’t bother people too much. Constant good work always gets rewarded eventually. If it’s not by instant Top Picks and 9+ ratings, then it’s with a good reputation and the respect of your fellow FontStructors… Which in the end is worth more than any formal distinction.
Escheresk by Shasta
We were quite impressed by a recent Top Pick from you that we promoted to Featured FontStruction, your M.C. Escher tribute Escheresk. Where do you get your inspiration for creating new FontStructions?
I find it pretty hard to retrace how and where I got the inspiration for my fonts. Sometimes it’s a design I see somewhere or an existing font that inspires me, but mostly it just seems to come out of nowhere. In the case of Escheresk I couldn’t even tell you when or how I came upon that idea. It probably just started scribbling impossible polygons on my sheets during some boring lecture, and somehow turned them into letters.
I also have to admit that there isn’t any bigger theme or concept behind my work. I just take the ideas as they come and make the fonts I have in mind, but I simply wouldn’t have the patience and expertise to seek perfection within a certain genre. The only “concepts” I try to implement in every FontStruction I make are usability, consistency and completeness. Guess I’m pretty Swiss in this regard…
Exempla Slab Serif by Shasta
As a final note I think I particularly like FontStructing because creating a typeface to me sometimes feels more like “watching the face grow”: you have an initial idea for maybe two or three characters that you think would look cool (you could call that the seed), and in there is already an implicit set of rules for all the other characters (the DNA). Then you just go from letter to letter and see what the rules make it look like. In the end you have a full grown typeface and you find yourself pretty surprised by how great some of the characters look. That’s very rewarding, and the great thing about it is that you don’t have to be the full-time ultra-creative mutant brain to do it. One good idea now and then is enough.
Capitalia Rounded by Shasta
(This article was originally published on FontShop’s “FontFeed” blog. Many thanks to MonoType for permission to reproduce this article here.)
For the fifth in our series of mini-interviews with FontStructors, we are travelling halfway round the globe (if we start from FontShop International’s San Francisco office anyway). After having spent his childhood and youth in Pakistan, Ata Syed lived in the United States for 17 years before going back to the country of his birth. Living in a third-world country – as he says himself – electricity is a scarce resource. In the monsoon season the extreme humidity has the effect of killing off one’s computer, and in summer unannounced power outages 2, 5, 8 times a day are standard operating procedure. Even while/when he has power, his ISP
may not, so there are several internet outages on top of that. In the end, out of 24 hours Ata gets something like three to four hours of internet access on a good day. As he never knows when the computer might shut down or lose the internet connection, he has become “a master S-pusher” to continuously save his work. Yet these setbacks have not prevented him from creating a respectable body of work on FontStruct. He creates quality FontStructions in a slightly schizophrenic manner – under the guise of thalamic
he explores the boundaries of display typography, while minimum
reveals his more experimental side.
Ata Syed (thalamic/minimum)
Born in 1967 and raised in Karachi, Pakistan; Ata Syed moved to the United States at the age of 19. He attended Drexel University for a five-year degree in Architectural Engineering. Along the way discovered he didn’t want to sit and perform engineering calculations for the rest of his life and quit school in the fourth year. What made Ata change his mind was the guidance of his mentor, Jim Shaffer, who saw that his aptitude lay in design. Shaffer allowed Ata the luxury to develop this in the form of numerous projects, ranging from purely graphic to purely technical (with a design bent on them) and everywhere in between. As Ata was the only design person in an engineering department, there was never a shortage of design-related projects. The challenge was to do the work required for each project while trying to push his own abilities further. Each project taught him some valuable lesson.
Before he realised it 17 years had passed, and in 2003 Ata Syed returned to Karachi. Few people get the chance to start life anew. This move presented a unique opportunity to finally get that long-forgotten degree. The difference this time was that Ata now knew what he wanted to do – he got a Bachelors degree in the Arts from Karachi University and a Masters degree in Advertising from Iqra University. A week after submitting his thesis in typography, he was hired as a teacher in the same university. He now mainly teaches graphic design basics and design software courses. Speaking about his profession he says that it is highly frustrating on a daily basis, yet overall it is very rewarding and can’t imagine doing anything else now.
SOSO by thalamic
Your aptitude for design revealed itself during your degree in Architectural Engineering at Drexel University, but at what point did you get bitten by the typography bug?
I discovered fonts much earlier, when I got my first computer in 1983 – the Commodore 64. Before that, I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as more than one typeface or even something like graphic design. On that Commodore 64 I had a lot of games, yet I hardly ever played them because game play was not what I was interested in. Only with hindsight I realise now that the fonts and graphics used in the different games were what impressed me so much and got me interested in type. Back then, it was just something that occupied my time. Years later, I came across a Letraset catalogue at work. I was fascinated with it and used to sit and stare at the typefaces in it for hours at a stretch. I guess somewhere between the Commodore 64 and Letraset, I acquired what type was. The funny thing is I never thought about any of this until I answered this question. I really wonder what other unknown influences I might uncover.
Dent by thalamic
And from there, what prompted you to make the next step to actually designing typefaces?
