Brainstorms and Raves

Notes on Web Design, Development, Standards, Typography, Music, and More

Tue

7

MAY

2002

Interview with Australian Type Foundry’s Owner, Wayne Thompson

I recently crossed paths with Wayne Thompson, type designer and owner of Australian Type Foundry. Australian Type Foundry is a new foundry with a wonderfully unique selection of high quality and well designed fonts by its owner, Wayne Thompson, of Newcastle NSW, Australia.

Sample of Australian Type Foundry’s Spud Italic

In addition to a free font, Spud Italic, some fonts are available for purchase directly at the site and some have links to purchase through ITC Fonts. Prices are quite reasonable (about 2:1 for U.S. currency - averaging 53 U.S. cents to the Aussie dollar). Spud Italic is part of his Spud family of six fonts, a casual, fun, easy-on-the-eyes, very readable font.

Inspiration and Creating Fonts

I’m fascinated by the creative process and what inspires people, and Wayne kindly agreed to share why and how he got into type design and also about the actual creation process of one of his typefaces, Not Sassure.

His story below is a fun journey behind the scenes. Enjoy!

I have been a graphic designer for 13 years, working in various regional advertising agencies in Newcastle NSW, my home town. I am currently Art Director of Enigma Advertising, a young and funky agency of about 25 people. Yeah, I know that all agencies like to see themselves as 'young & funky' but in our case it’s accurate: our managing director is a 32-year-old woman, and the staff are mainly in their 20s.

I became interested in type design in the early 90s while working as a signwriter. When you have to physically trace each letter shape on to a window or a van you quickly learn to get it right. This, combined with a draw full of rub-down lettering which came as a hand-me-down from a commercial artist uncle, began my involvement with type.

I spent several years evolving through the mac-revolution before tackling my first type design. My first published design was Dallas, released by T-26, based on the handwriting of my brother who had a unique squiggly g and q which appealed to me. Next came ITCDjango, also based on the handwriting of an acquaintance who was a jazz guitarist (hence the name). It’s a very loose and jagged hand script, the kind of face which is very difficult to space, and which taught me a lot about maintaining the 'feel' of a handletter through the digitisation process.

Next came ITC panic and ITC Don’t Panic, two faces which were inspired by the half-inked stamps on air mail envelopes. Since then I have concentrated on the development of Australian Type Foundry, launched January 2002, which contains (so far) a further 8 of my own original type designs. I am currently exploring several new display faces, including one based on metal packing-crate stencils I found in a country second-hand store, and another based on lettering found on old farm machinery.

What is the inspiration for creating a typeface? What is the creative process like? How is the design accomplished? Wayne shares some background about the creation of his Not Sassure typeface.

I was a keen observer of the grunge typography movement of the mid-90s, and during this period the germination of the idea for Not Sassure came from an envelope. It was stamped with the words “AIR MAIL” in a fairly standard, outlined sans serif. Rather than the shape of the letters, I became fascinated with trying to reproduce that scratchy, half-inked look that only postal markings seem able to achieve.

airmail stamp sample
Parts of characters were missing, so I experimented with “incomplete” letters. I began with condensed sans serif capitals, similar to the Air Mail stamp, and although this incarnation later became ITC Don’t Panic I veered towards solid letters for Not Sassure.

I decided it was not the shape of the characters so much as the “distress” applied to them which was important to me. So I sketched some initial characters and then designed the base alphabet, sans grunge.

Not Sassure Sketch

Then came the fun part: the destruction. Using lasers of the base alphabet, I toyed with methods of destruction, such as scrunching laser prints, smudging with ink and scratching with a kitchen knife. At one point I actually changed from shoes to workboots in order to get more “purchase” on the laser prints upon which I was stomping (and to impress my workmates). But the more attempts I made, the more dissatisfied I was with the results - nothing seemed mangled enough. Eventually I settled on a long-favoured technique: excessive photocopying, with extreme enlargements and reductions to magnify the imperfections. This helped to rough the edges and give it a non-digital quality.

The next challenge was nursing that very same quality through the personality-sapping digitisation process. I painstakingly traced bezier-curve outlines of every character in tight detail, taking care to achieve a balance between too few control points (letters lack detail and look cheap) and too many points (which eats memory). Eventually I converted the whole lot to straight line segments, with no bezier curves at all, which retained the detail I needed but saved memory.

Not Sassure - enlgarged section showing points and straight line segments

Including all numerals, punctuation, currencies, symbols and accented characters, there were 214 in total. Feeling elated that I had finished, it suddenly dawned on me that my work was only half done - I had yet to tackle the diabolical tedium of spacing. The number of character combinations is mind-boggling. I would type in a couple of hundred words from a random book (I find jabber doesn’t quite do the job as real words do) and print it, look for spacing anomalies, adjust and repeat. I did 4 or 5 rounds of this process and sometimes changed individual characters entirely when it became apparent that they were imposters in the “family.”

Finally completed, I was not convinced of Not Sassure’s usefulness for some time. Was I just producing grunge for grunge’s sake? Then a colleague at Enigma Advertising, where I am Art Director, used it in the poster series shown.



[Click on individual images for full size versions.]

The message is workplace safety, and the serious nature of Not Sassure carries the message strongly. Unlike some designers who identify a niche and design to it, I tend to design from a feeling and then try to find a use for it later.

Not Assure alphabet

I am now pursuing typography more commercially with the launch of Australian Type Foundry (www.atf.com.au) through which Not Sassure is available for purchase.

11:00 am, pdt 7 May, 2002 Comments, Trackbacks ·

Categories: Design, Graphics, Reviews, Typography

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