On Seeing ABSTRACT: TYPEFACE DESIGN

After spending about a year away from the series, I made a repeat visit to “Abstract: The Art of Design” on Netflix (I first blogged about it in October 2018). This time, I learned about a typography guru and expert named Jonathan Hoefler, whose fascination with all things text dances on the line of obsession and whose processes for developing new font families are both sensical and surprising.

This particular episode of “Abstract” got me to thinking: No matter what kind of artistic methods we practice, our creativity may demonstrate a grand amalgamation of place, practicalities, and the past…

Think place
When Hoefler was commissioned to invent a typeface for the rebranding of the Guggenheim, he used the museum’s architecture as his muse. The rotunda, for example, spoke “openness and roundness” and “elevated and lofty” to him, thus he set about to develop letter forms that also embodied these traits. Then came his next challenge…

Think practical
The Guggenheim’s existing signage also informed Hoefler’s work. However, he knew that certain letters—like the “E” and “H” used on the museum’s facade—were “overly stylized,” even “distracting,” and would not transfer well to headlines and text. He had his work cut out for him.

When it comes to practicalities, Hoefler also brings up his assignment with Sports Illustrated. Way back in 1989 when Hoefler was still a novice typographer, he was hired to make headlines for the magazine. That eventually led to his creating a special font family called “Knockout,” which features various widths and heights, and can always be adjusted to fit a specific headline space.

Similarly, a typeface he developed for Rolling Stone carries four different styles, but are interchangeable and don’t effect page flows when swapped in and out. They called it “The Proteus Project,” which is comprised of the font families of “Ziggurat,” “Leviathan,” “Saracen,” and “Acropolis.”

Think past
Trailblazer. Trendsetter. Forward thinker. These are titles that Hoefler wears well in the world of typography. But what I find most interesting about his artistic process is his dependence on works of the past to formulate his next big idea. Hoefler studies antique timepieces, gravestones, maps, and typesetters catalogs, paying special attention to unique characters that have potential for new life in the digital design world. In other words, who knows what hidden gems are yet to be discovered just through Hoeffler’s skills in resurrection and adaptation.

So how is our own work reflecting the distinct personalities of place? Are we considering any practical applications outside the box of our current projects? And could we forage for some relics from the past that could help make our art become even more alive in the present? Hoefler does it—we can, too!

An Artist’s Bookshelf – October 2018

Once again, I’m traveling the “mixed media” route when it comes to my learning more about artists and artistic practices. Here’s what’s on my bookshelf, screen, etc., this month:

“Abstract: The Art of Design” series on Netflix
In short, this series is so cool! The first episode is about Christoph Niemann, a German illustrator who has many New Yorker covers and several books to his credit. I love the observation he makes at the beginning of the episode: given how it’s produced, the show is both by and about him; Niemann’s illustrations actually sew the documentary together. It’s hard to explain but so worth a look. I can’t wait to follow Niemann’s work from now on and to check out the next artists featured in the series. 

The Creative Call by Janice Elsheimer
This book was described to me as The Artist’s Way for Christians. It promises “creative renewal” through readings, journaling, and other exercises focused on getting closer to God and, at the same time, discovering what He designed me to be and do. I look forward to seeing how this book will speak into my artistic endeavors and their intersection with my faith.

Finding Divine Inspiration: Working with the Holy Spirit in Your Creativity by J. Scott McElroy
Like The Creative Call, this book and study guide duo is focused on harnessing the spiritual capacity of art. “Collaborate with God,” reads the back cover of the study guide. What I specifically like about this collection is how it offers real-life examples of other people who have attempted this and, by all appearances, who have done it well. I can pray to add myself to their number.