Since my degree is in advertising, the crux of the thesis lay in a complete marketing campaign for a product or service of our choice. Type design and typography had been a long-standing interest of mine, and thus I chose to do an advertising campaign for a type foundry. Just like the management of VW likes to arrive at auto manufacturers’ meetings in their own top-end cars, similarly, I thought no self-respecting graphic designer would use someone else’s typefaces for their thesis on typography, even though creating a font was not a requirement for it. The ad campaign of my thesis revolved around the promotion of a new typeface, so I found myself in the position that I needed to generate this font. It was the first time that I was forced to examine type and fonts from a technical perspective. Since I now live in Pakistan where Urdu is the main language, I decided to design an Urdu font.
The odd thing about Urdu is that it is almost always written in cursive, and having stylised fonts is neither a necessity nor an indulgence of the local designers. The one thing that always struck me is the disparity in the design (the look-and-feel) between Urdu and English typefaces. While in the Latin alphabet thousands of different type designs are available, each with its own distinct style and atmosphere, Urdu fonts are almost always devoid of any personality. Furthermore, as almost all commercial ad campaigns in Pakistan run in both English and Urdu, there is a clear discrepancy between the English and Urdu language versions. My idea was to try and design a typeface that comprised the character sets from both languages in a very similar, if not identical, design treatment. This would allow for a similar look and feel in both scripts, and the impact of the campaign would remain consistent in either language. Not only did the typeface prove to be a challenge to design, I also had to learn all the technical aspects involved in the creation of digital fonts in no time. This experience forever etched in my mind what an incredibly involved process type design is. As a result I now appreciate each typeface – even the really terrible ones – as an achievement by someone, at some stage of being a typophile.
Bilingual is the typeface with Latin and Urdu character set that Ata Syed created for the thesis for his degree in advertising.
Owing to the extreme shortage of time Bilingual – the typeface I designed for my thesis – ended up being modular in nature. I think it may have something to do with my engineering background that I always think in grids. After experimenting with few of the characters on a quadrille pad, it became evident to me that there would be a lot of repeating elements in the characters and that they could be designed in smaller modules, or bricks, as it were. Not only did this save me time, but in the process it also gave the font the consistency between the two scripts that I was looking for. One could consider this first attempt to be a manual FontStruct, so to say. It is no wonder that I’ve loved FontStruct ever since I StumbledUpon! it in early April, 2008. Since then almost all of my free time is spent online building fonts with bricks.
ORFIX by thalamic was cloned from FIROX, which in turn was inspired by the RÖFIX logo.
You design FontStructs under two different aliases – thalamic and minimum. Can you explain why?
Oh, you found us out! (laughs) Well, I am a bit of an obsessive-compulsive person. There was a point when almost every other comment posted on the site was mine, or I should say, thalamic’s. It felt like I was monopolising the site and considered stepping back a little – a sure case of easier said than done. That’s when I created another account to keep thalamic to a ‘minimum’. Without realising it myself, minimum evolved into my experimental FontStructions account. Though I’ve tried to keep the two ‘personalities’ distinct, the core type ideologies I embody are clearly visible in both. Observant and much respected fellow FontStructor DJNippa was quick to pick up on it. Frankly, I was flattered he paid such attention to my work and made me resolve to live up to such scrutiny. The beauty of FontStruct and its incredibly generous user community is that it makes one grow without even realising it. That is exceptional for a website. And really, calling FontStruct a mere website is like calling the UN a mere organisation.
s-ookii by thalamic is the shaded version of ookii. Though it appears to be a simple clone of ookii, getting the shadows to look natural and line up properly in each character was a geometric challenge. Thalamic ended up redrawing the complete character set three times over, increasing the size in incremental steps.
How much do you flesh out your character sets?
It depends on the font. Some of my fonts only contain the lowercase set, some just the uppercase letters, and on rare occasions the extended latin characters as well. Most of my fonts are limited to the upper- and lowercase, numerals and basic punctuation. For me personally FontStructing in its current state is for exploring letter forms and not so much for developing fonts for every typographic need. FontStruct is improving every day and I certainly don’t want to imply that it is not a proper font creation tool, which it truly is, especially for pixel fonts. FontStruct provides a quick and practical tool for experimentation that would take a lot longer using Bézier curves with other font creation software.
Level by minimum is an experiment in eclecticism. Nothing goes with anything. Works best in mixed-case settings. Or not.
The other languages in Pakistan are written in Arabic script. Have you designed Arabic characters as well in your FontStructions?
I would like to but I haven’t… yet. The reason is that languages using the Arabic script are almost always written in cursive. The Arabic characters currently supported in FontStruct are limited to the equivalent the uppercase characters in the Latin character set. Full cursive writing in Arabic and derivative scripts, like Urdu, requires three additional forms – initial, medial, and terminal. I promised Rob Meek to provide him with the list of all characters required to write cursive Arabic a long time ago, and still I intend to get that done for him one of these days… if only I can tear myself away from FontStruct for a good block of time.
Fontsration (Refined) by thalamic started out as a “why not”. When it showed potential, thalamic added more glyphs to round out the character set.
The Arabic script is rooted in calligraphy far more than Latin or Greek or Cyrillic. Does translating swooping curves and small diacritic marks to the FontStruct grid present additional difficulties?
