Wednesday, July 08, 2009
This week Veer released Phaeton, my first contribution to the world of fonts. I can now attend typographer soirées. If anyone is throwing one of these anytime soon, send me an invite. I'll wear my "I like my punctuation well-hung" shirt.
If you've ever made a font, you know how much work it is. Fortunately, I don't. Because I was lucky enough to have teamed up with Mr. Randy Jones in the creation of Phaeton, which made it significantly more fun and less stressful. It was a good match-up, because brains are like chewing gum.
I shall explain.
Yes, brains are like chewing gum. Chewed chewing gum to be exact. And the way you learn, is by throwing the chewing gum on the ground, and whatever filth sticks is "knowledge". Whereas I have been throwing my chewing gum hither and thither, with little regard for where it lands, Randy has been diligently rolling his in the dumpster outside All-You-Can-Eat-Type Buffet.
Why don't I give you a little tour, and I'll explain things on the way. You drive.
Most people don't realize this, but at one time, the way we think of cars today is how people thought of carriages. Meaning, there was just hundreds of different types of carriage, all with different names. People probably hung out on the corner, with a tin of snuff, admiring the new '02 Broughams, or reminiscing about the backseat of their old Box Jump-Seat where they first got a glimpse of Zelda Potter's sensuous elbows.
I mention this, because carriage lore seems to be one of the random pieces of filth stuck on my chewing gum. And as Randy and I went through the process of trying to decide what sort of font to pursue, I disentangled this particular hair from the bundle, and — Lo! — we both found it to be good. We chose the name Phaeton, for two reasons. One, the proportions of the Doctor's Phaeton were a nice inspiration for our letterforms, and two, it sounds much better than Child's Seat Drop-Front.
As with any successful team, Randy and I each had separate roles to play in the creation of the font, yet both of us were familiar enough with the other's contributions to offer advice, ensure a good exchange of materials, and just generally respect what the other was doing.
My role was essentially to create unique and legible forms, reminiscent of type from the bygone era of the carriage. Randy, an excellent letterform designer in his own right, was there to spot inconsistencies in the forms, fix problem areas, offer conceptual advice, and then translate them to an actual font.
His role, in my opinion is the difficult one. Don't tell him that.
Years ago, I was required to take a Philosophy class. Honestly, very little from that class stuck in my gum. But one thing I do remember is Plato's concept of Forms, the concept that everything has this ideal form that exists... well, somewhere not here, and the world we live in is like some sort of cosmic diorama filled with imperfect copies of ideal trees, people, figs, monkeys, scratch n' sniff stickers, etc., etc.,
Which is an idea with some merit, at least when it comes to explaining why all these very different things...
...are all the letter "D". Inherently, we understand its ideal form and thus recognize all these outrageous variations.
And so we hit upon what I found to be the most difficult part of this whole process. You'd think I'd spend hours and hours laboring over the A's and B's and the 123's. Nope. I actually spent the most time on the characters I use with the least frequency, just trying to figure out just what the hell their ideal form is. I mean... how many people know what this is?
I certainly didn't know. And how could I be sure that making it look like this...
...didn't suddenly make it totally meaningless? And where do you place it in relation to the baseline? How small can it get? How big? So I'd have to spend a lot of time researching the history of characters, and divining their contemporary usage.
Oh - and in case you didn't know, this...
...is a "Q". It's used in words like "Quality!" Neat!
From the start, we knew we wanted the font to be not just pretty, but useful. And so we put a lot of time and thought into those rarely seen characters like I mention above, but also in the creation of catchwords, swash variants and ligatures.
Here was yet another place where Randy was like some sort of typographic messiah. I initially only drew up the english catchwords. Randy translated and created all the foreign language variants. And while I did draw up swash variants on all sorts of characters, Randy had to select and refine the ones that would actually work, and then create similar variants for all the lowercase, and the ligatures. This was happening early this year, around the same time I destroyed my back, and only got two hours a sleep a day while daily doses of oxycodone removed any capacity for quality assurance. So make sure you thank Randy, or else you'd be using these catchwords:
Of course, being a guy who draws stuff, one of the things I couldn't resist doing was including some vignettes, to help reinforce the general feel of the era, but also to honor some of the nineteenth-century's most famous individuals:
Okay, so, none of these people are real. But if they were, then you couldn't make up stuff about them without leaving yourself open to some sort of slander suit. That's the beauty of fiction. You can lie all you want!
And so ends my tour of Phaeton, though I have to say I didn't even get to share half of what I wanted. But the thing is, what excites me about creating a font, is finally getting a chance to make building blocks for other artist's creative endeavors. So I've tried not to burden you with my thoughts on its usage, or my intentions. I'm waiting to see what you do with it. So go on. 'Git.
Throw your gum in Phaeton.