Yes, the Arabic script is certainly rooted in calligraphy; deeply. Although modern Arabic script gradually becomes less calligraphic. It is evolving with the times to better conform itself to the limitations of displaying type on the computer screen and the rules governing the creation process (say, OpenType standards). However, languages other than Arabic that started out with borrowed Arabic script, like Urdu, have been less willing to adapt to current standards, and still clearly betray their calligraphic roots. Overcoming this requires font designers to use thousands of ligatures. Either Urdu script must evolve or OpenType standards must expand. The status quo does not suit.
Although I have not yet attempted to create an Arabic FontStruction, I can say this with some assurance that a curve is a curve. If a curve can be approximated for a Latin based script font, the same must hold true for any other script. Translating them to FontStruct should not pose any significant challenge beyond what countless users face – and overcome – every day. As is clearly evident by thousands of beautiful fonts already available on FontStruct, the limitation is not the medium but rather the imagination of the user. Allow me to point you to Funk_King’s 400+ currently shared FontStructions as an example of diverse ideas converted into typefaces, or Intaglio’s 150+ currently shared FontStructions as an example of exploring what a text typeface can be. As far as I can see – if you can imagine it, you can do it in FontStruct.
But this interview has taken a serious bent towards Arabic. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it is not what thalamic is about. The Arabic is just a minor aspect of my background and not visible at all in my FontStructions.
Permutation IV by thalamic
Now that you bring it up, what is thalamic about? Is there an overarching theme or research in your work? Are there specific things you are experimenting with?
I had a feeling that was going to be the next question. (laughs)
It’s interesting that it is always easier to define what something isn’t then what something is. To say that thalamic is not an astronomer is a no-brainer. What thalamic is, well, that’s a stumbling block. As anyone else, thalamic is an amalgam of all of my past experiences. Why, you might ask, do I want to involve (indulge, even) in type design as opposed to any of the other past experiences? For one thing, we all gravitate towards that which is pleasurable or stimulating somehow. For me, typefaces and type design are definitely a case of “and”, as in: pleasurable and stimulating. When you hit upon that winning combination, it is hard to let go. After all, no one asks why they like ice cream, do they?
Helix by thalamic
Many years ago, a colleague of mine told me how he motivated himself to get up at 5am to go for a jog everyday. While getting up so early was as difficult for him as the next person, he did it because he knew how great he would feel having done it. And this is the key – you only work for how you will feel after having done it, any of it. Similarly, for me completing a FontStruction is always the goal. Having the whole set make sense in its own context is the requirement to reach that goal. Everything else on top of that is the icing. The trick is to see the icing as the bonus, and not to expect it to be an indispensable aspect in the process of completing a font.
In doing shapes, I’ve come to admire/dread the double reverse curves of the “S” or “s” for usually it is them that causes a font to reach an undue pause. And if you reverse the process, when you start with “S” or “s” other glyphs suffer. “A” and “V” are easier to design but tend to be on the wide side. This sometimes does not work with the style of the FontStruction and you end up making compromises. For every one shared font, there are three that refuse to be moulded. Sometimes you are the master, sometime FontStruct resists. But oh, when you and FontStruct are in sync, then it is sheer magic – the bricks just seem to fall into place. FontStruct really is the Tetris of this generation.
Mingle Co by minimum
Do you explore specific concepts in some of your FontStructions, or are they primarily formal experiments in shapes and moods?
It’s been said many times that there are no original ideas left; everyone is influenced by something, be it natural or man-made. Since my interests gravitate towards graphic design I come across thousands of images every day, and inevitably they have an impact on me. If I know what my inspiration source is for a specific FontStruction, I reveal it at the time of sharing. For example Grayscale was inspired by a single character I discovered on a submission for a poster design contest on CrowdSpring. Most of the times though, shared FontStructions start off as mere experimentations, by placing one brick next to another. If in doing so I get one letter done in some particular style, I can usually visualise the rest of the glyphs in my head. Then it simply becomes a matter of placing the rest of bricks where they need to be, like in hello.
hello by thalamic is a bold upright connected script.
Yet it also happens that I start with a vague concept in my head, for instance building a shadowed font like The I, creating a text face like fs_tributary, conducting experiments double line design like Helix, or whatever crazy idea I may come up with, like abc etc. – all with varying degrees of success. It is rare for me to start off with a really distinct idea. That usually happens when I am bored in class and start doodling in my notebook. The lowercase of Penmanship came about that way.
fs_tributary by thalamic was an exercise in trying to extract a serif typeface as standard as possible out of the FontStructor.
The interesting part is that – no matter what the starting point is – you always have to adjust your ideas to what the modularity of FontStruct is allowing you to do. In its own game, FontStruct usually wins. The challenge/fun is getting the match to a draw, learning from it, sharing the outcome, and then move on to the next match. Interestingly though, the ball seems to always end up in my court. What keeps me going is the question: “What do I do with it this time?”
Penmanship by thalamic
VERY BECOMING by thalamic
Subliminal by thalamic
Ceci n’est pas une vague/Ceci n’est pas une ligne by minimum